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Geoffrey Gould
Reports from the set/s...
A Darker Time
Joshua Hsieh's USC Student Film

Thursday, April 01, 2004
Audition
I had submitted for the USC student film A Darker Time and received word from the project's writer/director Tate Gardner had been in voice-mail contact with me, he emailed me the audition date, time, location and the short script for A Darker Time, based on a portion of the Clive Barker novel Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story. As with any audition or shoot, I arrived around hour early for my 8:30pm audition calltime. I had printed out a copy of the emailed three-character script I'd begun studying and waited, until Tate showed up and we introduced each other. He went in and a few other candidates showed up.
One guy requested to be seen early as he "wanted to be on time" for another appointment. Tate had no problem accomodating him, yet the guy kept on about it. A rule of thumb: when you get your "Yes," stop talking about it.
I knew I was early so I was in no rush.
Around 8:10 or so, Tate came back out after the first group, and I was brought in with the other actor (the second one was not yet there). As I was auditioning as a medical doctor, I wore my white doctor/lab-tech coat over my blue shirt and tie.
As we only had the one other actor with me, he and I read through the first section first (up until my character exits). The prospective candidate read for each of the two other roles, and Tate's assistant read the opposite role. Afterwards we were reminded that if cast, the first rehearsal would be Sunday afternoon, then Tuesday evening In Class, and the shoot itself the following week. Tate mentioned the class facilitor was Monte Hellman, a name that rang a bell in my head. Tate indicated he'd done "a lot", "most notably" being one of the executive producers for Reservoir Dogs, which while I'd seen it, I didn't know that much of its background, so that was not from where I knew the name. Once home I checked his imdb entry, noting he wrote, directed, and edited one of my favourite westerns: China 9, Liberty 37.

Sunday, April 04, 2004
Rescheduling
Tate paged me to let me know that one of his two other actors he had cast had had to back out, due to his being booked to work a pilot which would conflict with this project. The second-choice actor for the same role had already made other plans and was no longer available to take over the role.
Tate was glad to have caught me before I was on the road. Thankfully he had called, as I had neglected to take into account it was the start of Daylight Savings Time. My pager doesn't reset itself as does the computer, and essentially it was off by the one hour early.
Had I reset it, and my alarm gone off properly, I would have been in the earliest stage of my transit before had Tate paged me.
So "everything" has been pushed back a week. Today's postponed rehearsal is set for next Saturday, the Tuesday night class rehearsal is now Tuesday night the 13th and the shoot is set for Wednesday day April 14th.
Tate indicated the Wednesday shoot would "be about four hours." Considering the lines and the coverage involved, I suspected Tate would be even more prepared than was Justin Lerner for his own student film Solo, which was shot in four hours.
At the time I was guessing, due to the "static nature" of the scene (one character in a hospital bed, his eyes and face bandaged), that the brother nearby and the doctor (only there for about a third of the scene), the scene would be shot straight through, with each set-up angle, and then the footage edited together. Plus it was going to be shot digitally, so that could factor in speed and efficiency.

