Twelfth Night Production Story
This is Shakespeare's complete Twelfth Night with no cuts to the text made easy to follow, simple, in hopes of making Shakespeare understandable with clear enunciation as well as a clear, mostly literal interpretation. This Twelfth Night was filmed on location at the Lady’s Pavilion in Central Park and a special cobblestone street in downtown NYC, a beautiful Victorian private mansion in Asbury Park, NJ for the interiors of the countess’ home as well as a cottage which housed the dungeon location in Highland Lakes, NJ, a small house in Long Branch, NJ for the interiors of the Duke’s Manor, a farm with a body of water in Seaville, NJ, and lastly, the sprawling, lush, gorgeous and versatile estate grounds of Waveny Park in New Canaan, CT for the exteriors of the countess’ home.
Twelfth Night features a cast of 19 actors both new talent and seasoned performers. Under the guidance of director Catherine Taormina, both levels of abilities proved dexterous. Preserving a sense of history for the play, costumes, which suggest the period, were designed and mostly handmade by Taormina. Taormina also produced, acted in, cast, production designed, propped, lit, filmed and edited the project.
The idea to perform as Viola in Twelfth Night took place in 2011. It began with just a whim perhaps filming a scene from Shakespeare then, it turned into possibly partnering with a few people. Turned out, Taormina went it alone (with some help from her husband) and went full force with the idea of on location filming of the entire play. Taormina memorized the role then watched 7 versions of other productions. Preliminary meetings, readings and casting began in early 2012. Rehearsals took place for 2 months prior to filming specifically so that cast members could continue with their day jobs, have time to memorize their parts, acquire a good understanding of the text and ready themselves (like a play) so that performances could be sustained for the long takes required for coverage of the vast amounts of text on each shoot day.
This is Taormina’s first experience as a producer and as a director of a film, moreover, her first feature film. Having spent most, if not all, of her life as an actor, Taormina considers herself an “actor’s director”. While casting, she offered an intense level of concentration to the auditionees; gluing her eyes to each, watching and waiting to see if that special element of attachment of self to the words and to the character would appear instantly or in glimmers. This process along with the callback informed her whether or not the actor was workable and open to being workable, regardless of experience level.
The 2 month rehearsal period proved to be very wise as multiple cast replacements had to be made for many of the parts as actors’ private lives, schedules and finances took a toll usurping their commitment abilities. So some of the cast experienced a nice hefty rehearsal period while others had very little time to prepare. Only a few of the actors had a full 2-month rehearsal period. Between the rehearsals scheduled around the actors’ availabilities (some of whom would not show on rehearsal days scheduled specifically for them), Taormina would schedule and hold additional casting sessions (also in between making the costumes) sometimes rehearsing a new person with the existing cast only having to replace them once again. This was challenging for everyone. Taormina considers the actors playing the parts of Feste and Malvolio to be the God-Sends of the production as both performers proved to be very professional, quickly memorizing their lines and taking on the challenge of being cast “last minute”. They, in essence, “saved” the project, allowing it to be made complete.
All actors were contracted under the SAG New Media agreement and collectively agreed on a deferred payment schedule. The initial impetus for making the film fell by the wayside. Originally, another partner/actor seemed to be on board offering his “production company” as a way of raising funds to pay the actors their own funds which they would raise so that each one could earn, for each day worked, their days towards the union’s health and pension requirement. Opposite to convention, any crew would have been on a deferred payment schedule. When the final cast came to be, no one wanted to participate in this type of fundraising process. Knee deep into rehearsals, the “partner/cast member” who suggested the schema, backed out of the whole production leaving Taormina with yet another actor to replace as well as the duties of initiating, filing and fulfilling the union contracting requirements.
Though the motivation behind taking on such a monumental endeavor was waylaid, Taormina did not abandon the project. There was no customary film pre-production for gathering a crew or gathering funds. At the time TwelfthNight was made Taormina had no contacts in the low-budget indie crew world. She did not know that securing these elements were even possible, with no funding, and essential in making a film that could hold the illusion of some production value; nor did she know a feasible way of going about acquiring funds or a crew except through soliciting friends and family via email. Charging towards the scheduled filming dates, with no time left to arrange for either, fundraising and organizing a crew became an unattainable thing to accomplish. Hence, the entire project became a production conceived and produced by a jack-of-all-production-trades actor trying to make a movie: Catherine Taormina.
Taormina alone became the signatory and producer. Hoping to still capture the original payment design, should sufficient funds present themselves, actor days worked would count towards eligibility upon payment. Taormina, being the sole producer, is excluded from this very benefit, which was part of her original motivation for creating Twelfth Night. (No less than 5 people would have had to become producers/signatories of SAG or a corporation/LLC would have had to be formed for her to be included).
Taormina and her actor-producer-husband Nick Addeo who plays Sir Andrew Aguecheek in the film, provided the shoe-string out-of-pocket budget; funding the location insurance, travel, costume building, prop building, meals, and minimal equipment. Filming began on May 30th and spanned 11 days in non-chronological scene order over a period of 1 month and a half. Taormina worked around actors’ schedules and location availabilities. The minimal equipment comprised 1 Canon 5D camera on Day 1, one Panasonic HD point and shoot and one Sony PD150 on Days 2 through 4 and, then the one reliable Panasonic HD point and shoot became the staple for the remaining days.
