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Shooting Summit - Day 11

<- Start from the beginning.

January 28, 2013

I awoke at noon feeling refreshed after an incredibly intense night. I had a text from Justin, my boyfriend. He was clearly confused and unsure of what to say, especially since he had not really heard from me at all since we video-chatted before dinner on the 21st. He said that he believed in me, loved me, and that if I followed my gut, it'd all work out. It was helpful to hear, even though I knew he knew nothing of the situation or circumstances, and was just trying to be supportive of me. I went downstairs and only a handful of people were awake. Colin came over and asked to speak to me outside for a minute. I felt like it must be serious for jokester Colin to have such a serious tone. He told me that he didn’t want to worry me and that he wasn’t sure if he should be telling me, but he felt it was necessary that I know that Matt had what he believed to be a mental breakdown last night. For a second, I thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t. He shared with me that Matt had gone into the woods screaming, and there was some kicking of things and shouting of things that made no sense. Matt’s odd behavior apparently went on for a few hours, late into the night before he finally fell asleep. I knew Matt had been drinking a bit in the evenings, so I wondered if he was just really drunk. However, Colin was positive that it was something serious. He further described his behavior to me and it was puzzling and troubling. For Colin to be so concerned, I knew that I too needed to be concerned about Matt. Colin suggested that I find a way to take some of the pressure off of Matt, though he made it clear that he didn’t want to be presumptuous since he knew very little about the “behind the scenes” of getting stuff done. I thanked him for telling me and went back upstairs to think about what he had said. Of course I would have loved to take some pressure off of Matt; he was doing his job on top of splitting production manager duties with me, even doing occasional things that a PA would normally do if we had more PAs. I had no one to turn to. I couldn’t wear any more hats and I had already wasted a ton of breath on an incompetent production manager who should have been the one picking up the slack in the first place. 

I decided to just go into Matt’s room to see if he was up and try to talk to him about it. If I could assess his mental state myself, I could figure out what I needed to do. I wasn’t sure if Matt would mention it to me, but reflecting on it now, I was silly for not thinking he would. Matt is responsible, dependable and honest. I knocked on his door and entered. He was just getting up. I said hey and asked how he was. He said he had something to tell me and then blurted out that he kind of had a breakdown last night. He himself said that he “went a little crazy.” I didn’t want to betray Colin’s confidence in that moment so I didn’t confirm that I had known. I asked if he was okay. He said yes but that it was a thing, and that he felt I should know about it. I didn't know what to do for him. I felt bad about the fact that I had yelled at him and wondered if I had brought it on, but that whole day was such a mess. Not to mention, I just had a bit of a breakdown of my own the night before, just not quite as publicly and not as concerning as Matt’s seemed to be. I didn’t think that I had to bring up yelling at him at the gas station again. I knew that there was this understanding between all of us that we were trying to cope with the situation in whatever way worked for us. Even if that meant screaming, storming off or ignoring each other for a period of time, that was fine because we all always came back and did what we needed to do to get the job done. There was also this familial bond between most of us, to the point where we knew that we'd be forgiven and that it wouldn't be held against us later. When you got right down to it, we were experiencing this together and were each doing our part, knowing that when finished it would be because of all of us together. So, I think we both knew that we didn’t have to rehash what had happened yesterday. We had to move forward. I just needed to make sure Matt was okay first. He said he truly was, and that he wanted to get back to work, so we got ready for the pickups we were doing that afternoon. The rest of the shoot, Matt was fine. He had moments of being really energized and then coming down to crash, but that was from the exhaustion and the whole experience getting to him; the same as it was for all of us. I don’t want this piece to be a tell-all. I didn’t want to single Matt out as a person who couldn’t hack it or anything like that. He had a lot of weight on his shoulders, and he ended up doing an amazing job. I just chose to bring this up because it’s relevant to my experience as the director. He was my right hand man and I went through the rest of the shoot at times feeling like I needed to protect him and not lean on him as much as I had earlier in the week. It was a little frustrating for me, but in the end he came through for us all. 

It’s fascinating to think about how we all went into this survival mode, just as the characters in the film do. We were put in what felt like dire circumstances and were just struggling to make it. It was like we were living the themes of the film as we were making it. It was especially interesting to see the actors almost completely evolve into their onscreen personas; this was most evident in the dynamics between them. That’s their story to tell though.

We headed out at 3pm and quickly noticed that we got more snow than when we shot the first half of the scene, and it actually worked out better. We lost light around 4:30, just as we were finished with it.

