stuff, written by me

Monthly Archives: May 2015

If the first day of our third week had been another night shoot in a complicated space, I have a feeling it might have been slightly disastrous, or at least inefficient. We got just over 48 hours for our “weekend” (not enough, FYI – I spent 22 of those hours sleeping and I’m still dead tired) and last week was pretty punishing.

However, we’re switching to day shoots in a studio for four days, and it feels so luxurious. After this day, I understand completely why studios are sometimes a more appealing option than locations.

setting up at the studio

setting up at the studio

At the condo where we shot last week, every time we set up the camera, we would have to move all the furniture and pack up precious items from the area where we would be placing it. Then we would point it in a direction and shoot. When we were ready to do a reverse shot, we’d have to move all the furniture (and stuff) out of the area we’d just been shooting, move the camera there, and “re dress” the other side of the room – which is a fancy way of saying “put all the stuff back the way it was”.

That takes a long-ass time to do.

At the studio, all we have in any direction around the simple set (a table and four chairs) is empty space. Not an infinite amount of empty space, but enough that there is no “redressing” required. If we need to move the camera, we just move it and continue to roll.

It didn’t feel like a break day for me, because I had so much prepping to do for the next few days and a bit of damage control for next week (apparently we broke an exit sign at the bar where we shot last Monday so I had to scramble to find an electrician who was free on short notice to fix it so as not to damage the relationship with the bar owner, whose B&B we’re shooting at next week). But it still felt good to be stationed in one place and not have to race around quite as much. For that, I am grateful.

our studio host is also a well known artist - Max Dean

our studio host is also a well known artist – Max Dean


After a tiring and kinda tense final day at our condo location, we switched it up with one intense day at a bar on Queen West. The bar was one of those long, narrow places where there’s hardly enough room for ten people to maneuver, let alone a crew of nearly 30, some actors and 12 feet of dolly track for the camera.

the crew crowds into a narrow space

the crew crowds into a narrow space

In the end, the small space ended up being a bit of a blessing. We didn’t have much room to move the camera around, which actually meant we spent way less time on setups than we normally do. Thanks to our brilliant DoP, we switched up the angles just enough so that we don’t have too many scenes all looking the same (that’s extra-boring to look at).

We didn’t quite get through the entire schedule, but we got closer than we have in ages – nearly eight full pages of pretty meaty scenes done. We really only missed one scene, and it’s one that can easily be rescheduled to one of our later days at a location that is going to ultimately be matched to the bar and made to feel like it’s all part of one large space.

sound guy Steve rides a parked bike around 4am

sound guy Steve rides a parked bike around 4am

Of course, when I say “easily rescheduled” I mean “we can make the location look right”. I don’t at all mean that it will be easy to find time in an already overstuffed schedule to add more scenes. That will be a touch challenge, one that I am trying to solve as we speak.

By Day 9, I felt like I was finally hitting my stride in terms of being able to actually be helpful and supportive of the director on set while being mindful of the schedule and keeping things on track. Of course, it took me nearly two thirds of the shoot to get there and then we broke for our second weekend, but hey. Better late than never!

another pretty bird on set

another pretty bird on set

After several days of anxiety about falling behind schedule, it felt especially good to end the week with a bang, but it also made me nervous about the ambitious two days we have scheduled at the end of week three. The question (not un-asked, but definitely not answered either) of what we will actually do if we don’t end up with the entire movie shot by the end of this 16 days hangs very heavy over my head.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 


Our final day at our fancy-condo location was both great and anxiety-inducing.

On one hand, we were consistently getting great footage and amazing performances from all the actors. On the other hand, we were not getting all our scenes done each day, ending later in the morning and risking having to delay the following day’s start time in order to give our crew a decent break in between.

There are rules about how long a break you’re required to give people in between long days on set – and indeed, that is as it should be – but sometimes it is difficult to balance the need to be good to your crew vs the need to get the film done. Crews have to get at least ten hours (actors, 11), but that’s barely enough in real terms. In an ideal world, we’d be giving everyone way more than 10 hours between extremely long shifts, because that’s barely enough time to go home, sleep and come back out again. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible (frankly, with our wildly ambitious shooting schedule, it’s rarely possible).

our exhausted wardrobe & hair stylists chill out for a bit

our exhausted wardrobe & hair stylists chill out for a bit

On Day 8 we struggled to squeeze in one last scene at the end of the day. It was a crucial one – the final shots of the entire film – but it was way past our previously-agreed-upon end time and it caused some tension on set. I voiced my concerns about burning out the crew, but I didn’t want to add to the tension by arguing, so I stepped back and let the scene play out. I recognized that if we didn’t get the scene at this location we’d never be able to replicate the setting. In the end, we shot it (and it looked great) and everyone walked away as friends.

