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The Family Business

Joyce Rish prepping a midnight meal. Photo by Joanna Rish

During the filming of Saying Goodbye, our family was a huge source of emotional support; but although they stopped by the set one day to see all the excitement, they weren’t really involved in the actual process.  It was a very different story for High Heels and Hoodoo, which turned into a true Rish family production.

We already mentioned how our parents helped with all the food shopping, so we might as well dub them the Official Food People - they helped man the craft services table, and they catered dinner both nights.  Although is it still called dinner when it’s served at midnight?  Our dad Robert prides himself on his homemade bar-b-que, so he grilled a giant hunk of pork for Friday night.  And then for Saturday night it was a different kind of bar-b-que with hamburgers and hot dogs.  Our mom Joyce made all the delicious side dishes for both meals. 

Robert Rish cookin' up some dogs.

But they didn’t just help with the food.  In the days leading up to the shoot, our mom helped Jocelyn make sure everything was organized.  Between the two of them, the OCD list making was in overdrive.  And once on set, she kept everything shipshape at base camp (the trailer).  Our dad served as handyman on set, keeping the generators running (the hairdryers kept tripping the trailer’s circuit breaker) and taking care of other odd jobs.  We also tasked him with driving the U-haul truck full of TTC equipment, since neither of us felt comfortable with it.  And when we ran out of tiki torch oil, who do you think we sent out on a 2am Walmart run?  Dear old Dad, of course!

Rounding out the Rish family production was our younger sister Joanna.  She has a super fancy camera and loves taking pictures, so we sweet-talked her into being our onset photographer/videographer.  She took some fantastic photos (along with TTC student DiDi Hendley) which you can see here.  But as older siblings, it’s our duty to make life tough on the youngest, so once shooting started, we immediately turned her into the set production assistant, bombarding her with “Go and do…” “Tell so-and-so…” “Bring me…”  And as usual for ungrateful siblings, we fear we forgot to preface most of those requests with “please.”  But Joanna has the patience of a saint, and she wanted to help us succeed, so she did everything we asked (with only a few dirty looks). 

Joanna and Jocelyn Rish. Photo by DiDi Hendley.

Besides taking pictures, her biggest job turned out to be set chauffer.  Since the trailer was parked a good distance from the graves where we were filming, she drove the actresses back and forth.  And after it ended up being so cold, she turned her car into a heated green room for the actresses to stay warm during lighting adjustments, which we know the ladies really appreciated (as did Jocelyn who occasionally snuck a few minutes in the car to thaw out!).

We can’t thank our family enough for all of their help.  Without their support and willingness to do whatever we needed, we’re not sure we would have been able to pull this off.  Thank you so much Joanna, Joyce, and Robert!

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Another Student Swarm

During the filming of Saying Goodbye, we were extremely impressed by the Trident Tech (TTC) students who helped us on set (our busy bees).  Therefore we felt pretty good that for High Heels and Hoodoo half the crew would be made up of TTC students.  But we still couldn’t help worrying a little that maybe we just got lucky the first time.  At least for Saying Goodbye we got to review resumes and pick our own students; this time the students were assigned to us by TTC coordinator Brad Jayne, so we had no idea what we were walking into the first night of shooting.

Luckily TTC truly does do an excellent job training their students, so we had no reason to worry at all.  Max Gordon, Alex Boyd, DiDi Hendley, Karson Kern, and Tonika Brown showed up on Friday afternoon and immediately began swarming to and fro, unloading and setting up equipment.  Sometimes it seemed like they were in two places at one time, especially DiDi who also took pictures in her downtime (along with our sister Joanna Rish, which you can see here).  We are so appreciative of all the hustle and hard work the students did for us that weekend, particularly since filming all night in a chilly graveyard didn’t make for ideal working conditions.  We hope they gained a lot from the experience, and we look forward to hearing great things about their future projects.  