Saturday, April 10, 2004
Afternoon rehearsal
In the late morning I stopped at my regular barber (in that he officially always remembered my name upon my walk-in arrival). I told him I needed "the shag" taken out of my hair. Despite the thinness on top, the sides and back tend to go nuts as far as thickness more than length.
My barber knows I'm an actor, and when I told him I was to be portraying an upscale doctor (hence the "immediate need" for the trim), he went to town a bit more vigourously than usual. Normally it's just a nice trim. This time I was shorn like a sheep, far shorter than I'd had it in decades. Thankfully it looked perfect to portray the doctor I'll be playing. It grew out a bit by my birthday at the end of the month.
I arrived about 12:35pm and met my fellow cast members, Charlie Matthes and Tristan Poje. Tristan resembled a cross between Robin Williams and Quentin Tarantino, while Charlie has a slight resemblence to David Hasselhoff (apparently only one other person has made that visual connnection, he said, comically thanking me for "ruining" his day). As it was, Charlie figured that, considering our very similar "Roman noses," Tristan and I could play father and [adult] son, even though Tristan is slightly taller than I.
Both facially and in his humour, director Tate Gardner reminded me strongly of my actor friend Andrew Black (the reference lost on anyone who doesn't know the musical-theatre singer-dancer notwithstanding...).
After going through it a few times, Tate took the three of us out to lunch. We hadn't realized he was paying for all of us until we were checking out. We stopped up at a small Italian food "cafeteria" type place at which I had Fettuccini Alfredo and the other had equally large meals at the surprisingly not-so-high prices.
We discussed movies (we're all horror movie fans, though genre-within-the-genre tastes slightly differ) and Charlie and Tristan are both Harry Potter book fans and we discussed the nightmares that are the movie adaptations. I was thankful I didn't say too much before I learned Charlie has yet to read Order of the Phoenix
Back at the rehearsal space, our lunches happily weighed heavily on each of us. We ran the scene and tried a few variant adjustments Tate made.
Tate is a pleasant director, knowing how to communicate his ideas and concepts without any condescension. We joked about poor Charlie being "masked," as it were, what with his eyes being bandaged throughout the entire hospital room scene. At the time I quipped we could set up his 8x10 in a frame near the bed, but as I now type this up, I realize.... this is a hospital scene. Maybe as a prop some "Get Well" flowers could have his headshot attached thereon! As his role is an actor, and there is a reference to his character's agent in the script, they could be from her.
I sent an email to Tate in case he liked the idea. Tate told us he was working on trying to get an actual room in a real hospital in which to shoot the scene Wednesday. This was not definite but he would keep us apprised. Charlie, Tristin and I agreed to meet earlier Tuesday to go over it a few times as we need to be off script. Today we were already each about 80% to 90%+ off script.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Evening In-class rehearsal
I got to USC far faster than I anticipated, and arrived around 5:40pm. Tate showed up around 6:30 and due to horrific traffic, Charlie and Tristan arrived just before 7pm. Tate found for us a dressing room in which we relaxed, ran lines, etc. Tate provided a nightmarish "bandage" to be wrapped around Charlie's eyes. He had stained it with red food colouring, giving the impression that this upper class plastic surgery office with its high-end clientel, actually had interns who must live in skid row.
Around 8:45pm, we started to get a bit anxious. Tate came as often as he could to assure us they would get to us: they were working with the previous group. Still. We joked that clearly, they must suck.
We finally got in there, and Tate managed to procure a "hospital bed" of sorts, using the thin striped mattress covering (for now) as the sheet. The flat with the door got moved over, and we were ready to begin.
We ran through it without a hitch, except for the door was now at a slight crack in the floor so it wouldn't open properly (about a quarter of the way).
Being three Professional Actors, everyone was impressed with our performance and we were given no adjustments. We'd "done it right" in "one take," as it were.
The class shifted rooms, and Tate related to us how the class liked our performances, etc., and finally Monte Hellmancame by and Tate introduced him to me. Tate had already told him that I was a fan of one of his films, but Tate has trouble remember the admittedly odd titled China 9, Liberty 37. Monte Hellman smiled at remembering the lovely and talented Jenny Agutter, conveying as once did John Landis, Monte first fell for Jenny in the unforgettable Walkabout.
When we were finished, to avoid the long drives, San Diegan Tristan was staying over locally, right near my place, so he was kind enough to give me a lift home.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004
Shoot
I arrived for this, my sixth student film, around 12:45pm for the 1:30pm calltime. Tate arrived around 1:00pm and had to wait for some people in the sound stage to clear out. Tate and his assistant Nate Collette set up the soundstage and camera and all. While setting up for a new shot, the group of us discussed various cameras and such, as well as computers and the pros and cons of PCs and Macs, the latter of which I tended to consider the "anti-computer."
Once we got going, we ran the scene several times with various angles and coverage. Using a DV camera, Tate put masking tape over the top and bottom of the side monitor so as to film (frame) it as widescreen. A few lines got lost here and there, and fumbled (I was not immune from a few line flubs).
Looking at some of the playback, the quality of the footage looked impressive. I am very pleased and honoured to have been able to work with such talents as Charlie and Tristan on this project for Tate. I'll be very surprised if this short subject does not go over well at film festivals. He indicates loving to edit, and he looks forward to its completion (as do we).

Sunday, May 23, 2004
Review/s
Tate informed us there was no availability for an actual screening, but conveying: "The class thought you guys did a great job, they liked you all in each role. They also couldn't tell where we shot it which I thought was kinda funny. Their main complaint was with my edit: I favored close-ups over wide shots because I was trying to emphasize the performances, but I'm happy with it so whatever."


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