I want to start by saying that I am so grateful and appreciative of everyone involved in all stages of production on my short. The actors, the extras, the crew, the advisors…everyone who helped in any way, you have my undying gratitude, and I know that I owe you, big time. Feel free to collect at any time.
Two weeks ago at this time, a bunch of kind-hearted strangers (and friends) came to my house to film a short story that I wrote. Seven scenes and seventeen and a half hours later, we wrapped and I had accomplished what I set out to do years ago.
Without giving away any plot details, here is how that day went:
Since my house is not easily reachable through public transportation, Josh (my DoP) and I started our morning off as chauffeurs. My job was to get Phil (my director) and Sophie (our make-up artist). I set a horrible example by being late, so we were pretty much the last people to arrive at my house. Luckily, my mom hadn’t left for work yet, so she was there to offer food and coffee to everyone before I could get there. I knew that when you have a project that doesn’t pay, you need to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone involved, which heavily involves food. So I asked everyone about allergies and preferences, then made sure there was something for everyone at all times.
I had made an ambitious schedule the night before, showing how we could potentially film all but one scene in one day. People did look at it a little, but other than the first two scenes, no one really paid it much attention. It was more of a suggestion anyway, but my OCD (which is still undiagnosed, but only because I am convinced it doesn’t impact my life) felt better with a plan and schedule for the day.
Josh doubled as the artistic director and wardrobe, so he approved my costume before Sophie did my makeup. The crew went to our first location to prepare the shots while we got ready, then I drove Sophie and Matt (my lead actor) over once we were done. I unintentionally chose an incredibly cold day to shoot on, so some people stayed in the car, and I was freezing when I realized we had forgotten a really important prop. We didn’t have a PA (production assistant) at this point, and I was the only one with my house key, so I drove home and got it, then came back so we could start filming. We stayed at this location, working on one scene, all morning, with me going back and forth to let people into my house, and making my grandmother go to the metro to pick people up. I felt really bad for asking it of her, but I have the best grandmother who clearly loves me. A lot.
As far as filming goes, it took longer than my schedule had planned, but I hadn’t really known what I was doing when I made the schedule, and I trusted my crew implicitly. That isn’t to say I wasn’t stressed about timing, but I also had faith that my guys would get what we needed in the time we had. I had been so caught up in pre-production and personal matters that I hadn’t done nearly enough preparation as an actor for the scene. I knew my motivations and my character inside and out, but the script had been rewritten quite a few times, and I didn’t review the lines before filming. Which are excuses as to why I messed up the first take. We stayed in character and went to the end, but there were a few lines that were completely out of sequence. Once that take was out of our system though, we were good.
…Except for the crying. I hate that this is something I still have to write about, because I was so sure that I was over it, but I was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we had our callbacks, this was one of the scenes we did with the actors and I cried every single take with all 3 of them. Again, when we had the rehearsal, I cried every single time we did this scene. The last time, I told Phil and Matt to remember it, in case I couldn’t cry on the day, to remember how much I cried at rehearsals. I think it was a combination of the stress of filming day, all the tears I had already cried that weekend, and the self-fulfilling prophecy that made it so no tears fell, no matter how many times we did the scene. Looking back, it is all I can think about as far as this scene is concerned, but at the time, I let it go. Not in a bad way, because I definitely didn’t not care, but instead of pushing it to try and cry, or to look sad, I just let it all affect me and lived as truthfully as I could in those imaginary circumstances. I obviously wish I could have cried as effortlessly as I did all the previous times we did the scene, and I haven’t seen the footage yet, so I can’t be sure, but Phil said he didn’t care that I didn’t cry, because he still got what he wanted.
After the first scene, some of us headed to the bar, while the rest were back at my house, getting ready for our biggest scene. It has the most dialogue, the most actors, extras, crew…it was also the one we had a time limit for, because the bar was sort of staying open just so that we could film. Les Brasseurs du Moulin, the bar in question, was absolutely amazing for everything they did to make this scene happen.
We had a little bit of trouble getting in, and it took longer than expected to set everything up, but by 2 pm, we were filming our opening scene, with my father and my grandfather as valued Background performers. This was not the first time my grandfather was on set, so he assured me he was used to the waiting around I kept apologizing for, and my father doubled as our set photographer.
My mom came to the rescue with caffeine and some missing props after she finished work, before going home to start preparing supper for everyone. We had two actors and some extras who were only in this scene, so we weren’t sure if they would come back or not. We got food for everyone, just in case.