TTC Students on set

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Rounding Out the Crew

Bill Allanson, Brian Rish, Will Bryan on HH&H set. Photo by DiDi HendleyWill Bryan was our production designer for Saying Goodbye, and he did such a great job bringing the rooms to life that we wanted his help with High Heels and Hoodoo.  But since it was an outside shoot in a graveyard, we weren’t sure if he’d have enough to do to justify his drive from Columbia to Charleston; so we decided to make him work double duty as first assistant director.  Not much ruffles Will’s feathers, so he’s a calming asset to have on set.  He’s also volunteered to do the poster for High Heels and Hoodoo, and after the awesome one he did for Saying Goodbye, we can’t wait to see what he comes up with for this one.

Bill Allanson wrangling the fog. Photo by Joanna RishNext up is our gaffer Bill Allanson.  Our DP John Reynolds recommended Bill to us, and like John, Bill has been a part of most of the projects shot in Charleston, such as Dear John and The Notebook.  In fact, he came to set on Friday evening after having worked a full day on the Army Wives set - we really appreciate Bill being willing to work those crazy hours to help us out.  In addition to his lighting duties, Bill became the Official Fog Wrangler.  You can’t have a ghostly graveyard scene without some fog, but of course it ended up being windy during that scene, so Bill hustled to keep the fog in the shot rather than floating off over the Cooper River.  The end product looks great, so we are glad he was there to tame the wild fog beast.

Oren Malik discussing shot with John Reynolds. Photo by DiDi HendleyAnd then we had Oren Malik as first assistant camera, another crew member highly recommended by John.  Oren actually worked on a few of last year’s indie grant winners as one of the Trident Tech students on the crew, so he was a perfect addition to our set.  Not only did he do a great job as John’s right-hand man, but since he was in the students’ place a year ago, he was able to guide them and offer advice.

We’re glad all three gentlemen were willing to brave the cold and the creepy graveyard to help us with the shoot.  Thanks, guys!

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Have a Magical Halloween!

Stuffy the Stand-in at Hoodoo tableAs you may remember, last year Stuffy the Stand-in had a blast trying on various Halloween costumes.  If you didn’t see them then, you should peruse his various ensembles.  And even if you did see them at the time, go back and gawk at his choices for a Halloween giggle

This year, Stuffy the Stand-in was too busy helping us with our new movie High Heels and Hoodoo to spend time preening in front of a mirror in his various costumes.  High Heels and Hoodoo is about ghosts and magic, so it’s a perfect fit for Halloween, made even more appropriate since we filmed in a cemetery at night the week before All Hallows Eve. 

Since there were no cats in this movie, we did not need Stuffy’s stand-in abilities, but he was on hand to supervise and horn in on any photo ops.  We’ve included a few of his creepy poses to commemorate the holiday.  Enjoy and have a very Happy Halloween! Jocelyn, Stuffy, Will, and Brian at graveside











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The Music of the Night

We tend to think of graveyards as pretty quiet (except when the zombies attack of course), but it turned out to be surprisingly noisy at night.  Obviously a big factor was the constant drone of the generators we had running to power the equipment and RV.  But there were also steady chirps and buzzing from the crickets and other insects, as well as a few yelps and calls from other unidentified wildlife. 

An unexpected source of noise was the apartment complex that backs up to St. Lawrence Cemetery.  Despite the cold, on both nights kids were outside playing and shouting; and their bedtime was not as early as we expected (or hoped), since the commotion went on past eleven.  While we were happy to see the youth of America actually playing outside, we kind of wished they'd picked that weekend for TV time and video games.  

Then there was the noise that kind of freaked us out – techno music.  The music was thumping from the side of St. Lawrence that backs up to another cemetery.  There are no bars or clubs or anything nearby, so obviously the ghosts were having a rave.  The music faded away after a few minutes, but it came back in spurts several times.  Someone finally realized that the Cooper River borders the cemeteries, and the music was from the party boats cruising up and down the river.  While that’s a logical explanation for the music, we like the idea of raving ghosts better.

