Closure is in the can (or on the drive to be more 21st Century) and editing has begun. I have recapped each day of shooting, most recently day four. Next up, another company move.
Day five, and our second full day away from our Denny Avenue home base. We are traveling a whopping 2.8 miles from base camp to a house. A 15 minute drive if traffic is terrible. However, despite the distance there are brand new obstacles to overcome…
…because we have left the city of Los Angeles and entered the city of Burbank.
For those of you unfamiliar with the layout of L.A., the city is spread out like an enormous concrete pancake ranging from the ocean to mountains. From Long Beach in the south to Sylmar in The Valley, that’s 50 miles of city. And in between, there are a number of smaller cities and towns that are completely independent from L.A., such as Beverly Hills, Santa Monica… and Burbank.
Which means a different permit office. And different rules. One rule is that if there are more than a certain number of people on set we need a fire marshall to be there the entire time. Our crew was about twice as large as the minimum required, so we had to hire the fire marshall… at nearly $100 an hour. That is not a typo. Which means as soon as the fire marshall walks on our location, he is instantly the highest paid person on our team by at least five times over.
But before we start shooting at the house, graciously donated my by friends David and Milena (the same Milena who plays Prudence in the movie) a splinter crew of us hopped in a limo for some driving footage.
While it looks roomy, once the equipment and skeleton crew is in there with us, it got pretty crowded so I was forced to stay put. No complaints here.
We took some shots of the limo driving, then got our actors in for another drive, this time with dialogue.
Then we parked in the driveway of our location house for even more limo stuff. At this time the fire marshall arrived, and was understandably angry that we started without him. (Well, he would have been angrier if he knew we were driving around town getting shots). Steve was tasked with the unpleasant responsibility of enduring the fire marshall’s lecture. Then we wrapped the limo, but not before the crew checked it out.
On to the house. Scenes on the front porch, then two scenes in the back house which was a perfect location for Hugo’s man cave of a living room.
And even though we were in the backyard of a beautiful house on a gorgeous day, something was off. Things weren’t going right, and were taking much longer to shoot. Shots took longer to set up. It took more and more takes to get one I wanted. It seemed that with every shot, helicopters would fly overhead ruining the take. Day turned into evening, and the clock was ticking.
The last scene was in front of an outdoor fireplace. Hugo and Nina share drinks after dinner and get a bit more personal. The first shot of the scene was a slow tracking shot behind our actors as they faced the fireplace.
Only we couldn’t get the fire lit. We tried switching out the propane tank, using matches instead of the starter, anything. We even brought in our fire marshall, who was pleasantly surprised to get to do something other than sit around and watch us work. Nothing was happening.
All day, Paul (our first A.D.) and I had been at odds regarding scheduling. It’s his job to keep us on time, and it’s my job to get the shots I need. We added a shot at the start of the day, and Paul voiced his displeasure. We made up the time, but Paul was still pushing us to make our day and now we had the fire issue. One option was to cut the master shot and not see the fireplace, only using the side angles. I didn’t want to do this, of course. I wanted the damn fireplace to work. Paul told me we would give our struggling crew three more minutes to fix the problem or we would have to move on.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll be back in two minutes to discuss.” And I walked off, making a trip to the bathroom and the craft service table, maybe a brief conversation or two, and then I returned to our set to make the decision…
…and when I got back, Paul had already made the call and the crew was setting up the next shot. This big decision was made without me.
I was furious. I was told that the new setup would take ten minutes. I said something about my opinion clearly not mattering, and stormed off.
I’m not one to explode in public. I like to keep my emotions in check when I can. It does no good to anyone or to our group environment to throw a tantrum. But I think everyone knew I was extremely displeased. I walked to the front yard, stood on the end of the driveway, and stared at the night sky. What kind of ship am I running if I’m not making the call? And how dare a decision like this be made without my signing off on it? And how bad will the scene look now with this compromise? And why can’t they get a fucking one-year-old fireplace to light?
I was invited back to set (a silly formality, the actors and director are “invited to set” when they are ready for us, as if we can decline the invite) and Paul mentioned that if we move fast we can still get the shot I want. I told him whether I move fast or not we’re getting my shot anyway. A stand off.
We did move quickly thanks to the skills of our actors and the camera department, and set up for the master shot without a fireplace. My friend (and owner of the house) David suggested tea light candles in the fireplace. They wouldn’t look the same, but it would be a nice visual effect. I liked the idea. Paul did not.
“I’m not lighting a fire without a fire safety specialist on hand,” he said.
“It’s not a fire. It’s candles,” I snapped back.
“That’s a fire. And with the fire marshall around we could get in big trouble.”
“Well shit, let’s ask him.” I called him over and asked if he would be okay with us lighting tea lights in the fireplace WITHOUT a fire safety specialist on set. The fire marshall smiled and told us to go for it. The highest paid member of our team had approved our request, and we could proceed.
The crew hastily assembled the tea lights and we got our shot. Not exactly what I wanted, but better than nothing. Another compromise to end the day.
But what happens tomorrow? Will the crew still trust me? Or will I have to shout and throw things to maintain control? This was not what I envisioned when I set out to direct a movie.
More upsetting was the creeping thought: how many more things will go wrong, and will we have to compromise too much and wind up with a sloppy or amateur movie?
Coming up next: ready or not, week one comes to an end.