Posted tagged ‘way of the dolphin’

T Minus 1 Day — Here We Go Over the Edge of the Cliff…..

January 23, 2009

Okay — we’re REALLY up and grinding now. Last day before we start shooting so everyone is activated and we are receiving the equipment, the trailers, props. set dressing — all that stuff is being delivered; the pre-lighting of the sets is starting to happen; we had our final pre-shoot meeting with the production design team to make sure that the sets are okay; the final shotlist has been published (I’m going to put it up here in a different post)…..and of course my head is spinning a bit because in the background there is all the “producer” stuff to deal with — figuring out how to get enough petty cash (we need $9,000 but if you withdraw more than $3,000 it automatically triggers a “suspicious transaction report” and we don’t want that), figuring out some cashflow issues, etc etc.

Anyway — the good news is we’re permanently on the set now for the next five days — no more going to the regular office, and as of now (2:19 on Friday) I’ve put up an “out of office autoreply” on my regular email and I’m officially not dealing with anything but the movie until we wrap.

Also, we have WIFI here on the set so during breaks I can come update and add photos here.

Now here’s a picture gallery taken just a few minutes ago of a lot of the work going on here:

Imre, Gaffer, Calling for more something

Imre, Gaffer, Calling for more something

More Set Dressers at Work

More Set Dressers at Work

Alyssa's Hospital Room -- Set Ready to Go

Alyssa's Hospital Room -- Set Ready to Go

Hospital Hallway -- Set Dressers at Work

Hospital Hallway -- Set Dressers at Work

Forensic Lab (where dolphin will be examined)

Forensic Lab (where dolphin will be examined)

Wardrobe Closet -- Scrubs, etc

Wardrobe Closet -- Scrubs, etc

Shai Goldenburg Hanging lights

Shai Goldenburg Hanging lights

Another view of our stage entrance

Another view of our stage entrance

Lila Javan (Director of Photography) in front of our trailers, all two of them!

Lila Javan (Director of Photography) in front of our trailers, all two of them!


Michael Ironside and “Catch A Taxi Productions”

January 16, 2009


by Michael D. Sellers

As many of you know, Michael Ironside will be joining the cast of Way of the Dolphin for the Los Angeles shoot.  He’ll be playing the role of Captain Elias Blaine.  I haven’t spoken to him yet and I’m not sure he’ll remember me (I’m almost certain he won’t), but we’ve met and actually worked together once, long ago.

It was in the Philippines in 1992.  I was line producing my first bona-fide international film — Fortunes of War — starring Michael, Martin Sheen, Haing Ngorr (of Killing Fields fame), and some others.   Michael worked on the first day of filming, which was to take place at a residence in some very remote corner of “Metro Manila” (which means the whole 15 million population mega-city), probably a good hour in nasty traffic from the hotel.  Although as line producer I was generally responsible for all aspects of the below the line production, which would normally include getting the actors to the set — the American producers (I was considered a Philippine producer because I lived there) didn’t want to entrust this to the Filipino side, and insisted on organizing this themselves.  picture-114

So, on this first day, I remember arriving there before daylight, checking to make sure that the camera truck was there; the grip/electric truck; the catering; the craft services; all the different pieces of production.  Everything was good.  We had cameras; we had lights; we had film; we had all the picture vehicles; the set was ready; set dressing was in place; props were there — you get the idea, it’s a long checklist and when you’re production manager or line producer it’s all your responsibility.

Then the actor’s started arriving and — Michael Ironside was missing. It wasn’t that he was late.  It was just that he wasn’t in the van bringing actors to the set and he wasn’t in his hotel room.

By this time the US producers were there too and there was a big scramble to try and figure out where Michael Ironside was.  The communications weren’t good — we had radios for communicating around the set, but this was before there was any cell phone coverage in this section of Manila (might have been pretty much before cell phones entirely).

I remember standing on the balcony of the house that was our set, looking down a road that was a long, slow climb down a hill. Eventually I saw a decrepit Manila taxi (all taxis in Manila were decrepit in those days) putt-putting up the hill.  It slowed down and seemd to be searching for an address (no street numbers, of course), and my hopes rose.  And sure enough, the taxi stops, the door opens, and Michael Ironside gets out.

I’m pretty sure I was the first one to greet him and he was pretty cool about the whole thing.  Seemed to be taking it in stride.  I thanked him profusely for finding his way to the set on his own (no small feat), didn’t ask too many questions about how it happened, and walked him up the driveway to the house where we were filming.  There I handed him off to the First AD and breathed a sigh of relief.  We were complete.  Whew.

