Production Log: The Spy Who Knew Me - Week 2

Wow wow wow! We had another whirlwind week of filming for The Spy Who Knew Me visiting 6 different location and filming some of our most challenging sequences. Read on to get all the details from our second week of shooting, and find out what's next now that principal photography is wrapped...

AUGUST 8, 2016 - DAY 7 OF 11

Our third and final two-in-one day took us to Navy Pier and Lincoln Park! 

After a nice day off (filled with filming b-roll, exterior shots, and partying at Marissa’s Quinceanera), we met up at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier to load our equipment onto the stage of the beautiful Courtyard Theater. You may remember that Chicago Shakes also hosted our ensemble for our spring production of Twelfth Night and we were thrilled to tread the boards again in this gorgeous venue. The Theater is built in the style of Shakespeare’s Globe and The Swan in Stratford Upon Avon and is the perfect please to get introduced to The Rude Mechanicals (Colleen, Hannah, and Emily L). This trio of UNITE agents are deep cover specialists –they are involved in a performance of The Scottish Play when they get the call from U.N.I.T.E. that they are needed on the case!

Lighting supervisor Eric Branson helped us to set the mood for the scene using the theater’s complex lighting grid (which is controlled by an iPad!). Our friend and PA Alison Perrone also works at Chicago Shakes, so she was on-hand, as well as Production Management Apprentice Sarah Geis. Sarah actually filmed her screen debut with a cameo as the Rude Mechanicals’ stage manager in our scene – she stage-managed our production of Twelfth Night, so it was a very fitting part!

Once our actors arrived we set to work having fun! As Colleen reminded everyone, we were starting on page 9 and moving through from there! We filmed the scene a few times from the stage, and then Andrew went all the way up to the dress circle to get a bird’s eye view as well. We finished out by getting some great shots of all the witches doing some cackling. Sound guy Alex described it as “cathartic”!

We picked up dinner at Navy Pier and scooted up Lake Shore drive to picnic and set up in the park. The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo made an idyllic spot for a romantic coffee date between Tristan Briggs (Andrew) and Tabitha Link (Rachel). We came armed with cameras, tripods, reflectors, a citronella candle, and some bug spray ready to shoot this beautiful scene. Rachel and Andrew are both founding members of our ensemble and have also been onset for several days already, so this scene moved fast. They picked up their complicated blocking quickly, and did a masterful job juggling all of their props from coffee cups to brochures to diamonds to rings! Rachel had fun making the switch from cell phone to spy phone, and Andrew loved playing the moment of a dejected boyfriend. It was a quick and beautiful scene – we wrapped an hour earlier than expected and enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the park to load equipment back in our cars and head home for the night!

AUGUST 9, 2016 - DAY 8 OF 11

Our cast and crew got after-hours access to The Field Museum for day 8 of filming!

The Field Museum partnered with us for our first film, The Curse of the Tempest Jewel, and we were thrilled to return to this Chicago institution. With several gems being stolen from stores around the city, ace spy Tabitha Link (Rachel) sets out to interview an expert mineralogist, Dr. Montgomery Wainwright III (Ben) inside The Grainger Hall of Gems.

Our crew arrived shortly before 5pm and checked in with security. While we waited, an announcement played that the museum was officially closed for visitors – we are so lucky! We were met by Matthew Northey from the museum’s PR department who walked us up to our main location for the day, The Grainger Hall of Gems. This exhibit features over 700 specimens of gemstones in every stage – from raw to polished to set in gorgeous jewelry. The room sparkles with lots of different colors and we had our work cut out for us figuring out the best angles to shoot from. Brock, Andrew, and Alex got to work setting up lights while Katie finished some last minute props and Lawrence planned out some shots. Security Guard Chis Ocho was on-hand as well to keep an eye on things; we asked her if she’s ever had any “Night at the Museum” type of experiences staying after hours in the museum, and let’s just say she has some tales to tell!

As always with an evening shoot, if we need to get any shots outside, we have to do those first to make sure we don’t lose the sun. As soon as Rachel arrived, we moved the cameras outside to film Tabitha Link walking up the stairs into the museum and walking out of the museum. This is a busy week for Rachel – she’s in a pre-college program to prepare for her enrollment at National Louis University in the fall and she came straight from there to the set. We could tell she was tired, and not a big fan of the museum’s giant staircase, but she’s a pro and hit her marks perfectly every time. Lawrence offered her a piggy-back ride back to the Grainger Hall of Gems, but she declined.

