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The Making of Family: Part One

In the first of a three-part series, indie director JM Logan describes his workflow for shooting on location By Frank Moldstad

On the road: Family stars Boyd Kestner (Eldon) and Renee Humphrey (Jean). Humphrey is also a co-founder of Titan Motion Picture Group, with Logan, Jon Lawrence, Michael Shelton, and Larry A. Lee.
?Hey, Kids! Lets put on a show! -- Mickey Rooney to Judy Garland in Babes in Arms (1939)

If only it were so easy to put on a show as it was for Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Despite the fact that digital technology has given access to more filmmakers than ever, successful independent production presents major challenges even to those with years of professional experience. In this three-part series, we talk with independent filmmaker JM Logan about what it took to finish his new psychological thriller called Family, spanning a 14-month period from script through post production.

Although Family was his directorial debut, Logan has been in the film business for nearly 20 years, beginning with special make-up effects, doing creature design for films such as Virus, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Dentist and Wes Cravens Wishmaster series. Then he segued into sound design and composing, working on such productions as Black Mask 2: City of Masks and Tsui Harks Vampire Hunters. Several years later, he returned to visual effects as a line producer and co-designer on Mel Gibsons The Passion of the Christ, and visual effects producer on The Exorcism of Emily Rose.

JM Logan
But as they say, what he really wanted to do was direct. After forming an independent production company called Titan Motion Picture Group, Logan and Titan co-founder Renee Humphrey were able to tap a diverse talent pool from their industry contacts. Humphrey, who plays the female lead in Family, worked as an actress for 25 years before becoming interested in the production side. Among her acting credits are the films Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Drawing Flies, Devil in a Blue Dress, Mallrats and French Kiss, and her production credits include co-producing and directing Animal Yoga for Kids, which played on PBS stations.

They secured a solid crew of actors, beginning with male lead Boyd Kestner (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Black Hawk Down) and 13-year-old Tanner Richie, whose experience includes a recurring role as Anne Heches son on the TV series "Nip/Tuck" and a recurring vocal role in the animated series "Father of the Pride."

As is common with independent films, nearly everyone involved with the production of Family is a jack-of-all trades. In addition to directing the film, and sharing producer duties with Humphrey and two others, Logan edited it, operated one of the cameras, and served as post production supervisor. Joseph Russo II, who plays lead villain Luke in Family, also operates the animation studio 23D films, which contributed an effects shot to the film. Scriptwriter Hudson Shock has extensive visual effects experience (Titanic, The Fifth Element), but this is his feature film debut as a writer.


The Family Plot

Family is about doing the right thing, despite the consequences.

Jean (Renee Humphrey), a prison escapee on the run, hitches a ride from Eldon (Boyd Kestner) and his 10-year-old son Cole (Tanner Richie), who are on a cross-country trip. But there's something about the father-son relationship that gives her the creeps.

While Eldon is inside a gas station, Jean decides to leave. But the boy begs her not to go. It turns out that Eldon has abducted him, and he's scared to death. She can't turn her back on the boy, and stays to protect him. But the increasingly bizzare Eldon believes that Jean is his ex-wife, and he's not going to let the family fall apart again.

As fate would have it, they encounter one of her ex-partners in crime in a remote restaurant. Still angry at her over a deal gone wrong, he decides to rob them on the road. A dramatic shootout at the end leaves just her and the boy still standing, with the cops on the way. Should she stay with the boy, which means going back to prison, or should she run?

The film's web site is http://www.chooseyourfamily.com

Family has a warm and rich look that comes from some innovative techniques Logan devised for DV shooting, detailed below. He and DP Kelly Jones shot the film at 24p (16x9 anamorphic squeeze) on two Panasonic DVX 100a cameras. It was edited in Final Cut Pro, and up-rezzed from 720 to 1440 for output to HD. We began our conversation talking about the shoot, and how the cameras were employed.

I understand that before shooting the film, you tested out your ideas by shooting a music video using a Panasonic DVX 100a camera at 24p and uprezzing to HD.

Yep. 24pa, that was at 2:3:3:2, because I knew I was going to go up to the HD. This was all part of an experimental process Id already played around with in the music video. So when we went to shoot the movie I had a process in place, which was very handy. And I ended up changing it a good bit once we actually got into real post production, but it was still based on some ideas I already had. I knew I didnt want to get any interlaced frames in there.

Whats your verdict on the DVX 100a for indie filmmakers?

Man, I love it. Absolutely. When I first got that camera, I was playing around with which one to get and I wasnt sure. I almost went for that first JVC HDV camera.

Was that the JY-HD10U?

Yeah, just because I saw that it was HDV and I liked the resolution. But at the time, there really werent any editing solutions for that. Final Cut didnt work with it, and Premiere sort of worked with some sort of patch and workaround. But then I borrowed a friend of mines DVX and I just completely fell in love with it. Compared to any other camera that Ive tested, it has such a beautiful, clean, crisp image. It loves color. The motion is great. I shot so much test footage with it. And I just think that camera, especially at the price point, is the best one on the market.

You had a lot of car shots, and I didnt notice any problems with motion in those.

Yeah. When I first got the camera, I was reading a bunch of stuff about motion because of the 2:3:3:2. Youre essentially pulling out a frame, and people were saying that the motion gets jittery. But I never ever experienced that. I found that it has great exposure and great motion blur, and with the right combination of filters, you can really get a beautiful image. You just have to play to the cameras strengths.  

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Related Keywords:independent filmmaker, JM Logan, Panasonic, DVX 100a, cameras, HD, Algolith, post production, After Effects

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