But the PS to all this is the following:  As I said, Michael was totally cool about it when it happened and didn’t show his anger at anyone, and in fact seemed to take the whole thing in stride.  If you’re not in the film biz this may not seem that big a deal — but let me assure you, in a foreign country, on the first day of filming, to somehow miss the pickup of one of your major stars and leave him standing at the hotel with no ride to the set and no way of communicating with the crew — this was a huge screwup and many/most actors of Michael’s stature would have been spitting nails by the time they got to the set.  Michael didn’t do that.  He did, however, get his comment on this when he showed up the next day wearing a T shirt with a beautifully designed logo and inscribed:  “Catch A Taxi Productions, Manila Philippines,” and then the date on it.

Message received, loud and clear.  And, all things considered, it was a very gentle way of chiding the production for a pretty big mistake on day one.

Anyway — I did some searching around the net and was able to find the trailer for that film.  It brings back memories for sure, and it’s worth a look.  It wasn’t a bad film at all.  And I brought in the entire below the line Philippine cost at $297,000 — pretty hard to imagine doing that now.  Take a look:  FORTUNES OF WAR TRAILER

Getting Started (Again)

January 15, 2009

Getting ready to shoot in LA is so much easier than shooting at a distant location. Here, there is just about everything you need within ten minutes of our offices in Burbank. So we got started for real today with a meeting of myself, producer Susan Johnson, and production supervisor (himself a producer in his own right but he’s helping us out as production supervisor) Al Dickerson, my old friend. Here is a pic of Al winning a CAMIE award.

And here’s one that captures a bit more of what he really looks like:


Our first couple of meetings were at a coffee shop (“Romancing the Bean”) in Burbank, down the street from our office. She’ll probably make me take it down — but here’s a pic of Susan from the meeting yesterday.picture-106

So that’s the initial team — it will grow day by day until there will be 60 or so of us when we’re shooting.

Prior to all of this there has been a lot work that Susan and I have been doing to finally get confirmation of dates that work for all the actors.   We had to dodge Sundance (going on now), and the inauguration (next week) — but we’re good to go, everyone is on board and all the actors are confirmed, including new addition Michael Ironside, whom we’re very excited to be working with.

The biggest decision we had to make was — where to shoot in LA.  The show was designed so that we would be able to shoot all of the LA portion on a stage, but the question then becomes — what stage?  For those of us in the indie world, the default choice is good old Lacy Street Studios.   But after weighing Lacy and some other options — we settled (as we almost always seem to do) on going up to Santa Clarita, which is 30 minutes from Burbank but (importantly) still within what SAG characterizes as “local” Los Angeles.

We ended up choosing Sets In The City — a facility in Santa Clarita that specializes in medical sets that are fully stocked with set dressing and props.  This is perfect for us becaue the scenes we are filming need the following sets

  • Hospital Room
  • Hospital Hallway/Nurses Station
  • Forensic Lab/Morgue
  • Underwater Laboratory (we have to build this set but tons of the props are available — we’re actually building inside the Courtroom set they have at the facility)
  • Captain Blaine’s Office
  • Exterior Naval Base

The beauty of it all is that we were able to find an office for Captain Blaine that actually has a window out onto the big metal corrugated buildings that totally look like a Naval base and will work for us.  (Somewhere in my computer I have shots of Subic Naval Base in the Philippines that look indistinguishable from what we’re going to be able to show here.

Anyway … today we had our first scout there.  Here are some photos of the sets and the facility:






18 June Log (Updated at 5:40PM)

June 18, 2008

Updated 5:40 PM

Spent the last two hours on the phone with the 1st AD going over the detailed production schedule. For anyone not familiar — this is a very intricate process in which every scene is broken down into a “strip” and then all the strips are assembled into a “board” (kind of a linear jigsaw puzzle) which eventually depicts what you’re shooting, in what order, day by day. The trick to scheduling is that you have to consider a lot of variables–which actors are available which days; how to minimize unnecessary moving around, which locations are available which days, day/night and “turnaround” issues (you can’t shoot until 3 am one day and start at 6 am the next … need 12 hours “turnaround”….and on and on. Here’s what day one looks like on the strip board I created before sending it off to the 1st AD for him to do his thing. (And any indie film-makers out there, this looks slightly different than what you’re used to because I did it in Excel, not Movie Magic Scheduling. I actually prefer Excel for first pass scheduling because it allows me more flexibility in the design of the strips and the elements you can sort for — also, for example, I can color code the strips which also helps. In this case, blue means open water … it makes it easier to go through the whole board and capture all the open water days when they’re color coded like this.)