Jack Kelehear by DiDi HendleySo with all that noise, both natural and unnatural, we presented a tough challenge for our sound mixer.  Luckily we had Jack Kelehear on our team - he laughed in the face of all that commotion, and we were amazed at how clean the audio came out despite the noisy night.  Jack has more than 25 years of sound experience doing audio mixing and composing and producing music for WIS TV and SCESC, and he owns Tongarten Audio Production.  He worked on American Jihadist, a documentary that won the Grand Jury Prize at SlamDance and Best Documentary at the Charleston International Film Festival.  Jack brought his lovely assistant/girlfriend Nancy to set, and she turned out to be a whiz at spotting continuity issues, so we were grateful to have both of them there that weekend.   

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A Nip in the Air

One of the requirements of the indie grant was that we had to finish filming by October 31st.  Since we wanted as many hours of darkness as possible for filming, we scheduled our shoot as late in the window as we could (without pushing our luck by waiting until the very last weekend).  But the tradeoff for waiting for more hours of darkness was fewer degrees on the thermometer. 

Charleston is usually pretty comfortable during the winter - it’s not unusual to be able to wear shorts for Christmas.  But as tends to happen with these things, there was a cold snap the weekend we filmed, so the temperature hovered in the mid 40s.  Now we know our northern fans are snickering at us, but that’s dang cold for those of us with thin southern blood, especially because the weekend before and after had low temps of 60 degrees.  But on the bright side, our anti-rain dance worked perfectly and there was not a cloud in the sky; so any time we were tempted to complain about the cold, we reminded ourselves that it could have been so much worse if it had rained.

The entire cast and crew were real troopers about the chilly conditions.   The crew was lucky in that they could pile on the layers and stick hand warmers in their pockets.  Our three actresses weren’t quite so fortunate, especially poor Johanna who was wearing a tiny dress.  But we did our best to keep them bundled up between takes, and as you can see from the picture, they got to know each other up close and personal.  

Johanna, Ashley and Joy keep warm

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A Successful West Coast Premiere

Lady Filmmaker Film Festival at Writers' Guild TheaterAs we mentioned, we were too busy preparing to film our new short High Heels and Hoodoo to be able to attend the Lady Filmmaker Film Festival.  It was frustrating not being there to support our film, but fortunately we had a generous friend there cheering on Saying Goodbye.  We both know Taree aka topangarose from the writing contests and forum at NYC Midnight.  She lives in California, and when she heard Saying Goodbye was coming her way, she made plans to see it, despite an already busy day.

And not only did she attend, but she also took these pictures of the marquee and lobby for us (she said the crowd was already seated in the theater when she got there) and picked up a program to send us for our scrapbook.  She said our short “got a great reaction,” and she had some very lovely comments about the movie that made us blush, and she also said she can’t wait to see our next film.  Hopefully our new film will be a good match for next year's LFFF and we'll actually be able to attend, so we can finally meet the fabulous Taree in person.  Thank you, Taree, for both your support and for providing a window into our LFFF screening for us. 

Lobby of Writer's Guild Theater during LFFFAnd the good stuff doesn’t end there.  A few days after the festival, the LFFF posted the 2011 Award Winners on their website, and we were thrilled to find out Saying Goodbye was one of three films selected for the Artistic Director’s Award!  The festival director emailed us that during our screening there was “Not a dry eye in the theater!”  We love hearing that!  Thank you so much to LFFF for not only selecting Saying Goodbye, but also giving it an award!

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Shop ‘til You Drop

Since the grant for High Heels and Hoodoo is much smaller than the one for Saying Goodbye, it means everything is even more ‘do it yourself’ than before, which includes the shopping. For Saying Goodbye, we spent a good chunk of time perusing the Walmart shelves for craft services, but meals and props were handled by other people.  This time we are all on our own.  And since neither one of us likes to shop, the past few days have been . . . not fun.

