“This is definitely the longest I’ve ever spent in a supermarket,” he said.
She looked up over her laptop at him, paused in silent, calm amusement, and then with a hint of grimness, “me too.”
The moon is almost full,
And today I’m supposed to be shooting a film.
It’s a week ago and some change. I drive an hour out from production HQ to meet the production designer so that we can pick out a piece of set. To follow, we have an art department meeting sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck parked across from a cornfield and I think, “this is exactly how I prefer to produce a movie.”
I belong in the field. I have been convinced of that simple truth for some time now.
It’s a day later and I’ve had to hire a production assistant because I cannot do everything myself. He takes over his desk and hits the ground running. I throw an unfair amount of work at him; we are under a great deal of stress… I joke that he will require a month off afterward in order to recover. It’s funny because it’s true.
There’s a major Hollywood production prepping to film in the area where we are shooting. They start in September. I ignore them for the most part. I’ve been competing with their production here and there, mostly because they usurp a lot of the more talented local crew for their lesser, local positions. There is nothing I can’t troubleshoot. I find local crew from neighboring states and even hire some from NYC. Done.
Shooting on location is auto-ambitious. When outside of Los Angeles and New York City, you lose all of your resources. Beyond crew, and much more difficult, you lose your camera and equipment resources. A camera package is definitely coming out of Los Angeles or New York: That would be hard to avoid. So if you’re independent, you want to get your lighting and grip from the local market if possible, and be careful of who and what you chose to fly in, because you can’t bring everyone and everything from afar. In our case especially we have to pull our equipment locally, or else our budget skyrockets.
Major Hollywood productions, meanwhile, truck in all of their gear from LA or NYC.
There is only one filmmaker who has consistently shot in this area. He comes in every few years. The market rejoices, and pretends like they have an actual industry here. Then they forget to continue building that market afterward. When this filmmaker’s production needs to do some side shooting, such as behind-the-scenes/documentary type stuff, they go to local sources and use their lighting and grip equipment. Not on the actual film: Just on side shooting. Apparently, when they want to do some prelim/test shooting prior to their production beginning and their equipment coming in, they visit the same local houses.
There’s only one house in the area worth working with, one with a deep enough equipment list, and, apparently, if you are in process of working your gear list back and forth with them and haven’t yet signed a deal, suddenly they will return your list with much less equipment than they’ve said they’ve had because they are involved in test shoots on a film that will not use their actual equipment in the film photography itself, but whatever: They can add that to their website and wait another four years for Him to return.
When you’re shooting rural, on location, and the largest cities nearby have barely any of what you’d need, if anything at all, and the one lighting/grip house that does pulls a little something like suddenly locking out all of their equipment…
There is nothing I can’t troubleshoot…
I’m unexpectedly faced with one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make: Shoot the film without all of the exact equipment we require in order to reach the quality we’ve set, or reschedule. I ask my DP, Andy, to take a walk with me.
I know it is the right decision before it is official, before I discuss it with anyone, before I even say it aloud. I always know. My mind is made up. I always know, however, I also always do myself the service of good counsel.
Most crewmembers can tell you that they have been on a project where a producer or director has lead them down the path toward destruction. Or worse; mediocrity.
I will never do that.
The decision I decide is this: I will reschedule the shoot. It’s also been dryer here than normal this season, which has had me scratching my head a little over the look of the film. When you are independent, you have less flexibility and little margin for error: You don’t have a war chest filled with cash like the studios do. But if you can’t get the caliber of equipment you need, and you aren’t close enough to LA or NYC to drive it in given your budget… And I’d be competing with that major production all through fall… And the aesthetic of the film’s exteriors are specific enough that they lend themselves to only three months during the year…
We wait for May.
May. That seems so very far away.
Having made my decision and discussed it with Andy, who agrees, I come back to my room, run my fingers through my hair and do that thing where I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror… I look like I’m strung out. I’ve never seen that in myself before, and I’m concerned. All week my back has felt as if I carried a heavy wood mantel across my shoulders. One morning I tried to eat a bowl of cereal and nearly threw up. My body and mind were so tightly clenched. I was working hard to find a workaround.
I do not like to give in.
But some things you can’t troubleshoot.
My assistant prints my cast and crew contact list for me, I go outside with my phone and begin pacing and calling. Everyone.
It officially becomes the right decision when the entire cast and crew say the exact same thing, either quite literally or in the theme of their response, and no one walks in the face of the reschedule. Everyone asks to be rebooked. I hear renewed loyalties to the project and unflinching trust. Last of all I phone Todd, because he’s the hardest: The actor in me recognizes the actor in him, and the actor in me argues with the producer in me and says shoot the picture now. I want to work! The actor in me predicts his disappointment. Todd says the same as the crew, the actor in him recognizes the actor in me and we permit ourselves to lament a little, and then we build up stronger and begin laying even better-laid plans.
