January 23, 2013
Today, day 6, I was up early and back to trying to figure out the schedule with Matt. (At this point in the shoot, my production manager had stopped doing her job and became merely an occasional PA who exclusively sat in the house, but that’s not a story worth telling.) He kept bringing up the suggestion that I cut the gas station scene, or at least trim it significantly. I refused. It was too important to the film as a whole. It's a slow-paced scene – to be honest, the whole film is intentionally slow-paced – but it's a scene that totally plays with the genre and hints at what makes this film different. Beyond that, and most importantly, it's my character-building scene. I pitched my indie horror as refreshing and different because of the character development, the character dynamics and the subtext. This scene is what, I think, exemplifies this. It is the scene that separates the kind of people who will like my film from the ones who’ll be annoyed by how much the characters talk to each other. I understood why Matt was pushing for that scene to be cut, but I wouldn’t budge. We didn’t come up with a solution in this moment because we needed to see how on-schedule we could stay tonight. With half the film taking place during the day and the other half at night, as well as half being inside and half outside, we had some difficult rearrangements to consider.
We got rolling again around 5:30pm. However, tonight was colder than previous nights; -14º almost all night. We kept buying more and more of those hand and toe warmers in bulk, but they were being used up insanely fast. I was handing my credit card out, barely paying attention to the receipts coming back. I was merely stuffing them in my pockets because there was no time for anything else. There are many reasons why I walked away from Summit production with $6,000 of credit card debt; this is one of them.
The one good thing about the cold, I suppose, is that it kept the snow on the ground. We hadn’t gotten any fresh snow in a few days and if it had been warmer, the snow would have melted. For continuity’s sake, I was grateful, but man was the cold brutal. Going inside for warmth almost made it worse because the defrosting process was painful. It was almost better to not feel our toes than to feel them thawing out. The cold was slowing us down significantly.
We had gotten all the pickups from the night before and we were almost done with what we needed for the night, but it was almost 3am and the cold was visibly affecting everyone.
Matt was pushing me to cut some of the dialogue. It was some of my favorite dialogue; the dialogue that gets them to decide to walk in that house.
His suggestion would have taken away any level of character motivation. The film would be pointless and generic without these moments. I understand why he was pushing; he had to. But I put my foot down and said, “I'll cut shots. I'll even cut a few suspenseful moments here or there later on, inside the house, but I will not cut lines; especially in these scenes.” He said he got it, "Understood." That’s what he needed to hear. He now knew the worst-case scenario moving forward – if we had to cut, it was coverage, but I wasn't budging on stripping the scenes of their character. I'm 100% positive that he's glad I refused to negotiate that point. Our movie just wouldn't be worth anyone's time if I had.
It was frustrating having Matt try to push me to cut things, but I appreciate that he questions me from time to time and forces me to defend why something is so important. It keeps me on my toes and thinking about what I ultimately want people to get out of the film. I also think Matt is great at reining me in when I'm being nitpicky. There was one moment in the night where I was obsessing about how a pile of snow on the car looked staged. I wanted to get art in to fix it, but that would have eaten up 10 minutes of the night; 10 minutes we didn’t have. He assured me that if something like that stood out, he would tell me, but it didn’t in this case. He was right. When I watch the film now, my eyes never gravitate to that spot. That's why I suppose it's great that my AD is my editor, at least in this instance. I love that he was on set and a part of shooting the scenes, making him just as familiar with the footage as I was. However, having him wear both hats prevented any post from getting started during production. Early on in pre-production, I was really hoping to have an AE on set so that we could log footage and maybe get rough cuts of scenes going along the way. This wasn’t possible because I had to cap the amount of people in our house at 20. We were already shorthanded on camera crew, utilizing a PA who, although meant well, was inexperienced and managed to break something every time he touched it. Although, he did come in handy for holding down that damn silk (will come up later)! We theorized that Matt could start cutting at some point without an AE, but Matt and I both underestimated how little downtime he’d have. I think anyone who is working on their first feature should attempt this, assuming your editor is not also your AD, because it would have likely cut down time spent in post-production by months. I also believe it would have helped us see where we needed additional inserts to allow scenes to breathe a little. Ultimately though, it was for the best that Matt was my AD and editor, even if we didn’t get to make any post progress on set like I was hoping. I wouldn't have been able to handle anyone else as my AD on set. He was my right hand man, and I could never have trusted anyone else as the editor. Matt was and is as invested in this film as I am.
At this point, it was after 3am and the actors were shivering like first-time polar bear club members. There was one point where Rob was delivering a line and he could barely move his lips. I called cut and tried to give the cast a break inside. I took them in, but I could see that John was jumping up and down outside. With a clearly passive aggressive tone he yelled to no one in particular, “My toes are starting to hurt and I’m now not okay with it.”
I decided to call it a night. We couldn’t keep going. I told Matt we’d pick up these shots another night. He asked when and how. I said we’d talk about it in the morning. I barely slept that night. I was going over the schedule and might have found a solution, but it meant a day of even longer hours than the 12 to 14 we had logged the past two nights. I didn’t know how everyone would feel about it, but it was the only way I could see us being able to finish.