Gwen Hernandez

Author of romantic suspense. Scrivener expert.

Quiet on the set: My day as an extra for Russian Doll

Gwen with Suzanne Brockmann

With Suzanne Brockmann (squee!)

Last week, I was in a movie. Or at least my elbow was.

As an introvert, fading into the background is easy for me. As an extra on the set of the indie film Russian Doll, it was my job. The extras were even called “Background”—as in, “Okay, call in the background”—because it was our role to provide atmosphere and a sense that the world was real.

This particular gig was unpaid, but I participated for two main reasons.

First, one of my favorite authors ever—Suzanne Brockmann—is the executive producer. I’ve been reading her books pretty much since the day I found romantic suspense (circa 2008), and her blend of military action, hot romance, and wide-ranging diversity quickly put her at the top of my reading list.

I actually got to meet Suz and her husband Ed Gaffney last year when they came to talk to my local writing chapter about the process involved in their last film (The Perfect Wedding), but it was nice to spend more time chatting while on set. They’re super nice people, and everyone appreciated how much Ed went out of his way to explain what was going on during the filming process.

Second, curiosity is half the reason I write. I’ve always loved taking field trips and getting the inside view of how a place/group/factory/profession works. With Russian Doll filming in the Boston area, this was my chance for the inside scoop on filmmaking.

Performing Arts Center at 51 Walden, Concord MA

The Performing Arts Center at 51 Walden in Concord where part of the movie takes place

So how was it?

Fascinating!

Extra work can be slow. There’s a lot of sitting around waiting to be needed. But that was fine. I chatted with some of the others in the lobby of the theater where we were working. I had expected many of them to be writers—and/or readers who were fans of Suz or Ed—but those I spoke to were locals who saw an article about the film in the Boston Globe.

Extras on set of Russian Doll

Waiting for the next take

The really interesting part came when we were needed on scene. It’s amazing how few people can provide the appearance of a packed house. As long as the camera angle is right, 20 people can look like 100 or more. I was totally mesmerized by the director of cinematography. She would calmly take Ed’s vision for a scene and figure out how to make it happen, adding her own ideas along the way.

In fact, that was something Ed talked about at the meeting last year that really came to life for me on the set. When you write a book, you might get feedback from early readers and revision notes from your editors, but in the end the book is your book. The way you want it. The reader brings her own worldview to the story, but basically that’s it.

Not so with film.

The screenplay is just a starting point. From there, everyone involved puts their own mark on it. The director has his vision for how to frame each scene, the cinematographer has her own way of bringing that vision to life, the actors choose how to play their characters, and so on. The final product is truly a collaboration.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events or have any idea what each of the crew members’ titles were. Grip? Gaffer? Rigger? Best boy? No clue. But I had fun watching them set up for each scene using the fog—not to make it look foggy, but to soften the lighting and provide a noir look to match the film’s tone—hold up giant styrofoam boards to reflect light, cover equipment with dark blankets to prevent it from showing in the scene, take sound readings, take light readings…

Crew on the set of Russian Doll

Crew prepping for the next take

We did several takes for each scene, and it’s surprising how much time is required just to reset after each run, get the camera ready, and get everyone on the same page again.

In the beginning, we—pretending to be an audience watching a play—had to respond to things happening on the theater’s stage. Except the play wasn’t actually running. So Ed, his assistant director, and Suz and Ed’s son Jason—one of the actors, along with his sister who has a starring role—mimed different scenarios for us. We laughed, we gasped, we appeared concerned.

Finally, toward the end of the day, we got some real action. Actors on stage, actors in the audience to respond to events on the stage, and several takes as we reacted to what was happening around us.

I’m already excited for the movie to be commercially available—probably near the end of 2016, if all goes as planned—so I can watch the 30 seconds or so that it took most of the day to film. It’ll be interesting to see how everything comes together in the finished product.

And I can’t wait to spot my elbow in the scene as the detectives race by my seat! 😉

Fall Scrivener online courses – Register now!

 

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As promised, registration is now open for the fall round of Scrivener online courses. Sign up today!

– Scrivener I: The Basics and Beyond, September 14-30, 2015
– Scrivener II: Intermediate and Advanced Concepts, October 19-November 4, 2015
– Scrivener Master Course: Compile, Dec 7-16, 2015

For more information and registration, check out the Scrivener Courses page.

Sightseeing in the suburbs: Thoreau-ly interesting

front of thoreau farm house

Thoreau Farm

Living in the Boston suburbs is cool because I’m close to the town of Concord—location of “the shot heard round the world” in 1775—which boasts the homes and gravesites of Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne, and Emerson.

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

I plan to see all the authors’ homes while we’re here, but last weekend I visited Thoreau Farm. I had hiked around Walden Pond a couple of months ago—and visited the family gravesite last summer—so I wanted to finish the Thoreau “experience.”

walden pond

Walden Pond

Thanks to a very enthusiastic and friendly docent, I learned a lot.

