Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Week 2 of shooting The Unlost

If I’m going to be honest with myself, this past weekend was difficult. Everything worked out in the end, but this was seriously the most stressful two-days I’ve ever had in my life. So much so, that I woke up early the morning-after the shoot in the middle of a massive panic attack (more on that later). To set the stage: this was the largest cast and crew that I’ve ever worked with. I had 17 actresses on set, along with 18 crew members, some of my cast were pulling double duty as crew, which would up my crew by three. It was an outdoor shoot in a location with no electricity and facilities that we had to drive people to, just so they could use the toilet and have running water. It is full-on fall in Idaho, where our mornings are pushing 50 degrees and our afternoons can either hold the same temperature, or get as high as 70. We shot in a location with no shade and thankfully, very few other people.

Most of the above described scenario took place during our Saturday shoot. I had my actresses start arriving at a local salon at 5:30am to get into hair and makeup. After the first few ladies arrived, I left my 2nd AD in charge and headed home to pack up my gear and head to the location. Based on the pictures, it looked like a fun, albeit crowded, morning in a warm salon with good friends. The owner of the salon, the lovely GiGi Huntley, who owns The Bench Salon and Gifts, got the ladies’ hair prepped, while she relayed makeup requirements to our makeup artist, Jessica French. It was a well-oiled machine of hair, makeup, coffee, and laughter. After each actress was fully haired and makeuped, they were sent on their way to our location, about a 30-minute drive from Boise proper.

When they arrived on set, they were greeted by our friendly crew and tables full of craft service delights. We ushered them through our costuming tent, where the lovely Heather Horner costumed every single lady with the help of her assistant, then we carefully shoved them into our audio recording booth, which was my sound engineer, Doc Woolf's car. Some of their costumes and headpieces were too big to fit into the car comfortably. After recording their audio, they met with my 1st AD, cinematographer and his crew, and me for some beauty shots, while we waited for the rest of our actresses to arrive.

Once they were all on set, I taught them a surprise choreography and by the time that was perfected, we broke for lunch.

I paint a beautiful picture, don’t I?

That is what happened, but what went on while the ladies were arriving was the fact that our electricity, provided by a solar-powered pop-up tent-trailer, couldn’t output enough juice to run our jib. So, while I was teaching the ladies their surprise dance (much to their dismay - I’ve never received so much stink-eye in my life. And yes, I surprised them on purpose, so that stink-eye was fully deserved), my crew was trying to run 300+ feet of cable-carrying-electricity from the parking lot to our shoot location in the middle of a reservoir. My crew tried, they tried really hard, but it just didn’t work out, so we had to improvise and change our beautiful jib shot to a panned shot on a tripod. We had to quickly think on our feet and despite having two jibs on set, the ground was sandy enough that attaching our DJI ronin to my second jib would have resulted in toppled equipment. Did I mention that it was windy on location?! Really windy. Multiple sandbags and people couldn’t have kept that contraption from possible disaster.

After lunch, I ushered our actresses down a sandy and rocky hill, some wearing very tight costumes, so that we could shoot our dance scene. They knocked it out of the park on our first take, which I called “rehearsal.” I was blown away and after watching the clip, I KNEW that was our take. I made them run through it three more times, but that first take after lunch was the absolute keeper. Those ladies killed it!!! Aside from my beauty shots, however, that was the first take of the day, and we were already pushing 1pm. Did I mention that I wanted to start shooting that shot at 11am? … yeah …

Once that shot was complete, we set-up for the next shot, and the next shot, and the next shot after that. I managed to release my actresses on time, some had other events to attend that evening and some had families to go home to. Those who stayed completed their scenes for the day and enjoyed a nice pizza dinner from Hilltop Station, a local restaurant in the area. I paid for dinner, but Hilltop came through with wishes of good luck and some free beers and extra pizza. If you are ever in the area of Lucky Peak, please stop by and give them your business. You won’t be disappointed with the food, the beer, or the service - they are all incredible people.

While we ate pizza and enjoyed a cold beverage, we reminisced about the day and checked out everyone’s sunburns. Only one person managed to bring sunscreen - some people shared, others decided they would tough it out. My lips are still burnt and peeling.

Saturday was rough, but we made it through. I think most people were happy with the day, the food, and how it all went. One thing I am incredibly proud of, is that I did not go over schedule on Saturday. I did have to cut some scenes to be shot the next day, but on Saturday, we wrapped on time, tore everything down on time (we couldn’t leave anything on location), and ate dinner as a new family, on time. Outwardly, I think I handled it all well. Inwardly, I was a wreck.

I drove home that night with my car full of leftover craft-services, my camera and my zoom (for recording audio), while watching the sunset in the distance. Once home, I looked through my dailies and created a new shot-list for Sunday.

