Magazine article American Cinematographer

Medium Straight-Super 16 to 35

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Medium Straight-Super 16 to 35

Article excerpt

Douglas E. Carnevale, director of photography for Medium Straight had filmed a number of music videos with Adam Friedman. (Their "Big Mouth (Whodini)" video was recently selected by the Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection.) Even with considerable experience at fast multiple set-ups, shooting a feature length film in less than two weeks was a new challenge.

According to Friedman, "Doug, Blitz (Robert Litz) and I agreed that the only way to get this film in the can on a next to nothing bankroll was to pull together a small, deeply committed group, made up of people we'd all worked with before: from actors, designers, and stylists to grips and PAs. A home team." Friedman added, "What we lost in size of crew, was more than made up for in expertise, enthusiasm, and lively collaboration. On a big crew, you just can't listen to everybody with an idea; on a small one, you can and do. Often."

Doubling and tripling up on jobs may have saved money and created a special esprit, but near the frayed end of long days, set civilities and friendships ran the gauntlet. At one point, the key grip and executive producer were wrestling with flags being whipped by the wind, the gaffer - already in costume for a scene in which he was to play a supporting role - was receiving final touches from make-up, and the director of photography needed to bump up the lighting outside a window. Carnevale turned to Minietta (the gaffer/actor) and suggested that "If the 'actor' could find the time to fly a 5K, it would certainly be appreciated by the DP." Glamour.

Photographed in Super 16, the film explores the consequences of a very small-time drug deal gone ludicrously awry. Nicky Harding (played by Jerome LePage), trying to impress his new girlfriend (Anne Lilly), meets with Joey Mannucci (Ron Sanborn). Both pretend to know what they're doing. Joey bungles his attempt to "take off" Nicky In the struggle, Nick ends up with Joey's gun, thinking he's shot him dead.

Nick flees the scene, retreating to the family farm in South Jersey. He enlists the reluctant aid of his brotherly older cousin Pat (Richard Schiff). Pat eventually discovers that the man Nick shot is Joey Mannucci, the son of a prominent organized crime boss. He also finds out that Joey is not only not dead but eager to settle accounts.

The film explores how far Pat will go to help his ne'er-do-well younger cousin once he finds out that the possible solutions are not only illegal, but possibly fatal. The final confrontation between the cousins and Joey, backed up by a bodyguard (Pat Minietta, also the gaffer), takes place in the barn down on the farm. Built on this essentially action-oriented premise, with an urban story shifted to a rural setting, the film is in fact an extended study in the characters of five men and a woman. All are in their late twenties: non-yuppie characters from the yuppie generation.

Though written quickly and in pre-production instantly, the script of Medium Straight was polished over the course of a threeweek rehearsal period. With the writer doubling as acting coach and the director-writer collaboration extremely close, scenes and sequences were reshaped with the cast for eventual filming on location. All this preparation paid off in high productivity and extremely low shooting ratios. In one day, for example, 18 pages were shot, on five locations, with 37 camera setups. Friedman gives a lot of credit for maintaining this pace to his first assistant director, Kim Watson, who managed "to keep us all in overdrive without turning into a tyrant."

"Still," Watson concedes, "the pressure, building up over the long days, back to back, with egos kept under tight lids, sometimes exploded after hours." A heated discussion at 2 a.m. in a local restaurant over acting choices resulted in a visit by a state trooper who didn't share their passion for filmmaking. But, with fines paid, wrists still smarting from the slap, everyone was back on the set at nine for the start of another 15 hour day, with the local police car, needed for the first scene, idling outside the barn. …

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