The trailer is here! … and glimmerings of an upcoming project

14 Apr

Since my last post (back in January, yeesh), we have wrapped production, started the long process of post-production, and – drumroll please… cut a trailer. I’ll ramble later down in this post about all the above, but before I make any further ado-age, it gives me great pleasure to present to you the trailer for First Kiss!


I hope you enjoy it – and I hope those of you in Pittsburgh will join us for the film’s premiere early this May (exact time and location TBD). The trailer features original music by the incredibly talented James Wolpert (CMU ’13 – our campus is lousy with talent), whose work you can find more of here.

Day 8: Last Day of Production

Now, let’s travel back in time about three months to January 28th – the day we wrapped production on First Kiss. In a bit of scheduling serendipity, the last day of production was a shoot that consisted entirely of kissing couples. When I posted the extras casting call on the Pittsburgh Film Office site, I was surprised by a flooding of my inbox with a crazy number of local and outside couples who were interested in being a part of the film. It was like a violent Valentine’s Day of e-mail viruses. I say that with love, of course, because all these couples were wildly attractive and adorable together. In the end, we could only select three couples. They were all charming and wonderful people, but special props have to be given to Lauren and Colin (below), who roadtripped up to Pittsburgh from Maryland to be in the film.

“You  understand this is a student production with no pay?” I asked.
“Yep, no prob!”

God bless extras. The last shot we took of the film was a two-shot of Lauren and Colin kissing in a stairwell (the same stairwell from 3x3x3: a love story, my directorial debut from about a year ago.) While we were setting up the shot, a campus acappella group gathered in the atrium. “Is that going to be a problem?” one of them sweetly asked. No, we weren’t getting sound in this series of shot. The result was, for the last shot of the film, we had two couples kissing at sunset in a stairwell, while the sounds of acappella filled the air. Couldn’t have been more perfect if I’d tried to orchestrate that myself.

Days 9 – uhhhh… right now: Post-Production

After wrapping, we started the long process of post-production. Trying cut after cut of the film, auditioning voiceover talent, finding the right balance between score and soundtrack. I thought production would be the hard part – but one of the hardest aspects of filmmaking is sitting in post and cutting out things you absolutely love. There were the minor things – cutting shots that were beautiful and sweeping, but mostly just gratuitous and slowed down the pacing of the film. Then there were the big things – the greatest difference between script and screen for this film is the voiceover. I originally wrote an “Older Adam” voiceover part, borrowing (or shamelessly stealing)  from the tradition of works like The Wonder Years. As we auditioned voice actors for the role (among them, the wonderfully patient Paul Guggenheim of Pittsburgh’s Essential Public Radio station), I became more and more frustrated. Something just wasn’t clicking with the film we’d just shot. As a last ditch attempt, I called Cain (the actor for young Adam) to come in with his father, and recorded voiceovers by both of them. In the end, I decided to use Cain’s voiceover, changing the “Older Adam VO” to “ADAM VO”. The overall tone may have changed as a result, but I think it was a decision that gave me a better film. Funny how those things work out.

The glimmerings of a next project

It’s now been about a year and a half since I first penned the first draft of First Kiss, hoping against hope someone might like it enough to give me the chance to make this movie. As we’re winding down in post-production, it’s time to think about the next project. Granted, I’ve written/directed/produced a number of other micro-mini-short film works that wrapped production either before First Kiss or in the months after – those will all be completed and online between now and May. But First Kiss was also my first big passion project – it was a film that I wanted to make, with a wider range of resources and finances than I’d ever had at my disposal before. While filming, I thought to myself, “Once I’m done with this, I’ll be happy and it’ll all be finished.”

But I think part of the nature of this work is that you never quite get to the “finished” part. Back in December, when Steeltown Entertainment announced its call for submissions for the 2012 Film Factory, I decided to try my hand at writing another twelve-minute short. The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested, which follows a sixteen year old girl determined to improve her 32-AA bra size before hooking up with her lab partner, is a kind of follow-up companion film to First Kiss. While it’s not a sequel, it comes from the same emotional origins in a world of adolescent agony, and I feel the two pieces could complement each other on some level. The screenplay is currently in the running for the 2012 Film Factory Competition – tomorrow, I’ll be pitching it to a panel of judges who will determine the three screenplays that make it to the finalist round this year.

