This isn’t going to be a pleasant story. At least not the majority of it. It isn’t going inspire young filmmakers to get out there and create. This story isn’t going to encourage or motivate. This story will convey that other side of independent filmmaking. That side in which Murphy’s Law takes hold and doesn’t dare let go. It’s the kind of story that mars almost every film production, and I intend to present it in all its ugly glory. Bear with me through the pain, and I hope you’ll understand why I shared this story with you. But before the heartbreak, a brief tale of beauty.
The first day of filming on my first feature film, Wait, went better than I could’ve imagined. As I shared in my introductory post of the film, my cast and crew had 18 pages to shoot in five short hours. It’s a long, important scene. One of many words, intentions, and motivations. And after months of sleepless nights, sweaty nightmares and consistent self-doubt, the scene went off without a hitch. The actors nailed their lines, the camera set-ups were quick, the sound was crisp – everything flowed expertly. You can tell from this picture that everyone took their jobs seriously. They listened, they acted, they reacted – it was bliss.
We wrapped the day and I felt great. Eighteen pages in the can. On to tomorrow: two scenes, one location, 10 pages, six hours. I was confident and excited. My day was only an hour old before everything started to go wrong.
A Narrative of Frustration
6:15 p.m. – Night Before Filming– You confirm the scene location with the bar owner. 8 a.m. start time. Out by 2 p.m. All plans are set. It’s all good.
7:45 a.m. – Day Of Filming– On the day, you get there early. The owner, who we’ll refer to as Jerry, said he’ll let you in the back entrance at 8. You start to unload, build your gear. You’re using fancy lights in this scene. Expensive DJ equipment. Large speakers. No harm in setting up as much as you can now. Your crew begins to arrive. They help set up. You wait.
8:00 a.m. – No word from the owner. You hint at becoming nervous, but keep yourself in check. People are late, it’s L.A. You ask your crew how long to wait before you call. Ten minutes, everyone says. You wait.
8:15 a.m. – Your email and voicemail to Jerry have garnered no response. Nerves take over. You have a cast call time of 8:30. If the actors are here before the owner, you’ll have some scrambling to do. You convince yourself Jerry will be here.
8:45 a.m. – Five calls, three emails, two voicemails. Nothing. The talent is on set. The extras are nervous. They look at you like you’re an amateur. You apologize for wasting their time. You kindly speak of your bafflement. You call Jerry again. Nothing. Your principal cast understands. They tell you they believe in your script. They tell you how much they want to make this movie. They tell you these things happen all the time.
9:00 a.m. – Ideas are tossed around. Someone suggests a locksmith. You paid good money to use the space, does that make you entitled to it? Nope. You flirt with the idea of calling the cops, because Jerry cashed your check last week and now not letting you in constitutes stealing, right? Maybe. But if you call the cops, the deal is blown. Ultimately, you love the space. You know it will work perfectly for your film. You searched for months for a space like this. You’re right there. If only Jerry would answer his fucking phone.
9:25 a.m. – Defeated. You realize that’s how everyone looks. Defeated. You then realize that they look like this because you look like this. You do the math. If Jerry let us in right now, we’d have a little more than four hours. Not enough. At some point, you have to send these poor people home. They have other jobs, other auditions. They have lives beyond your movie.
9:30 a.m. – You wrap the day, helpless and angry. Holy Christ, you’re angry. But you don’t let your cast and crew see this. Frustrated, sure. But anger is dangerous. It makes you seem reckless, immature. So you keep it in. You smile and shake hands and hug and apologize. You tell them you’ll let them know what happened as soon as you hear. Most people assume the worst. Something happened to Jerry last night, a car accident perhaps. Or maybe worse, his kids are hurt. You remind yourself not to be selfish. If someone is seriously hurt, that’s a far bigger deal than your little film. Remember that. But if it’s nothing (and you can’t help yourself from thinking that it’s nothing), then you wonder what you’ll do with your anger.
10:10 a.m. – It was nothing. An alarm clock didn’t go off. A fucking alarm clock. You call bullshit. But you listen. You listen to the person on the phone tangle themselves with lies. They’re nervous, so they keep talking. You pace angrily while you talk on the phone. But instead, you just listen. You let yourself become amused by the bullshit.
(An attempt to explain said bullshit: the co-owner of the bar, who we’ll call Dorothy, is the one who called you. She says she’s in New Orleans, and handed your “job” off to Jerry, even though you’ve never heard of Dorothy, and Jerry has been your only contact the whole time. Dorothy is the one who tells you Jerry overslept. Dorothy apologizes. Says things like this don’t happen with their “jobs.” Says CBS was filming their last week. Went great. Says BRAVO is coming next week. Another apology. You ask for a solution. She tells you another co-owner, who we’ll call Rod, will call you shortly to reschedule. You say you’ve never heard of Rod, and you wonder why Jerry can’t call. She says expect a call from Rod shortly.)
10:20 a.m. – Rod calls. Apologies. Non-stop. Says things like this don’t happen with their “jobs.” Says CBS was filming their last week. Went great. Says BRAVO is coming next week. Says Dorothy is in Florida because her father had a heart attack (so it’s Florida now, and a heart attack… really?) says Jerry has been in meetings since 8 a.m. (so it’s meetings now, not a faulty alarm clock). Rod says to come back to the bar, and film right away. No. You say no. You sent everyone home. You lost money. The extras demanded to be paid, so you paid them. The equipment you rented for this day is nonrefundable. And so on. You (kindly) demand to reschedule. You settle on two weeks from today. Rod says he’ll be there himself to let you in. Money. You bring up money. You want some of yours back. All of it, actually. You settle on half, which will just about cover your loses for the day. You get off the phone. You’re done with this guy.
9:00 p.m. – Depression. You love the grieving process. You’ve studied it. You’ve learned it. You’ve lived it. Now you’re in it. Denial, anger, bargaining… that was this morning. Now you’re stuck in misery and self-doubt. Maybe this movie is too big for me. Maybe this movie isn’t meant to be. Maybe I have no idea what I’m doing. Maybe this movie fucking sucks. Your cast and crew all say the rescheduled date works fine for them, so that’s good. You got your money back, so that’s good. But still, you’re stuck. You sit and stare. You think about watching a movie, but fear anything will intimidate your vision of your own film. You think about having a drink, but fear one could turn into four. You have to be up early tomorrow. So you sit.
9:30 p.m. – You check your email. First time in two days. You see one from your good friend. Your good friend you met through your blog. She’s older, and has lived a life you love hearing about. A few months ago, she read your article about a character actor who had passed away far too soon. She thanked you for the article, saying it was nice to read about her personal friend. You formed a friendship, and she’s encouraged your filmmaking efforts ever since. So that email. It’s a long one. She says she’s just watched your latest short film. Her first time seeing it. She recounts a tragic story from her own past. Because of this tragic event, she was able to draw many parallels between her life and your film. At the end of the email, she’s not only strengthened the bound of your friendship, but she’s completely, selflessly validated your dream of being a filmmaker.
9:40 p.m. – You read the email for a third time. You’re crying now. You’re exhausted beyond the point of sleep. Your eyes are heavy and burning, but they weep tears of joy. You print the email out and pin it to your wall. You marvel at it.
9:42 p.m. – You print out one more thing and hang it directly above the email. It’s one sentence. A reminder. It reads: “This makes it worth it.”
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