Production Log: The Spy Who Knew Me - Week 1

We've had a busy week bouncing to several different locations filming A.B.L.E.'s second feature film - The Spy Who Knew Me! Our cast is doing a a phenomenal job rising to the unique challenges of working on a film set, and we are getting some incredible performances on camera. We've have filmed about half of the script so far, and are in great shape heading into week 2! Read on to catch up on where we've been and what we've done so far..

DAY 1 OF 11 - AUGUST 1, 2016

LOCATION: The Menomonee Club Drucker Center

After months of waiting, the big day is finally here! We officially launched production on A.B.L.E.’s second feature film, The Spy Who Knew Me!

Our crew started the day nice and early with a trip to Daufenbach Camera in Fulton Market to pick up equipment. Daufenbach has been incredible to work with and have helped supply us with some incredible gear including 2 Canon C300 cameras, a great array of lenses, and professional lighting gear. One of the things we learned from Tempest Jewel was the importance of having the right equipment; this time around, we've allocated more of our production budget to getting audio equipment (4 lav mics, 1 boom, and a field recorder), and other pieces that will help our cast look and sound their best!

The afternoon was filled with charging batteries (literal camera batteries) and picking up some last minute props and costumes (where can you find a black turtleneck in the middle of summer!) before heading to Menomonee Club to set up for rehearsal. Our crew arrived at 3:30 and started setting up and then our actors came bustling in with costumes and typical great energy at 4pm!

Just like all of our normal classes, we started off with a Dance Party, which included lots of hugs and introductions to the new folks in the room.  For Warm Up, Katie led us in a few breathing exercises and gentle vocal warm up, but then the actors took over – everyone introduced his/herself with their name and a big movement.  This helps us learn all the new names in the room and warm up our voices and bodies at the same time! For Check In, we ran down the schedule and reviewed our ensemble rules. We also played a fun ensemble game called “Close Up/Wide Shot”. This is sort of like the game Elephant/Alligator, except for a close-up, just one person has to pose, and for a Wide Shot, we need to see that person and the people standing next to them posing. From there, we split into two groups to do some more focused work.

The first group was The Wardrobe Department.  We went around the circle introducing our characters, and then spent time trying on costume pieces and their various accessories so we could make notes to see what's working and what we might still need. We also took lots of pictures!

In the other group, actors visited The Film Set.  We introduced our crew – DP Andrew McNally, Camera Operator Brock Alter, Sound Department Alex Palma and Alex Sokol, and script supervisor Margaret Sheils – and talked about the different jobs on a film set. We learned some film lingo and accompanying hand movements (“quiet on the set”, “rolling”, “action”, “cut”, “that’s a wrap”) and then practiced hitting our “marks” for a close-up and for a traveling shot.

 After we switched groups so everyone had a chance to visit wardrobe and the set, both groups came back together to work on some choreography for the big final dance scene. This was a long rehearsal. Our typical classes are only 90 minutes long but we used a full two hours today. After running the dance a few times, everyone was pretty tired and ready for dinner! We checked out by reviewing the film schedule, and then birthday girls Colleen and Marissa led us in I take from the heavens to finish us off for the night!

DAY 2 OF 11 - AUGUST 2, 2016

LOCATION: The Menomonee Club Drucker Center and Fey & Co Jewelers

 We hit the ground running for our first day with two shoots scheduled back to back.

Our crew arrived at the Menomonee Club around 2pm to start setting up. Margaret, Katie, and our teaching artist Sean set out costumes and props and arranged the green room while our crew, helped by PA Alison Perrone got to work setting up gear.

 First up, we shot the opening scene of the movie, which finds Tabitha Link (Rachel) and Alessandra Corbata (Marissa) in a car on a stake out. Suddenly, alarms go off and they spot two masked thieves running out of a jewelry store. A chase ensues, and Tabitha is surprised to see a face from her past.

The first part of the scene, in the car, took some time to get right, especially with other cars coming in and out of the parking lot. While Marissa and Rachel worked in the car, Sean ran through lines and blocking with Claire and Sam in the green room so when it cam time to film their big moment running out of the jewelry store, they totally nailed it! They did a great job hitting their marks and playing up the physical comedy! We moved the whole cast to the alley behind Menomonee to film the closing part of the scene with Magnus Gromwell (Sam R’s) big reveal and the evil villain Ivory Nightshade (Claire’) first appearance. This was a long and technical shoot and involved a lot of running around in long sleeve shirts and pants in 85degree heat for our cast, but they were troopers and we have an awesome first scene in the can!

