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 8: building a police station in a bedroom . Next up, the hardest day of the shoot.
Many filmmakers have compared making a movie with going to war, with apologies to all those who have served in actual combat. But there are similarities: the days are long, there are a lot of logistics to work out, things can go wrong, and often do. And it is physically exhausting and grueling.
We knew today was going to be a battle, for many reasons:
- It is our longest day, page wise. Initially 11 pages, I had cut it down to 8 1/2, but even then it was still a long and ambitious day.
- We have a finite amount of time in the location. We have access to the place at 7am, and we have to be out by 6pm. And “be out” doesn’t mean stop shooting. Wrapping the location could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, so we were aiming to finish shooting by 5pm.
- There are only two ways in and out of the building, and both are narrow passageways. This means the high possibility of traffic jams.
- At six actors, it is one of our largest cast days. And this doesn’t include:
- 20 background actors. In our other scenes with extras, we were able to use friends and volunteers we knew. Today, over half are strangers, responding to a call on either Craigslist or Facebook. And these strangers are working for free.
- We have no space inside for departments to set up camp. Which means holding, makeup, wardrobe, and craft service are all outside, in the warm California sun.
So here we go. I arrive at set 15 minutes early. Much of the crew does as well; they know the stakes. Nothing much a director can do this early in the game, so I help the production department hump craft service tables and supplies from the van to the holding area. The sidewalk between the bar and Burbank Avenue was wide, over 20 feet, so we were able to set up three pop up tents for shade. This area, roughly 30 feet by 10 feet, would hold our wardrobe, hair and makeup, craft services, and actor holding. All actors together, from principals to background.
Everyone maintained good spirits. People painted the corners and stayed out of the way. But we could feel the creeping doom as everything took a little longer than normal, especially since the shots were not easy.
I had already sacrificed pages to make the day work, and in the first hours of shooting I made another sacrifice: I didn’t get to to work as much with the actors as I would have liked. I couldn’t push for the quality that we had on all other days. I’m giving notes, but it’s not enough notes and not enough time. We have to keep going.
And Paul the First A.D. is pushing us. Hard. Maybe too hard? This is definitely the most stressful day for him, and with each passing minute he becomes more agitated and stressed. He’s only level of communication is yelling. And whomever is on the receiving end jumps to it, for sure, but as the hours pass, I can see the glaze in the P.A.’s eyes. The yelling is consistent, so it’s hard to discern what is really important from what isn’t.
And it’s heating up, literally and figuratively. It’s crowded, and the air conditioning goes off for our takes. We’re starting to feel it.
As we approach our lunch break, we are already behind. The first shots of the day were the most complicated so we are already playing catch up. And there is noise coming from outside the bar, ruining takes. Paul runs outside, screaming at the P.A.s and the extras. This happens over and over again. Turns out that on either side of our locations are restaurants open for lunch, so the noise we hear is from the patrons, not our people. In fact, our people are being awesome, not uttering a peep during shots, only to be on the receiving end of Paul’s wrath moments later. Not fun for anyone.
For the second day in a row we push to get a scene finished by lunch. If we make it, it will be huge: most of our background actors could be released, and we’d be in a good place to come back from lunch. Once again, we ask for grace. Once again, every department grant it to us, except for sound.
Seething, Paul tells me in a loud voice for everyone to hear, that as long as I call “action” before we hit the six hour mark (we were minutes away) and as long as I don’t say “cut” we can keep going. This is not uncommon; it’s called shooting a sequence. Some times it’s easier to reset rather than cut, have everyone step away, have hair and makeup step in again, etc. We’ve done sequences throughout the shoot. But this time, it’s political as well as practical.
I call “action” with one minute to spare. The crew (except one department) is focused on getting the shot, no matter what it takes. We do the sequence, I announce “hold” and “back to one” and we reset without cutting. We do the scene a second time. In the middle of it, the boom operator has had enough. He loudly throws down his boom pole into its holder, and storms off the set, slamming the door and ruining the take. We do it again, and it is great (well, good enough) so I call “cut.” We break for lunch exactly six minutes late.
As people grab lunch I go around to each department head and as a courtesy, thank them for giving us grace. No one is bothered by it, but all are a little shaken by the day, not to mention witnessing a fellow crew member deliberately sabotaging a shot.
I go to the sound board operator and thank him, even though his department was the problem. He stares at me and says “we are never giving you grace again.” I was floored. They haven’t given it to us yet. Shocked, I made my way to Beau the producer to get his take on it.
“Have you seen anything like this before?” I ask. Beau has been on far more sets than I have.
“Never. I’ve already made calls for replacements,” he replied.
And after lunch, the day went from bad to worse. Paul the A.D. never recovered from his early freak outs and not only stopped yelling, he stopped running the show entirely. The actors were tired and frustrated from getting their makeup done while the crew and background actors were inches away, refilling on coffee and donuts. The sound mixer was scrolling through Facebook during takes (!!!), and I later found out was communicating with other sound people who were just offered his job. This was the time for me to stand up, whip people in shape, and keep this boat afloat.
But I couldn’t. Not because I didn’t want to. But because I was neck deep in getting the shots, and shots for a scene that I felt we were selling short because of the location limitations. I was (figuratively) banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out what I could do to make this date scene more exciting. But there wasn’t time. We just had to shoot it and hopefully it works out later. Hopefully.
We made our day. We wrapped out of the location with 10 minutes to spare. We got our shots. But at what expense? How will it look? Is the last scene going to be completely flat and boring?
In the midst of it all we picture wrapped Tom Choi, who played Nina’s love interest Hugo today.
An unceremonious end to his work. He worked his ass off, continually pushing to give a great performance, make bold choices, and through it all he was extremely nice and friendly. A class act; it was just unfortunate that his final minutes on set were upstaged by fatigue and infighting.
But on the bright side, this was supposed to be our toughest day. And we made it. We all lived to see another day of making our movie…
…except the sound guys, who were fired immediately after we wrapped for the day.
Coming up next: the aftershocks, staging a fight, and a little light breaking and entering.