Keen readers of this journal will recall that, a couple of years ago, I wrote and directed a low-budget horror movie called Blood Relative. Things being as they are in the world of low-budget horror, it took a while to finish the thing and then it took another while to get a distributor. Now it has one, and boy are they doing their job! They’ve changed the title (which I like) and they’re taking it to Cannes! You can watch the sales trailer here!
One of the joys of shooting at night in the hills is seeing the fog come in in the pre-dawn light. Instant atmosphere! Too bad we were never able to get it into the movie.
So, yeah, Blood Relative is the kind of movie where a woman wraps herself in a sheet and waves around a kitchen knife. That is, it’s a romantic comedy.
Our fake baby takes a break between setups.
We feared this every night: the sun coming up. Late spring is a terrible time to shoot a thriller — the nights are some of the shortest of the year.
For the last three days of the shoot, we moved to our secondary locations, most of which were inside, or adjacent to, our executive producer’s offices. Here, Cristin Milioti gets some bad news from her co-worker, James Urbaniak.
Last week I mentioned that James Urbaniak would be required to wield a pen. You thought I was kidding.
DP George Su contemplates a shot. Or what is for lunch.
Our final setup of the shoot is a subtle reference to All the President’s Men. We’ve also blatantly ripped off Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick, the Coen Bros and Paul Greengrass.
At the wrap party, James Urbaniak sings David Bowie’s “Rock and Roll Suicide.” You had to be there.
That’s my slate! Blood Relative is not affiliated with Pop Secret brand microwave popcorn, except that the crew sometimes eats it.
Marypat Farrell plays a psychic — with a taste for murder!
A nice hero shot of the true protagonist of Blood Relative.
Toby Huss and James Urbaniak confer between takes.
It gets lonely for lights on the set sometimes.
Oh yes, it’s a horror movie.
Toby Huss. Do not mess with this man.
Director on set, underdressed — it was freaking freezing on Day 1.
Our first scene shot, as it appears on the monitor. Michael Rady and Cristin Milioti.
Fake baby on set.
Writer/Director Todd Alcott, Writer/Producer Holly Golden, and Eddie.
Michael Rady, who is a vegan in addition to being a tall, good-looking actor guy, drinks mason jars of green and gray gunk every day.
Cristin Milioti meets James Urbaniak on the set of Blood Relative, and two worlds collide on my crappy cell phone. Cristin has never seen The Venture Bros, and James has never seen Year of the Carnivore. And yet, when the two of them sat down to rehearse a handful of scenes, which form a crucial spine of Blood Relative, joyful sparks flew.
(James plays a co-worker of Cristin’s, a man whose past harbors a dark secret!
At one point during rehearsals, James went to get a drink, took down a plastic cup and said, seemingly apropos of nothing, “Drinking out of cups,” to which Cristin added, again, seemingly apropos of nothing, “Bein’ a bitch.” I was baffled and bemused as the two of them started trading and echoing lines from this infamous internet meme I’d never heard of.
The ice broken, both Cristin brought out their strong suits — expert mimicry, and mastery of show-biz trivia. There is no tributary of show-biz trivia James has not swum in, and Cristin, while a good deal younger than Mr. Urbaniak, had no trouble keeping up with him. As for the mimicry, the important thing to note is that James doesn’t just do impressions of movie stars — Pacino, De Niro, Walken — but also dozens of obscure character actors even I have trouble identifying. Cristin, meanwhile, revels in accents and behavior, and watching the two of them screw around is really something to watch. Python routines, song lyrics, theater stories and tales of overindulgence fly by, which is, honestly, more important than running lines any day.
It takes a lot of people to make a movie. Here we are at our first all-department production meeting, at our primary location.
1. Dan Scruggs, our special-effects guy, who will be in charge of figuring out how to murder people safely and realistically in the digital realm. Next to him is James Logan, our stunt coordinator, who will be in charge of figuring out how to murder people safely and realistically, in the physical realm.
