Our final day in the studio went well enough, though we ended up calling in three extras who we paid to sit around and then go home, because we never got to their scene. It’s an expensive lesson to learn about the importance of realistic planning, and I guess I have learned it now.
We did the first half of our day in studio – two weird and challenging shots, a stunt of a woman falling to her death (in reality her falling about six feet onto a mat against a black background) and a scene of her dead body being found in a freezer (an actual walk-in fridge that we rented for the day).
Both were fiddly scenes with lots of details to consider, so they took a bit longer than we hoped. By the time we got to the second, more physically demanding half of our day, everyone was already pretty tired.
The second half of the day was all exteriors – driving shots, mostly. It would have been a breeze if the eve of June friggin’ first wasn’t freezing cold and super rainy. Standing outside under a leaky tent (or under nothing at all) for several hours is a bummer. I had immense sympathy for the actress who had to drive a convertible up and down a road over and over again for us to get a shot (with the top down, of course). She was a serious trooper.
It ended up being a really good day. We got most of what we needed and were left set up pretty well for the following two days – incredibly, mind-bogglingly ambitious days that will both thankfully be indoors at a crazy boutique hotel downtown.
It’s weird how quickly the whole production has whizzed by. And at the same time, week one feels like it happened a year ago. Oh, the mysteries of time.
Today was one of those strange days during which I felt like everything was going very smoothly and we were totally nailing it and I had relatively little to do, which felt great, and yet … we were pushing the generosity of our host at the studio a little far. We were supposed to be out of his hair by 10pm, but we pushed it to nearly midnight and I spent the last two hours of the night feeling terrible even though he was being very gracious and accommodating.
We managed to get through an ambitious 30+ pages in three days – nothing to scoff at. The studio time definitely helped us pick up speed, and our host’s willingness to be taken advantage of a little toward the end was deeply appreciated. But still, it was one of those “if we hadn’t had leeway about our end time, we would have been screwed, and that is an important lesson to learn” type of days. I feel like I’ve learned that lesson about a dozen times in 12 days, if not more.
I know I’m not saying anything revolutionary, but it can be very difficult to balance the needs of the actors, the crew and the director all at the same time, because those needs can be radically different – even competing, and that can slow things down quite a bit.
In this case I was also trying to remain mindful of our host, a (pretty brilliant and very generous) working artist whose work and home space we were imposing on. Of course, he’s the director’s good friend and I didn’t need to worry that he would kick us out or that a friendship would be actually ruined, but when someone looks like they really want to go to bed because you told them you’d get out of their home two hours ago and you’re still there, it’s hard not to feel uncomfortable – on behalf of yourself and the entire crew.
I know we have a couple of days coming up when we truly won’t have any leeway about location in and out times, and that does worry me. My friend Jeff posted this article about locations-related lessons learned on an indie shoot, and it could not be more timely. I’m gonna have a book’s worth of “lessons learned” to talk about when I’m done this sucker.
Those minor hitches aside, on day 12 I managed to get a lot of planning work done for the next few days and I witnessed a really gorgeous sunset (me and everyone else in Toronto). So, it was a raging success as far as I’m concerned.
Who even remembers what day it is anymore? Not me! The days have blurred together and we’re in a studio and not running around to shift the set every five minutes, which makes the passage of time feel very strange indeed.
I barely made it to set on Day 11 at all. I mean, I was there, I just wasn’t near the camera. I was behind the scenes in our holding area solving eight million problems.
It was a day full of wacky disasters, all of which we fixed in the end, and all of which just ended up making me too tired to write a blog post until … well, three days later. Which might not seem like a long time to you, but in set time, it’s about six months.
To be totally honest, as I write this I’m having a hard time even remembering all the things that happened on Day 11, even though I do distinctly remember at the time thinking “wow, so many things happened today, it’ll make a great blog post”.
Joke’s on me. I guess I have to be more vigilant about staying up the extra half hour to write these after getting off set if I’m going to capture anything of note.
The one thing I can say about the problems that arose on Day 11 is that somehow, miraculously, we did actually solve them all. And meanwhile, on set, a whopping 10 pages of interrogation scenes got done and everything looked terrific.
The real lesson here is that time during a film shoot flies by so quickly that there’s never time to catch your breath. Three days ago I had a “day full of problems”. Today, I barely remember what those problems are. That doesn’t mean that they were insignificant. It only means (thankfully) that we solved them in time, and my brain was able to delete all worry related to them (permanently, it seems) from the ol’ memory banks. In a week or two I will only remember Day 11 with the greatest fondness, as a day when we got all our pages done, and not as a day when ten things quietly went wrong. And that is probably as it should be.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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).
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.
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 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.
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.