Our first week of filming was a short one – only four days – and the first weekend came not a moment too soon for my over-tired ass. After arriving home in a giddy, delirious, almost-too-awake state on Monday morning and puttering around the apartment for an hour feeling like I might never sleep again, I conked out until almost 4pm.
I was too out of it to do anything and decided to decompress by going to the movies by myself (an excellent way to spend time alone, distracted from work), and then came home and did various light tasks until around 4am.
I wanted to maintain the night schedule to make the second week a bit easier on my system but there’s a lot to do this “weekend” that relies on my ability to be reachable during working hours, so today I woke up around 11am and got right into the paperwork required to ensure we get our next instalments of funding as quickly as possible, so that we can pay for all the work we’re in the middle of doing.
Racing around to print documents and get them signed, going to the bank and emailing funders is the last thing I want to be doing on a so-called “day off” but there’s no choice in the matter. If we don’t get the money, we can’t pay people. And the people who need to get paid – it’s not their problem that my schedule is very busy and that our funders sometimes take a long time to review documents.
Oh yeah, and we also need to confirm all the scheduling, logistics and various other details for the second week of shooting, which starts in two days. It’s mostly under control, except for the very first day, which is only 50% confirmed right now because we moved some locations around. So … that’s gotta get done today too. “Weekend”, eh?
Things I enjoyed about the first week:
- How incredible our art department is, for transforming an empty space into a mogul’s million dollar boardroom on a very modest budget.
- The way our AD says “rolling rolling” and cracks jokes on set.
- The way our 2nd AD remains the most smiley, up-beat, posi-vibes guy at all times, no matter how stressful things get.
- The fact that, after a slow-ish start, we ramped things up big time and got through eight pages of stuff on our final day of the first week, thus catching the hell up. (Eight pages may not sound like much, but if you think about the fact that most 90-120 page scripts take a month or longer to shoot, getting eight pages done in a single day suddenly starts seeming like really a lot.)
- The cast. What a bunch of talented, sweet, supportive – and fun! – men and women. They’re all gorgeous, too.
- The fact that I managed to hold out until day four before I started eating all the weird snacks at the craft table out of sheer exhaustion.
Tonight, I intend to chill the hell out so that I can get more work done and visit my family, who I haven’t seen in weeks because of this thing. And then, on Thursday, we’re back on set and I’m back to chugging litres of coffee to stay awake until 6am every day.
It has been an interesting struggle so far, trying to figure out exactly what my job is, now that we’re actually filming this thing.
I’m not the person who hauls the gear for the first time in my life, and that feels unusual (and nice). That’s the crew. I’m not the one telling the crew what to do or organizing the load-in and load-out, either. That’s mostly the Production Manager. I’m also not the person calling the shots on set. That’s the director, or the AD or maybe the DoP.
I kind of have no job to do, but on some abstract level I have the hugest job, because I’m supposed to be making sure this entire gigantic machine with a million moving parts doesn’t go haywire.
Not to overstate my personal importance to this production, but I own approximately half of the copyright on this runaway train so I am ultimately responsible for it not going off the rails, over budget, behind schedule, and so on. That doesn’t mean it’s my job to keep everything on track, but it does mean that it’s my responsibility. Important distinction, and especially important to keep in mind during the shoot, since my partner is also the director, so he has more important things to think about than sharing that burden.
There are a lot of personalities to negotiate on set. Some people are intense and intimidating and impossible to say no to. Some people are incredible at maintaining a positive attitude even when things aren’t going well or when someone is yelling at them or being unreasonable (my own instinct is to argue back, but that’s almost never the right choice). Some people are always upbeat and bring everyone up along with them. Others are the opposite.
All that is to say – I know what my personality is like, but I don’t know where I fit into this weird hierarchy. Most of the time I am a diplomatic and accommodating person. But that attitude doesn’t win respect with the strong-willed, bossy types. On the other hand, neither does a bossy attitude, especially before they feel you’ve earned it.
I’ve been keeping a decent balance of staying out of the way and pulling individual people aside when an issue arises. I hope I haven’t pissed anyone off or caused delays. I hope I haven’t made anyone feel like I’m incompetent, either. And, on the other hand, I also am not particularly worried about that. I feel mostly on top of my game.
I’m doing my best to keep on top of the schedule and steer this thing in the right direction while staying mindful of the fact that this ship has a half-dozen captains right now, and I’m not the most important one.
