Saturday, November 23, 2013

WAIT: Filming, Part 1

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 Calm Before the Storm
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.”


More Posts on WAIT

34 comments:

  1. Man, this made me cry (and I'm at work too - you can imagine how great that looks!). This confirmed all of my suspicions about filmmaking, but I'm still into the whole dream - and that's because of the ending. I'm really sorry about how shitty people are! But obviously, if you keep your head up, as it sounds like you have done, you'll get there! I had some similar experiences when I was directing our Stage Challenge performance and through being Head Girl, and while it isn't pleasant, there's always the goal you wanna reach. I'm sure you already know all of this stuff so it is pointless me saying it, but you just keep going. We're all proud of you, man!

    And on that note, better get back to work...

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    1. Thanks Stevee! Gah, I didn't mean to make you cry... sorry about that! But I agree, if you keep a cool head and always fight toward your goal, then you'll get it done. No one ever told me filmmaking was going to be easy, you know? Despite the hardships, I still love the hell out of this gig. Couldn't imagine myself doing anything else.

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  2. Aw, keep on marching, Alex! I hate when plans fall through, it's frustrating, but hopefully it will all work out well in the end. Stay positive! (on that note, I'm with Stevee and should probably get back to work..)

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    1. Thanks Brittani! I definitely do my best to stay positive. I was down the night that this happened, but then I got back up and am more pumped than ever. Aside from this ordeal, everything else with filming has gone great!

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  3. Serendipity, providence, fate.....call it what you will, I'm a believer. I don't think there are necessarily unavoidable, foregone conclusions, but there are things that are meant to happen along the way. We often recognize the "happy coincidence" moments, but usually have less appreciation for the not-so-happy ones.

    I hate to hear about bumps in the road, but you know that there's no story to tell if there is no conflict. Someday, not today, it will work it's way into the tale of making this movie. I'm so happy for you....even on the bad days.....and very proud.

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    1. Thank you so much for everything, Dawn. Yeah, call it what you will, but that email really picked me up. It was so special. I'll cherish it forever.

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  4. I'm convinced this dreadful day off shooting is simply like everything shitty in life, a test of your resolve. I don't know you Alex, but I'm certain you will ace it.

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    1. Thanks man! What's life without its fair share of tests, you know? I was hesitant to post about this, but I wanted to show the unglamorous side of filmmaking. Point is, if you stick with it, good things will happen!

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  5. You proved your mettle with that mess, Alex. People were taking their cues from you, Mr. Filmmaker, and you handled it perfectly. Shit's always going to happen. Now you know for certain you'll be able to deal with it. Congrats, my friend.

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    1. Thanks Sue! I definitely thought it was important to keep a cool head and not lose my shit. A patience tester, this ordeal. Thanks so much for the comment :)

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  6. Jeez, I'm going to need a lot of prescriptions if I'm going to be handle that kind of stress if I ever make my first film. Still, I think this is something that every aspiring filmmaker should read. I hope you were able to scream in your bathroom or something to relieve all of that stress.

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    1. Ha, yeah man, it's definitely a very frustrating process. Glad you understand why I wrote it though. That email I wrote about was what helped combat my stress from the day. A very special email indeed.

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  7. And here i hoped filmmaking got easier in the big leagues

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    1. Ha, sorry man. But my point was that if you stick with it and keep a cool head, shit will work out the way you want it to. Can't quit just because you're tested, you know?

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  8. More power to you. I know the world is an imperfect place, and this part of the world proves it. Keep your head up, do the best you can. This to shall pass.

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    1. Thanks Richard, I appreciate your support. And pass it did. Gotta pull yourself together and prep for the next day. All you can do.

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  9. So frustrating! Glad to hear there was a sliver lining! Keep your head up man!

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    1. Thanks Pete! Definitely a great silver lining in there.

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  10. I'm sorry that things went so badly for you man and truly hope things get better (I'd say soon but it's already been a couple of days since you posted this - so I hope things have gotten better!). That bar owner sounds like a real douche and he'll get his comeuppance one day for ripping you off like that.
    I'm sure that experience will only make you a better film maker and your film even more interesting. All the best to you my friend!

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    1. Thanks buddy! Things have definitely gotten better, which is great. Going along very smooth now. Yeah, needless to say, that bar owner is not my favorite person. Ha. But I certainly think this experience will make for a great on-set story!

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  11. Alex, reading this post was truly heartbreaking but it also told me a great deal about you. It spelled out how truly necessary people like you are to film, people of great passion, of fortitude and ambition. It's hard in the business, sometimes things crumble but you can never lose sight, you can't let misfortune and resistance get the best of you. Watching your short films, I see a filmmaker with a distinctive and unique voice, I see someone I hope to meet in my similar endeavors, who I would be eager to work with any day of the week. I have the utmost faith in you, I believe in your vision. Don't let anyone stop you man.

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    1. Wow, what a kind thing to say. Thank you so much for this comment, it means so much to me. Very, very important to never lose sight of your vision for sure. Thanks again for this, I'm actually at a loss for words.

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  12. Thanks for sharing, Alex. And keep at it. Your perseverance will be rewarded.

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    1. Hey thanks man, I really appreciate it!

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  13. Oh God. I hate having to depend on others. People are so unreliable and irresponsible it pisses me off to no end. It's one thing when they fuck around for free but when they take your money? Jesus. At least they apologized. I hope everything works out. Just remember that people in your cast and crew are committed to the film and the movie is going to be amazing!

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    1. Thanks Sati! Yeah, depending on others is not really my style. I'd much rather go it alone, which is why I prefer the writing and editing aspects of filmmaking far more than the shooting itself. Those people were very apologetic, so I'm hoping it all works out in the end!

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  14. Your response to all this craziness shows you to be the mature, dedicated, and uber-smart guy I've always known you to be.

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    1. Aww thank Steph. It was an intense day for sure.

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    2. Glad you never lost your sense of humor throughout this shit. And I hope things continue to look up.

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    3. Thanks Steph! Shooting is always a damn tough thing. But you gotta keep going!

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  15. Beautiful post man. I've been on a few small productions, but they never had such a disaster occur. Yikes! Hang in there. It will be worth it.

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    1. Thanks buddy. It was a tough, tough day. But after exercising A LOT of patience, it thankfully all worked out in the end.

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  16. That sounds like an awful day, man. I think you handled it VERY well though, so kudos to you on that. You're doing great things, Alex, never forget that.

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    1. Thanks man, I really appreciate your support. Always have, always will.

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