Going through the Film Factory Competition a second time has been truly a learning experience. Drafting up my budget proposal for Perils, I pulled up my budget proposal from last year for First Kiss, just for the sake of comparison. And I realized – a year ago, I really had no clue what I was doing. I had overbudgeted here, underbudgeted there, I didn’t know that working professionals often came in package deals with their own equipment, or that food would really cost more than $25 for a pizza at the end of each shoot (one cannot live on pizzas and bagels alone). That’s not to say that I’m wildly knowledgeable now – I’m sure a year from now, if I look at my pre-production documents for Perils, I’ll laugh at how much I underbudgeted for camera-ready bras or something (those things are expensive). But my point is this – you can read and research online and try making lists in preparation, but at the end of the day, there’s really no better way to learn than to dive right in and shoot the damn thing.

So that’s the crux of it. I’m looking forward to premiering First Kiss in a few weeks, and graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in just a couple more. After I graduate in May, I can officially drop the “student” from my “student filmmaker” title. Yikes, that’s actually kind of scary. Maybe I’ll try and calm the nerves by making another movie.

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
First Kiss – writer/director


Days 6 & 7: Production Pinches and How to Get Out of Them

24 Jan

By the end of this week (Sunday), we will have wrapped production entirely on First Kiss. We’ve started the long post-production process of capturing, synching, and cutting. Looking at the footage (and I might be more than a little biased) – it’s been  completely worth it, every minute of the way. Day 6 (Sunday, December 18) and Day 7 (Sunday, January 15) recaps below.

Day 6

Actors acting.

The last shoot we had in December was a party scene, for which we had some very patient extras and a few very last minute ones. We had confirmed a number of age-appropriate extras for the scene earlier in the week. Due to some random twists of fate, we lost almost every single one of them by the day of production. We called our cast and scraped together a few replacements from their friends, but we were still short. The crowd we’d gathered for the spin-the-bottle scene was just so overwhelmingly female. At the eleventh hour, setting up for the first shot, we looked around at our crew. Who could I make shave and pretend to be fourteen years old? It was a frantic moment, and I cursed the day I had chosen to write about teenagers instead of college students, who I had surrounding me in spades. I wondered fleetingly if I could just run up the street and go door to door until someone age-appropriate answered.

Here is the great thing about the tiny film community we work in – there’s almost always someone that somebody’s worked with previously who happens to be the one person you need right now. In this case, it was a wonderful young actor named Sam Columbus. I had worked with Sam just a couple of weeks earlier on another short student film, Take 12, in which he played an insufferable child actor with a convincing edge. (Sam himself is actually incredibly mature and great to work with.) On a wild whim, I called Sam’s mother. “When do you need him?” she asked.

“… Right now?” I answered half-heartedly. Spoken aloud, I could hear the ridiculousness of the question and started to form the No, of course not, I totally understand –

“We’ll be there right away,” she said.

Have I mentioned I love working with the people I work with? Sam showed up just in time, straight from another production, and we shot the scene promptly. So MVP of the shoot for Day 6 goes to Suzanne and Sam Columbus, who answered the call (quite literally) and helped me in a last-minute production pinch (I do seem to get in a lot of those, don’t I?). Thanks also to the Levinsons for letting us use their beautiful home, and to Uncle Sam’s Subs for being delicious and available.

Day 7

We had originally intended to wrap principal photography in December, but had to postpone an exterior shoot due to snow. I think that might’ve been a first real grown up moment for me, seeing snow and not thinking, “Oooh, snow day!!!!” but rather, “Crap, this is going to cost me more in time and money.” Growing up is kind of a bummer. This is why I make movies about fourteen year olds and their first kisses instead.

Exterior shooting.

Between takes in the car.

