The Saturn was due for an emissions check. A cold, heavy rain fell as I made the familiar trip past the State Emissions Inspection Station sign. Why a familiar trip when we only get our car checked every two years? Applus+ Technologies, the company that runs the emissions stations in Washington, was kind enough to allow us to use the Sodo station for several scenes in my short film Greenspoke. Tim glides by the sign on his bike in the film, answering the question ‘where is he going anyway?’ I’ve seen him do that exact ride a million times. Well, maybe a thousand. For our scenes in the bays and interior of the inspection station, the management was extremely helpful, even advising our lead actor Tim Gouran on how to probe like a pro.
Visiting locations you have used in a film, especially when you have literally spent hundreds of hours watching, editing, watching and re-editing the piece, is magically surreal. I almost said magically delicious. This place that initially lived in your imagination as you wrote the script took on another life when you played out your story in this physical space. The story grew into the space until they were inextricably linked. Eventually the place works its way into your consciousness like a character all its own. As I pulled up into the lane we used for Ruri’s scenes with John, the cold gray space seemed empty without the lights, dollies, camera, cast and crew. Even with that, it had a familiarity and chilly warmth that left me waiting for the line:
“You passed with flying colors.”
The friendly attendant missed her cue but the car passed and I was on my way. I never did hear that lone serendipitous train whistle we got in the film.
I had a similar experience when out cycling at Golden Gardens, the Seattle park where we shot the beach scenes in the climax of Greenspoke. This also was the location where we shot several scenes for my acting turn as a multi-murderer in the Trapped Principal episode of the Japanese television series Gyoten Sekai. This park is used often in film productions here in Seattle, so it wasn’t unusual to see a film crew. What was fun was to see the 1st Assistant Camera from Greenspoke, Angie Bernardoni and then realize that our Director of Photography Ryan Purcell and Sound man extraordinaire Matt Sheldon were also on the beach making movie magic. Even though it was a warm day, I felt again the chill of our December shoot, reliving over and over again the teeth-chattering cold that the talent went through and that I have seen (and felt) hundreds of times as well as I tweaked the color and the edit and manipulated the sounds of their screams, the passing train and the water.
I’m currently working on storyboards to help me tweak my feature length script The Smiling Zombie. Storyboarding helps me identify weak sections of my scripts, visualize the locations I need and develop broad production design concepts. They also help in working with the director of photography to help us find the right dramatic and visual tension for a scene. Something they don’t do, which is part of the joy of making the film, is flesh out all the nuances of an actual space and how that can be used to further the story and enrich the visual aspects of the film. It’s like the difference between looking at a map and walking down the street. As I make my new ‘maps’, I’m looking forward to walking down the streets of the new places it brings into my stories and my life.