I set the phone down and breathe a little for the first time in days, and I fully realize the commitment behind the project.
My assistant puts all of the project files on a thumb drive and also makes a binder for me of the hardcopies, and just like that his desk is again empty.
Andy and I go to the main location and have our first visit with the entire expanse of the place and the staff and we pause and don’t breathe for a moment: It is as if the site has been built directly for the film.
Creatively and logistically, the location is even more ideal than I realized, so impossibly so that I can’t help but believe it.
Sometimes it’s really not real here, but it’s more real than ever: It's so real that it's unreal.
The location is very supportive, rolling over all of the production’s deposits to the spring and showing us how much they want us there. The woman who gives us the tour through all the best-kept secrets of the land has a tattoo of what appears on the teaser poster on her shoulder. It relates to her father, who is dead.
Everything about this production is mutual.
I hear music in the place where it all takes place, and I know Andy Sees something as well.
I release Andy and he goes flying back to LA; gone as quickly as he had come. He phones and renews his interest via voicemail. Being on site has made our desire to shoot stronger, and May seems so very far away, but the sense of the story is upon us now and we have something to look forward to.
The next day the 1st AD comes to meet with me. We sit outside on the outdoor patio in the shade under a green umbrella and discuss the kind of attitude I care to foster on set, and I listen to the stories of his experiences, good and bad, on past productions and how he prefers to work and I think how appreciative I am of being on the same page.
We are all looking in the same direction.
No one produces movies this way.
I have costumes, props, set… a crew… a cast… locations… catering…
I know I have on shot. One shot to do a deal with Kodak, one shot to do a deal with Panavision, one shot to do a deal with JetBlue one shot to say to the crew, “I know it’s low budget and the payday is lacking, but the production is true and the material is great, you’re in great company and this is where you should want to be, where you should be generous with your talents.” I ate some pre-pro and pay-or-play costs on the reschedule, but I have one shot, and the talent, material and venders are such that I’m will not settle for a good plan today verses a great plan tomorrow: In this instance that will not do.
I’m here on location where our production HQ is until August, through the length of what the shoot would have been. Mostly because I can stay here and take some related meetings and do more prep: I can take the change and use it for all its possibilities. One of my dear friends was coming out to work on the film. I called him a week ago and said, “I need help can you be here next week” and he said, “yes.” I call him again and tell him the story above and, “but will you still come down? I’m so bored and I just... .” He says, “yes.” So I keep his ticket. I’ve been writing this entry all week, at this point he’s not here yet. I’ve gone from full throttle to nothing, and at night here, it’s empty. I try getting lost in a book, but it does not work like I expect or hope.
I go to a theater to see a film, a theater much like the one where I fell in love with motion picture. But there aren’t any films, only movies, and none of them are remarkable. There’s a need here. What I see is more a moving visual guide to a book then an actual film, a story in itself. So I recognize that there is a need.
Mapquest will tell you the way back to your room is straight, but there’s a windy way that goes past three churches, a mosque and a farm if you can find the route. It’s up over a hill and down, down, and all the lights are on once you crest the hill but there’s no one on the road, and it all looks a grand waste of illumination for the sake of illumination.
Or chasing away the darkness.
Or a false sense of safety.
On the way, all the songs are about loneliness and separation, because that’s what DJs play at night when you’re not in the city.
And then Patience comes on, which makes me roll my eyes at the clichéness. I hate waiting.
And then Lola, L-o-l-a Lola comes on, and my hands turn and the wheels go left and I turn right back around and drive the route again.
And then Pieces of Me comes on.
And then Ordinary World.
And then Sublime.
And I just drive.
…Until I’m back in my room, which should be familiar by now.
Coach Rabska says that he can tell what kind of person someone is by the way they draw. He didn’t tell me anything about myself that I didn’t already know, but I was probably under some delusion that I kept my share of personality secrets. Movement doesn’t lie, however. So I was outed as passionate with an edge of feeling like I need to be in control, as revealed by my right hand.
“Once you get to this point, let the bow do the work.”
I listened, and I relaxed.
I will edit this and update the JSDC project area and so forth to reflect the shoot adjustments shortly.
For now, the local grocery store is open the latest here, until midnight, and they have free wi-fi in their café. It’s deserted; The Professor and I sit in the corner where the light is the dimmest, at a two-seater. I’ve pulled up a third chair so as to kick up my feet. He picks up the third book in his stack.
“This is definitely the longest I’ve ever spent in a supermarket,” he says, flipping pages.
I look up at him over my laptop, pause in silent, calm amusement, and then with a hint of grimness, “me too.”
The moon is almost full,
And today I’m supposed to be shooting a film.
…I’m in a grocery store.
“Let the bow do the work.”
It was the right decision.
The production is already stronger.
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