The bar people had hoped we would be out by 4 o’clock, 5 max, so we had to hurry a little and compromise on some shots, but everyone was amazing. We ended up wrapping at 5, and were only out by 5:30 once everything was packed up, but our bar liaison was nothing but gracious and excited to see the finished project someday.
My dad drove some people to the metro while the rest of us went home for what was supposed to be a meal, a break, and decision time. While discussing the schedule a few days earlier, we had agreed that this would be the point where we would decide whether to keep filming all the scenes or to wrap soon and schedule a second day. I had been the one who had been really intent on getting it all done in one day, but now that I saw how arbitrary my schedule was, I was beginning to think a second day would probably be the smartest idea. Josh and JP, my DoPs, instead spent this time figuring out whether we had enough light to film our last exterior day scene, as well as an interior morning scene. While we were eating, they started setting up lights and stuff so we could film them. I talked to my director, who had really wanted two days. He still did, but agreed it wouldn’t make sense to not film now that the scenes were already set up. And the way our scheduling and locations work, it would be silly to not film a 3rd scene after those 2, and then it would be dark so we might as well film the last 3 scenes. He didn’t seem thrilled at that point, but somewhere after the birthday cupcakes and a warm meal, he was determined to get it all done in one day.
The first scene we did after supper was in my driveway, with my car. Matt, who plays my husband in the film, doesn’t have a driver’s license, which very much complicated our shots. We decided it would not be a good idea to have someone who couldn’t drive driving, so we reworked some shots and I eventually spent quite some time in the car with Josh, who doesn’t look like Matt, but can drive, in an elaborate two car filming set up. It was probably the scene that had the most takes (based on my recollection, not facts) but we got it just before the sun went past the point of no return for us.
The next couple of scenes took place in my parents’ bedroom, where we broke the bed, rearranged the furniture and my contacts did not appreciate the bright lights. When we were filming Matt’s face with the back of my head, his acting should be even more appreciated, because he is pretending like my eye isn’t twitching in front of him.
The before last scene was in the entrance to my house, where we needed to keep the door open to allow for a light which mimicked moonlight to come in. I mentioned that the morning was cold, but at this point, I am pretty sure the temperature was below zero and we had my front door wide open while everyone hung around in the dark. Our makeup artist also got to show a tiny bit of her acting skills with a voicemail message.
Finally, our last scene was moved to the street across from my house, in the freezing cold. I was in a summer dress with a light sweater, but I can’t feel too bad for myself, because Josh had to take off his shoes and film in his socks so as to not make too much noise while walking backwards in front of us. I did, however, let everyone know that this scene featured my best acting, because as soon as they called action, my teeth stopped chattering and I stopped shivering to pretend that I wasn’t freezing.
After a few takes, we wrapped that scene and thus the entire film a little after 1. This is including the one scene that even my overly ambitious schedule hadn’t planned for. It was almost 2 by the time everything was packed up and I ultimately got home from my drop offs at 4 am. It was a long day, and I was exhausted, but my heart was so full and the smile would not leave my face. I understand why I would put in a 20 hour day to make the short I wrote a reality, but everyone else was just doing it out of the kindness of their hearts or because they believed in the project, or in me. Matt, who played my husband, was prepared and on the ball. Stan was the perfect bartender you could talk to for hours. Steph was everything I imagined Monica to be. Luc and Pierre-Francois drank fake drinks and pretended to talk like pros. My grandparents gave their time and experience with a smile. Daniel drove and lifted and did whatever we needed him to do. Sophie made me beautiful (and everyone else too). Reno not only set up and took care of all of our lighting needs, he was also the one who got us all of the lighting equipment without asking for anything in return. Max spent the day holding a boom pole over his head. My parents went above and beyond with helping out and putting up with all of these people invading their house and reassuring me every time I had doubts. Josh and JP were the best Directors of Photography and Camera Guys I could have asked for, absolutely positive and enthusiastic and reassuring from start to finish. And Phil chose to spend his birthday working on my project where he directed and did the sound for 17 and a half hours.
I don’t think I will ever be able to thank everyone enough. This was my first attempt, and because they were all so incredible, it will not be my last. In the future, I will be a lot smarter in my script writing, my pre-production and will not assume that because I wrote the script I don’t have to work on the lines.
“What I do like is hiking. And that’s what filmmaking is. It’s a hike. It’s challenging and exhausting, and you don’t know what the terrain is going to be or necessarily even which direction you’re going in…but it sure is beautiful.”