Lesson learned on Day 3:
Sometimes, what you see on screen is the direct result of the director’s efforts. Sometimes, the cinematographer’s. Other times, the producer’s, or the editor’s, or the composer’s, or the actors’. I’m not making this comment about Birdland, I’m making it in general. It takes dozens, if not hundreds of people to make a film. It is insane that we only call one of those people “the filmmaker”.
Day one went perfectly! I mean, we were a bit slow to get going and we missed out on some lesser moments but on the whole it went off without a hitch. I was feeling pretty damn confident when I finally got to bed around 7am.
That sense of “this is gonna be a breeze” evaporated slightly when I woke up at 1pm and realized I had to head to the office to sign important documents half an hour later then jump in a car to drive all the way out to the Scarborough Bluffs for our second day of shooting – which was shaping up to be cold and rainy, too.
I spent the drive to set frantically calling people on the phone, answering emails and making to do lists, and by the time we got to set I was feeling mostly in control.
I had a banana early on but sort of forgot to eat until around 7:30pm (still kinda “morning” given the hours we’re keeping). Luckily, I’m not one of those “if I don’t eat I get cranky” people.
The first half of the day was rocky. We were slow to start and ended up having to cut a scene because we ran out of daylight. We’ll be able to reschedule it, but still – it can be a mood killer to feel like you didn’t accomplish something you set out to.
Perhaps the universe needed to restore balance, or perhaps we just got into the swing of things after we shifted to our second location and ate some dinner (I inhaled a basketball sized serving of Chinese noodles, like a marathoner before a race), but the later part of the day actually went quite smoothly, and every shot looked brilliant, at least from my vantage point (lurking behind the director and DoP, peeking at the monitor).
I spent the first half of Day 2 (the half that didn’t go great) scrambling to meet some deadlines related to our funding, so I was off set, distracted, and feeling a bit disconnected from shooting. I’d like to avoid that in future and make myself always available to be on set and support the director. That should be a big part of my job right now, and it’s tough to juggle that with the eight million other little logistical details that come up every day.
I got home earlier but more exhausted after Day 2 than I had after the first day. I think being out in the fresh air all night is more tiring than being indoors.
Lessons learned on Day 2:
- Wear layers. Weather wildly unpredictable.
- Don’t start drinking coffee too early if you’re going to try to stay up all night.
- Stay positive when things aren’t going well, because boy does your attitude impact the people around you.
- Drink lots of water. Unless there’s no bathroom around.
The first day of shooting was an unusual one, because our first location had very specific and strict rules – especially about how many people we would have in the building at any given time. Since I don’t operate crucial equipment and since I’m not in front of the camera delivering lines, I wasn’t on set for the first half of the day. I was across the street in the hotel room where we were doing wardrobe, hair and makeup. It was fun, but it felt slightly surreal – we were finally shooting the film, but I could only hear about it occasionally in brief texts from busy people who were actually on set.
After “lunch” (by which I mean the meal we ate at midnight) the restrictions loosened up and I (along with a dozen other support people and assorted helpers) was able to join everyone on set and actually watch the goings on.
Every scene looked gorgeous. The actors nailed all their lines and all their unspoken moments. The crew moved with as much speed and efficiency as anyone can expect on the first day of a shoot – and an overnighter at that. The DoP was on fire (like so many of the people on this project, he’s so, so, so good at what he does that it’s kind of inspiring and magical to watch him work). The AD was cracking jokes and keeping people in line. It was all going so well that I almost couldn’t believe it.
There’s no “but”. It was a great first day.
We accomplished 95% of what we needed and the rest can be easily captured elsewhere. We got more access to amazing spaces than we expected, and it will all show up on screen. This was our most expensive location, and we got our money’s worth.
And now, as I write this, it is 6:23am and I need to shut down whatever glands in my body are producing all the adrenaline and get the hell to bed, because I will be doing it all again in less than 12 hours.
And now, as I post it, it’s 4:15pm and I’m sitting in a car on set catching up on emails and waiting for the crew to arrive so that we can start Day 2. It begins again!
We start shooting tonight.
Seems like a pretty good time to not think about the things that have been difficult, but remind myself of the things that are great. Here are a few things I’m grateful for.
The writer/director, for wanting to work with me and having faith that I’d be able to pull it off.
The co-producer/line producer/PM, for doing eight billion things that I don’t know how to do for the past few months, thus saving my sanity and indeed, the project.
The AD, for jumping on board at the last possible second after our original AD had to bail, and for whipping the schedule for this thing into shape beautifully, and on incredibly short notice.