 Our crew broke for dinner (Thanks Dawali Kitchen!), and then we headed a few blocks away to Fey & Co Jewelers for the next scene of the night. We were in good company – there were trucks and trailers all over Halsted St. from one of the bigger Chicago-based shows!

 For this scene, Fey & Co. Jewelers was transformed into Vandal Brothers’ Jewelers. Brothers Felix and Largo (Jack & Lucas) stock a very exclusive inventory, and for some reason, they are the only jewelers in Chicago who haven’t been robbed in this string of heists. Spies Alessandra Corbata and Fiona Chord (Mila) come to interview the brothers to learn more. Our crew got right to work setting up at 6pm. Marissa was already with us from the first shoot of the day, and changed from her stakeout clothes into her spy suit. As the rest of the actors arrived and got into costumes and mics, Heather and Jon from Fey & Co moved some beautiful jewels into the front cases of the store so we had all the best inventory right upfront and on display; we had the run of the store and they even gave us loups and jewelers headgear for Jack and Lucas! To keep the daylight, we filmed the beginning and the end of the scene first and then moved on to the chunk in the middle. As with all of our plays and movies, we have facilitators drop in lines for the actors. Lawrence dropped in Jack, although Jack was off-book for most of his lines and did a great job adding movement and personality to his character! Mila’s aunt Becca, is one of our facilitators and it was really special to see them work together dropping in lines; this was Mila’s first time working on a movie, but she loved hitting her blue mark and did a great job.  Lindsay dropped in Lucas, who kept ad-libbing about the beautiful jewelry he wanted to buy for her. Katie dropped in Marissa who was a real trooper did a phenomenal job keeping her energy and focus up (she shot for 5 hours with us today AND she’s been practicing hard for her quincenara this weekend!). After the middle piece of the scene, the girls went home and we had a ton of fun filming a cheesy commercial for Vandal Brother Jewelers. Jack is the serious brother and Lucas is the prankster, and their dynamic had the whole crew cracking up!

Special Shout Outs from Today:

  •  PA Alison Perrone was a huge help on set assisting the crew in any and every way they needed and making fast friends with our actors!
  • The whole team at The Menomonee Club are always so friendly and welcoming to us whenever we need them!
  • Jon and Heather at Fey & Co Jewelers were incredible warm and welcoming to our whole team. We literally took the store over and they so kind to our team, interested in the process, and excited to be a part of this project!
  •  Jack is on vacation all next week so this was his one and only day of filming with us. But he NAILED IT!

DAY 3 OF 11 - AUGUST 3, 2016

LOCATION: The Menomonee Club Drucker Center

Pick-ups and a table read made for a fun laid-back day 3. 

Here’s some film lingo for you, ABLE fans: “Pick Up”. A Pick Up is a small, relatively simple shoot that takes place after the main action of the scene is already in the can. The bulk of the opening scene was completed yesterday, but since our major actors were available, we decided to get a few additional shots of Rachel, Sam, and Claire to flesh out the chase scene. We did a few simple takes of each one of them running at the camera, running away, and popping around corners. It was all simple and fun, mostly handheld camera work without the need for microphones or lights.

While pickups were going on in the alley, our teaching team met inside The Menomonee Club to set up for the staged reading. Just like we do for all of our stage shows, each actor had a chair with his/her headshot taped to the back. And just like our shows, each actor has a volunteer to drop him/her in so that there’s no need to stress about memorizing lines or hiding behind a piece of paper to read. Sean, Susan, Lindsay, Lawrence, and Katie each dropped in multiple actors, so they spent some time before the actors arrived to look over scripts and take notes.

Around 5pm, all of our cast arrived at the Menomonee Club. We had an epic dance party to songs like Greased Lightning, and finished out with “Whip Nae Nae.” (requested by Quincy of course). After a good warm up, we reviewed our character’s names and played another round of “Close Up/Wide Shot”. At 5:30, we opened the house to friends and family so we could share the full screenplay.