With the outside shots complete, we headed back in to film the bulk of the scene. Ben arrived nice and early, so he and teaching artists Sean had plenty of time to work through his lines and he was ready to go! We ran through blocking with both actors and got to work on the scene. We filmed the full scene 3 times, and then got some additional close-ups on specific lines.

From there, the crew split up – Brock and Rachel went downstairs to get some shots of Tabitha checking out the museum’s animal exhibits, and Andrew stayed to film Montgomery’s abduction. We planned a really cool shot of Montgomery following a trail of diamonds; it took some time to set up just right, but it will be worth it in the end!

We’ve been keeping a breakneck schedule for The Spy Who Knew Me, but we’re doing it for a reason! When making The Curse of the Tempest Jewel, production was spread out over 3 months, with us filming at a different location once a week. Every shoot felt like its own movie in a way. Keeping a tight schedule has made it easier to settle into a rhythm for our cast and crew. With less time between shoots, our actors remember the story better, and are able to call back on all the pre-production work we did on day 1. And our crew is a well-oiled machine! And that’s all good…because we’ve saved the most challenging shoots for last…Stay tuned!

AUGUST 10, 2016 - DAY 9 OF 11

Our cast and crew made some movie magic infront of the green screens at Space Stage Studios!

Our crew started loading in to Space Stage studios at 3pm and got to work setting up lighting, props, and equipment to film a fun and busy day of green screens! We worked with a green screen for The Curse of the Tempest Jewel as well, but this time, rather than renting a chromasheet and bringing the green screen to our studio, we went to the green screen. Why? Well, Space Stage Studios is a massive facility with 3 separate studios and event spaces, and their Venus stage is big enough that you can drive a car right onto the set….so that’s what we did! Not just one car, we drove in THREE. And we didn’t just film one scene. Even though we were only in one location today, and for not much longer than our regular shoots, this was a tricky night of filming because we had not one, not two, but SEVEN individual scenes to film all in one 5 hour span! We called our actors in 90 minute shifts so that we could focus on one group at a time and they wouldn’t have too much sitting around and waiting. Here’s how it all went down:

1) Ivory Nightshade’s Second Ending: Spoiler alert…stay until the end of the credits for The Spy Who Knew Me because we will have a fun tag ending featuring Claire as the villain Ivory Nightshade speeding away in a super fancy 1967 Buick Convertible! Claire was nervous, but excited to get behind the wheel, and did a great job taking direction and playing. Since this was our first car of the day, it took a while for us to figure out the best way to light it and the best angles to really show it off. We spent about an hour getting it just right, but it will be totally worth!

2) Magnus’ Monologue: Every good villain has an evil monologue to explain his dastardly plot. While we filmed Claire, Sean spent time in the green room with Sam R going over his monologue, and Katie played a little Elvis to get him relaxed and mentally prepared, so he was ready to rock when we brought him out infront of the camera. Sam is having a blast playing the bad guy and is channeling some of his favorites from the Batman universe for inspiration. He has a great evil voice and he and Claire both showed off their evil laughs at the end of this fun scene!

3) Landing at ECHO Lair: In this short scene, Calliope, Tristan, and Tabitha arrive at ECHO’s lair ready to confront Magnus and Ivory and save all the missing operatives. Though a quick and simple scene, we needed the green screens so we could establish Tabitha and Tristan landing their jetpacks! Alena, Rachel and Andrew did a great job hitting their marks and made this short half page scene fly by!

4) Alena driving: We brought in car #2 for the day and got Alena behind the wheel. She had a blast driving and loved checking herself out in the rearview mirror and hanging her left arm out the window while cruising with her right. We blew the fan on her for a bit of an effect and she had a blast. Her mom loved watching from the greenroom as well!

5) Tristan confronts Tabitha: Throughout the movie, police officer Tristan Briggs tails his girlfriend Tabitha Link, whom he believes to be a temp secretary. Finally, he hops in her car and asks for the truth about who she really is. Rachel and Andrew gave some beautiful performances with this scene and we ran through it 3 times to get a variety of shots.

6) Tristan tailing Tabitha: Car #2 went out and Car #3 came in for Officer Tristan Briggs. During the switchover, Andrew pumped himself up by jamming to “Greased Lightning”. He couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel and hopped right in. Before the cameras were even rolling, he started driving away, chasing and honking at the bad guys (we were surprised that Andrew was the only driver of the 4 to blast the horn!). He had his own active imagination, so wasn’t too keen on performing the scene that was written, but we compromised and he got one take for him, and two takes for us.

