January 27, 2013
Actually, today is the most difficult for me to write.
Today was my solution day for not getting the gas station on the 21st, but it meant that we had a long day ahead of us. It had to be today because Barbara, the gas station owner, was leaving for vacation at 3pm. She said that we could stay and shoot the exterior for as long as we needed but she’d be locking up inside at 2:30pm. We had three shots that needed to be pulled off inside the convenience store area, so we needed to be at the gas station by noon.
Before the gas station, we were shooting a scene outside the house in the early morning. It was a fairly easy, though incredibly important scene. Not much blocking to worry about, only three camera setups. It was a good day, overcast and no lighting issues. The silk was cooperating. John seemed to be in good spirits, and although the tension from the previous day was still very much in the air, we were ignoring it.
At around 7am, everything was good to go. Picture was up and the actors were ready… except for one. This was the first problem of the day, a problem that had been in the making for a few days prior. One of the actresses, Emma, was not great at waking up when she needed to. She’d snooze her alarm, she’d snooze Matt’s warnings, she’d snooze until I’d scream up the stairs with threats of putting snow on her. She had been taking these threats in jest, but would often be onset just past her call time. It was frustrating for me that Matt couldn’t get her up and onset when she needed to be at times. He’s a great AD, but he has a soft spot for actresses. He likes to be liked by them and, I think, has a hard time pushing them when they need to be pushed. This was very evident with Emma and especially evident this morning. I get that we were in a house with 20 people and 2 bathrooms. I get that the water was rarely hot after a certain amount of people had showered. But I had issued a rule in the house that no one could shower first thing in the morning except for the people needed immediately on set. The art and makeup people, and those couple who were rarely ever doing their job, were to wait until the afternoon when the hot water had come back, unless everyone who needed to shower had already done so. However, Emma would often miss her opportunity because she’d sleep through her wake up call, leading others to believe she’d already showered; leaving her with nothing but cold water. I sympathized that this particular morning she had to wash her hair with cold water, but I needed her ass on set and she was still in bed. Matt finally got her to get in the shower, but she took almost an hour to get out and into makeup. By the time we got rolling, it was after 9am, close to 10, putting us behind schedule.
The scene we had to shoot went very well. We got it all done but didn’t wrap until almost 1pm. I rushed to get the cast in the car so we could drive over to the gas station. The camera crew got the gear in the U-haul as quickly as they could. Matt needed to stay behind to collect Chris and Kit to prepare for some art direction at the gas station. So I left with the cast and the camera crew in the U-haul, and we arrived at the gas station around 1:45. I got out of the car to assess the environment. When I walked around the car, I slipped on a puddle that had frozen over. It was a banana peel kind of slip; up in the air and right on my back. I had a bruise on my butt/lower back for the rest of the shoot. It was incredibly painful, but I got back up, and in my beaten to delirium and running on adrenaline state, I actually managed to laugh at myself for the fact that that had just happened. I hadn’t mentioned this before, but I was also contending with a couple other physical ailments at the time. Back in November, I had been having bad chest pains and breathing problems for about two weeks before I was finally convinced to go to the hospital. They ran a bunch of tests with the doctor condescendingly concluding that I was just stressed. I told him that I was actually feeling physical pain, and that I knew the difference between stress and pain in my chest. He asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately. Of course I was. I was two months away from making my first feature, but I insisted that that wasn’t what was causing the pain. He sent me away with nothing but the advice, “Try to relax.” Asshole. I later went to my regular doctor, who was available now that Thanksgiving had passed, and all he had to do was put some thing on my finger to check my oxygen intake. That little thing told me that I was only taking in 82%. I had been having an acute asthma attack for the past 2 weeks. My childhood asthma, that had then been pretty difficult, had come back. He concluded that Hurricane Sandy kicked up a bunch of crap into the air, and that was likely the cause of my discomfort. He prescribed me an inhaler for daily use. After about 2 weeks of using it, I was back to feeling normal, but the cold during the shoot was definitely making my asthma act up. In addition to this, two weeks before leaving for Summit I had stepped on something at my boyfriend’s house and cut my foot. It didn’t look like anything was in the small wound, so I applied some Neosporin and a bandaid and let it be. But a week later, it was really hurting and the closed up cut was starting to turn black. My boyfriend convinced me to go to the doctor, and it turned out to be infected. I had to take antibiotics, starting the day before leaving for Summit. To top it off, I had to spend the first three days of production going into the bathroom every so often to pull off my boot and sock in an attempt to squeeze puss out of the area in order to prevent the infection from spreading to my bone. This is absolutely disgusting and too much information, but I had to share it because I just feel like, “Seriously?” This is the kind of ridiculousness I had to endure while I was already going through the most stressful experience of my entire life. Oh, did I mention I didn’t even have health insurance? Yeah, anyway, needless to say, slipping on my ass was like the icing on the cake. My foot, back and lungs ultimately ended up making it through production just fine though, thankfully.