Filming scenes with cars outside in the dead of the Pittsburgh winter is cold and awful. I will never do it again. Except for the part where the footage looks awesome and it was great. I suppose what I really mean is, next time, we need a space heater and a city permit to shut down the street.

Looking forward to wrapping this Sunday!

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “First Kiss”

Days 4 and 5: On Location at Landmarks of My Adolescence

18 Dec

Day 4 (Thursday) and Day 5 (Saturday) recaps are here as a double-hitter – production time seems to go by crazy fast, every shoot is like another 1k stretch of a marathon. I’ll do this post chronologically. First up – the joys of filming in a non-walk-in closet.

That's about how wide/deep the closet actually is, upon opening the door.

One of the best things about being a screenwriter is that you get to indulge in that movie playing in the movie theater of your mind. You write three page scenes that take place during an infinite sunset, you insert sweeping montages where your characters stare across a crowded cafeteria at each other, and you write two-page scenes that take place in cramped closets while thinking, “That nauseating sense of claustrophobia’s really going to make this scene work!” Then it comes time to shoot and if you’re a writer/director, the switch flips. Everything you thought made your screenplay visual and interesting is now a logistical nightmare that makes you want to go back in time and violently destroy your keyboard before you have a chance to write the first “FADE IN”.

Going over the shooting script during pre-production, you find yourself sounding more and more like Gollum berating Smeagol for ever thinking such stupid things were possible. Sunsets last for 7 or 8 minutes at most, you idiot, how are you going to fit in more than one take of your first shot in there? Where are you getting all these uniforms for a cafeteria full of 14-17 year old extras you haven’t even found yet? Oh, you’re filming in a closet? The sound is echoey, there aren’t any lights, and it’s probably against the law to hold two teenagers and a guy with a camera in a closet for hours while you’re waiting on the other side. For the record, if that last part is actually illegal, we definitely didn’t do it. And stop reading this blog post now.

We ran all the blocking outside the closet first.

Adolescence spent in a closet. Look, dramatic lighting!

For the closet scene, we ran the blocking outside, then crammed our two actors, our soundmixer/boom operator, our Director of Photography, and the camera into a 3×4 foot enclosed space. And then we closed the door.  While the logistics of film production are enough to drive the sane into a spiraling madness, there’s comfort in the fact that we don’t go into it alone. I have the great good luck of working with an incredibly talented crew and wonderfully patient cast. Rather than pointing out the difficulties and roadblocks, they skip ahead to ask, “How can we make this work?” These are the kinds of people I like to surround myself with, because it means we aren’t just going to make a movie, we’re going to make something good. It also means we should overbudget for food, because they deserve to feast as kings after making that shoot work.

My parents are both chemists. This is my version of a, "Hi, mom!" frantic wave at the camera.

This brings back more memories of high school than I'd like to recall.

Sometimes, the logistics of production will also shift the narrative positively. I had originally written two scenes which took place in a high school cafeteria. When we went location scouting at Winchester Thurston Middle School, the Director of Programs was kind enough to give us an expanded tour of the campus. Walking into the WT Upper School biology lab, I realized just how much of my adolescence was spent in science labs. Yeah, I sound like a total dork, I don’t care because I actually have no talent for the sciences. My parents are both chemists; I was in second grade when they were grad students, and I would hang out in the university chem lab to play with dry ice. For the better part of my childhood, I equated chemistry with magic and wanted to become a scientist when I grew up.

Unfortunately, I inherited a recessive gene called CompletelyCrapAtScience, but being the overachieving daughter of two very smart people, refused to admit defeat and struggled my way through chemistry, physics, and biology honors courses throughout high school. In the biology lab of Winchester Thurston, I was suddenly thrown back to a time when everyone scrambled for the one pair of safety goggles that wasn’t hot pink, when testing for unknown substances wasn’t a euphemism for sniffing the contents of a college dorm fridge. I made the last-minute script change, and we shot one of my favorite scenes in the film thus far. (I know, I say this about every scene. This is the great thing about working with a crazy talented crew; they make every shoot better than the last.)

