Patrons of certain local businesses last weekend may have witnessed something unusual: several bright lights covered by umbrellas, an imposing video camera on an industrial tripod, a man holding a microphone on a pole, and several people seemingly milling around before all turning to watch two men walk around and converse with each other.
I was privileged to spend most of Saturday, January 21, on the set of “The Gift ,” a Brand New Gay Productions  film written and directed by our very own Travis Myles . “The Gift” is Travis’ first movie: a short film (approximately thirty minutes long) which tells the story of Alan who, with the help of his best friend Bill, is trying to find the perfect Christmas present for his partner, James, whose gifts are always so amazing that Alan feels inadequate by comparison.
I arrived at Work the Metal (a home furnishings and gift shop in the Butchertown Market on Story Avenue) at around 10:00 Saturday morning to find the cast and crew setting up a scene. Everybody looked quite focused upon the task, despite having worked for twelve hours on Friday before getting up early today to start shooting at 7:00. I met Production Assistants Jessica Collier and Kenisha Thompson and promised to stay out of the way to observe.
The scene being shot was one of several which featured Alan and Bill looking for a gift. After wrapping the shot, we moved to Cellar Door Chocolates, also in the Butchertown Market, for another brief scene. While the crew set up the lights and the camera, I took a moment to speak to the two actors.
Chuck Beatty, who is also an Executive Producer, plays the character of Bill. Chuck had met Travis at an LGBT Film Festival and Travis approached him with his screenplay. Chuck was originally cast as Alan, but when they held auditions for the other parts, he found someone he thought would do better: Douglas Scott Sorenson. When he saw Douglas audition, he said, “That’s Alan.”
Thus, Douglas became Alan, while Chuck took the part of Bill. Both have extensive acting experience: Chuck has been working in the theater for ten years, while Douglas worked in both theater and film in New York for sixteen years. Douglas moved to Louisville with his partner, and now acts in commercials and in productions by Actor’s Theater.
Meanwhile, the scene setup was hitting some snags, namely with sound. The scene takes place in a bit of a tight spot; finding a convenient yet inconspicuous place for the microphone proved difficult, and a coffee machine was making an incessant hissing noise which couldn’t be turned off. They tried having one of the crew members act as an extra browsing the shelves of chocolates while holding the concealed microphone, but that didn’t seem to work. Eventually they hooked the microphone back up to the pole and found a workable place for it, and the scene was shot.
I noticed an interesting line of dialogue in which the name “Cellar Door Chocolates” was dropped. In addition, a small sign with the shop’s name was in the shot. I asked Jessica whether this amounted to a sort of product placement, and she affirmed that it was deliberate. “We’re just trying to keep it local,” she said, citing how Louisvillians love their local businesses. “They’ve been very generous.” It is a way to thank the businesses for letting the film crew invade their space for an hour or two.
The lunch break came after this scene, and everybody headed to Café Fraiche on Brownsboro Road. Maybe “break” isn’t quite the right word, as Travis and the crew took the downtime as an opportunity to discuss logistics for future scenes and e-mail or text important information to people not present. During a brief lull I commented to Travis that he seems to be pretty adept at the whole filmmaking thing; even though it’s his first film, it looks like he has been doing it for a long time. He laughed and replied, “I’m glad it comes across that way, because it doesn’t seem that way to me at all!”
After lunch we trekked to the next location: Eyedia, a furniture consignment store on Mellwood Avenue. The setup for the first scene shot there was simpler: the existing lighting was adequate, and the camera was handheld instead of mounted on the tripod. During the shooting of this brief scene, the crew set up the lights in another section of the store.
Here again Travis took care to identify the location for the audience: the shot focuses first on the Eyedia logo on the wall before panning down to Chuck and Douglas for their lines.
Every so often a customer would walk into the scene unawares, and while unintended extras are not necessarily a bad thing, a person can’t be shown on film without their consent… so one of the production assistants would have to chase them down, explain the situation, and ask if they are ok with appearing in the film, and if so would they please sign this consent form? (Nobody minded, but if somebody had, the scene would just be re-shot.)
The next scene, in the other part of the store, was also quite brief, but it required the whole lighting setup and some rearranging of the furnishings. As with the other shots, the scene was blocked out, rehearsed to check for sound quality and the best place to hold the microphone, then shot a couple of times in order to provide options for editing.
The scene wrapped, and we had about thirty minutes until we had to be at our next location: Café Fraiche, once again, wherein would be shot a brief scene in which Bill and Alan have lunch.
The café closes at 3:00, and they generously gave the cast and crew the run of the place after closing. Six extras were brought in to sit and eat at tables in the background. (Production assistants Jessica and Kenisha also make brief cameos as diners in this scene.) The lighting setup seemed a bit complicated – the several lights which were set up underwent constant tweaking until everything was just right.
While Travis seems like a director content to allow the actors to explore the role on their own – especially since he was using people with experience – he was a bit more hands on in this scene, directing them to lean forward or back in their chairs, largely to ensure all the extras made it into the shot, and instructing Douglas to speak with his mouth full at one point. Several takes were filmed before wrap.
With the production way ahead of schedule, nothing more could really be filmed that day until nighttime, so a break was declared at 4:00 with instructions to meet at the Blind Pig at 6:00. I, unfortunately, could not rejoin them, so I thanked Travis and the crew and bid them all adieu.
There are currently no set plans for the premiere of “The Gift,” but a screening at this year’s LGBT Film Festival in August is a possibility. Stay tuned for updates and notifications on screenings.
Photo: Kenisha Thompson.