Five days of filming, 26 pages in the can, and it’s been a whirlwind. I have never done something like this, never felt pulled and stretched in so many directions. I stagger home at night, propped up in more ways that one on the shoulders of my wife, held together by gaff-tape and caffeine.
But let me take a few steps back.
At the beginning of the summer, my wife and I moved into a new home. While we were still unpacking I started working as a PA on a film that had a lot of late nights and early mornings. On the final wrap day I watched the sun come up as my train slid through the marsh on my way home. On my days off from that film I was editing a few corporate videos that I had filmed before we moved, and then once all of those projects wrapped I was hired onto another film. On my breaks between filming days I hacked my way through several intense rewrites of my script, held a few rehearsals with my cast, and tried to keep some momentum going with my film before the breath of life slipped out of it. Then June was gone and the end the July rocketed closer. Every day I felt the screws tighten around my heart.
Now, when I wrote this script I gave myself the limitation of only writing what I knew I could produce myself without having to raise money, which meant I wrote a lot of the scenes based on locations I had access too, hoping that the friends and neighbors I called upon would let me into their homes with a camera and a couple of actors. These locations were crucial, and filming in some of them would require a lot of time, time that I could not afford to rent or pay for. Not only that, but I had become attached to these places, these apartments and offices of friends. I had spent hours visualizing the script, imaging the action playing out in these personal spaces of friends and family. Replacing them would change how the film looked in my mind, and as a first time filmmaker, that had started to seem like an unforgivable sin. I wanted to maintain my vision. I wanted these particular spaces. One such location was the home of my main characters. This is where they bonded, this is where they grew together and where key moments of the film happen. I had a particular look and feel in mind. In fact, I wrote the entire film with the apartment of my friends’ as this key location. By the time July arrived in heat and fury I had locked down and scheduled exactly zero of these places that seemed so dear to me. And then something happened that I can only describe as a personal miracle.
My friends decided to move.
Between their move-out date and the arrival of the new tenants the apartment would be empty, free of occupants, for a week. And they, and the landlord, were gracious enough to let me film there.
Calling this a miracle is not hyperbole. When I wrote the film with that apartment in mind I did so under the assumption that we could filmin there for a few hours, on weekends, and generally stay out of my friends’ way. I didn’t have the money to rent a space, and so I was more than willing to work around their schedules, however long it took. Looking back at the page count of the scenes that take place in that apartment, and given how much we had to fight for continuity, the actors’ schedules, equipment rents, etc, trying to film that many scenes in a space that is inhabited looks naive. A few pages, sure, no problem. A quarter of the movie, no way. We crammed into that single bedroom apartment and filmed for five days. We filmed in every square in the place, moving furniture and gear from one room to another, back and forth, all day and well into the night. There is no way I could have rented a space for that amount of time, and rented additional equipment, and paid for all of the other small, accumulative costs filming, on the budget that I’m working with. Having the apartment open, without occupants, was no small miracle for me. Friends, you know who you are, my heart is full of gratitude. Thank you.
Those five days of filming were, without a doubt, the most challenging days I have ever had behind a camera. To make things difficult, right off the bat, was the schedule. I had never made schedule this complex in my life, where I had to know what everyone was wearing, what room we could film in, what time actors had to arrive or leave based on their work schedules, where the sun would be, what props we needed and what scenes we were filming and in what order. All of that was like juggling chainsaws for me. Once, I confess, we filmed an entire scene from all the angles before I realized the wardrobe was wrong and wouldn’t match. This wasn’t a small wardrobe error either. The actor was in a leather skirt and she needed to be coming home from the beach. Idiot.
On top of the scheduling, I had to run the technical sides of the film ($$$), so I had to think about lighting, framing, exposure, batteries, card-space, and audio recording simultaneously. And I’m trying to direct this thing too, which means I have to be thinking about the overall story, the particular performances of each scene, in each angle, for each actor. All the while running through my head the edit and how I’m going to cut this whole thing together. Then there was moving furniture, moving hot lights, and the myriad of small tasks that accompany production. If it wasn’t for my wife I couldn’t not have done it. I would have thrown my camera, my lights, my soul into the nearest trash-fire and walked away forever, destined to man some car wash just off the Jersey turnpike.
The doubt is always there. The shadow on my heart that tells me it isn’t good enough, that I’m not good enough, that I don’t have it and can never learn. That doesn’t go away, or hasn’t for me. The only way I silence it is by getting work. And so I press on. The first five days were a battle, a slog to the finish line, a caffeine-fueled haze filmed inside a small apartment in Manhattan. Bring on the rest.
One battle down, ready for more.