Thank you to the wonderful faculty and staff at Winchester Thurston, especially to Dionne Brelsford, who helped me outfit the cast and extras in school uniform attire. Thanks also to the Levinsons for allowing us to film in the crowded closet Thursday night. Tomorrow is our last day of full production! I told you these things go by quickly.

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “First Kiss”

Day 3 – We’re halfway home

15 Dec

We’ve completed Day 3 of filming! With that, we’ve officially hit the halfway mark of production. Even more importantly to all the college students on our crew, we’ve reached the end of our first semester final exams!

The chalk on the production slate doesn't match, but it gets the job done.

One of my favorite scenes to shoot by far.

While writing the screenplay, this was the scene I had the most visually mapped out in my head. So naturally, I was incredibly cool, calm, and relaxed throughout the entire shoot. Oh, what a lie. I probably hopped around the set like a rabbit on Ritalin three or four times from nerves alone that night. Lucky for me, I work with some incredibly patient and talented people who can translate my “!!!” and “?!?!” into actual human words.

All things considered, it was a shoot I’ll look back on and point towards as an example of someone copy-pasting a scene from my head into the reality of someone else’s front porch. I can’t wait to show it to you guys. Thank you to our dedicated crew and our phenomenal cast members for braving and working through freezing December temperatures. A special thanks goes out to the Wallnaus for letting us film at their beautiful home, and also for supplying some stellar past-the-last-minute wardrobe services!

Day 4 tomorrow – it might be a bit claustrophobic, we’ll be shooting in a closet the entire night…

Day 2 Done!

13 Dec

We wrapped our second day of shooting yesterday on location at the Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville – by far one of the most involved shoots we’ve done yet. I received a voicemail from my parents while shooting – “Yulin, we heard you are in production for your movie and are very tired. We think you should sleep more.” I have a feeling I’ll be receiving these phone calls from my parents until I’m 45 – “How much sleep did you get? What are you eating?” So this post is dedicated to my parents, and the parents of all the crew members on First Kiss – thanks for supporting us and calling to remind us to get some sleep from time to time. Even if that phone call does come right after I’ve just called out, “Quiet on set.”

One of the more fun shoots of the day.

Our first shoot of the second day involved a movie theater scene in which Adam, the hero of our story, sits between two couples making out. In terms of producing for this shoot, about 70% of the stress came from the question, “Which of my coupled-up friends are cool with making out in front of 20 people and a camera for an hour and a half?” All my friends are apparently a puritanical lot of hardworking CMU students who are too busy to have romantic lives. The night before the shoot, we had one couple confirmed out of the two. The next morning, I was in a classically defined tizzy. Could we make it work with just one couple making out? The whole point of the scene was to have Adam surrounded by couples making out!

For the record, when your whole artistic vision hinges on casting a Couple Making Out #2, you might find yourself questioning your artistic integrity. Thankfully, about half an hour before the shoot, we managed to rope in a second couple. #thisjobhastheweirdestproblems

My favorite poet.

Screencap of one of my favorite shots thus far.

We had some amazing extras on Sunday, who stuck it out with us through the long night. (Especially the extras who were my friends who had finals in the morning. You guys are the best ever. Hearts times infinity.) Being an extra in a shot that involves continuity basically means being held hostage until we’ve gotten you from every relevant angle. In exchange, we offer the finest pizza and sodas in all the land. Special thanks also goes out to Jared Pascoe at the Pittsburgh Film Office, who has been plagued with my casting calls and production job postings all semester – you’re a wizard, Jared. Also much thanks to the Coca Cafe in Lawrenceville for allowing us to film on location – I highly recommend anyone reading this post to take the trek out there and try their almond french toast with lemon cream sauce. It will reaffirm your faith in brunch.

My camera with the behind-the-scenes production stills is currently elsewhere, so this post is sadly missing photos of me making frowny faces at shot lists. I know, I’m pretty broken up about it too.

Day 3 is tomorrow night – we’re shooting one of my favorite scenes from the script; I’m so excited I can’t even. Then I’ll go home and write four final papers. Oh right, finals week, that’s still a thing. Hard work is so much harder when it’s not making movies.

