To describe ALGORITHM’s production as ideal would be an understatement. To truly understand why it was so amazing requires I backtrack a bit into pre-production. A good part of production is defined by the locations you have access to.
I chose to place ALGORITHM in San Francisco for several reasons: 1. SF is really the tech capitol of the planet, which is perfect for a movie about computer hackers; 2. The architecture of SF is locked in the early 20th century, and has become known for that. For me, that means, the city expands on the metaphor I’m aiming at, which is that we think we live in one kind of world (one where standard logic and physics determine who is the strongest) when, in fact, we live in a completely different kind of world (if you understand computer code, you are the undisputed master).
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Finally, I chose to shoot in San Francisco because Los Angeles is owned and operated by the Unions. I simply can’t afford to work there on my budgets. Unless that changes, I will probably never work in Los Angeles, unless the story absolutely demands it. It’s just too expensive and legally troublesome.
That last point is why I bring up pre-production on a blog about production. Phillip Matarrese and I were driving around San Francisco, looking for one of two required mansions we would need, both exterior and interior shots. The two most expensive sections of San Francisco are Saint Francis Wood and Sea Cliff. We got both.
Here’s how: We drove around, looking for the best house. Then, we walked up and knocked on the doors. Someone was home, answered, let us in and gave us permission to shoot there. This is extremely unusual. Normally people either say, “No,” or they want something in return.
It went like that for the entire production, for every single location.
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Of course, there were some locations that we didn’t have permission to shoot at, that we had to steal. I want to talk about two stories.
There’s a scene where DHS kidnaps a character. The scene is near the Haight district, and it’s at night. We didn’t have permits to shoot there. We didn’t have permission from anyone in the houses. And, we were in Golden Gate Park after 10:00pm, which is illegal.
The scene is two people talking on a bench. A black SUV pulls up to one of the houses behind them, two large men get out and forcibly escort their target into the car. Oh, and the target has a black bag over his head. It scared the crap out of me to watch. And, we had to do it twice.
No police came. No neighbor came out and said something. No passing car stopped. We got the shot and it looks amazing.
I highly recommend you not try to do something like this because any of the residents could have called SFPD and we would all have been arrested, and our equipment would have been confiscated. It was not even remotely legal. Of course, we were completely safe about it. No one was ever in any physical danger. It’s just… enough of the qualifiers. We did it. I’d probably do it again. I will tell you not to do it if you ask.
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The second story is from Saint Francis Wood, at the mansion we had permission to shoot at.
We had shot the interior and one of the exterior shots earlier that day. But, we had to come back at night for another exterior. While we were shooting, a man came by, walking his dog and saw us. We said hi and he walked away. 15 minutes later, 4 police cars, each with 2 officers, for a total of 8 cops, if you’re counting, raced in. No sirens, no lights. But, they blocked every road that we could use to escape.
We kept our hands out of our pockets, and stayed relaxed, while they knocked on the door to confirm our story that we had permission. It was 11:30pm. It was foggy. There had been break-ins earlier in the year, in this, the very expensive section of SF.
The owner of the house told the police that we did, in fact, have permission to shoot there. The police apologized for the trouble and suggested we hurry and get out of there because the neighbors can be… less than friendly. We gladly complied.
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I want to wrap up this post with a brief description of how I ran things on set. I know a lot about my job. I know how to work with actors. I know the shots I want and I have most of the movie in my head at all times, so I know when one decision is going to have a cascading effect throughout the rest of the project.
But, I also know that I don’t know everything. I know that each actor knows their character better than I do, simply because they are spending more time with them. I know that Satsuki Murashige, ALGORITHM’s DP, knows his gear better than I do because it’s his and he works with it all the time.
Because of that, I set up a very collaborative set. I want people’s opinion on how things should go. I did not allow teasing or pranks of any kind, as those break down communication or belittle others. Also, there was no yelling. And, since I had absolutel creative control, there was almost no arguing. The best idea won. We had a lot of fun. It was relaxed and every person felt like they contributed.
One member of the cast is even saying that it was the most relaxed set he’d ever been on.
Making a movie isn’t about ego. It’s about making the best movie possible. We did that on ALGORITHM. I couldn’t have done it alone and I feel tremendously proud to collaborate with everyone involved. And, I’m very proud of what we did.