2. Next to James the stunt coordinator is our stylist Megan Hofferth, who will be in charge of making sure the people who are to be murdered look appropriately spooked before they are brutally murdered. Next to her is Reuben Saunders, our associate producer, who assists the producers in making sure people get murdered on time and in an orderly fashion.
3. Will Potter, our Art Department head, who will be in charge of making sure that our empty house is no longer an empty house, but rather a house where a married couple with a baby has lived for a number of months. This he will do on a budget of about six dollars. Next to Art is our producer Holly Golden, who organizes everything and makes sure everyone is talking to everyone else, so that we’re all working on the same movie. Holly also happens to be co-writer of the screenplay. Behind Holly are two production assistants, AJ Havrilla and Greg Matthew, who are in charge of anything that needs to be done that no one else has the time to do, since we’re shooting in a few days and everyone is very over-extended.
4. Our production manager Luca DeSando-Grassi, who is in charge of making sure the trains run on time. Next to him is our producer Ilan Arboleda. Now, keen eyes will note that I’ve already listed a producer. This producer is not that producer. Ilan works alongside Holly to organize the approximately thirty-two billion things that need to happen before cameras roll on Monday. For those curious, that is what a producer does: makes sure thirty-two billion things happen by Monday. Next to the producer is (wait for it) our producer Chris Lauer. Chris is a “line producer,” who’s in charge of running the set, making sure that this gets connected to that. (Not pictured is the executive producer, Gary Auerbach, whose job it is to provide funds and encourage the writer-director). On the computer, attending the meeting via Skype (we are living in the 21st century) is Tara Lang, our special-effects makeup woman, whose job it is to make people look appropriately murdered, once they’ve actually been murdered. Next to her is Roger Melvin, our First Assistant Director, whose job it is to run the set on a daily basis, to make sure that one thing follows another in an orderly fashion, to crack the whip with regard to schedule and to keep crew members from crunching chips during takes. Next to Roger is the hand of George Su, our director of photography, whose job it is to make sure everything looks beautiful while people are murdered.
I notice that we all use Macs. Because we are hip.
Rehearsals for Blood Relative are going swimmingly. Here, Macey Cruthird holds an imaginary baby as Cristin Milioti interrogates her for some reason. Macey is playing Ruth, a babysitter who has a dark secret. Or does she? Meanwhile, Cristin is playing a new mother who has a ghost problem. Or does she?
Cristin Milioti and Marypat Farrell rehearse a scene in the kitchen of our primary location. Cristin plays a distraught young mother who seeks the advice of a psychic — and gets more than she bargained for!
If you haven’t heard of Cristin Milioti, that will change. She gave a clobbering great performance on a recent episode of 30 Rock, and this fall she’s scheduled to be the female lead in the Broadway production of Once. She’s been in all kinds of New York theater and, although she is a generation younger than your humble journal-keeper, knows everyone in New York that I know.
To celebrate the beginning of production, we had a party for the cast and crew of Blood Relative at our primary location, a house in Topanga Canyon. A splendid time was had by all, and then we all sat down to read through the script. Which is a scary thriller with lots of twists!
Left to right: James Urbaniak, Toby Huss, your humble correspondent and Cristin Milioti. Mr. Urbaniak’s left hand is still whole: the blurring is an effect of the camera’s shutter speed. For those interested, Mr. Urbaniak here models his Order of the Triad t-shirt. (Mr. Urbaniak informs me that he doesn’t actually intend to wear Venture Bros clothes everywhere he goes, he just gets dressed in the dark, like any other aging slacker.)
Ms. Milioti contemplates calling her agent to see if there’s any way she can get out of this project.
Mr. Urbaniak, on the other hand, is an old hand at dealing with the director, and calms down with a nice brewski.
Greetings, faithful blog readers —
I am directing a movie, titled Blood Relative. We start shooting in a little more than a week. This is one reason why I’ve been posting a lot recently.
I wrote the screenplay with my new writing partner, Holly Golden, who is also handling the producing part of the thing, and quite well I might add.
The house pictured is our primary location.
It’s kind of a haunted house movie.
Watch this space for updates!