The day was a great lesson in how to cope with stress, how to handle conflict on set, how to treat your crew in order to keep them on your side, and how to handle big personalities who don’t always see eye to eye (which describes a lot of artists, let’s face it).

my fave bird of Birdland so far

my fave bird of Birdland so far

If I walk away having learned only one lesson after this shoot is over, I hope it is to always value each person’s contribution on set – not just by treating the crew well, thanking them for their work and not abusing their good will, but also by understanding enough about the job that they do to not make unreasonable demands of them, or expect things on an impossible timeline.

For the record, I think everyone on this show has been very respectful and appreciative of the crew’s great work. These aren’t lessons I’m learning because we’re getting it wrong, but I can see how easy it would be to get it wrong, so I’m trying to stay mindful.

packing up

packing up


Oh lordy, am I ever tired.

Day seven was exhausting but the toughest part to survive was the morning, when we were wrapping  up as the sun shone blindingly through the floor to ceiling windows in our condo location, and I got that rush of end-of-day-adrenaline that made it nearly impossible to fall asleep when I finally stumbled home around 8am. I think I dropped off around 10, but not before I sent a bunch of semi-delirious emails to a few cast and crew members to thank them for being such superstars during the first half of our shoot.

the suspension rig for today's big scene

the suspension rig for today’s big scene

The one person I haven’t spent enough time thanking – either in this blog or in real life – is my director, who definitely does deserve some serious praise for how well he’s managed the first half of the shoot. I think of him as my “partner” in the film and so I often forget to say “hey, thanks, good job” because I somehow imagine that he either doesn’t need to hear it, or that he should already know that’s how I feel.

Everyone needs to hear that kind of thing, though. I wouldn’t have survived the past week or two without the nice texts, emails and phone calls from friends telling me that they’re proud of me for getting this shit done.

the ropes

the ropes

So, anyway, day seven was a huge day. We had a lot of pages to get through, and a big rope bondage stunt scene smack dab in the middle of the day, which took a lot of  both time and energy.  Everything looks incredible. We didn’t get every scene on the schedule (a recurring problem that causes me much anxiety) but what we did get looks stellar.

I’m starting to come up with strategies for how we will still have a complete movie even if we can’t pick up all the small moments we’ve dropped along the way, and that is a logistical and creative challenge that I wish I had more brain power to dedicate to. For now, I just need more sleep. And probably more fresh fruit.

the producer, nearly dead after a long-ass day

the producer, nearly dead after a long-ass day

 


the view at sunset

the view at sunset

On days six, seven and eight, we’re shooting all the scenes that take place in our lead character’s apartment. There are many challenges. The apartment is gorgeous, but not huge, so we don’t have the space for our entire crew to comfortably hang out for 12 hours at a time. The apartment is also in a building that has strict rules about filming, so even though we’ve got the owner’s permission, we’re still trying to keep a low profile so as not to disturb any neighbours or create problems for our generous host.

 

the view at night

the view at night

The biggest challenge, however, is also the location’s biggest strength: it is friggin’ gorgeous. It’s a beautifully decorated apartment full of precious and expensive things. It looks stunning. That also means it’s also very delicate. The crew is used to working efficiently, lugging heavy equipment in and out of rooms as it’s needed, and being able to operate at their own pace. Here, we all have to slow down and be extra careful. No carrying dolly track over a coffee table, lest it be dinged. No putting heavy boxes or even light stands on the floor without laying down a carpet, lest it be scratched. No touching anything, if we can help it.

 

the view at dawn

the view at dawn

The delicate nature of the location meant we got off to a really slow start. By the time we were set up and ready for our first shot, it was clear that we wouldn’t get through our ambitious page count for the day. We got through most of it, managed to squeeze in some scenes with an actress who otherwise would have been called to set for nothing, and got several really brilliant scenes totally nailed. Definitely not a bad day.

 

 

However, the plan is clear for the next two days: pick up the pace, because once we’re out of this location we can’t come back. We have it while the owners are away on vacation, that’s it. And let it not go unsaid that they deserve a huge prize for being so generous and letting two dozen strangers tromp through their place while they’re out of town.

setting up in the gorgeous apartment

setting up in the gorgeous apartment

I’m hoping that the fact that we don’t have to load in or out for the next two days while we’re camped here will help us catch up. I’m especially nervous because we have to dye our lead’s hair at the end of tomorrow’s shoot, which means any “original hair” scenes we don’t snag on our next night may be lost forever.

I remain very hopeful. I’m simultaneously  nervous and confident. Day seven is going to be a real make-or-break day! Let’s get at it.

the view just before the sun peeked over the buildings to blind us all

the view just before the sun peeked over the buildings to blind us all


The start of our second week was a bit intense, because we suddenly shifted, only for that one day, to a daytime schedule. The 1pm to 1am shift felt great when we were all out in the sunshine during the day and when we were all heading to bed before last call. But in the grand scheme of things, it really messed me up, because I’d been trying to keep a “night shift” schedule during my days off. That is how the rest of the shoot will go, and it’d help if I could get acclimatized. 

