Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun. Before memories fade, I will devote the next blog posts to daily recaps: the highs, the lows, and the long long days. Yesterday was the final harried days of pre-production. Today: first day of shooting.
Alarm was set for 5:45am. I was up at 4:30. Not a shocker, but I also wasn’t panicked, because 1) after the previous chaos of prep, things had oddly settled down and I could focus on directing, not producing, and 2) the night before I ate healthy, abstained from wine and took a sleeping pill. Last meal of champions. I was asleep by 10:30pm. Those six hours was the best night of sleep I have had in over a week. Catia didn’t fare as well. She told me she probably got two to three hours total.
Catia and I alternated showers and breakfast. Our son blissfully slept in his room, his nana asleep on the air mattress next to him. If you think making a movie is hard, factor in caring for a 2 1/2 year old at the same time. Sure, we could dump him at day care but they are only open from 8am – 5pm, and we are doing 12 hour days at least. The math is not in our favor.
Fortunately, we rigged a system with the grandparents. Catia’s mom would handle the first week and my parents would be there for the second week. Any worry I felt about neglect for my son I compartmentalized and pushed out of my head. There was still a few days of child care to cover, but that was on days 12 – 14. A lifetime away.
I walked on set right at call time: 7am. Set today was our home base: an apartment complex in North Hollywood that was being renovated, and through a series of connections and luck we managed to secure and rent three apartments for cheap. Two as set locations and holding areas for our art and camera departments, and one as our production office and home to crafty (a.k.a. craft service, a.k.a. where you get bagels, coffee and other munchies throughout the day).
Set was humming: nearly two dozen people briskly moved, doing various tasks. Over the past 96 hours I had met only a third of these people. Hell, exactly one week ago the set and our ENTIRE production team looked like this.
Oh how far we have come. And here we are now:
An assortment of “good mornings” and various other greetings from crew, many of whom had been here before our 7am call to unload equipment, as it was our first day.
As boss, I made one smart move in advance of day one: initially scheduled (by our recently fired First A.D.) was to start the day with a car shot. Two actresses in a car. Simple to visualize, but difficult to make happen. First we needed to wire the car for sound, and then we needed to actually get on the road and shoot it, leaving the majority of the crew behind. I knew with that as our first shot, we would immediately fall behind. I wanted day one to seem like a typical day, which is all of us in one location. Of course, our days were not typical. A normal big budget movie shoots one, maybe two pages a day (One page is roughly equivalent to one minute of on screen time). A normal TV show will shoot three to five pages a day. To make our film in two weeks, we were scheduled to shoot 7 to 10 pages each day. Each day. Every day. Although day one was “easy,” only 6 5/8 pages.
Do you like how I called myself “boss” in the previous paragraph? Ha. Other than our production assistants, I probably had the least amount of set experience. I have directed two shorts and a feature. The feature had a budget of $25,000. And was shot over 15 years ago. The last thing I directed on camera was a promotional video for Johnnie Walker. Over 10 years ago. As long as the crew doesn’t find out…
I dropped my bulky bag filled with my giant script binder and laptop in the office and found Paul, the first A.D. He told me that normally he liked to start the day with a meeting of all department heads: me, him, the D.P., the art department, and sound. We would go over all shots for the day. But since this was day one, everyone was feeling things out and we would just aim to get first shot off at 8:30am and then meet up. First day jitters. “Speaking of first day jitters, I’d like to make a speech before first shot.” He told me that wouldn’t be a problem. “Also,” I tentatively added: “it’s been a while since I’ve done this. What’s the last thing I will hear before I call action?” It may seem silly, but if at least I can call “action” with authority people will respect me. I know that Paul announces that picture is up, sound tells us they are speeding, but what’s next? Paul gently advised that the D.P. will say that she is set, that camera is ready. Got it. I’m ready to direct.
We actually made it to first shot on time, roughly 90 minutes after call time. I gave my little speech, thanking everyone for being there and preparing them that we would be working very quickly to make our schedule. I also encouraged them to come to me with suggestions about anything. I’m comfortable listening to suggestions provided that they are all comfortable with me saying no. They took it to heart, and over the weeks many suggestions came forth, with over a dozen making it into the film. And then we got started.
And the day went well. And was a lot of fun. Despite my early morning jitters I felt extremely comfortable at the helm. We spent the morning shooting exterior scenes with Catia and then Cynthia joined us, and we moved inside covering a bunch of scenes. The day flew, and in a breath we were at six hours and at lunch, which a few of us spent planning the next day. Since they were recent hires, Paul and the art department would be playing catch up every day for the first week.
As the day came to a close, we were faced with a big challenge: the last scene was simple logistically, just three camera set ups in the living room of Yasmina’s apartment. However, it was a bear for the actors: nearly three pages of dialogue. And I could see that Catia’s lack of sleep the night before was hitting her. That said, the two actresses pulled it off extremely well. We needed only two takes of each set up, then moved on. I learned that day that TV and theatre actors are perfect for memorizing and digesting tons of dialogue. Without these veteran actors, we certainly would not have made our day. We wrapped around 6:30pm.
Got home, had a nice dinner prepared by my mother-in-law, answered some emails, and made sure the next day’s shot list was on my phone for reference. Piece of cake, this directing thing. While the day was exhausting, I felt at ease and natural. I loved it.
Only one problem: I couldn’t figure out what our D.P. Senda says to cue me to say action! Paul mentioned it would be that she was ready. He didn’t prepare me that it would be in French, as she is a recent transplant from Paris. She speaks fluent and perfect English, but I was a little thrown by her “ready” call. Someday I’ll ask her what she’s actually saying. But for now, our rhythm is working nicely. We made our day. On to the next one.
Next up, Day Two: don’t get cocky, kid. It can all easily crumble.