February 1 & 2, 2013
Today was a big day; our last on set. Originally, the interiors were going to be done in 4 days, but John was leaving for a flight at 10am on the 2nd so we had to get everything done tonight. There was no opportunity for us to fall behind.
We got the remaining daylight scenes. It was somewhat chaotic, but we got them all before we eventually lost light at around 3pm. Matt and I were dumping the footage when I decided to take a moment and look at the scenes shot on the 26th. John passed by and stopped to watch for a bit. He told me to click on a few different shots and then said, “Cool. The colorist will just lower the saturation, and play around with it. Should work out nicely.” I was surprised and elated, “Really?” I said. He nodded and said, “Yeah,” then walked away to get ready for the night shots. Oh my god, I wanted to punch him and hug him at the same time. Should work! Should work! I was so relieved to hear those words, but damn would they have been nice to hear days ago. I had spent the last week thinking the most important scene in my film would just end up looking like utter shit. “Should work.” That was the best thing I had heard in a long time. (The final result of that day in the film, I do think actually came out looking/feeling good enough in spite of all the craziness. However, the lack of coverage on the one character is noticeable in some key moments and it does feel rushed at times. But all in all, it came together and the colorist, Anna, did a phenomenal job fixing the lighting issues. It's pretty freaking amazing. The sound is something we're still working with as I write this though.)
Later that evening, we were in a real time crunch. Andrew ended up being a really effective crewman, particularly as a dolly grip; he helped move things along. John had finally gotten sick after days of being one of the only ones to not have a cold at some point. I could see that he was fading, and we had a lot of shots to get. I ended up cutting one suspenseful moment. I could feel tension brewing between John and me over it because I wanted it done a specific way, but I felt like he wasn’t giving it his all, probably because he just didn’t have it in him. I felt that the way it was going just wasn’t working and it wasn’t worth it. I don’t really miss this moment in the film as a whole. It would’ve been nice to have, but I think I made the right call because even without that shot, we weren’t on our last scene until around 5am. Up until this point, I was hoping that we’d wrap early enough in the night that John and I could get that quick shot of the car driving on the road at around 8am before his flight, but I knew I wasn't getting that shot now. I knew I'd end up taking a trip with John, Matt and the Summit-mobile to get that shot at some point. Didn't know it'd be a year later, but what are you going to do when you live in NYC and need the woods and snow?
So, it was 5am and we were rushing to finish up this scene. We only had about an hour before the sun would reach the side of the house we were on and come through the windows. We were also exhausted from the whole day of shooting, including the past 15 days overall. Just as we were getting ready to roll, Emma got a call and found out that her best friend was in the hospital. She began crying and I went over to her and hugged her. Matt also hugged her. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to be insensitive and ask if she could keep going, but I really needed to ask if she could keep going because this scene was towards the start of the film and there was no way to connect the scene before it and the one after it without it. It would not be a coherent film without this scene. Luckily, Emma knew that the film needed to get done and she said that she just needed a moment. She took a few minutes, Matt comforted her and she came back and we got the scene. She pulled off playing a pretty playful scene while feeling incredibly sad and helpless. That’s a testament to her talent. I’m really grateful to her for getting the scene done, and in the end, her friend ended up being okay.
At around 6am, we officially wrapped principal photography. It was like a wave of relief and excitement coming over all of us. We all hugged in joy. I wish I had that moment on camera. John and I hugged and then shook hands. I thanked him excessively. He said, “It was a crazy one… but we did it.” We did indeed.
Matt, John and the others went back to the motel. The actors and I went upstairs. I was feeling a feeling I can’t describe. It was like the best high. Now, as someone who's never actually been high, I can’t really say that, but I’ve had my fair share of exciting experiences (skydiving & such), and this feeling that I had after wrapping was the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had.
I was going to my room to attempt to sleep, but two people ended up having sex in a sleeping bag in the room. It was pretty entertaining witnessing Chris’s reaction the following morning when I let him know what had transpired just a couple feet away from him, as he was actually sleeping in the room at the time. I found it quite ridiculous, considering it was 6am after an 18 hour shoot and others (including the director/producer) needed to sleep in that room, but it was fine because I just wanted to talk to the people that were up anyway; just talk to them as a person again, not a director/producer, team leader or the slave driver I felt like I had been the past two weeks. I wrote a long Facebook post thanking everyone that made the film possible and chatted with people in the other room for a while before we all decided to go to sleep.
At that point, I just needed to sit and be. I didn’t know what to do physically, mentally and especially emotionally. I was exhausted, but energized. I felt such an overwhelming sense of excitement. I had done it. I shot the film. I was proud, grateful and in a slight bit of shock. I had actually done it. Of course, not alone; I’ll never forget that and I’ll never stop being thankful.
I eventually did sleep for about 3 hours. I said goodbye to John again before Andrew took him off to the airport in the morning. Then we all waited for Matt, Charlotte and Peter to show up with the U-Haul to pack up the house and head out. They were a little late. They had 'celebrated' a little too hard after we wrapped. We all took the time waiting for them to reflect on the past 2 weeks and ordered a pizza, which was not very good in North Adams.