For all the days filmed, Taormina had not yet been acquainted with the convention of having a shot list. Since there was none, Taormina set up and essentially manned each shot, feverishly attending to what was essentially, the play on paper with blocking notes. For Day 1 only (an exterior day) Taormina was able to engage 2 camera assistants/DPs, one of whom owned the Canon 5D. Outdoor shots were filmed with no silks, bounces, or light meters, just pure unfiltered sunshine. Taormina used between 1 and 3 lights for the interior scenes. Not having yet had the pleasure of learning the craft of lighting, she drew from her ability to “be creative” while also using the rudimentary lighting knowledge she had acquired as a photographer’s assistant. When it came time to set up the shots, Taormina used her artistic eye, her personal photography and videography experiences, her fine and abstract art abilities and general observations from movie and tv watching for set dressing and for framing composition. The camera would be set up multiple times from multiple angles and on action much if not all of the entire scene would be acted through each time. This gave the actors the gratuitous opportunity of feeling as if they were onstage. Taormina relied on a willing performer to double as crew when she had to perform on camera. The performer would, while in costume, maintain the camera framings or switch off holding the boom with Taormina’s husband.
A professional boomed mic was used (after Day 1) as well as sound captured by what Taormina calls the“poor-man’s lavalier” or more befittingly what she has dubbed as the “iLav” which is simply an iphone with the earbud microphone attached to a performer. Between 3-5 performers would wear the iLav, capturing their voice as well as a fellow performer’s voice who may or may not have been outfitted with an iLav.
The pantaloons for all the performers were “upcycled” by Taormina, each from 2 pairs of khaki pants purchased from the Salvation Army, dismantled, resewn and then hand dyed by Taormina. Shirts were purchased (at a reduced rate in exchange for screen credit) in the natural cream color as seen worn by Sebastian and Taormina’s character Viola. Each dye bath included the renaissance shirts and the pantaloons to match color. The Duke’s and Malvolio’s costumes were designed and handmade by Taormina. The countess’ costumes were purchased via ebay after extensive searches in styles that would suggest a sense of period and conform to the overall look of the production design. The dress worn by Leslie E.Hughes who plays Maria was sponsored by Artemesia Designs. Some of the tights were hand dyed as well, while others were purchased at a reduced rate from WeLoveColors. Accessories, props and hairpieces were purchased or constructed by Taormina. Collectively, the costumes make for a stunning and unified picture!
The character of Feste accompanies himself as he sings Shakespeare’s songs sprinkled throughout the play. Taormina taught the actor playing Feste melodies she composed for Shakespeare’s lyrics on a renaissance-type sounding instrument called the “Strumstick”. Taormina had heard of and seen the touted easy-to-play strumstick years earlier and deemed that the look, sound, beauty and charm of the instrument captured both a period and modern feel making it suitable for her Twelfth Night. She decided to solicit the manufacturers who then generously donated a D-Grand strumstick to the production!
Video and sound edit logged in at more than 600 hours. Color matching and formatting was difficult because of the 3 different cameras having been used. No slate was used during any of the filming but with the help of some common modern technology, dates and times for most of the audio was automatically encoded. Taormina faced the daunting task of synching and selecting from various iPod, boom and camera recordings whichever was actually recorded best. Sound editing took longer than the video editing totaling a year and a half finishing in April of 2014.
Catherine Taormina’s Twelfth Night echoes a masterpiece theater type style. Capturing some stunning footage, humorous moments, some great acting performances and engaging directorial choices while honoring the work of William Shakespeare. This film gives audiences, who may be reluctant to reading or watching Shakespeare, the opportunity to finally understand what the heck this old fashioned masterpiece of literature really is about! Running time: 2hr35mins.
Nothing can be done without help! I am a person who has been pursuing the volatile field of the creative arts since I was a pre-teen. I have experienced many of the stereotypical ups and downs that this field has to offer and still have not given up on this mostly fruitless path to date (but that just may change soon with this project!). Here is one of my favorite quotes from Quintin Crisp (and one of my favorite quotes in general) which pretty much sums up my take on why I am still working at something that will one day perhaps offer me financial reward: “It's no good running a pig farm badly for 30 years while saying, 'Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.' By then, pigs will be your style. ” Well, you see, I am the ballet dancer who has been at it for a few decades, and this is my “nutcracker”! Why do I need support for a project that is completed? Because the project needs visibility…to take everyone to the next level! Even if it is $1 or forwarding this email, that little bit will help! The creative field is one where most of anything that happens, happens through word-of-mouth. This project offers entertainment, education and proof that a film can be made by a person (me) with a comprehensive skill set and, ….determination!
If you didn’t get a chance to see my video promo I sent out a few months ago, I talk a lot about the process here: http://youtu.be/I58NkXAf95o I also have a blog I began on the website which covers a lot of info but had to discontinue it because of time. I would say that all in all I have been very lucky to have created this project as well as I did and now have a film that is complete!
Again, for $10 you will get a downloadable copy of the film. Every penny of your contribution will go towards our production…no middlemen - as opposed to all of the crowdfunding sites that take a percentage)! There are still financial outputs necessary for the PR work that is needed to bring this production into the view of audiences and industry personnel!