Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ralph Clemente on "My Fair Lidy"

What was your filmmaking background before making My Fair Lidy?

RALPH: I am fourth generation show business and have been active in the business all of my life.  I am a member of the Directors Guild of America and have been involved in the production of over 50 feature films, directing 5 of them.  I have been teaching film production for over 35 years.  Ten years at the University of Miami and twenty-five years at Valencia College in Orlando, FL.

How did you get connected to R.P. Simms' script and what was the process to get it ready to film? 

RALPH: My Fair Lidy came to me through its Producer, Sandi Bell.  She had bought the rights and brought it to me at the college to see if we would be interested in getting it produced.  

After reading the script and expressing my enthusiasm for it, Sandi asked me to direct the picture.  At first, I didn't think that I could direct it as a DGA member.  The budget being so small, etc.   But we were able to work that out and move forward with the project.  

When the script was first presented to me, it was 129 pages long.  About 30 pages longer than a small comedy should be.  I decided to send it to one of my main people in LA, an Emmy and Golden Globe award winning director, to see if I could get some coverage and advice.  A few days later, I received the best notes ever.  He thought that the piece was very funny, but way too long.  He told me to drop scenes 1 through 17 and scenes 43 to 49.  At first I was a little shocked.  So was Sandi.  But, once we printed out a new version the script started to flow much better.  I think that it improved it 50%.  

The first 17 scenes set up characters and situations that didn't warrant being set up.  That cut the script down to 100 pages.  After that I kept shaping it and tightening it until we ended up with about a 90-page script.

How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

RALPH: Sandi Bell is a former casting director and knew a lot of actors working in this area.  I've been working here a long time and knew a lot of good actors as well.  Sandi also reached out to Brevard Talent and we started to hold auditions.  We were able to improve on a few things as early as that.  

Being a former actor myself, I like the whole auditioning process, working with the actors.  Getting into sub-text, etc.  For a lot of the smaller parts, that's the only time that you get to spend with the actors.  There is no budget for rehearsals.  The next day that you get with those actors is on the day of their scene(s).  

Also, I do get into a bit of improv during the casting process.  I don't want them to read their lines.  Occasionally you can pick up a funny line or two during this process.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

RALPH: We shot the film on two Red One cameras with Zeiss Super Speed lenses, a set of Bausch & Lomb lenses and a couple of Cook zoom lenses.  These days we do shoot on the Red One a lot.  I still prefer 35MM film, but things are a changing and we'll change right along with them.  

My most recent picture, HeartBreak, was shot the same way, except we did use a couple of Canon cameras, using our Zeiss lenses with them as well.  I would love to use more cameras in the future.  The digital age has opened things up a lot for the independent filmmaker.  I love the prospects and look forward to the future.

Did the movie change much in the editing and, if so, why did you make those changes?

RALPH: I am a great believer that you should do most of your editing in the script. When you are dealing with tight schedules and limited budgets, that's really the way to go.  If you don't need it, don't shoot it.  Focus on the things that you do need to tell your story and make your picture.  

This film had a rough cut ready to screen the Wednesday following our Friday evening wrap.  We premiered it three months later at a film festival.  Of course, there is always some tightening and fixing in the editing.  But, there were no huge changes on this film.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

RALPH: The smartest thing that we did was securing a couple of great locations.  The Parliament House in Orlando was a huge get for this picture.  This is a famous Gay Club in Orlando which provided us with a lot of different locations for the film.  They also have a theater in that facility which plays a pivotal role in the film.  We filmed there for about a week.  It would have been very hard to make this film without their participation. 

This location provided us with the perfect look for this film.  The theater had it's own lighting system, allowing our Director of Photography to really get the most out of that location.  We also got very lucky with our second main location, the Stetson Mansion in DeLand, FL.  The owners of that amazing place were very helpful as well and we were able to use this location as several different locations.   

The dumbest thing that we did was that we shot this film during the month of July in Central Florida.  High temperatures, high humidity and lots of thunderstorms.  Spring would have been an easier time to film.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?

RALPH: I did learn a few valuable lessons while making this film, as you do on all projects that you work on.   The biggest lesson being that there has to be enough money in the budget to be able to have more pre-production time with the Director of Photography and a few of the other department heads.   A few days of rehearsal would also be nice to have and to be budgeted for.

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