A staged reading is a pretty casual affair. A lot of times in film, they’ll call it a table read. There’s no fancy blocking or choreography, it’s just a chance to hear the words out-loud, see everyone in their characters for the first time, and get an introduction to the story. Our script supervisor Margaret served as narrator and also read the stage directions, and all of our actors sat in chairs and took turns sharing their lines with the audience. Colleen is completely off-book, and Natalia, Rachel, and Lucy are all pretty close.  Sam Radinsky loved getting into his evil voice and showing off his evil laugh. Some other favorite moments were the car scene with Andrew and Rachel, and of course the monologues at the end of the movie are really special since the actors wrote them themselves. It was a lovely, informal night, and a great excuse to get our whole team together!

DAY 4 OF 11 - AUGUST 4, 2016

LOCATION: Formally Modern Tuxedo and Century City Shopping Center

Another busy two-in-one day today, shooting the scenes a Taylor Bluefish’s Tailors and a big piece of the scenes at UNITE Headquarters.

We started bright and early at Formally Modern Tuxedo on Clybourn. With coffee in hand, our crew started loading in at 8am. We had some extra help today including PA’s Catherine, Kaylie, and Josie whih was great since several of our crew members are all battling a nasty summer cold.

Formally Modern Tuxedo is already a beautiful shop. We didn’t have to do much to make it camera-ready, but we added some extra hats and moved some displays around to fit with the shots we had in mind. Donnie from Formally Modern was incredibly helpful – aside from opening the shop 4 hours early so we could film, he hooked up our actor Samuel with a snazzy 3 piece suit, and got a matching one for our teaching artist Sean so he could act as Sam’s body double. Rachel already has an awesome professional spy suit, so once everyone was in costume, we were ready to roll.

We had 3 scenes to shoot in Bluefish’s shop, including the big scene where he shows Tabitha all her cool spy gadgets like a mask maker, slingshot, and cell phone scanner. This was a dialogue heavy scene, and we also relied on Rachel and Samuel to do a lot of physical business. The mask bit in particular went off without a hitch and will look great! And Rachel and Samuel both did an awesome job remembering all of their complicated blocking. The only flaw was when it came time for Bluefish to get abducted by E.C.H.O., Samuel really didn’t want to get kidnapped! He kept saying “No! No! Take Lawrence instead!”

After a long break in the afternoon, we met back up at Century Center to film a chunk of the U.N.I.T.E. HQ scenes. You probably know Century Center because of the Landmark movie theater on the top floor, but there are a number of storefronts inside. We were given one of the empty office suites to use as U.N.I.T.E. HQ. Our crew arrived at 3:30pm to start loading in and dressing the set. We’ll be using some green screen magic, but also brought in some posters from our previous shows, some letters, file folders, and pictures to flesh out the office. Our friends at The Landmark Theater also lent us tables and chairs to complete the big boardroom.

There are several big scenes at UNITE, but today we focused on just a few. Miss Quarternickel (Natalia) did an awesome job confirming Tabitha’s identity, flying a drone to scan her, and being appropriately menacing when needed. Natalia was pretty much off-book and rocked her scenes – she was also excited to show off her bright pink nails. From there, we moved on to Calliope (Alena) – throughout the movie, she calls and checks in on her spies using their watch phones. She did an AMAZING job hitting her marks, following stage directions, and had a blast physicalizing her scenes. It is always a treat to watch Alena when she’s really “on” – when she started with our program, she was so quiet and shy, and now she commands the room and truly has fun performing! From there, our actors took a break while our crew set about trashing the office for the final scene – you’ll have to wait till the movie comes out to see the destruction ECHO left in its wake. Tristan (Andrew), Tabitha, and Calliope did a fantastic job with the final scene, taking on some complicated blocking, and setting out to save the day! This scene was a great way to finish a long day of filming – our actors had a ton of fun playing off each other and their good energy was contagious!

We’ll be back at Century Center for our final day of filming next week, so we left many of our props and gadgets behind which made load-out a bit easier today.

DAY 5 OF 11 - AUGUST 5, 2016

LOCATION: Union League Club of Chicago

 A productive morning in the boardroom at The Union League Club of Chicago with Tucker Marlon and two of the three Rude Mechanicals!

 The Union League Club is a huge facility with a lot of activity going on – we were lucky have the 5th floor boardroom and parlor all to ourselves. This made for a beautiful and opulent setting for Tucker Marlon, and a comfortable and peaceful working environment for our film. Of course, getting to downtown Chicago in early morning traffic, and parking in downtown Chicago at any time of day is always rough. But the crew made it in around 10:30 and started loading all our gear into the service elevator.

