FRANKLIN & BASH (2011, Ensler)
I wanted to share some of my experiences on the show and showcase an impressive shot from the F&B pilot that has a wonderfully gripping behind-the-scenes tale to go with it, straight from the mouth of the shot’s director & executive producer (and all-around-good-guy) Jason Ensler.
Making a pilot is never easy – you’re establishing the world, the characters, the premise — and much exposition has to be shoe-horned into this first episode. Also, most times, you’re shooting entirely on location, which, while often providing cool verisimilitude, can be a total pain in the ass, which you’ll plainly witness when Jason tells us like it was. Reminds me of a particularly rough location shoot I had directing the spec comedy pilot Pizza Time which was, incidentally, written by F&B scribe Aeden Babish. A lividly angry Kwicki-Mart/Check-Into-Cash-owner lady with a shot gun just under her counter, made it very clear she didn’t want us shooting there (even though we had a contract) by yelling in Korean over every take and refusing to turn the electronic bell above the front door off and clearly it was check cashing day for the neighborhood. That the scene cuts together quietly and coherently is testament to the illusion of editing and the power of soldiering on even while seeing your entire career flash before your eyes.
So, onto this wonderful oner by Ensler. Oh, one more thought – his story of the shot also reminds me of my plight with the oner I created in Hard Pill, and blogged about here, when it was late and I knew a oner would get us home the quickest, but also serve that story moment the best. Jason seems to have had the same intention. Here’s the shot, it starts when the music kicks in. Jason’s entertaining insights after the jump.
“We were up against a neighborhood curfew. We had to be out by 11pm. And the 6’4″ Atlanta cop who had no love for Hollywood types, was serious about the 11pm cut off. The day before, he and I had a private location scout and he made it clear in no uncertain terms that jews and assholes-from-Hollywood weren’t a few of his favorite things. This shot was not on the schedule or in the script but despite that and Officer Krupke, I was determined to get it, because I knew it would capture a vibe the show needed, especially at the point in the story. We had 30 minutes left on the day. The director of photography, who was as dogged as I was to get this shot, had been lighting for it all day. And I had been walking the actors and the assistant directors through the blocking every chance I got for 2 days. So we blocked in 15 minutes and then rehearsed with camera twice and then shot it. We did 8 takes. The take we used was #7. We knew we had it on #7, but we had 3 minutes left on the clock and Goebbels giving us the evil eye, so we thought we’d run down the clock. When we wrapped on time, there was an air of celebration, knowing we had gotten something cool. Even the Bad Lieutenant shook my hand and said thank you. In Hebrew. Or maybe I imagined that part.”
Ensler directs by “The Book”
Interesting note about Jason’s process which I find cooly creative and artistic. Ensler keeps a sketch book on him in prep and production and allows the formation of each scene to occur very organically. He’ll print & paste a still from a movie or TV show that evokes something he wants to capture in the scene. What I love is that it’s sometimes a framing or lighting or design element, but sometimes it’s ethereal. As far as I can tell, those photos remind him of what his first emotional insight into the scene was, a feeling that can be very easily lost (crushed) in the chaos of the set. He also pastes in the script sides for the scene and leaves plenty of room for sketching, which he does on set throughout the day. Quite a unique process and really cool to watch develop.
Finally, here’s a pic I snapped on a break when we were on location and sneaked over to a sushi joint. My ‘dust bowl’ portrait.