The actors, for being willing to say yes to a challenging script and jump into the deep end with us.
My family, friends and of course Colin, for being adorably supportive and sweet and doing everything they can to help me, from finding a harpist on a day’s notice to offering to buy groceries for me when I’m too busy, to sending me lovely texts and emails of support.
Thanks everyone. I’m tired and happy and I have lots to do, so I’m signing off. See you in Birdland.
I’m keeping weird, long hours, and I’m going to start keeping even weirder hours any day now. My workdays start at 8am and sometimes I’m not done till midnight.
When we shoot, I’ll have to flip my whole schedule around because most of the film takes place at night, so we’ll be starting around dinnertime and wrapping a couple hours after the crack of dawn.
How will the wolf survive?
- Food. The next “day off” that I will have is going to be Monday May 18th. It will by no means be a day off but it’ll be the first break in shooting (after our first week). That’s six days from now. So, yesterday I hard-boiled six eggs; bought a huge bunch of grapes and separated it into six small bunches, each of which I put into a separate ziplock bag; filled another six ziplock bags with meat & cheese, and another six ziplock bags with mixed nuts and dried fruits. Worst case scenario, I have a wide variety of healthy snacks ready for every day of the week that require zero seconds of morning prep before I can throw them into my bag and go. It was a Herculean effort to make the time to do all that, but it is beyond worth it. It is crucial.
- Sleep. It’s hard to get enough, but I’m not watching TV (who has time, anyway?) and I’m trying not to look at my phone immediately before bed, so that I don’t end up wired and stressed and unable to turn off the hamster wheel in my head when I should be resting. If I feel restless, I force myself to read a book. And I’m out in 30 seconds.
- Social time. I have NO TIME FOR IT. And yet I made plans to see a friend last night. Even if all I could do is sit for an hour and talk about things that aren’t this project with someone, it did me a world of good. Getting swallowed up by something makes you kooky. It’s important to take breaks, even when breaks seem impossible to take.
- Blog. I wanted to write down everything about producing this film and make it all super useful, like a bunch of golden nuggets that any newbie producer could pick up and immediately feel better prepared. That task started to feel overwhelming and I found myself never updating the blog because every post threatened to become a 10,000 word dissertation. So, I made it less intimidating for myself. No need to explain every single detail. The opportunity for that will come later, when I’m not in the middle of the tornado. For now, posting brief updates about where I’m at helps me get through it. If I only have time to write three sentences, so be it. Maybe it won’t help anyone, but hey – my mom likes reading my updates, so I’m gonna keep writing them.
- Baths. Seriously, what’s more relaxing? Nothing. A cocktail and a hot bath before bed can do more than the 20 minutes of extra sleep that it replaces.
That’s all I’ve got as far as coping strategies go, but if you’ve got more to suggest, by all means!
It’s officially less than one week until we start principal photography. In 72 hours, we enter our first location. A location that will be both challenging and exciting to shoot in because it’s a big-ass museum, and we will need to be super prepared and efficient and sharp, even though it’s our first day.
Am I freaking out? Oh my, yes. Am I letting it show? For sure, but not as much as I could be. There are a million tiny details that aren’t completely tied down and the event/production manager in me is having a nuclear-level meltdown. But I also know that we will get through it, because … well, we have to, don’t we?
When I managed a travelling film festival at REEL CANADA, it was often up to me to tie down every little detail for an event. That was my responsibility, as the ‘event lead’ for that day. It was not easy, but most of the time it was at least something that one human being could do without exploding.
I’m having a tough time letting go of that level of control on this – a project that involves dozens of people, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and more details than any one person could possibly keep in their head.
I know that while it is my job as the producer to make sure every detail is taken care of, it’s also not my job to literally make sure every detail is taken care of, because there aren’t enough hours in a week let alone a day, for the number of details that exist.
I have to trust that other people are also capable of handling their own jobs without my constant oversight, which is both freeing and very difficult and scary. Not being in charge of everything makes me panic that important things will fall through the cracks and it makes me feel like I’m not pulling my weight – like I should be doing everything and the fact that I’m not means I’m a slacker.
Thankfully, the team I’m working with is amazing and great at their jobs.
And yet, here I am, barely done my workday at 10pm (I was up at 6:30am) and I know that it’ll be the same tomorrow and the next day and then we will be shooting and it will be like jumping out of an airplane – I’ll just have to have faith that my parachute will open and I won’t die.