But enough about sleeping, let’s talk movie!

On our fifth day, the big goal was to pick up a scene that we’d lost on Day 2 due to poor weather and an early sunset. We weren’t able to use the original location again, so finding a decent alternative took a lot of time and effort. We ended up finding a place that was even better than our first option, but it was nerve-wracking trying to reschedule something that we couldn’t fit anywhere else into our schedule. If the Plan B location had fallen through, we would have really been in trouble.

the Plan B location - should have been Plan A

the Plan B location – should have been Plan A

Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but the whole experience made me realize how important it is to stay on schedule. We lost this scene for reasons that weren’t entirely in our control, but we were lucky that it happened at the beginning of our shoot when flexibility in the schedule still existed. If it had happened a few days from now we would have had to cut a crucial scene from the film or spend thousands of dollars that we don’t have on scheduling an additional shooting day in order to get it.

It wasn’t cheap to reschedule even now. Paying for a new location, calling in a bunch of actors who weren’t originally supposed to work on that day, and so on – it’s all got a price tag. But at least it was possible to do. I thank the old gods for that!

the ROM at night

the ROM at night

I feel lucky, and forewarned of the dangers of falling behind, and optimistic about this schedule. Days six, seven and eight are all in the same location so hopefully the team will be able to pick up a bit of steam simply because we’ll save a bit of time and energy by not having to load two trucks full of equipment in and out at the beginning and end of every day. At least for a couple of days.

After our rescheduled shoot (at the delightful St. Anne’s church only five doors down from my house) we did a bunch of challenging stuff that all turned out really well – some exteriors at our Day 1 location (the museum) and some shooting inside a subway train. Lemme tell ya, there are a lot of drunk youngsters on the subway at midnight on a Thursday. If you saw some Vines or Instagram videos of a beautiful young woman screaming on a subway car posted by random drunk college students on Thursday night – they were probably on our train car.

crowded as hell but getting it done

crowded as hell but getting it done

Day five wasn’t a heavy day in terms of page count and I was deeply grateful that we got it all done.

Onward and upward.


Signs that I am tired: I was 100% sure that I had already posted this Day 4 diary when I wrote my weekend one.  Nope. Not even in draft form.

Anyway, day four! Feels like it was a month ago, not 48 hours ago.

After three days of slowly getting into the swing of things and getting most but not all of the scenes on our daily schedule done, we finally knocked it out of the park on day four and got everything we needed and more.

It was the end of our first week, so ending with a bang felt great, and made me feel much more confident that we’ll be able to get everything we need by the time the shoot ends.

If you’ve ever wondered why it takes so long to shoot a two hour movie, it only takes one day on set to understand the answer. Shots take a long time to set up. Cameras (and dollys, lights, or whatever else) take time to set up and place correctly. Scenes need to be blocked and rehearsed by actors, and then shot.

our set, before it was turned into something beautiful

our set, before it was turned into something beautiful

If you’ve got a big budget and loads of cameras, you might be able to shoot multiple angles all at the same time, but often, you have to do the scene multiple times in order to be able to get one character and then cut to another character who they’re in conversation with. If you want a wide shot to establish the entire room and also a closeup of the action, that’s another thing you’ll probably have to do twice, with time in between to adjust the camera position, the frame, and so on. It all takes a lot of time.

If you get through five pages of your script in a single shooting day, you’re probably doing pretty well. On our fourth day, we got nearly eight pages done, including a five-page, dialogue-heavy scene that we thought might be nearly impossible to get through. It  took several hours, first to lay down the track for our dolly and figure out what positioning would be best for the camera, then to walk the characters through all their movements to ensure that they are never going to be off screen or blocking each other while the camera slowly moves around them.

There’s a rule of thumb about how a page of script equals a minute of screen time (so a 90 page script turns into a 90 minute film, approximately) but it really depends on the page. Pages with a lot of dialogue can easily take a lot longer than a minute to get through because the dialogue needs breathing room. There are pauses, movements, actions. Actors don’t just read the text, they, y’know, “act it out”. Our five pages will easily be ten on screen, because there’s a lot going on in the scene and we don’t want to rush it.

Some people on set are constantly running around, but many spend half their time waiting around, because everything takes so damn much time. It can seem inefficient, but it’s really not. When you’re making something with hundreds of moving parts, it takes a lot of time to choreograph it all properly.

I have a much better understanding and a whole lot of respect for good camera teams, after that long day of dolly-ballet and a that five-page scene which – did I mention? – we shot in a single take.

our camera operator Michael, just killin' it on his rig

our camera operator Michael, just killin’ it on his rig

Phew. Week two starts tomorrow. Someone send me a gift basket of vitamins and a bucket of sleep.