Tuesday, September 23, 2003

The Making of In Memory of My Father

Submitted by Chris Jaymes

In Memory of My Father was shot over a five day period using three cameras following a four week on-location rehearsal process where the script was further developed. One week after returning from Southeast Asia, where I had been for three months, I wrote the script in five days after David Austin, the executive producer, asked me to write a script to film in his house. Austin lives in one of Samuel Goldwyn’s old mansions, off Franklin and Camino Palmero in the Hollywood Hills, and was planning to sell the house and wanted to have it documented before doing so.

I had been planning to see the revival screening of Luis Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie all week at the Fine Arts Theater and it was Thursday evening, the last night of its run. So I rushed over for the 10 p.m. screening. An hour into the film, I realized that I hadn’t seen a single frame of the film as my mind had been running through images of what soon would become In Memory of My Father. I immediately left the theater and started jotting down notes in my car.

Five days later the script was complete. I sculpted three story lines to unfold throughout the house using specific actors that are friends, including Judy Greer and Jeremy Sisto. I wrote each of the actor’s story lines in a manner that would cater to their specific personalities and set each actor’s story amongst their friends, partners, and families to enhance the intimacy and comfort levels of the performers. On the sixth day, I had all of the actors come to David’s house for a reading, without allowing anyone to look at the script beforehand.

Everyone seemingly loved it and we were set to go. I rewrote for the next week, as I began producing the film with the ever so miniscule budget I was given. At the end of that week, we had another reading, which confirmed the reality of the production that would begin four weeks later as a weeklong shoot. With the limited budget and the availability of the actors, I honed it down to a five day shoot. Taking the blue prints of the mansion, I mapped out the set-up for each scene with the blocking of the actors, the placement of the cameras, camera movement, and other details in order to move quickly and as smoothly as possible.

Over the next four weeks, I produced the film and prepped the house. Abe Levy, my friend and director of photography who I had worked with as an actor in two of his films, worked with me for the final week and a half, setting lights and shooting tests. The actors were made aware that I would be at house prepping for the film, and that they could have access to the house at any time. The majority of the cast took advantage of this situation and on a voluntary and improvised schedule would show up with their scene partners to rehearse and prepare. I would try to spend as much time as possible with each of them, and during these sessions I would constantly rewrite in an attempt to bring out what seemed more familiar to them. Knowing them all as well as I did, it was easier to nurture their natural instincts and help find the beauty and core of what I had loved about them as people. The cast brought so much more to the script than I could have imagined and really took advantage of the freedom that I had given. Since we were shooting the entire film at this one location we had the benefit of pre-setting the entire house, which is the only reason we were able to complete the task of capturing seventy hours of footage in five days of shooting. The house itself was already nearly perfect.

Aside from re-decorating two of the upstairs rooms, all that really had to happen was to light the house in an invisible manner. We had a bedroom transformed into a make-up room and the rest of the house served as a green room, which was pretty amazing, and no one ever wanted to leave. The house has a fifties retro-Hollywood sort of feel to it. Large balconies overlook a swimming pool that is neighbored by a jacuzzi room (something you don't see much of anymore), both of which are set into a brick floor. An overgrown south of France yard surrounds the house and the trees seem to give you a feeling of privacy, regardless of the fact that you’re just a few steps away from Franklin Boulevard.

Unfortunately, upon David selling the Goldwyn house, the buyers gutted it and completely redesigned every last detail of the property turning it into just another ostentatious looking mansion, where prior to that there was absolutely nothing ostentatious about it. At the risk of sounding a little pretentious, there was definitely a nurturing quality about the property. It did feel like another character to a certain degree, however not a character that wanted any attention as much as one that just liked being a part of something. Not one piece of furniture or any part of the house was damaged with well over a hundred bodies moving around it at any given time, and that is something that I've never seen happen.

There was definitely a sense of wonder in the back of my mind; occasional flashes of what may have happened here forty years ago, and curiosity of the glamour and the darkness that lived inside the history of the house. The footage that I have will be the last true documentation of the property as it was originally designed, which is fortunate and yet unfortunate at the same time.
We’re currently looking for distribution and some additional financing. A short cut sneak peak of the film is premiering at the IFP market on September 23 at the Angelika Theater in New York City.

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