Anyway … the good news is, it’s now 5:51 and the fish fry at Smith’s Point is about to start. We’re all going down.   I’ll have some pix to post when I come back.

Updated 3:40 PM

Had a working lunch with Susan Johnson, Jay Smith (co-producer), and Angela Carroll (production coordinator) where we went over some of the drudgery of production — shipping arrangements, vendor payables, plus some discussion of location site rentals and catering.

Afterwards Susan and I had what was supposed to be a fairly major script conference to talk mostly about the character of Hawk. I had spoken yesterday at length to David Keith, who will play Hawk, and had gotten his notes on the character and the role. Had processed these and sent them to Susan — thinking that maybe we were going to have a bit of a struggle to get everyone (producer, director, actor) synchronized. Turns out, no big dramas — the Susan Johnson-Michael Sellers mind meld seems to be working okay.

So … finishing early meant we spent more time on other production details — housing for actress Christine Adams who wants a condo rather than hotel because she’s bringing family; the deal for the local casting director which is just now being finalized; discussion of a looming communications problem (Sheraton seems to be about to change their internet system and may go down for up to a week); discussion of on-set cooling arrangements (it’s going to be quite hot in July and actors need to be able to really cool off between shots without having to go back to their dressing rooms. (End entry 3:46)

Updated 12:06 PM

Okay, finished with the meetings — all went well. Took some video of the art meeting which I’ll post later. Major debate at the art meeting was whether we’re going to build a house at the research facility or have them living on the beach in another location. The art dept and Susan are kind of pushing to use a beach house that they like. I’m pushing to have them at the facility on the corner point, looking out through the inlet to the ocean. I just feel that it ties together everything they’re doing with the dolphins to see them living there with the dolphins with that inlet to the sea. The cost differential is about $5,000 to do it the way I want to….although I think that analysis may be off because they haven’t done “deep analysis” of all the cost factors such as the cost of moving the entire shooting unit to the house on the beach (10 miles away from everything else that we’re shooting), and things like that. Anyway — we set a deadline of the weekend to get this decided. We also decided to set up an online google document for tracking location locks.

Second area of major discussion was where we’re going to do the hospital room. Turns out shooting it in a real hospital here doesn’t work to well for a number of reasons. Trying to come up with viable alternatives.

And the big “get” of the meeting was that they (Production Designer/Art Director) came up with a GREAT lab — I mean really great. Don’t have time to explain why, but it was awesome. Love it love it.

Casting meeting with Pepper Johnson, our lovely Bahamian casting director, was productive. Main point was to make sure she’s on board and understanding that I want to use real residents of Smith’s Point for the scenes depicting Smith’s Point. Got that idea across. Also sorted out some issues about our US Navy extras and bit parts.

Phone meeting with Jack Scanlon re product placement and promotional tie-ins also was productive. Working on dolphin tie-ins and jet skis, a few others. (Actually he had a long list of others but we ran out of time…I have 30 minutes to grab a sandwich and do this blog post, then I’m on to location scouts and stuff this afternoon.)


I’m down in the lobby of the Sheraton, cup of coffee and a banana, reading about as much of the news coverage of the Celtics blowout of the Lakers as I can stand (about half a dozen articles and I was done, what a disappointment but kudos to the Celtics). I’ve got about ten minutes before Susan and I are off to a morning of meetings.

First up is an art meeting with production designer Gabor Norman and his team. He’ll be showing us some sketches and budgets and photos of some alternative locations. The big issue on the table is the Hawk family house and whether we can create something on the site and UNEXSO or not. I’m very partial to making it work at UNEXSO. We’ll see how it goes on that one.

Second is local casting … we’re doing pretty well in that regard. We have most of the more significant local roles cast, but it’s important to get every one of them right. One lousy actor generating one lousy moment can really wreck a movie. And there’s really no excuse for it — even when you’re out ‘in the field’ like this. There are people who can do the small rloles and give them authenticity and life.