Sunday came and I met my leading ladies at the salon with coffee and a few treats. Only two actresses were needed on set this day, so we were running at a slightly calmer pace. Once they were settled, I headed home to help my boyfriend prep breakfast for the cast and crew. I packed up my gear, left him to finish cooking, and sped up the hill for another day of shooting the final scenes of my short film, The Unlost.

As I arrived, I knew we were faced with a different day. It was 20 degrees colder (at least it felt like it) and there were clouds in the sky. Our crew call time was 7am, with a shoot start time at 8am. The clouds and cold decided that we were on a different schedule that day. Due to the difference in cloud-cover, we didn’t start shooting until about 10am. We busted through those frigid-cold shots like champs. I had a PA on hand to take my actresses’ coats right before I called action, and put their coats back around their shoulders as soon as I yelled cut. It was down-right winter-cold, but those ladies made it through. They made it through the cold and the start of hunting season.

Much to our shock (we’re filmmakers, not hunters) bird hunting season started, across the street from where we were shooting.

“Did I die?” asked one of my actresses, per her line written.


No one moved.

“Sadly, no,” responded my other actress, per her line written.

We kept rolling.

Around noon, we broke for a lunch of cold pizza (left-over from the night before) and continued shooting for two-hours past my original wrap time. I hate going over time, but this was necessary to get the right sunlight and keep my actresses from freezing in the early-morning hours. Only one person seemed to mind, but everyone else understood that that is the name of the game. When making a film, you block out your entire day.

After all was said and done, I am so proud of my cast and crew. They did my film justice. I’ve watched through all the dailies and listened to the camaraderie behind the scenes between “camera rolling” and “action.” People had fun. People helped create a film that meant something to them. New friendships were made and old friendships were rekindled. We laughed. We yelled. We cried. We hugged. We ate. Together. We made a movie. And I could not be prouder of the incredible team that I had working on this.

Now, about that panic attack…

On Monday morning, probably around 2am, I woke up to my left-foot completely asleep. In my haze of sleepiness, I thought I had broken my left ankle. I couldn’t move it and it felt swollen. I broke my right ankle in 2013, so I do know that pain and that trauma. I swore up-and-down that I broke my ankle in the bedsheets while trying to roll over and that I had another day of shooting on location. I panicked so badly that I wasn’t going to make my shoot because I had to go to the emergency room, that I ended up in a massive panic attack. I had convinced myself that it was Saturday night and I was going to the hospital.

Luckily, that wasn’t the case, and my boyfriend had managed to calm me down and bring me back to reality. I took Monday off from work (it was already planned) and I went through my dailies, while attempting to come down from a stressful weekend of epic shooting proportions.

I can’t wait to share this film, but what excites me the most, is sharing it with my amazing cast and crew. These people showed up and gave me their time, talents, and energy for an entire weekend. I am truly blessed and humbled by their generosity. Never have I experienced this much support for a single endeavor. My cast and crew deserve so much more than what I could ever give them.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Time to shoot my thesis film

I have been waiting for this past weekend for over a year. When the concept to my thesis film came to fruition, however, I didn’t expect to have the type of weekend that I’d just had. It’s been a rough road to get to this point and my film covers those rough patches in a very artistic way. I wrote the first draft of my script in September of 2016, while I was sitting on a lanai in Hawai’i, overlooking the ocean. I was there to attend my grandfather’s funeral. Not only was I writing my script, I was also attempting to write my portion of the eulogy. It was not an easy two-weeks, spending time in a small beach house with my parents, sister, and one of our brothers (the youngest of us four siblings couldn’t make it). This was my first big family affair without my spouse, who I had divorced in the spring of 2015. Like I said, getting to this point, has been a rough road. Since the first draft of my script, I’ve grown and it has been reflected in the numerous drafts. I touch on heartache, grief, despair, and women’s issues. While the film is not about me, or my life, it is about the hardships that women face throughout their lifetime. It is about wanting someone to help save us, a fairy godmother, who can hug us and give us all the answers that we’re looking for. Someone to tell us, as we’re watching our Tutu (grandma in Hawaiian) cry over our Papa’s ashes, that we’re going to be okay. Someone who has all the answers to all our questions and insight into the whys of what’s going on in life. It is a film about dealing with life.

After months upon months of pre-production and meetings with my cast and crew, we finally arrived to our first shoot location at 6:30am this past Saturday. We were all tired after working at our full-time jobs all week, but we were all excited to be there. The thing about my cast and crew is that these people are troopers. They not only love making films, but they want to make my film. They have been there for me throughout the last year, helping me plan my shots, helping me develop my story, enabling my characters to come to life, giving insight into the art of lighting, music, and more. These amazing people have been the ones to keep this project alive while I was doing my best to keep up with a full-time job, full-time school, and the heavy planning that goes into a project that requires a cast of 19 and a crew of almost 30 people. This film will be the work of all of us combined. It might be MY thesis short-narrative and MY passion project, but this is OUR film.