Love from,

Yulin Kuang
First Kiss – writer/director

Day 1 of Production – Wrapped!

11 Dec

… Like a winter-time present under a holiday bush. After 10 hours of shooting in the December cold, we’ve officially wrapped our first day of production on First Kiss!

I'd like you to think I'm very busy and important.

These bamfs are the real heroes of our production.

Day 1 Shoot MVP Award goes out to Cain Gulbrandsen (pictured above), who plays Adam Schoenberger, the fourteen year old romantic agonizing over the anticipation of his first kiss. Today was Cain’s 14th birthday, which he celebrated with us by filming for hours upon hours in the freezing cold while on location in a sloping cemetery. Legit. 14-year-old me is intimidated by his coolness. 21-year-old me is too.

Our sincere thanks goes out to the lovely staff of Homewood Cemetery for allowing us to film on their grounds today. There is something wildly appealing to the writer in me about holding the first shoot of this production in a 130-year old cemetery. It was pretty much just magic.

Cast and crew defrosting with an interior shoot.

My brain tends to short-circuit after hearing the final, “That’s a wrap!” Whenever we complete the final take of the day’s last shot, I always let out this huge breath that I’ve been holding since the first take of the first shot. I’m not sure what it is about filmmaking that gets me all twitterpated and short-of-breath with nerves and anxiety, but I haven’t yet found anything that rivals the rush of completing a great shoot.

Fortunately, post-film shoot exhaustion means my brain will welcome sleep like Facebook invites procrastination. Here’s to Day 2 of production tomorrow! In the meantime, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Much love,

Yulin Kuang
First Kiss – writer/director

Twas the night before production…

10 Dec

This is a production blog we’ll be keeping for the short film, First Kiss.

Test shoot / shooting our Kickstarter preview

First Kiss follows the story of Adam Schoenberger, a 14-year old romantic who finds out a pretty girl wants to kiss him at his best friend’s spin the bottle party. I wrote the script about a year ago for a Pittsburgh screenwriting competition, where this screenplay came in as one of the finalists. Now, after countless script revisions, test shoots, location scouting adventures, and other mini-dramas of pre-production, we’re making a movie!

We’re working with a dedicated crew, tremendously talented cast, and beautiful locations to shoot this film over the course of the next 10 days here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

And we’re going into production tomorrow, at 11:00 AM. I can’t sleep, I’m so excited. And nervous. And thrilled. And terrified.

This is how calm, cool, and collected I'd like to seem.

This is how I will actually feel.

Stop judging me, stress cube.

I’ll be posting on here – along with my producers, crew, and cast members – production updates, production stills, behind the scenes footage, and more. Partially because my senior thesis advisor requires it, and partially because making a movie is like eating one of those pint-sized Haagen-Dazs ice cream cups – you start out thinking it’d be a hell of a task to finish one in one sitting, you dare yourself to try and proceed to enjoy/agonize as you consume it spoonful by spoonful… and then you find yourself scraping the end and you just have to wonder, “Did I seriously just do that? Gross. (beat) But awesome.”

This blog will be exciting, thrilling, sexy, and sophisticated (much like the reputation of the students of Carnegie Mellon University). It’s How to Shoot a Movie in 10 Days. Maybe I can get Kate Hudson to play me and Matthew McConaughey to play the sexy-smart-but-contrary line producer who makes a bet with my assistant director that I can’t fit in all the dolly shots I want into Scene 15…

… Yeah, you’re right, that does sound like an awesome movie, and I will write that screenplay right after we wrap this production.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who’s helped us get to this point – friends, family, supporters on Kickstarter, Carnegie Mellon University, Facebook friends of friends, Pittsburgh Filmmakers, BoringPittsburgh, Steeltown Entertainment, teachers and professors elementary school through present, and all the boys I’ve ever kissed. You know who you are. I hope.

Love from,

Yulin Kuang
Writer/Director – “First Kiss”
Currently sleepless