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.


Craven Lovelace said...

I can't wait to see the finished film, Steph. I hadn't heard about Gene's father. Please relay my sincere condolences to him.

Craven Lovelace said...

I can't wait to see the finished film, Steph. I hadn't heard about Gene's father. Please relay my sincere condolences to him.

SMILE said...

Thank you, my friend! And I will pass on your condolences. It was unexpected, which made the situation even more tough.