"Semblance of confidence restored (or just wishful thinking on my part), we start shooting."
As we head home, two of my actors call me and ask if it is possible to rearrange their schedules. Not everyone can make it for the Saturday shoot. How about Sunday? I have no choice but to be firm. It has to be Saturday. I have the location for Saturday. I have to return the equipment Saturday night. Less than 24 hours to shoot time.
My "Jack" bails on me right there. I won't have a Jack? Jack is one of the three vital people in the script!
Uh! Uh! Um!
Okay, Dean will have to be Jack and I'll be one cop short. I'll shoot with two police detectives and no uniformed cop. The cop was just supposed to stand there anyway. Which was good because Dean never acted a day in his life. But I have no choice! I need a Jack!
5:00am, she isn't there. 5:15, still not there. By 5:30 I HAVE to shoot with less than 5 hours shoot time. Terry and Dean have been rehearsing guerilla style these past few minutes.
So I have no cop and now no waitress. I won't let myself think that I won't have ANY cops because my problem right now is that the scene I need to shoot RIGHT NOW, is missing one key character! BIG waitress part. She's the character balance, the normal in the abnormal: without her Tony and Jack are just two talking heads yapping weird shit at each other. Without her I'm making MY BEER WITH ANDRE.
Terry is concerned that I'm going to shoot without the tripod. I have to give Terry confidence in me because I have none in myself. It would have been nice to have a uniformed cop in the final scene, but No waitress means I have to rewrite my entire script in long hand! I have no confidence that I can pull this off, I'm just running on stubborn.
I play it off (I have a choice?). "I don't need a tripod," I say, "I'm doing this hand-held Robert Rodriguez style!"
Know it all actor!
It's freaking Saturday! I'm not about to go to Vernon that night and tell him that, despite all of my effort, I COULDN'T make my freaking movie!
Sometimes, when your confidence is gone, stubborn is all that gets you through the day.
But what about the Waitress?
By 6:00am (On a SATURDAY PEOPLE!) I've re-written my script without the waitress. I'm now down to 14 pages. I turn on the lights. I check the sound. The boom mike, the one that worked so well the night before isn't working. Do I have it plugged in right?
6:15am and I have to accept the fact that I'm wasting valuable time and there won't be a boom mike or sound recording equipment and I'll have to use the mike attached to the camera. Which means big time closeups as the damn Sony Camera Omnidirectional mike picks up every damn sound in the bar EXCEPT what's Right in Freaking Front of the Fucking lens!
Do you wonder why directors like Quentin Tarantino and Guillermo del Toro say "Fuck" so much? Direct a movie!
Terry has misgivings about the mike but what the hell else am I supposed to do? I think to myself, Soldier on, soldier!
Dean is worried about his lines. Without the waitress, Dean has to take up the slack and "I've never acted a day in my life!"
My actors are losing confidence in me so I tell them just a little bit of what I'm feeling right then.
Lloyd Kaufman, in his DVD set Make Your Own Damn Movie, tells you to be honest with your crew (or was it the book, Make Your Own Damn Movie? I have both). Sounds like good advice. Then again, Lloyd struggles to produce and distribute and sell every god damn movie he makes - and he runs the American Film Market! Still, from James Gunn to Eli Roth, he's inspired success stories of his own... sort of.
So I take Uncle Lloyd's advice and say,
And I absolutely mean every word.
Semblance of confidence restored (or just wishful thinking on my part), we start shooting. I only have one camera but I've decided on a cheat. We're going to go through the whole script three times. Once with a close-up on Terry. One with a close up on Dean, and one with a two shot. I'll have three separate takes to choose from if anything goes wrong in one: No Problem. I'm even covered if something goes wrong in two. Surely NOTHING could go wrong in all three! What are the odds of that (actually they're about one in three).
I'll have a HUGE safety margin!
Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Lots of retakes, trying to get the emotions just right. At one point, Terry becomes exasperated and shakes his finger at me saying, "Rehearsals!"
Meanwhile, Dean just can't pull the acting off and it bugs him. He's becoming frustrated with himself, cutting himself off when he thinks he didn't do something right instead of waiting for me to say cut. Dean is his own worst critic, tearing himself up, and it's ruining some of the shots that were working until he cut himself off. Argh!
ARGH! ARGH! ARGH! God Damn it! (I think)
There is an interior me and an exterior me. The exterior me tries to re-assure Dean (I've already assured, but sometimes folks need to be re-assured) and put him at ease. I knew Dean wasn't an actor,
I tell the interior me to just suck it up and soldier on you stubborn son of a bitch!
I remind them both about the three take shots and how I can cover for Dean's non-existent skills and a script that Terry didn't rehearse for because I had to re-write the damn thing minutes before the shot.