We all drove back. I slept in the car for about an hour.
As someone who has worked with veterans, I mean no disrespect in saying this, but it’s the only way that feels accurate in describing how I felt when I came home: I got back and felt like a soldier coming home from war. Justin was so excited to see me and wanted to show me all these changes he had made to our apartment (that we had moved into only 10 days before I had left) while I was gone. It was sweet, but I was in this weird state of shock; it was overwhelming. He wanted to know how it went and I couldn't explain it, I couldn't articulate it. There was a sense of "he just wouldn't get it,” like only those who were there with me would understand what I had been through. That eventually died down and I was able to talk about it, but those first few days were so weird. I was in a daze of exhaustion. I slept a lot.
My toes took 5 weeks, no joke 5 weeks, to stop hurting. I thought that I had just permanently damaged the nerves in my toes or something like that. Matt and I talked at the wrap party about how we kind of missed it. We were crazy for feeling that way, but it was like we were these wild animals that had been given a safe, warm shelter and we loved it but couldn't help but want to run back into the wild. It took a while for that feeling to subside, and for being home, sitting on a couch and putting my feet up to feel normal. The itch always comes back, of course. I mean isn't that why we keep doing this to ourselves? We tell stories like this about shooting our films and how terrible it was, but then can't wait to do it again. It’s an incredible, intense passion we have for what we do; at least that’s how I feel.
Shooting Summit was both the best and worst experience of my life. It was exciting from a production junkie kind of standpoint, but from a human being perspective, it was demeaning. But it made me a better filmmaker. I learned so much, most especially what not to do and how to better prepare to take care of your team. I learned that Murphy's Law is so true, because you really cannot predict what will go wrong. The unexpected is unexpected for a reason. No matter how prepared you feel, anything can happen. I also learned that you should really have a line producer, or at least a PM who's equipped to be a line producer. (I have incredibly bad luck with PM’s; I did again for my next big project after this one. I need to figure out why, because I have such great luck with my other crewmembers. Maybe someone reading this can help me out here.) Outside of the driving scenes, I don't think the hours we worked were by any means outlandish for the film business. Even professional shoots with huge crews are pulling in 14 hours, but of course with big budget projects everyone's making overtime for the hours over the Unions' maximums and conditions are overall more comfortable. They can afford to be. But the point is, I could never do this to people again. If I had the budget, I wouldn’t have done it to begin with, but I had to house and feed everyone and just couldn’t stretch the budget to accommodate doing it all beyond 2 weeks. Everyone volunteered their time and stuck it out in this experience. I cannot thank them enough for that. Even if I "had" to do it for another project, I wouldn't; I couldn't. Sure, It was ultimately successful. In the time we were up there, we actually only shot on 12 of the days. We shot an 80-minute film that has a dynamic range of shots and coverage of constant 5-character scenes in 12 shooting days! It looks good, it sounds good enough and I think overall it’s pretty good for what I wanted it to be. However, it was harder than it should have been. And at the end of the day, it's just a movie. That's what I've learned with distance from the experience. It will be hard, but it shouldn't be life or death. Next time, I want to secure funding so that I can take my time a little more and do things right. I want to get my projects funded enough to pay my team well. Them bearing with me to complete this & my other big project (half the crew for Summit became the “Kelsey” crew), makes it my mission to pay them for projects moving forward. (As of releasing this, in 2015, I’m thankfully on the road to being able to do this for every new project.) What’s wonderful is that no one seems to hate me. I was afraid that they'd just throw me in a lake to freeze after we wrapped, but they welcomed me with warm open arms and agreed to work with me again on “Kelsey” and future work without batting an eye. They were even eager to do so; so I have to assume that I'm not alone in feeling like I got something out of Summit beyond just a finished product. I suppose we got each other; I think that's a big reward. I never would have worked with some of these people if it weren't for the film, and now I can't imagine not working with them.
So, that just about wraps up the experience I had shooting my first feature. It's left me scarred, but I think in a good way. I don't think I'll ever simultaneously love and hate an experience as much as this one. I don't think I'll be as proud of and as disappointed in a project as much as this one. I don't think I'll ever love one of my films the way I do this one (while still in many ways thinking it’s not particularly great). I suppose it's true what they say about firsts, at least when referring to filmmakers and their films? I guess I'll have to make my second feature in order to really answer that question. For now though, Summit's my main priority. I've got to get it out there and share it with you all. I look forward to the time, maybe a year from now, when I can reflect on shooting Summit without having to avoid spoilers because you'll all have seen it by then. I could write about more of the creative process of bringing the scenes to life and the artistic choices made.
Until then, stay tuned for updates on the film. There will definitely be more very soon!
Thank you to all the people who helped make it happen.
*See more stills & behind the scenes photos on the Summit Facebook Page.*