7) Jetpacks: Last but not least, Rachel and Andrew donned their awesome jetpacks (made by our script supervisor Margaret) and took to the sky. Katie and Lawrence stayed just on camera flying with them cueing then to fly up, to the right, to the left, down, up, and forward and turning in every possible direction so the camera got them from all sides. It was quite a workout but a lot of fun. Then we set up blocks a green sheet so they could lay on their bellies and fly forward. We can’t wait to see them soaring over the Chicago skyline!

Thank you to Sal Giovingo, Nancy Buchanan, and Sean Okerberg for letting us use your vehicles, and thanks to Bennett and everyone at Space Stage Studios for the warm welcome and letting us use your incredible space! Also, big shout out to Sound Technician Alex Palma – today was his last day with us onset!!

After a busy night, our crew talked over plans for tomorrow, packed up, and headed out! This was a whirlwind day, and we have even more to do with the finale. Stay tuned…

AUGUST 11, 2016 - DAY 10 OF 11

Firehouse Studios was the site of the big final showdown between ECHO and UNITE!

There’s a reason we scheduled this day of filming towards the end of production. As we mentioned in one of our earlier updates, the plus side of filming every day is that we’ve built a great momentum and settled into a nice rhythm as a crew. And that was important looking at filming the finales because this scene is LONG (about 8 pages!) and requires all of our cast members!

We knew from filming The Curse of the Tempest Jewel and from our experiences with theater classes and productions that any time we have all 20 of our ensemble all in the same place at the same time, it requires a lot of energy, focus, and, most of all, patience from everyone involved. The nature of film acting is very stop-and-start. There are big bursts of energy when you get to give a performance followed by a lot of sitting and waiting while lights are re-set, camera angles are adjusted, and microphones are moved. This is challenging and exhausting for anyone. Some of our actors have spent a lot of time on set already - Rachel has been at 6 of our 10 locations so far – but others have not – Natalia has only done 1 day, Lucy and Emily K won’t do their big scene until tonight – so everyone was coming in with different levels of experience, comfort and expectations. We had to work fast, but also purposely, and stay sensitive to the many needs in the room.

Our crew arrived at 3:30pm to start loading in and setting up. Firehouse studios is a great space that is used a lot for film and photography, but also as an event space. The main space is big (it used to by a firehouse after all), but there is also a kitchen/prep area in the back. We set up the kitchen as a green room, laying out props, costumes, and snacks for our actors, while using the main space as our filming location. Katie and Sean taped out marks for each actor on the floor, while Margaret, Brock, and Lindsay set up our laser, Andrew dealt with lights and cameras, Alex set out sound, and Lawrence went through the script to figure out the best plan of attack. We had 90 minutes to set up in this space which felt luxurious compared to some of our other locations, but the time still flew by!

As actors arrived, they went straight to the greenroom to get into costume. Teaching artist Kaylie circled everyone up for a warm up and some focus games while Rachel, Andrew, Alena, and the crew filmed a short pick up scene outside (remember the “landing” scene we filmed during Green Screen day? We needed to get the tail end of it).

With that wrapped, everyone gathered back inside. We worked backwards through the script and filmed the very last shot of the movie first. We don’t want to give too much away, but it required everyone as well as the use of a big dolly to move the camera. We ran it three times and then moved on to the big dance scene. Everyone did a great job remembering the dance we learned way back on day 1 and we ran through it 3 times to get everyone’s best moves.

From there, actors took a break in the green room as we called them out in groups of 4 to film their monologues. Our cast wrote their own monologues for our fall show, What You Will, and Lawrence wove these into the screenplay. Each actor has a moment to share “I am, I can, I want, and I love” with the audience. These close ups will be a great climactic moment of the big finale.

Next up, Sam R got his big turn as Magnus. We filmed all of his lines for the whole scene in one go as he paced infront of his army of recruits. Then it was evil Ivory Nightshade’s turn. With these big moments wrapped, we let the bulk of our cast go so we could focus on the dialogue between Tabitha, Tristan, Calliope, Ivory, and Magnus. These actors waited patiently all night long – none of them were in the dance or in the big monologue sequence, and when they finally got their moment, they turned in some incredible performances. Sam and Rachel in particular had some truly heartfelt moments, and Andrew couldn’t wait to give Tristan’s final speech. We don’t want to spoil the ending, but get ready to see some magic!

Once we released all of the principal actors, Lawrence and Katie donned Tristan and Tabitha’s costumes to film a quick gag with the masks and then it was time to pack up and head out!

