January 26, 2013
This day may be the hardest for me to write.
It was 4am and I was ready for what I believed to be a do-or-die scene. I had spent about a year thinking about it, worrying about it, and wondering whether or not all the actors could bring what they needed to nail it. It’s a fairly intense and emotional scene, so I didn’t want to over-rehearse it. I wanted it to feel raw. Outside of a couple fairly cold table reads and blocking rehearsals, we had not rehearsed this scene, just talked about it extensively. I wanted to just jump right in.
The actors were up at about 5am and sent into makeup. I was periodically checking in on the crew outside to see how it was going. All seemed okay. I also checked in a bit on my actors, but didn’t want to be too inquisitive because they were getting ‘in the zone.’ One in particular was super method and hanging out in the creepy basement a lot.
I went outside to check on the setup. An hour had passed since we started and I didn’t know why it was taking so long since we really only had to get the silk up and the camera ready. When I stepped out, now around 6am, the sun was fully shining. I was incredibly disappointed to see that what was supposed to be a colorless, overcast day was actually beautifully sunny. We had a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, but it was glistening in the sun, not the look I was going for. Matt and I checked in with John, who was obviously frustrated. He said that he was working with the silk, trying to block our specific shooting area from the bright, beautiful sun. It wasn’t quite working out. That 20-foot sucker couldn’t compete with the entire sky, shining so bright, hitting the entire woods and casting shadows all over the damn place.
Even so, we managed to stay optimistic.
My Mom and Aunt Natasha showed up with food for the second week. People were quite happy to see them, and thanked my mom for her food the first week. Natasha had cooked for the second week. I’m so lucky to not only come from such a supportive family, but also one that cooks so well! Unfortunately, I did not inherit that talent. I was not in the right mindset to be a daughter and niece at the moment, so had to just briefly say hello and thank them and then get back to work. They understood and quickly got back on the road.
It was past 7am and we still weren’t rolling. We had until 3:30pm to go through 12 pages of dialogue, including pulling off some practical special effects. It was not looking good. Matt and I went to check in with John and he was completely frustrated. He said, “It’s a beautiful day out. What do you want me to do? This isn’t going to work. The silk…” He pointed at the silk that Peter, Charlotte, Adnan, Andrew and Jesse were struggling to hold up and turn at the same time. “It’s not going to do a damn thing. We can’t shoot this scene today.” Matt and I both knew that if we lost today, we’d be completely screwed. John was more frustrated and angry than I had ever seen him. His passion began to shine through, raising his voice and looking towards me saying, “If we roll today, we’ll just shoot shit. Do you want to shoot shit? Do you want me to just shoot shit?” I was completely taken aback. I knew that the lighting wasn’t cooperating. I knew that my actors were all geared up. I could see them from the corner of my eye, standing near the doorway, wondering what was going on over here. I knew that if we didn’t shoot this scene today, we were never getting it and if we didn’t get it, we had no movie. It would all be for nothing. Matt started talking in a panic about how we had not made it this far just to give up and that we weren’t going to walk away. John continued to make his case. I don’t remember exactly what he was saying. He wasn’t complaining or using the word “quit”, but I felt like he wanted me to infer that from his tone and comments. He wanted me to get that he was feeling over it, and that I should just call it quits because we had had nothing but catastrophe after catastrophe during this shoot. But I couldn’t let go. Neither could Matt, as I heard him trying to reason with John. Both of them kept saying the word “shit.” I could feel myself becoming overwhelmed, but determined. We had shot over a third of the movie already. We were doing it. We were making it happen and I was not going to stop now. I wasn’t going to not try, at least. So I began to yell, “If all we can shoot today is shit, then we’re going to shoot shit because we’re shooting today. We’re not quitting.” He softened a bit and then accepted what I said with an “okay.” Matt said that we now had to figure out how we were going to get the scene done. I said we’d have to cut from the shotlist. John said we’d have to throw away the shotlist. He and Peter would get on the glidecam and cover each character with full run-throughs, then pick up specific coverage where we could until we lost light (also fitting in the sfx stuff at some point). We had planned for this scene to have slightly more movement and feel a little more chaotic than the rest of the film, but doing the entire thing on the glidecam was not ideal. Ideal circumstances were out the window days ago, though, so I agreed. John began to prep the crew and camera, but stopped before to say, “It won’t look like shit. I mean, it just won’t be… I’ll try my best.” He then quickly went off. I appreciate that last attempt he made, though I felt it was more to be reassuring than sincere. I felt like he had lost faith in this project and in what this scene could be, but I couldn’t think about that. I needed to try to make the best of the circumstances and get this movie made.
