January 19, 2013
On day 2, we all got up early to finish the process trailer and get ready for the day. I sat in the kitchen with the cast over breakfast running lines and giving notes. I also checked in constantly on the progress of the trailer. The hours ticked away. Finally, by around 5pm, it was ready, but we had lost the opportunity to start with daylight scenes. A part of why I wanted to shoot the driving scenes first was because they'd be the hardest to get through and clearly the most risky. I felt that if we got through that part, the rest of production would be easier. I can't say that I ended up being wrong because the phrase "we got through the driving scenes, we can get through this" definitely ended up being a saying on set. (However, the built up stress of these scenes at the start of production kind of laid a foundation that we took with us through the rest of production.) The more prominent reason I wanted to start with driving, however, was because I was determined to shoot the film in order as much as possible. The characters go through an emotional transition in the film, and I really wanted to method-direct as much as possible knowing that the living conditions of the next 2 weeks would take its toll on them. Of course, I couldn’t have predicted just how bad it would be for all of us.
Having lost the light, I couldn't start with the opening scene of the film in the car, but I could still start with the subsequent scene(s) that took place at night. I decided we'd take the 15-minute drive over to the back roads we had scouted a month earlier and roll until 11pm. We’d then head back out at 6am for the daylight scenes. Having already lost half of the day, we couldn't afford to lose the night as well. Andrew, Matt and John got in the front of the U-haul, while the cast got in their seats inside the picture car (Summit-mobile) while Kelsey, my script supervisor for this shoot, and I got in the trunk. This is where we would take refuge with a 7 inch monitor for viewing as we drove from Lenox, MA to Canaan, NY with a car driving on either side of us for safety.
We arrived at the back roads and set up the platform for the process trailer. The camera crew set up the camera and John got up on his platform to start rolling. I wanted to find a nice, easy drive with minimal winding. In order to do that, we had to drive for a little bit longer. I noticed we were going uphill and that the U-haul very quickly started to struggle as it went up steeper. I had a feeling that we shouldn't keep trying to get up the hill and wanted to relay that feeling but, of course, my walkie talkie wasn't working properly (all the walkie talkies stopped working after day 3). Suddenly, we stopped moving and I heard the sound of tires struggling to find traction on ice. Then came the smell of burning rubber. Matt came around the back of the car and lifted the trunk. He told me we were stuck. No shit.
We all had to get out. John took the camera into one of the nearby cars. Matt said that he was going to guide Andrew to try and turn around because there was someone's driveway back there. I didn't really see how we could turn around on such a narrow road even with a driveway because of how long we were, a 14-foot U-haul and a flatbed with the Summit-mobile on it. I said we should try to back it up, but Matt wanted to try his plan. He didn't think it'd be safe to try backing up because the narrow road curved. So, they attempted to turn around. As they got the U-haul itself on an angle, they encountered the problem that seemed glaringly obvious to me, they had to whip the flatbed with my car on it around to the other side in order to actually drive the car down the road. Unfortunately, there was no flat land on either side of them to do this. We admitted defeat, but our backup plan to call for help would also fail. My production manager called triple A. They said we were too big. U-haul said they couldn't help us. No local tow trucks were available, and the people whose driveway we used pretty much said, "Yeah, you guys are screwed," but in a really nice way. People are so nice up there.
About 40 minutes go by. I'm stressing. Matt is freaking out. He's telling me that there's a ditch on either side of the road and that the only bit of pavement they had to work with was the driveway. The process trailer had a ditch that led to tree filled woods in front of it and a ditch that led to someone's house in back of it, and it was sitting at a 90 degree angle between them with no way to cut to the left and take the whole thing back down the hill. Matt, Andrew, Colin and two of my actors, Ricardo and Rob, were up on the hill all brainstorming together. Matt was instructing Andrew to pull the U-haul forward to the left a little, then back it up and repeat, but he was essentially just rocking it back and forth in place. There was no way they'd get enough space to pull the whole back end around the bend. My production manager comes over and tells me that she thinks if we unhook the flatbed from the U-haul, the angle isn't steep enough that it'll just roll back into the ditch. She thinks it’ll just stay in place. If this were true, they'd be able to slowly make enough progress with the “a little to the left forward, a little to the right back” method and pull the U-haul around. Then once around, hook the flatbed back up. I skeptically said, "You think?" And she said, "It's your call. I think it'll work. But yeah, your car might fall into the ditch." I had to make this decision. I, who had never been in a situation like this before, who had never even owned a car before and never would have invested in one if it wasn't needed for the film, who had only gotten my license 5 months earlier just to buy the car for the film, had to decide what was the right call here. So I said, "Okay, what else are we going to do. It's been over an hour and I don't see any other option. Do it." Matt came over and reassured me that it would work, though he didn't seem so sure. My production manager said maybe I should go back to the house so that I wouldn't have to see my car roll back into a ditch if it happened. I didn't want to leave, but she convinced me. A car had already taken John, the rest of the camera crew and 3 actors back.
Jesse, our PA, drove me back to the house. I was told over the phone, shortly after leaving, that they had unhooked the flatbed and it did not roll back into the ditch, a small victory. John and the camera crew went to bed with plans to wake up bright and early for shooting, but I stayed up with a few others to wait for the situation to be resolved. With Colin driving, Matt and Andrew coaching, and Ricardo and Rob pushing and pulling, the U-haul truck managed to turn around after an hour or so. When I got the call, I was so relieved. When they all returned to the house, they were met with a round of applause, from the few of us who were still up. It was a moment of triumph. We hadn't shot a single frame, but we accomplished this. It was ridiculous that we even had to deal with it to begin with, but it was our one thing that we could be proud of thus far. We had to see the silver lining. We had learned a lesson, hopefully early enough that we could still catch up with the shooting schedule.
Did I sleep that night? Of course not.