High Heels on Hoodoo tableThe set design is pretty simple, so the majority of the items on our props list are interesting looking implements for Madame Josephine’s hoodoo table.  Much of our shopping has consisted of going from store to store (to store!) deciding which glass container will look coolest when filled with blood or which mortar and pestle looks the most magical.  Thank goodness it’s right before Halloween - finding the fake blood was the easiest thing on our list. 

The biggest buying challenge has been the ring that gets passed between characters.  While it’s not a main plot device, it is in every scene, and all three actresses wear it at some point.  The ring needs to be big and flashy enough for the viewer to notice it’s the same one, and it also needs to look expensive (without actually being expensive).  That’s a fine line, since the bigger they are, the cheaper they usually look.  After scouring practically every shop in our area that carries rings, we finally found a “pink diamond” we liked from our favorite film shopping Joyce, Jocelyn, and Robert Rish unpacking all the food. Photo Joanna Rishplace – Walmart.

And since Brian was busy when it was time for the major food shopping, Jocelyn batted her pitiful, puppy eyes and pleaded with her parents to come help push the buggies during an evening expedition (less crowded) to Walmart to load up on snacks and food for the meals.  Our parents have been life savers through all of this!

All this shopping has nearly worn us out before we’ve even started filming, and it will definitely be a while before either one of us feels like entering another store. 

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Hoodoo Barbie

Casting the protagonist of High Heels and Hoodoo turned out to be tougher than we thought.  On the surface, Tiffany seems to be a typical blonde bimbo, so we wanted an actress with a certain look.  But there’s a lot more to Tiffany than meets the eye – she shares her nanna’s core of steel, so we needed an actress who could convey Tiffany’s cunning determination running beneath the surface.  We weren’t having much luck and were starting to worry as our shoot date loomed closer and closer.

Then Brian remembered one of the shorts we’d seen during movie night at ConcentrixThe Adult Who Cried Wolf.  One of the characters was played by Johanna Jowett, who we’d also seen previously in the first SC Production Grant winning film The Four Children of Tander Welch (which was produced by Matt Sefick, our 2nd AD for Saying Goodbye).  Brian had actually worked with Johanna years before in a series of commercials he made for the SC lottery (you can see the lizard man mania here), and he thought she’d be perfect for the part. 

So we got in touch with our casting director Richard Futch, and he contacted Johanna’s agency about the role.  Johanna sent an audition with two takes on the character of Tiffany – one very ditzy and one with that underlying grit we were looking for.  So just in a nick of time, we’ve found our Tiffany.

Johanna Jowett by Joanna Rish

In addition to crazy commercials and small budget indies, Johanna has appeared on the big screen in Life as We Know It, and on the TV shows One Tree Hill and The Riches, as well as starring in the series 7th Street Theater.  Johanna is like a chameleon, different in every role we’ve seen her in, so we can’t wait to see what she brings to this character and are happy that our trio of strong southern women is now complete.

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Feeling Secure

When we starting telling people we were filming in St. Lawrence Cemetery, a few of them gave us funny looks before hesitantly delivering variations of “You know that’s not a safe part of town, right?”  We could tell they didn’t want to be the ones to burst our location-happy bubbles, but they also didn’t want us to get mugged or murdered in the middle of the night.  We kind of shrugged it off the first few times, since we knew there would be so many of us out there; but the repetition made us nervous, and we decided we couldn’t count on safety in numbers.

Charleston Police DepartmentWe contacted the City of Charleston Police Department and arranged to hire two off-duty cops to take turns with security.  The department recommended Roger and Steve, two friendly officers willing to spend the night in a cold graveyard to keep us safe.  The peace of mind they’ll provide is definitely worth the unexpected addition to our budget.  And besides, if our faux hoodoo ceremony actually coaxes something out of one of the graves, we’ll be more than happy to have someone there with a gun.