Saturday went off with minor hiccups. We shot our first scene at my workplace, where no one really visits at 6:30 on a Saturday morning, but by 9:30am, as we were still heavy in production, other employees started showing up, wondering who left all the good food and coffee sitting in the lobby and wondering why an entire stand of makeup was setup just outside the big conference room, and why on earth are there people running around who don’t work here?! I planned ahead though, and we had an employee on set who’s worked for the company for almost 25 years. All he had to do was flash his badge and people left us alone. Once we wrapped there, we headed to our next location… the house of my ex-husband and his fiance.

Prior to starting school, my ex and I created tons of films together. Our last project was a feature film that I wrote and we shot in 2014. We make great film partners, but we weren’t that great at being husband and wife. It’s okay though, because we’re still friends and we can still work together. The rest of the day went well, lunch was served in the kitchen, while we prepped for shooting in the basement. We wrapped ON TIME and I sent people home, while the rest of my crew stuck around to help tear down from Saturday’s shoot and set-up for Sunday’s shoot. As we were finishing setting up for the next day, my ex received a phone call. His dad had passed away overnight and he had to go pick up the dogs and deal with the death of his dad. My ex-father-in-law passed away on our first weekend of shooting this film. I’m just going to let that sink in.

I sent my ex and his fiance off to deal with everything, while my crew and I finished setting up and cleaning up. The three of us were in contact that evening and the shoot was still a go for Sunday. The only difference, there were now two very traumatized silky-terriers at their house. Not only is my ex and his fiance on my crew, he as best boy and she as 2nd AD, but he also plays a character in my film. We started Sunday off with the toughest scene - my lead character, Jenn, receives a phone call from her mom that her dad just died. That was tough. I didn’t allow my ex into the room while we were shooting. The actress playing Jenn and the actress playing the voice of the mom, had a tough time getting through the scene. Emotions were high. I wasn’t sure that we’d make it.

Since I’ve been planning these shoots for months, I had enough people on hand to have a dog wrangler for our unexpected dog-guests. My newly 21-year-old PA announced at 9:45am that she was having a beer (I provide food and beverages for my cast and crew in lieu of payment) because I was making her sit out in the cold with a couple of dogs. “Good!” I said, and went back to directing. My team has worked with me long enough to know what I accept on set, and what I don’t. A breakfast beer was perfectly acceptable for what we were dealing with that morning.

The shoot went longer than anticipated that day and as we approached 3pm, we all started to get nervous. My ex-mother-in-law was expected at the house that evening to pick up her dogs and the last thing I wanted her to walk in on was a bunch of strangers shooting a film. Although I’ve known her for 17 years, she hasn’t met my new crew, the people who have become all my right-hands since I branched out on my own after my divorce. She was already dealing with a lot and I certainly didn’t want her to have to deal with people who didn’t know what was going on. Only a few people knew about the death, we kept the rest of the cast and crew in the dark until my ex was ready to tell everyone. Luckily, she didn’t want to stop at his house, but instead wanted her dogs delivered to her house, so as soon as we were done shooting his scene, I sent him and my 2nd AD off, while the rest of us finished shooting and cleaning up. I hope I left their house as good as we had arrived on Friday night, for set-prep.

A lot of my focus this past weekend was on keeping the peace. I had a larger crew than I’ve ever had on set both on Saturday and Sunday. I had a behind-the-scenes photographer there, who is also handling all my social media posts. I had a cinematographer, 1st AD, 2nd AD, 1st camera, 2nd camera, makeup artist, boom operator, script supervisor, PAs and a wonderful woman doing craft-services. Everyone played multiple roles behind the scenes and my actors killed it. A lot was learned throughout the weekend that I will employ this coming weekend. Although I planned for setup and rehearsal time, we still went over my original wrap-time on Sunday, by an hour-and-45 minutes. It made me feel bad for all involved. I had enough food to keep feeding everyone, but when I said we’d wrap by 2:45pm then start tear-down, people expected it. We wrapped by 4:30pm, which is about the time I said we’d be done with tear-down. So, not terrible timing at all, but I still heard rumblings of complaints. The way I look at it, an extra hour-and-45 minutes is nothing compared to the sets I’ve been on with a proposed wrap-time of 3pm that ends up with a wrap time of midnight. Not my set, mind you, but I’ve been on those types of sets. I think my less-than-two-hour delay, was good enough. A producer is always watching and listening. I knew what had to be done this weekend and I think I pulled it off in a professional and fun manner. I know where I need to tighten up my set and I’m looking forward to what aims to be an epic weekend of filmmaking, in the cold, from dawn till dusk, with fantastic people who support this project.