Pictures from Bridgetower Concert Scene, Lessons Learned

by Jimmy on January 27, 2011

On December 22, 2010, I shot the first scene for my Bridgetower movie at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.  As it so happened, the first scene would be the most difficult.  At least, I hope.  The first scene was the all-important concert where Beethoven and Bridgetower perform their memorable  “Mullato Sonata composed for the mulatto Bridgetower, big wild mulatto composer,” whose title was later changed to something totally different after the musicians’ brief feud.

Director Jimmy Nguyen with his actors, who rarely have time to study their scripts because it was sent to them the day of the shoot.

Needless to say, the scene needed to be special.  The chapel room had to be decorated to be intimate and quirky.  The room had to be filled with distinguished extras.  The actors had to deliver their lines with great showmanship. Naturally, the music would take care of itself with such great musicians casted as the actors.  As always, all the actors, extras, set decorators, and video camera/sound operators were volunteers and my budget to decorate the concert hall was an arbitrary, but whopping $50.  And as always, I am eternally grateful to everyone that helped me out with this movie shoot.  David, Lenah, Dana, Lalita, Mrs. Johnson, Raycurt, Kevin, Matt, Alicia, Adam, and all the extras, thank you.

My friend Dana doubled as set designer, extra, and understudy just in case the main actress didn't show up. It takes an entire village to raise a movie!

After all was said and done, it was a stressful, but instructional event at least from a moviemaking standpoint.  I learned a big lesson.  The lesson is always, always storyboard.  Apparently, Ang Lee hardly storyboards any of the scenes in his movies not even for highly choreographed movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. However, he is a master.  I am not.  Up until now, I have never really storyboarded any of my movies (big surprise there!) and they have suffered because of it.  Not necessarily because I didn’t know what I wanted – all I have to do is close my eyes and find it in my mind — but my movies suffered because time was being wasted trying to make sure I had every angle covered.  If I had just done a simple storyboard, I would know the best shots that I needed and that would save extra time in the end for experimentation.  And time is key when working with unpaid actors and extras.  You have to be efficient and firm.  They yearn to be directed like some baby seals.  But the clock is always ticking and when I sense the point of diminishing returns has been reached in their internal clocks that is when I begin to rush things and make mistakes.

You may remember Matt Mclaughlin as the selfless camera operator from Log Warriors. But in this movie he is Ignaz Schuppanzigh, master of ceremonies.

In the end, I have no one to blame but myself.  I procrastinated and I paid for it.  I mean literally the night before the concert I was fervently trying to finish the dialogue for this particular concert scene.  I should have finished it weeks ago.  The day of the shoot, I was still trying to confirm if certain actors and extras were going to show up for the concert and sending them the script to read.  It was fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants moviemaking, which is quite thrilling, but extremely stressful.  One could say that my experience is typical of a low-budget ameateur movie, but I beg to differ.  Better planning always = better movie, no matter what kind of creative genius you think you are.  I hope I don’t get stuck with these bad habits…but, then again, I looked at the footage from the concert scene and they were pretty awesome, despite my poor planning.

How to make a low-budget movie look great? Find a beautiful actress like Alicia.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Matt McLaughlin January 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I can’t wait to see the final cut! You’re an awesome producer/director/movie maker Jimmy. Keep up the good work!

2 Kevin Lambert January 31, 2011 at 1:46 pm


I’ve never really identified with trained seals.

3 Jimmy February 6, 2011 at 3:10 am

Majestic dolphin?

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