The first thing I wanted to get was one practical effect, just so we could get that out of the way. Then we jumped into doing full run-throughs on all the characters. It was a long process, take after take, trying to figure out what we may have missed and get it better in the next one. No reviewing of footage, no monitor for me, I couldn’t have one because of how much John and Peter needed to be moving with them.
From a directorial standpoint, I was ecstatic. It was really happening. It was all coming together. The performances were brilliant. It was exhilarating. But I was distracted by the knowledge in the back of my head that it was all looking “like shit.” Not only did we have the sun to contend with, we were also shooting on property that was not as secluded as the house in the film is. We had designed a shotlist that would hide this with specific angles. But now, on the glidecam following each character, it was impossible to hide everything in the distance. And of course, not to mention the sound of multiple footsteps and the inability to get close to every character while being on that glidecam... I tried to push all that out of my mind though and get the performances I needed in addition to all the pieces of the scene.
We managed to get run-throughs on all the characters except for one, so I picked the meatiest moments for him and got coverage. We even got the practical effects we needed to do. They were rushed and not 100% what they could have been, but we got them. We got all the pieces before losing the sun at 4pm. I was so happy that we made it, and that we got the scene, even if we didn’t get all the shots we wanted. My actors were fantastic. I was so proud, but the question of how it would all come together was hovering over me, weighing me down. I kept trying to push it out of my mind. We had one more thing to shoot that night before wrapping. It was just a scene of a character chopping wood, something light to take the edge off of the intense day.
We took a break and jumped in at 5. We were hoping to get a little bit of blue in the sky just before pitch-blackness would sink in, but we lost it before we could get rolling. Set up took a couple hours, which should not have been the case. I didn’t really know why it was taking so long and couldn’t get an answer from John because he was sort of not speaking to me. He wasn’t ignoring me, but I was just getting a lot of grunts and one-word answers rather than actual conversation. Turns out that the hold-up was happening because John was obsessing about a branch somewhere in the woods that was casting a shadow, and he tasked Adnan to try and find it. Had this been brought to my attention, I would have nipped that in the bud. I didn’t really care about the branch or the shadow. I didn’t find this out until the end of an elementary school rendition of “telephone” where Colin told Matt, who eventually told me, albeit much later. I don't mean to complain about John or speak poorly of him. His reaction earlier in the day & behavior this evening were absolutely understandable. I don't know if I would have had his class and empathy if our roles were reversed. The fact that he stuck it out & managed to make the day work is just amazing beyond words. And his overall attention to detail & care for his composition is a big reason for why the film looks so good on such a tiny budget.
There was an overall lack of communication that night, but once we got rolling it was fine. There was one shot I wanted to get that was not imperative but more artistic. It would’ve required getting off sticks and back on the glidecam. If John had not been somewhat dismissive, I would have pushed to get it because we had the time, but I was fearful that I’d wake up tomorrow and he’d be walking out the door back to New York. So I sacrificed the shot. We had gotten what we needed. It looked good. We could wrap the night at around 8pm and hope that the next day would be better.
I didn’t sleep that night. I re-watched footage from the morning. As individual shots, they looked good. I was happy with what I was seeing, but when comparing the lighting between shots, I felt disappointed and uneasy about how it would all come together. Would it “just be shit” in the end?