Thoreau spent only eight months in the home of his birth, but Thoreau Farm is still significant because he was inspired by his mother’s stories of the place, and he returned often to walk the lands. It’s also the only Thoreau home open to the public, so there’s that. 😉

Thoreau Farm is not a typical restored homestead, but rather a place to learn more about the man, his life, his contemporaries, and why he’s important.

thoreau farm west side

Thoreau Farm-west side with kitchen gardens

You might be surprised by some of the people who were inspired by Thoreau, in person or in writing, whether with regard to the environment, or transcendentalism, or his thoughts on civil disobedience.

A few names you might recognize: Mahatma (Mohandas Karamchand) Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Muir, and Jack Kerouac. Not a bad legacy, eh?

Thoreau family portraits

Thoreau family portraits upstairs at Thoreau Farm

Some fun facts:

– Thoreau (along with his brother and two sisters) never married, though he and his brother both offered for the same woman. Her father turned them both down, deeming the family unsuitable for his daughter.

– He was born David Henry Thoreau, but switched his first and middle names after graduating from Harvard. Without a legal name change, of course.

– His careful observations about the weather and timing of various plants and crops have provided valuable historical data for the area with which to compare modern conditions.

– You can rent the upstairs room in the Thoreau house for a writing retreat.

thoreau farm writing desk

Be inspired by Thoreau

Quotes:

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from Walden (so far). [I’m reading in e-book, so I can’t offer page numbers, but all are from “Economy.”]

– “The great part of what my neighbors call good I believe in my soul to be bad, and if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior.”

– “I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.”

– “And when the farmer has got his house, he may not be the richer but the poorer for it, and it be the house that has got him.”

– “…the principal object is, not that mankind may be well and honestly clad, but, unquestionably, that corporations may be enriched.”

If you travel to Boston, be sure to step off The Freedom Trail for a day or two and make your way to the suburbs!

freedom trail marker

7 reasons I read Kipling while brushing my teeth

drawing of Rudyard Kipling

I was drawn to the work of Rudyard Kipling after finding a reference to his poem “Tommy” in Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War.

I wasn’t familiar with the poem—which inspired the title of the movie The Thin Red Line—so I searched it out. Now, I’m working my way through Rudyard Kipling Complete Verse (Anchor Books, 1989), one poem per day, while flossing and brushing my teeth.

Much of his work was written in the late 1800s, and is set in—or influenced by—his time in India, which means I don’t understand every line. But I enjoy trying to figure out the gist of each poem.

Once I’ve read it through, I go to The New Readers’ Guide to the works of Rudyard Kipling, hosted by The Kipling Society, to get more info on the context and definitions of foreign, archaic, or slang words that aren’t footnoted in the text.

Understanding what was going on in the author’s world enriches my reading experience.

Here are seven of the reasons I read Kipling–and will eventually read other poets–while thwarting cavities.

1. Reading before bed is relaxing, but not if I get sucked in and stay up all night to finish the book—a common problem because I have no willpower to resist a good story. With poetry, it’s much easier to read one poem and close the book.

2. I hope that reading poetry will introduce me to new themes, as well as influence my more lyrical side.

3. Reading outside my genre, length, and style can only expand my skills as a writer, and the references upon which I can draw.

4. Poetry stretches your brain. Instead of speeding through the prose with a movie running in my head like I do with a novel or memoir, I’m forced to slow down and ponder each word. It’s like savoring a gourmet dessert rather than inhaling a plate of sugar cookies. Both are enjoyable, but in different ways.

5. By exploring the context of each poem, I’m also expanding my knowledge of history and the author’s life. Not all authors’ works are so intensely influenced by their personal experiences, but Kipling seemed to view his life and everything around him as fodder for his art.

6. I’m inspired by the wide variety of themes and moods one author can produce. Kipling wrote satire, humor, lighthearted verse, dark tales, and diatribes.

7. I like knowing things. Period. I want to learn as much as I can about art, history, literature, science…

Probably one of the reasons I’m driven to write is because I love the research. I’m curious at heart. What’s it like to be firefighter, sculptor, pilot, accountant, billionaire’s daughter, or pararescueman? My inquiring mind wants to know.

And I love the connections my brain starts to make when I expand my horizons, just like the connections that brought me to read Kipling while brushing my teeth.

Turn your phone into a distraction-free zone

Business man and business women walk among large screens displaying information. These screens forming a labyrinth.

Have you ever turned on your phone to check the weather, become distracted by another app—say, email—and an hour later when you turn it off, you realize you still don’t know the forecast?

But hey, you read your email, caught up on Facebook and Twitter, and read a bunch of articles about interesting stuff you don’t really need to know right now.

I do this all the time. (I’m guilty on my computer too, but there I’m less likely to open a program because there’s time involved in the process. To avoid temptation, I close the sneaky culprits when I’m done.) Phone apps open almost instantly, so there’s no psychological barrier. And the little red badge showing how many unread messages I have is like a tractor beam, sucking me in.

Woman mobile phone addicted

A few weeks ago I talked about the time wasted on multi-tasking. Distractions are another time sink/brain drain. Here’s my plan for minimizing my phone’s ability to take me down a rabbit hole.

Turn Off Counters/Badges

Except for my Reminders app—where I actually want to be “distracted” by the fact that I have something to do—I turned off all of the little number badges that pop up on an app icon to show me I have new email/Twitter mentions/Facebook tags.