So, after getting back up and moving past feeling sorry for myself, I quickly ran through blocking with the actors a few times. John and the crew prepared the giant silk. It was a really frigid and windy day, causing the scrim to constantly fall over. We didn’t have enough sandbags or people to weigh it down. At one point, it fell forward and had a hole ripped through it by the corner of the gas station awning. It was going to cost us at the rental house, but luckily it was still functional on set. John managed to stabilize it, and we got rolling without Matt because he hadn’t arrived yet. The three shots needed inside the store weren’t going to get done. I decided to cut one, sadly, which was a brief encounter between Jesse and the somewhat creepy store clerk. The role of the store clerk ended up having to be cut out of the film completely, but the shot of Jesse and Sarah going inside the bathroom needed to be done. I was able to stall Barbara long enough to get the shot of Sarah going in, but Barbara apologetically said she had to lock up.
We couldn’t get the shot of Sarah and Jesse swapping places. I was pissed, though was grateful to Barbara for sticking around as long as she did. Just as Barbara pulled away, Matt finally pulled up with Chris, Kit and the bathroom sign that was now completely useless to us. Matt got out of the car and asked if the gas station store was closed and I went off on him. Normally when frustrated, I’m the type of person that walks away and tries to cool off because I know things come out of my mouth when I’m angry that I later regret. It had been a long time since I had yelled at anyone the way I yelled at Matt. CongestedCat Co-founder Chris Carroll is probably the last to be on the receiving end of my wrath, and that was back in high school. RELEASE THE KRAKEN!!! Anyway, I yelled at Matt about scheduling and time efficiency, and how we didn’t get that shot and could no longer get it because we got a late start in the morning. I don’t remember everything I said in my brief but arguably brutal tirade, but I do remember the last thing that came out of my mouth, “…and when Emma’s taking forever in the shower, kick down the fucking door and drag her ass out.” I then proceeded to slam the car door and pace back and forth for a few seconds. I eventually realized that Emma was only a few feet away when I made my comments, as was the rest of the cast and some of the crew, but in that moment I didn’t care. I felt that I said what needed to be said. Of course, given the time to let it sink in, I knew that, although what I said needed to be said, it did not need to be said in the manner that I said it. Another lesson that I feel only experience could have taught me.
Matt was definitely shocked, but after taking a moment, he said okay, and decided to get back to work because we had daylight to fight. John said that we could try to cheat the bathroom shot. We did just that, and for the most part it works.
The rest of the shoot at the gas station was rushed, but smooth overall. I decided to cut some planned overs, shooting two of the scenes in just two-shots instead. It made sense to me, making that choice on set, because I liked the idea of creating closeness between two sets of characters while creating conflict between another set through the use of overs instead of a two shot. We got our last shot of the car pulling away just before losing light at 5pm. We shot the scenes in chronological order so that as it got progressively darker it could be explained that entire scene happened at dusk (with our colorist’s help, of course).
We then drove the 5 minutes over to Linda’s house because we had some nighttime woodsy shots to do. When we arrived, Linda was so wonderful to everyone, welcoming us into her home. She let us use her oven to heat up our dinner and she had baked a cake for the group. Everyone ate, and then John, Matt and I discussed the plan. The cast and some crew cuddled up on the couch to watch football. I was glad that everyone got to have a break from the horror house we were staying in, even if it was just for a short while. However, I couldn’t spare any moments to take a break or relax; we were still behind schedule. The camera crew went out to set up a dolly shot in the backwoods. Matt and I sat by the steps discussing the schedule. He jokingly, but maybe hiding hurt feelings, said, “You yelled at me.” I said, “I know. I’m really sorry.” He accepted my apology. I followed up by saying that even though I was wrong, the point I was trying to make was right. He said he knew and that he’d be better. We both agreed that we were both learning from this experience and trying our best, but that mistakes would be made.
Matt and I periodically checked on the dolly set up. The tracks were taking a really long time for just 6 feet. I suppose that’s indie film with a skeleton crew, but also a combination of cold temperatures and darkness. It took almost two hours before picture was up. We got the cast in their places and were rolling by 9pm. It took a few takes to get it right. I noticed at this point in the night that Emma was ignoring me. She was not ignoring my direction, but she was not confirming anything with me, only communicating directly with Matt.
Next, we had to go deeper into the woods to shoot. We were lighting the area solely through the use of bounce boards and the characters’ LED flashlights. I doubted how well this would work out – John admitted being unsure as well, but thought that it would be cool. After having the footage, I was able to see that it did look pretty damn cool.