We went about an hour over schedule for this shoot, but miraculously made it through everything we needed to film and think we’ll have a great finale to show for it! Thanks to everyone at Firehouse (especially Sweetpea the dog!) for letting us stay a little late.

The biggest shout out of the night goes to our facilitators Kirsten, Kaylie, Lindsay, Becca, and Susan who helped keep everyone together and (relatively) drama-free in the green room! They are incredible!

AUGUST 12, 2016 - DAY 11 OF 11

For our last day of filming, we returned to UNITE headquarters at Century Center to film the big agency meeting with all of our spies.

We arrived at Century Center at 3:30pm and set right to work setting up equipment. Much of our set dressings were still in place after our previous shoot at this location, so we just had to load in the tables and chairs borrowed from our friends at the Landmark Movie Theater. The suite we used is the former office of Kaplan Education, but is currently empty (and available for rent! Let us know if you’re looking for a business suite and we can hook you up with the realtor!). It was the perfect space for the last day of filming because it was all ours. We set up a green room for our actors, another dressing room, we had our own private bathrooms, and a room to store all of our equipment. Knowing that we didn’t have a time limit and we had tons of extra space created a relaxed atmosphere for our final day.

For this scene, Calliope Trust (Alena), calls in all of the spies of UNITE for an urgent meeting. Alessandra Corbata (Marissa) and Tabitha Link (Rachel) meet new spy school graduate, Fiona Chord (Mila), and The Rude Mechanicals – Fayth Faulconbridge (Hannah), Henrietta Hotspur (Emily L), and Belinda Burgundy (Colleen) – show their prowess as masters of disguise sneaking into the meeting undetected and surprising everyone. Calliope reveals the existence of ECHO and brings in General Rebecca Hammerdown (Lucy), and Lt. Thunderball Armstrong (Emily K) to explain the military’s involvement in an experiment gone awry.

It is a long scene – 7 pages – with a lot of characters involved, and a lot of crucial exposition for the audience to understand what’s happening. We laid out a detailed shooting order and a plan for trading and sharing lav mics between our actors.

First up, we filmed the whole scene from the front of the room. Then we re-set cameras and filmed it all again from the back of the room. Next, close-ups on Alena, Lucy, and Emily K. Then we went back to get the opening sequence of Tabitha coming in and meeting Fiona and the ladies looking for The Rude Mechanicals. Finally, we filmed the big reveal of The Mechanicals. We saved some time for pick ups and close ups at the end as well. 

As our actors arrived, they met in the green room to review the schedule for the day. The girls were so excited to be a part of the last day of filming, and had awesome energy. Many of our actors have known each other since they were babies, and it was lovely to see this group of friends hanging out, laughing and joking between takes. They supported each other and would clap and applaud when it was someone’s turn to get mic-d up and do a piece of their scene.  Between filming, the green room felt like a big slumber party with girls lounging on the floor, taking pictures of each other, eating snacks and giggling about their crushes. Our facilitators Beth and Susan hung out as well to keep and eye on everyone, and keep them focused.

Everyone did an incredible job with this long scene. Lucy and Emily have been waiting patiently for the past 2 weeks to film their scene and they were so excited to finally get the chance to perform as General Hammerdown and Lt. Armstrong. They had adorable army costumes with a vintage flair and Lucy said she felt like one of her ancestors who fought in World War II. The Rude Mechanicals had a ton of fun disguising themselves as plant, lamp, and wall and then reciting some Shakespeare lines as they revealed themselves. Alena as always took command of the room and did a great job with her blocking and using her props. And Rachel, Mila, and Marissa kept awesome energy through every take.

Once we wrapped, the cast gathered for our traditional call-and-response blessing, “I take from the heavens” and celebrated their massive accomplishment! And the crew did the same over margaritas and tacos up the street at El Nuevo Mexicano.

And just like that....that's a wrap for The Spy Who Knew Me! We finished principal photography on Friday, grabbed a few tiny pick ups and establishing shots over the weekend, and returned all of our gear to Daufenbach and 

These past two weeks have flown by, and we are so proud of our entire cast and crew for all of their hard work, creativity, and commitment to this special project. Thank you to our Hatchfund contributors for making all of this possible, and to YOU for cheering us along each step of the way!

Next up: Editing, editing editing… production will take some time especially with all the special effects we have planned for this spy adventure. Stay tuned for updates from time to time. We plan to premiere the finished film in August 2017! In the meantime, our ensemble will return to the stage with A Christmas Carol in December and Pirates of Penzance in May – sign up for our newsletter for more info!