If I’ve decided it’s time to check my email, I’m doing it deliberately, not because the unread messages tally has lured me in. (This works on the computer too.)

Excited man looking at computer screen

Move Distracting Apps Out of Sight

All of those apps that attract me like a dog to peanut butter? I moved them to another “screen.” (I’m using an iPhone, which supports multiple screen views. If yours doesn’t, maybe you could do something similar by creating a single folder to hold all distracting apps, thus minimizing their visual impact.)

Now, when I turn on my phone, I’m only faced with the apps that aren’t a problem for me. I have easy access to log my food/exercise, read a book, find a recipe, check the weather, walk me through meditation (yes, I really started doing it!), etc…

The only exception, again, is the Reminders app (and text messages, but I don’t get very many, so I don’t worry about it). I only create reminders for to-do items with a deadline. So, that’s one distraction I want.

My distraction-free screen

My distraction-free screen

Use the Search Feature

I’m trying to avoid the “hidden” Screen of Distractions, so I don’t want to swipe over to it. Ever. Instead, I’m training myself to use the search feature (iPhone users can swipe down the center of the screen to access Spotlight Search on the latest iOS) to pull up the app I want without ever switching views.

Distractions averted.

Develop New Habits

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed how habits are formed (and either scary or really cool ways retailers are using that data). The gist is that each habit is triggered by a cue, which kicks off the activity, for which you are rewarded.

For example, the email counter catches your eye and you realize you have new emails (cue). This triggers you to check your email and deal with it accordingly (activity). The empty inbox or zero unread messages count—or that little bit of social connection—provides you with a tiny thrill or sense of satisfaction (reward).

To form a new habit, you need to remove old cues. So, if you normally wake up and check your phone before you even turn back the sheets, try putting the phone somewhere out of reach.

man sleeping in bed with cell phone

Now when the alarm goes off, you have to get out of bed to check your email. If you encounter your work out clothes and sneakers before you reach your phone, who knows what wonders might happen? 😉

For more ideas to help you stay focused, check out Productivity Tools For Writers.

Busy brain: The problem with multi-tasking

man multi-tasking

Does your brain ever feel too busy? Mine does. And I’m guilty of never giving it a rest.

In my quest to be productive, I always seem to be fitting something in, and I think I’m suffering for it. Even reading is now an activity I squeeze in while on the cross-trainer. Rarely do I enjoy a relaxing hour perusing a book in my favorite chair.

Got five minutes while I wait for water to boil or a web page to load? I can make a quick phone call. Ten minutes waiting for my son’s next track event? Time to check my email/Twitter/Facebook/Pocket!

Through the wonders of my smart phone, I can access all of my social media and the entire wealth of the web anyplace/anytime. But that doesn’t mean I should.

And when I do, I don’t necessarily feel more productive, just more busy, more frazzled, more overloaded.

Part of my “problem” stems from being self-employed. When I worked full-time for someone else, work was at work, and when I left I was done. I could relax at home without guilt because my workday was over.

Now? Not so much. Home is my workplace, and my day is interspersed with activities from both worlds. I savor that freedom and flexibility, but sometimes it’s hard to set boundaries.

I used to enjoy downtime, sitting and thinking or noticing the world around me. It’s good to not be entertained or “productive” every spare minute of the day. I know this.

One of the reasons I like running so much is because I can’t do anything else while I’m out there except notice the world around me, and breathe.

Multi-tasking is a fraud. Apparently, we actually lose up to 40% of our productivity when we force our minds to keep switching gears.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to get some of that 40% back!

My goals for the rest of the year are to cut back on multi-tasking and allow for those moments of downtime in my day. I’ll try to focus on one thing at a time so my brain doesn’t have to keep switching gears—Scrivener’s full screen/composition mode is great for this—and maybe even block out some time to sit, relax, and ponder. Heck, I might even meditate.

Can’t hurt.

Why I’m hooked on Bloodline

BloodlineSeason1The Netflix Original show Bloodline has totally sucked me in (I’m sure there’s a pun in there somewhere). This dark drama is absolutely binge-worthy with its slow-release tease of mystery, family secrets, lies, betrayals, and short flashes that promise a sordid ending.

The actors are excellent (Kyle Chandler, Sissy Spacek, and Sam Shepard to name a few), and the setting alone—the Florida Keys—is enough to keep me on the hook. Characters are multi-faceted and interesting and often straddle the line of good and bad. There’s no black and white here, only lots and lots of murky gray.

The show’s writers don’t tell you anything. They just roll things out as needed and let you figure it out for yourself. And I do mean roll. This is not a lightning-paced action show, but it’s absolutely riveting in both story and presentation.

Excellent cinematography rounds out the series into 13 episodes of quality viewing that gets better with every episode. And word is, there’s a second season in the works.

I don’t spend a lot of time in front of my television, but Bloodline has joined The Americans, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Marco Polo, True Detective, and Sherlock—and a few more I’m forgetting—on my list of must-watch shows when I do take a break on the couch.

What’s your latest TV craving?

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