However, in the moment, during production, it made maneuvering in the dark and getting stuff done quite difficult because we didn’t even have a work light. The cast sat mostly in the heated cars, except for when they were needed, but John, Peter, Erin, Charlotte and Adnan were outside the whole time, from set up to rolling, and it was 5 degrees out. It was a brutal night, again. We had to get three short but somewhat intricate scenes done. At around midnight, a cop car showed up and I had to go talk to the officers. They asked what we were doing and I explained that we were film students making a movie. They said that a neighbor complained about a scream in the woods. They asked if I lived around there and I said my boyfriend’s mother lives right across the street. They took my ID and copied it. One of them then looked at me and said, “It’s cold out there, you know?” I had to bite my tongue to avoid saying something sarcastic. I replied, “I know. We don’t want to be out here much longer, just finishing up.” They said they’d send another car through in an hour to check if we were still around. I didn’t know if that was a threat or if it was supposed to be comforting, so I just said okay and they drove away.
By the time we got our last shot, it was past 2am. We were all fried. We did one take and got the hell out of there. I went up to my room and pulled out the schedule. Tomorrow’s call was 7am. The day was originally meant to be a day off, but we planned to attempt getting a shot of the car driving on the road and some other car pickups; maybe even my beloved mirror shot. I knew that couldn’t happen now, and I needed to talk about it with Matt. Just then, Matt came storming into my room in a bit of a panic saying, “We can’t shoot tomorrow. We can’t make people get up. We can’t work people like this. We should be concerned for everyone’s health…” He kept rattling off reasons why we couldn’t do it. I said that I understood and had come to those conclusions myself, but we couldn’t just scrap the day. We still had to pick up the handful of daylight shots we didn’t get on the 25th. He said that was fine, as long as that’s all we did. I said yes and that the call could be 1pm. Matt’s emotional state was disconcerting, but he left my room seeming calmer than when he came in.
I went into the bathroom and painfully peeled off my many layers of clothing and got into my pajamas. However, I couldn't just go back to my room and get in my sleeping bag. This is the hardest part for me to write because I have an incredibly difficult time being vulnerable around people or admitting my vulnerability. It’s always been a struggle for me because I’ve viewed crying as weakness, where admitting to crying is like admitting to being weak. On a rational level, I know that’s completely untrue, and as someone who directs people to be completely vulnerable and evoke emotions for a living, it’s absolutely absurd that I have a hard time doing that myself on a personal level. It’s just always been uncomfortable for me, admitting that I need help or that I can’t handle something on my own. I’ve worked towards overcoming this irrational fear that being emotional means being weak, but it still lingers. This isn't completely relevant, but I recently took a personality test and it turns out my personality type is ENTJ. I read the characteristics and couldn’t believe how accurate it was, even the negative stuff… maybe especially the negative stuff. I bring this up now because even writing this post is difficult for me. I’m admitting vulnerability about writing a blog post about a time when I was incredibly vulnerable. It’s hard. It’s extraordinarily hard for me because, as a female director and like most women in power, our emotions are often used against us as a way to show incompetence. It’s really hard for me to open that door right now. I’m not nearly as unbreakable as I probably like to believe, and I think it’s good for me to share that and for others to know it as well. Production is hard. What I do is really hard sometimes. Being vulnerable doesn’t make me any less strong, and that’s something I really need to work on accepting. If anyone reading this can relate to my struggle, especially female filmmakers, I hope this helps.
So I was in the bathroom feeling exhausted, but I was also feeling helpless in a way that I can’t describe. I was anxious. I felt like I should be doing something but didn’t know what that was. I decided to text my boyfriend. Text, not call because it was 3am. I sent what had to have been a 6 part text message going on about how I felt like I had lost control of this production and that yesterday’s footage was going to turn out like shit. I still believed in the project, but I felt like no one else did anymore. I felt like I was letting people down and that everyone was relying on me to make it all come together in the end, but I didn’t know if I could do it; if I could keep going; if I was just going to be that person that made empty promises while putting people through hell, risking their lives, their health and their dignity, for potentially… It was long and emotional, and I remember that tears started flowing at some point while writing it and I continued to cry for a few moments after I sent it. Then, just as quickly as it had started, it stopped. I sat in the bathroom of the quiet house where everyone else was presumably sleeping and took a moment to myself. I didn’t think about the schedule, the film or the text I had just sent. I just sat and let my head clear. It was one of the only times I’d been able to do that in my entire life. Then, in a very Christina Raia fashion, (or maybe I should say Marlene Mungalsingh fashion, because I like to think that my tenacity, persistence, and for better or worse, stubbornness comes from my amazing mother who raised me and my brother as a single parent), I got up and decided that I wasn’t going to wallow or be weak or let this experience get the best of me. I was going to finish this film and do everything with it that I promised my crew & cast that I would. I was going to make it the best I possibly could and show everyone that their hard work and dedication meant something, and that they didn’t waste their time believing in my film and me. We were doing this together and it was going to matter, I was going to make sure of it.
I slept that night.