Monday, May 24, 2010

NFTKK diary #7: the shoot with pianist Anton Kuerti

I set my alarm for 5am for our 7am call time on May 13. But I wasn't sleeping well, so I finally got up at 4am and did some preparatory work for the shoot. I had previously made a playback CD for the shoot, adding a click track and dividing the piece (the Scherzo from Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 18) into smaller sections as well - into thirds and sixths. Katarina had organized the shot list into a detailed spreadsheet and I went through the list to figure out which playback track we would use and where we could get additional coverage as well.

We got to the Day 1 location to find all of our compact crew of 16 people was already there. They had gotten started setting up and moving the gear from the basement up to the third floor set. Rose and her intern Allison worked very quickly to design the set. We lost a half hour of prep time from the previous night so they had some catching up to do. Perhaps it wasn't so bad after all that Anton wouldn't be arriving until later.

Our 2nd AC Andrew was going to handle the data transfers for the Red camera, and tried setting up Katarina's laptop with the requisite setup for downloading the footage. That's when we realized that her computer didn't have the specs required for the software. I've worked on projects with the Red before and they do generally demand very specific requirements from your computer. We were in a bind. Andrew had a computer that we could use but he didn't bring it. He lived in the westernmost part of the city so would take at least an hour to get there and back, probably twice that in the morning rush hour. So we could lose him for an hour or two, or take a chance with our footage on the hard drive and only transfer at our lunch break and at the end of the day.

Our 1st AD Louis saved the day by offering a computer that he and his partner Esther had at their place. He had to make a few calls to make it happen, and it quickly came together. We sent out a PA to pick it up from his house.Their computer worked out perfectly.

The parking situation turned out to be a disaster, though. Right from the beginning, the parking situation was cursed. Whenever I've gotten parking permits in the past, they came with no charge from City Hall. Since we were using Katarina's insurance from Quebec, her liability wasn't enough for Ontario. She had to spend $250 to increase it from $1 million to $2 million. Then we were told that our permits would cost $173 dollars for metering charges. I'd never encountered that before. Those were unavoidable costs for street parking on Day 1, so we passed on those permits. We were told that we could park at a nearby hotel and if we got it stamped before we left, the charge would be $6. With six production vehicles expected, we were prepared for that cost. But on the day, most of us ended up parking incorrectly at a lot that didn't belong to the hotel. So not only were they charged $15 each for the wrong lot, they weren't even allowed to stay and had to move to the hotel's lot where they were charged again. That wasted our time as well as adding to our costs.

When Anton arrived on set, he may have been a touch grumpy. But our hair and makeup artist Roxanne did a great job of putting him in the right frame of mind as well as making him look right for the camera. hair/makeup people always seem to be really good that way, yet undervalued because many don't realize how much that helps the shoot go well.

Rose and Allison made the set look great and John gave it very distinctive lighting. Once everything was in place, Katarina and I were very pleased.  We brought out the antique typewriter, a rare Underwood No. 1 courtesy of Martin Howard who owns the largest collection of antique typewriters in Canada. The crew was very impressed with it. Anton came onto the set and I think he was pleased by everything as well.

Once we started shooting, everything pretty much ran smoothly and Kat and I hardly had to do anything. We took turns calling the roll, but really Louis and John pretty much took care of it all. Because of the preparation that we did with the shot list and the photos the day before, they knew exactly what needed to be done and were very focused and speedy. Anton started getting into it more and more, and seemed to be enjoying himself. Even though he was very tired and was yawning, he worked very hard and tried his best with every single take.

Katarina and I waited until an opportune moment to broach the topic of when we could expect him the following day at the concert hall. He agreed to come at 8am and to be picked up by a PA. Not as early as we would have liked, but not too bad.It meant that some extreme close-ups (macros) of the interior of the piano that we planned for the end of the day would have to come at the start of the day instead. It also meant that I'd have to do the playing, and learn a bit of the piece well enough that the hammers would sync with the music.

We finished Day 1 a little ahead of schedule. We got all the shots we needed and were very happy with how it all looked. We all headed home to rest up for the early 5am call time for the next morning. I spent a bit of time practicing a chunk of the piece where I figured we'd be filming the close-ups. I realized how out of practice I am at the piano.

Day 2 was much more relaxed. One person had an alarm clock malfunction and would have to drive down, meaning we didn't have enough permits. However, two of the PAs were doing some errands and I asked if one of them could drop off a car at home and then return together. She could, and that cleared up a space for us.

The crew got everything set up very quickly. So we started shooting the macros and I was surprised to find the tempo of the recording much faster than I expected. I scrambled to keep up with it, and eventually gave up on playing it with the appropriately light touch. We weren't going to use the audio, so no one would know if I was too loud, but they would know if the hammers weren't moving in time to the music. I couldn't see what was it looked like since I was playing, but Kat was running the show and liked what she saw.

When Anton arrived, we all got to hear how the piece is supposed to sound. He hadn't played this particular piece for over 20 years, but with some brushing up was still able to play it superbly.Since the concert hall was close to the daycare centre for John's son Darwin, he brought him in to watch Anton play. Darwin is already a music lover at his young age, and was mesmerized by watching both a live musician and his own father behind the camera. We got a lot of terrific footage, with angles and camera moves that you would normally never see in a typical live performance of a piano recital.

During the breaks, Anton took advantage of having the piano handy to practice a Shostakovich Viola Sonata that he would be playing in the next while. He expressed some disappointment that the piano part wasn't more interesting than it was. When we were ready to roll camera, he found an interesting way to hide the music -- by curling it a bit and squeezing it between two jutting pieces of wood on the long side of the piano that usually faces away from the audience.

We also finished early on the second day as well. That was good because we had a inflexible 3pm deadline at which point we had to be completely out of the hall. We made that in plenty of time.

Amazingly, our bad luck with parking continued on the second day. We had permits for all our production vehicles, but they all got ticketed. Rose told us that it's an common way for ticketers to make their quota and that they figure we won't care since we can fight it and win. Still, it was a major annoyance to see all those tickets when we had the permits plainly visible.

We still weren't done, though. Kat and I had to scramble a little to get all our stuff dropped off before most places closed at 6pm. Our van was due back at that time as well. It was close, but it turned out not to be so crucial. The rental place was still open after 6pm, so there wasn't such a rush. Katarina and I rewarded ourselves with a nice Indian dinner.

The next day, Kat and I met up again with Anton to take care of all the paperwork and business matters. We presented him with a gift of vintage wine -- a bottle of 1990 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron. He returned the favour by giving us a bottle of 2007 Lavau Vacqueyras from a case remaining from his son Julian's wedding. He then took us out for dinner at a sushi restaurant. This brought everything full circle, since our first official meeting with him to discuss this project was over a sushi dinner. It was a wonderful way to end the shoot and bring us closer together.We are deeply indebted to him for making this such a thrilling and rewarding experience for us.

Previous posts on Notes From the Kuerti Keyboard:
My good news from Bravo!FACT
Location, location, location
NFTKK diary #3: bumps on the road in pre-production
NFTKK diary #4: pre-production meetings
NFTKK diary #5: the shot list and the tech scout
NFTKK diary# 6: last-minute chaos before the shoot

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