 We got right to work setting up the first shot of the scene, which will look beautiful. Suffice to say Tucker Marlon is both wealthy and eccentric,  and the shot perfectly shows both! Colleen and Hannah came in to do their interview and they rocked it. Colleen is completely off-book and we started working with her on direction not just for her lines but also listening and reacting to her scene partners. She also added a great bit of business with the Paragus Pops (Tucker Marlon’s failed business venture of asparagus flavored lollipops). Hannah is a great and consistent actress, with a very expressive face. Her Fayth Faulconbridge is a diligent spy who likes to take notes during interviews.  Sam always has a good time and enjoys making himself, and everyone around him, laugh. A big favorite moment was when Tucker Marlon gets abducted by ECHO – Sam would spin around and Katie made a face at him to get a reaction. Our sound guy Alex had to turn down Sam’s mic to handle the scream of terror! We ran the full scene 3 times and added some other close ups and smaller inserts.

 Today was also Colleen’s 19th birthday! After we finished all of our shots, cast and crew celebrated with singing and cupcakes. The birthday girl also made a fabulous birthday speech, which will surely make it onto the DVD bonus features for the finished film J

DAY 6 OF 11 - AUGUST 6, 2016

LOCATION: Burnt City Brewing

We wrapped up our first week of shooting in the lanes at Burnt City Brewing.

This casual neighborhood brewpub on the northside has a great restaurant, but, more importantly, an 8-lane bowling alley where we focused our scene for the day. It has a fun vintage feel and a laidback atmosphere (fun fact: ABLE co-founders Katie & Lawrence actually hosted their wedding reception here), and was a great hangout spot for Police Captain Evelyn Hightower (Quincy) to unwind. In our scene, Officer Tristan Briggs (Andrew) visits his fun loving Captain Evelyn Hightower (Quincy) while she’s practicing for the Police League Bowling Tournament to talk about the latest jewelry heist.

 Comparatively, this is a very short scene, and Andrew and Quincy are both seasoned actors and founding members of our program, so we were sure this would be a pretty simple shoot. Our crew arrived at 12pm to start setting up, and quickly realized, as DP Andrew said, “Filming in a bowling alley always sounds cool but it’s really hard!” We had a few distinct challenges with this shooting:

1)                 Audio: We needed to bowl, but the motorized mechanisms that re-set the pins were loud and made it difficult to get audio of our actors’ voices.

2)                 Lighting: Turning the lanes off also meant turning off some lights that highlighted the bowling pins.

3)                 Bowling: Perhaps the biggest technical challenge of the day – Evelyn Hightower is supposed to be an expert bowler, so we had to record somebody bowling a strike…


In true ABLE fashion, we worked out creative solutions and wound up with a beautiful scene!

 Both actors are great at taking direction and remembering blocking, so we were able to add some business to the scene that shows Quincy turning off her lane, which fixed our audio problem. We recorded several takes of the scene and a lot of coverage from different angles. Andrew enjoyed filming his walk into the bowling alley and sitting despondently at the bar while Quincy bowled in the background. And Quincy loved celebrating after each bowl by doing the whip-nae-nae.

 We have some great light kits from Daufenbach that made the alley look beautiful. It took some time to shift them around as we shot different angles, but Quincy and Andrew passed the time talking and joking and snacking on fries from the bar. Quincy even took a turn directing Katie - “Walk forward. Look right. Look left. Turn around. Scream. Go bowl. Dance. Dance better.”

 But who could bowl a strike? Quincy tried her best during filming and employed several techniques but couldn’t make it happen. Andrew didn’t trust his skills enough to try. Margaret and Katie both took several shot as Ivory Nightshade’s hand double and rolled gutters every time. In the end, it was Writer/Director Lawrence Kern for the win showing everyone up and bowling 3 strikes!  

Next up: We've got a day off...and then we pick right back up with two shoots in a row at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo! We have another busy week of filming planned and will be hitting 6 more locations around the city to wrap up principal photography. As always, you can come back to the blog on Mondays and Fridays to meet our crew and see more photos and updates from our cast. For even more behind the scenes coverage, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram for live photos and videos from the set!