January 20/21, 2013
We all woke up early, repeated the process of getting the trailer ready and headed out to the roads we had been on the night before. This time it was daylight and there were cars on the road. Cops knew we were shooting in the area, but not with a DIY process trailer. How we didn't get pulled over, I do not know. Spirits were high.
The cast and I were admittedly very happy that we got to roll from the first scene instead of jumping forward the night before. However, the reality of losing a whole day of shooting was something that would soon sink in. The thing is, the flatbed we rented from U-haul was from Vermont. We had checked in with local U-Haul's near Pittsfield, MA and reserved the flatbed we needed, but when we arrived on location, they all randomly decided to be closed that weekend. No notice on their website or anything. The closest one open that had the flatbed was a few hours away in Vermont. So, we had to send someone out to go pick it up, in addition to exchanging our 10-foot truck for a 14-footer (the gas for driving to and from Vermont was an unforeseen expense) and they needed to be back by 10am on the morning of the 21st or we'd be charged for an extra 2 days. So what was supposed to be two full days of shooting with 7 hours of sleep in between, needed to be pulled off in almost 30 hours, with no real sleep time. Everyone was aware of this going into the day, but I know no one expected it would be as brutal as it was.
I should probably mention at this point that it was freezing, It was around 20 degrees out during the day and we had to turn the heat off in the car for sound recording. It was bearable, though, because we were working. We were rolling, finally. It was going well. The shots were looking great; the actors' performances were perfectly on point. We got a lot done. I was excited.
We had one situation during the day where a guy was following us with his car. When Matt and I approached him, he admitted that he thought we were trying to rob the isolated houses. I thought that was an odd assumption since we'd have to be the least inconspicuous thieves in the world, but I imagine seeing a no-budget film crew shooting a movie around your neighborhood isn't something you encounter everyday in Canaan, NY. He left us alone after we explained ourselves. Outside of that incident, the day went off without a hitch. It was long and cold, but productive and, dare I say, fun.
It was then that we started to lose light, and there were three daylight shots left to do that were absolutely imperative. There were also two more artistic ones that I could sacrifice, but didn't want to. We decided to jump into the night scenes and see what time we wrapped them. We'd come back just in time for the three shots, and the flatbed could be on its way back to Vermont by 7am.
The night stuff didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped. We were getting the shots we needed. Just like the morning, the shots looked phenomenal and the performances were amazing. The problem was the set up time for shots was staggeringly long, especially in the conditions we were dealing with. We were surrounded by pitch-blackness outside of our own lights. It had dropped to -10 degrees and the wind burned our faces. It snowed on-and-off throughout the night, so heavily at times that we had to stop moving for John's sake. I cannot commend John enough for being the superman that he was on that platform in the weather; and I cannot thank him enough for being so committed to the project and sticking that night out because it was absolutely ridiculous how much everyone had to push themselves to get through it, particularly the camera/lighting crew. Peter, Erin, Charlotte and Adnan had to lug lights around, and set and reset lights over and over in that cold. I was grateful and impressed, and terrified that they’d walk away from the project at any moment.
During new lighting set ups, we'd send the cast to one of the heated cars, and while we were rolling, the crew was usually in heated cars. Kelsey, John and I, on the other hand, were in the cold the whole time. When the heat was off and new lighting was being set, Kelsey and I would sit in the frigid trunk. It was incredibly uncomfortable having to squeeze back there with the both of us lying flat, ensuring the camera didn’t catch us in the front. At least during breaks we could sit up straight. I'd be running over the shot list and checking in with Matt about progress. Kelsey stood by me in the cold, even at times when she could've gone to a heated car. She and I had already been friends for over 2 years at that point, but I think a special bond was created shooting Summit (which would add to our future creative partnership). She kept me sane in some ways because she laughed with me when there was nothing we could do but laugh or cry over what we were dealing with. More importantly, she was someone I could lean on a little, someone who didn't have a particularly stressful job on set, allowing me to vent to her when it was all getting to me. Leaning on people is something I'm not good at. I'm used to people leaning on me. But she was great at being that person for me, and I don't think I would've survived without her in the 20 minute set ups in the car when we just had to sit and wait in the still cold. One of my favorite stories from production is when we both stepped out of the trunk to stretch our legs. We attempted to get our blood flowing because we felt like our toes would literally freeze if we didn't, but the wind was so bitter outside that we had to get back in. We both crawled into the trunk and found ourselves saying, "Okay. Okay. Okay," over and over again through deep breaths; a kind of reassurance. What's funny about this is that we didn't realize we were both doing it until we had been doing it for over a minute straight. It made us laugh. We needed that.
When I say a U-haul truck eats gas, I really mean it, especially when it's towing an SUV, atop a metal flatbed, with lights all over it, going against brutal winds and bearing the weight of 8 people inside. Now, I had of course budgeted for gas, but not this kind of gas. The 30 hours we spent doing driving scenes really ate away our budget, as well as our shooting time. Maybe the only good thing about having to stop and go get gas every couple hours was that everyone got to take little cat naps, though not everyone napped (including me, of course.) I was mostly concerned with John getting rest, and luckily he was the type of person who could fall asleep easily. I’m the type of person who takes a long time to fall asleep; and I’m actually much better running on no sleep than just 30 minutes of it here and there.