I pause to switch out video cassettes and Kelly tells me that it's 10:00am and the bartender HAS to let the customers in.
We haven't quite finished the second pass through the script and people are coming in.
Throughout the rest of the shoot, while Dean not only says his lines BUT also has the camera ON him, there is noise in the bar. It couldn't have been tougher for Dean. The metal ice maker periodically keeps screwing up the sound as pounds of ice go clattering into the depths of its bin and I have no idea how bad this is going to be later when I edit.
Well, okay, I have an idea, but I didn't imagine it would be THAT bad! I threw Dean and Terry into a lake of fire when I promised good times. The interior me is starting to not like myself.
We have to take a bathroom break and Kelly tells me that Jimmy called and he's on his way with Christina.
"We can finish the outdoor shots next week," he says.
I let him know that the test is THIS week, not next. There IS no next week for me and this film. What I shoot today is what I'll have. Period. By midday we're done and it's time for the outdoor shots.
It's supposed to be overcast, but of course, it WOULD be bright and sunny today and the unfiltered sunlight directly overhead is ridiculously bright. The image in my viewfinder is zebra striping like crazy. The light and shadow and drop off is just too much. We pause for lunch, which is good because everyone is hungry anyway. I treat us all to a fast food restaurant that I can't stand but it's the only thing nearby and available.
1:30pm and we get back. The sun looks like it hasn't moved and the traffic noise is a bit much. Worse, planes are flying overhead every few minutes and motorcycles are grinding past.
By 1:45pm, Jimmy and Christina finally show up. I have them cool their heels in the shade. I'm trying to finish up with Terry, who is now running late because of me. Then I notice Jimmy, who is a very large man, is starting to sweat. I have him wearing a suit like a police detective and it's hot and he's staining his shirt. I have no choice, I have to shoot him and Christina right now before he soaks his clothes.
I forget to share my inner monologue and just stop the scene with Terry and Dean to shoot Jimmy and Christina. This doesn't sit well with Terry at all. I KNOW that he's on a schedule, WTF man?
I get half of J & C's shots finished when Terry, fuming, calls me aside. He's doing me this big favor and I'm putting him off? When I got him running late and getting into trouble with his wife for ME? What the hell am I doing?
I'm so much in the "now", worried about every freaking thing going wrong with "the shot" (did I mention no clapboard? My first Jack had one of those). Only then does it click as to how it must look to Terry.
I explain about the sweat. Terry looks over at Jimmy. He pauses for a minute. He sees my point. He's far from happy but he sees the problem.
I rush through the whole thing with Jimmy and Christina, at one point getting so involved with staring at them through the viewer, while walking backwards, that I nearly trip over a curb and fall. Luckily Kelly saves me at the last minute before I break myself up. Or worse, break the expensive CAMERA!
Oddly enough, right after that moment, the rest of the shoot went amazingly well. Perhaps the worst that was going to happen, HAPPENED. But in another 30 minutes of smooth shooting, we were done.
This doesn't even cover what I went through with editing, but it gives you some idea of what's involved in making a ultra low budget ($20 bucks plus lunch before post) short film with multiple indoor and outdoor sets.
I didn't know it at the time, but as it turned out, the Point of the Challenge was that I wasn't supposed to finish the shoot, let alone have enough shot to have a complete story. Kelly and Vernon wanted to see how I handled failure (Gosh! My very own Kobayashi Maru! - did I mention that Vernon and Kelly are Star Trek geeks?).
An On-location movie set is a hard-work, high stress job for independents. It's not for the timid, weak, or those whose thin-skin feelings are easily easily hurt (except for high strung actors - which is why they need their own trailers. Then again, the rest of the crew aren't the ones who are in front of the camera, their every Word, Move, Twitch, Blink, and nose hair being Recorded and Judged by Everyone on the set!).
The fact that I got all my shots and could walk into Post Production with everything needed for a full movie, convinced Kelly and Vernon that I had what it took to work on their movies as Actor and Art Director for THE CRUSADER (2009), Production Designer and Special Effects Make-Up Supervisor for UNIVERSAL DEAD (2010), and Special Effects Make-Up Artist (SFX MUA) for the feature film, A SIERRA NEVADA GUNFIGHT (2013).
So my deepest thanks to everyone who helped me on that day!
Page copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.
Some people think I'm more important than you (I don't, but they do. You know how they are) and this is their (HA!) evidence.
Matt Jarbo's interview with Feo Amante at The Zurvivalist.
Researcher David Waldron, references my review of UNDERWORLD in the Spring 2005, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture entry, Role-Playing Games and the Christian Right: Community Formation in Response to a Moral Panic (downloadable pdf).
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