Third is a promotional meeting by phone with Jack Scanlan in LA who’s been doing a great job pursuing product placement and promotional opportunities. On the table at the moment is a situation with the Whales and Dolphins Conservation Society. Jack has been pursuing a rather large sponsorship deal with them, and felt that he had been getting some traction. It now looks, however, like they are going to pass. We shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed in this. As enlightened as we believe our story to be — the waters of dolphin conservation are very turbulent and groups like WDCS are inevitably going to be conflicted by any film that has any hint of captivity in it, and even interactivity is questionable. We have a chance on the issue of captivity because of the Third Phase program we depict in the movie in which the dolphins are not held in pens, but are free to come and go. But we can’t get around the “no interaction” position that WDCS and many conservationists have — a position that basically says not only should dolphins not be held captive, but any interaction with them is inherently detrimental to the dolphin’s welfare. The movie takes the position that scientifically managed interaction can bring benefits to both humans and dolphins…..and there’s no way to sugarcoat that. So I dont’ think anything wll come of it but we’ll see. Meanwhile there are many other things to talk about — jetski deals, boat deals, etc. (Finished 12:14 PM)

Figuring Out the Boats and Other Dolphin Stuff

June 17, 2008

Yesterday some time was spent working on the “picture boat” situation (i.e. boats that will appear in the movie, as opposed to working boats that will be camera platforms, etc). The story involves depiction of elements of the US Navy’s Marine Mammal Program so we’re trying to “get it right” — correct boats, work uniforms, etc. First stop is the Navy’s official website for the program. It’s reasonably helpful and worth a visit. Have to say the logo they’ve developed is borderline silly — don’t mean that in a harsh way but what are they thinking. Here it is. But anyway, the site has some photos but it’s interesting — they don’t show much of the actual equipment that is used with the dolphins. The site identifies the areas in which the Navy uses its dolphins: Mine Hunting, Force Protection, Object Recovery, and fleet support — and has a map showing where the dolphins have been deploted around the world. Conscious that there is a good bit of criticism of the Navy for using Marine Mammals in this way, the site also includes discussion of Marine Mammal Health and Welfare, etc.

The one picture that is quite interesting is this one, which is widely available around the internet. In the movie we also intend to depict a Navy dolphin with a camera mounted …. one of the problems in doing this is that we can’t mount on on a pectoral fin, like that — the training issues are too extreme.

Instead, we will create a different mount using a vest that our dolphins at UNEXSO have already been trained to wear.  The one they’re used to wearing contains medical monitoring equipment as part of a medical sciences experiment that UNEXSO is sponsoring.  We will replace the monitoring equipment with a camera.

The Boats

We did manage to find some photos of specially rigged boats and smallcraft used by the Navy dolphin program.  Here are the three best ones. The first one shows a boat that has part of the gunwale removed so that the dolphin can be easily placed inside the boat for transport.  The second one is a modified large zodiac with a sling on board for transport.  And the third one shows another type of modification.

Based on these, we’re able to know pretty clearly what it is we’re looking for — and now we’re on the trail of finding it.  Also — you can see that these photos help with wardrobe issues as well, as they depict the Marine Mammal Program types at work. 

Welcome to an Experiment That May Become Mission Impossible

June 16, 2008

Welcome to my experiment at trying to “liveblog” my way through the making of “Way of the Dolphin” — a film I’m directing and exec producing this summer in the Bahamas. If Anderson Cooper can do it during the commercials on AC 360, I guess I can do it while we’re making the film. The idea of doing this came about with some encouragement from those of you who regularly read my private blog for our investors, and some other friends who are blog savvy and thought it might be interesting if I try to chronicle this adventure as we go along. I’m calling it “live blogging” rather than something else (journal, diary, whatever) because I want to ask you all in advance to cut me some slack — this has to be done on the fly, rule number one — no rewriting or editing — because of the time pressures during production. I’m going to just hit this hard on the fly and make sure that I put something in here at least daily — whether it’s a written blog update, posting some pictures, posting video — or even doing audio updates (thanks to the technology I can basically just turn on my computer and start talking, then save it, and post it here). So … not quite sure how this will turn out but here we go.

As I write this post we are exactly four weeks out from the first day of filming on July 13. I’m sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama Island, where we have a great rate of $109 net per night and where they have free wi-fi in the lobby. It’s 7:10 AM and I’ve been here for about an hour or so. I’ve been here 10 days and after I get this “starter” post in I’m going to go back and post some other material and videos that I’ve made over the last ten days–sort of an effort to get you caught up.

Here on the ground now in the Bahamas from our team we have:

  • Yours truly – Michael D. Sellers, Executive Producer and Director.
  • Susan Johnson, Producer.
  • Jay Smith, Co-Producer
  • Angela Carrol, Production Coordinator
  • Cornelius McKinney, Unit Production Manager
  • Gabor Nelson, Production Designer
  • Alan Howatt, Art Director
  • Paul Mockler, Underwater Cinematographer

Over the next two weeks it will be mostly just this batch … then everyone else will start coming in about two weeks out.

Okay, I’m out of time. Got to go. Will add to this later.