The first big hitch in the night was when we were going up a winding hill, and Andrew didn’t want to push our luck trying to get up and produce a repeat of the night before. So, it needed to be backed down the hill, which luckily was not nearly as steep as the previous evening. Colin, popping in as the jack of all trades he definitely ended up being on set, revealed to us that he drove a tour bus for awhile a couple years back and could back the process trailer up with some guidance. It was a slow, slightly painful process, but he pulled it off. Crisis averted. We managed to do circles and avoid that hill, as well as any others, for the rest of the night.
The other big problem of the night came as our clocks crept past 2am and we still had two shots remaining. We were waiting on more gas to come back for the truck, and John was taking a nap in one of the cars. I was in a car with Matt trying to figure out what would be the best way to get the shots. The option that made the most sense was to push forward and get the last few shots completed, and then let everyone take an hour nap in the cars. Then we’d get the 3 daylight shots and quickly after let the cast go home and sleep. Matt didn't think we could push them and wanted to just call it a night. I didn't see how we could possibly do that and have a finished film in the end. We had already cut out all the coverage except for what was absolutely necessary, and we had been told by John 3 days before production that he had a paying gig that he had to fly out to the day before what was planned to be the last day of production (he had miscalculated). So, going over-schedule was not an option. If we didn't get the scenes done by 7am tomorrow morning, we'd not only run the budget over more than we could handle, but we'd also lose another day of shooting that I didn't think we could get back. So Matt asked me what I wanted to do. I told him to go talk to the cast (and crew) and present these two options to them but make the consequences of the latter clear; then see what they say. It was an ask-them-what-they-want-to-do-but-really-tell-them-what-the-plan-is kind of move. It had to be.
At this very moment, Rob, one of my actors, came storming over and opened the door. He started venting frustration about the situation at hand, clearly fed up with the fact that we were all sitting in separate cars and no cameras were rolling. In a fit of delirium, no doubt from the lack of sleep over almost 24 hours, he shouted, “I’m not shooting anything else,” and marched off into the woods with no apparent destination. It then just occurred to me that Matt and I were so busy problem solving that no one had updated the cast on why we were waiting (though we had assumed they were napping.) Lauren, also one of the actors, was in the car during my chat with Matt. She has since gone on to become one of my closest friends, but at the time we had a much more clearly defined director/actor relationship. She was all for pushing forward and finishing what was required in order to make the movie work. Her enthusiasm and commitment were definitely helpful in giving me what I needed to make the calls I did that night. If I felt like I was abusing my power or taking advantage, I don't think I would've pushed everyone to keep going; but it was an impossible situation. We had to keep going, we just had to, but first we needed to find Rob. Matt ventured into the woods to locate him and managed to get him refocused. Matt's good at that. I'm not great at diffusing situations; my ego sometimes gets in the way. It's why I'm not an AD, I suppose. The next day, Rob thanked Matt for reining him in. (I must say, of course, having gone through this experience and knowing better now, I can tell you that better planning would've avoided this entire situation & I'll never allow myself to have to make calls like this again.)
Matt then pitched the plan to the others. Ryan was onboard, as was Ricardo. To speak about Ricardo for a second, I just have to say how grateful I am to him for being such a good sport. One of the first things he said to me, when I cast him and asked what he usually wears when it snows, was “I don’t go in the snow.” He was not looking forward to the cold, but he ended up being the guy that really kept spirits high on set. He entertained everyone, especially John, with his impressions and singing (his Reggae song “Got stuck in a ditch last night, but Summit-movie gonna be all right” was a big hit). He just rolled with whatever came at us, never complained, just said, “You got it boss, whatever you need.” I love all my cast members, but I just wanted to give him a shout-out right here because I think there’s a good chance John would have quit on me at some point if he didn’t find Ricardo so entertaining. Lauren even told me after the fact that she maybe would have gone crazy if not for him.
Back to the story, Lauren, Rob, Ryan and Ricardo were all onboard to keep going. Emma was a hold out, but Matt managed to convince her. So, we kept going, but it was hard on everyone. We ended up with just under an hour between the night scenes and the following day scenes. So we sat in the cars and waited. Almost everyone slept. I did not. As soon as we had light, we got rolling.
We got the three shots, but had no time for my two more creative shots. One of those, a mirror shot that hinted at some of the subtext of the film, I'll always miss a little every time I watch the film. Matt got us wrapped and then had everyone quickly break down the process trailer. He got the flatbed on the road at 7am on the dot, and I sent the cast home to sleep.
Now that it's been a year since that day and the film is cut, I can say that I made the right call that night (only considering the circumstances). The scene just would not have worked without those shots, and the entire experience and what we put ourselves through that night would have been pointless. I do miss the two shots that I could've had, but those are the things I suppose directors will always feel about their work, especially when made with no budget. The 26 hours that it took to shoot those 15 minutes of the film were brutal, but they resulted in some amazing content; content that I'm really proud of, and I believe everyone involved will be proud of as well.
So here's the kicker, we weren't done shooting for the day.