We had a couple hours to relax before nightfall. It was around this time that I became privy to some of the ‘real world’ drama going on inside the house: people hooking up or trying to, that kind of stuff. All of which I didn’t give a crap about, and I was glad it wasn’t brought to my attention earlier. Again, I’m not writing a tell-all or trying to speak for anyone, I’m telling my story and the aspects that pertained to my experience. As far as this is concerned, it’s interesting that I was too locked into my duties to really notice until this point.

During the evening, we took a few hours to shoot all of the over-night stuff we had missed days before. It was a quick night of just the coverage we had previously sacrificed to the cold. Everyone was much more relaxed and we got what we needed done. The shots looked great.

Interestingly, the shot we started to shoot when Rob’s lips couldn’t move on the 23rd, when resetting the shot this night, we all realized that the first version was on the wrong lens (as seen in the Sean/Jesse image in that blog post & below). 

The cold had definitely been getting to John that night and it clearly was for the best that we stopped. The pick-up footage of that scene from this night is ultimately much more flattering.

At the end of the night, Emma came over in a very serious manner and asked to speak to me alone in the bathroom. I went in with her and she said that she needed to get some stuff off her chest because she was feeling resentful and angry, and she didn’t want to end up hating me. I respect her for being the one to address this because I was just going to ride out her not speaking to me as long as the film was getting done.

She began crying and explaining how the past week had been getting to her. She complained about not having the things around her that she was used to and having to share a room with the rest of the cast. I couldn’t help but feel dismissive of some of her complaints that clearly came from an incredibly privileged place. I also felt that some of the stuff she was saying were things she knew she was signing up for; things I made very clear in pre-production. However, I understand that being told what you’re signing up for is very different from experiencing it. Also, most importantly, some of what she said was very valid. She said she was very hurt by the fact that I yelled about her at Matt in front of everyone the day before. I apologized. I didn’t make excuses for myself, but I tried to explain where I was coming from. One thing she said really caught me off-guard. Through tears, she explained how hurt she was during shooting two days ago, the 26th, when I had not given her any level of acceptance or approval or even feedback during the emotional scene we shot that day. She talked about how she “brought it” every time and that she needed to hear from me that she was giving me what I wanted, but all she ever got was a general “that was great, now we’ll move on to…” I thought about this, and it occurred to me that she was right. I thought about Ryan and how I had spent much of pre-production worrying about his performance in the film. Prior to Summit, he was just my friend/roommate and an aspiring writer/director, not an actor. He connected with the role of Will and I felt he had potential, so I had him audition and ended up giving him the role. I worried for over a year that maybe he wouldn’t be able handle it, but when he delivered the performance I needed from him, I went over, looked him in the eyes, touched his shoulder and said, “You are an actor.” He later told me how those four words gave him such relief and confidence that day. I checked in frequently with Rob and gave snippets of feedback. I checked in on Ricardo and Lauren, and confirmed all was well. I did the same for Emma, but it was brief and rushed, and I suppose I never really spoke to her directly. Different actors need different things. It was a new experience for me to be aware of all 5 actors at once. I realized she needed praise. I should have known that. I had worked with her before. I felt like I had failed her as her director because I had not had any moments where I really stopped and talked to her or let her know that she was doing well. I never thought to stop and do that, because in my mind she knew; she knew how impressed I was with her performance and how proud I was, but I should have articulated it. I suppose I assumed everyone knew that we were fighting time and daylight that day, and that I was a little bit like a chicken with its head cut off. I guess the cast didn't really know this because I made it a point to hide it from them, in order to not distract from their performances. I apologized and tried to explain what that day was like for me, not just as director but as producer as well. I told her I wasn’t trying to excuse myself for being inattentive. I just wanted her to hear what I was dealing with and try to understand why I overlooked her need for reassurance. We came to an understanding and the tension was gone. We hugged and then parted ways for the night. The confidence I had in the morning, though wavering throughout the day, was still strong by the end of it. I got ready for the next day of shooting.

Shooting Summit - Day 10

<- Start from the beginning.

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.

Shooting Summit - Day 9

<- Start from the beginning.

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?

Shooting Summit - Day 8

<- Start from the beginning.

January 25, 2013   

Today was the first day where I got just over 5 hours of sleep the night before. I felt good, or at least as good as I could have living in a house with 19 other people and often taking showers devoid of hot water. The almost-fever I had been fighting the past couple of days had cleared up a bit, and I felt confident about the day. This was in large part due to the fact that the sun was really cooperating. We had a nice overcast day. We had this annoyingly large silk to put up, which required some set up time. It also turned out that the rental house had not given us enough sandbags to weigh it down so we often had to utilize whatever bodies were available to stand on it. 

But beyond that, the day was smooth. It was cold, but only about 15 degrees, so a nice break from the past two nights of freezing terror.

Today was arguably our most successful day because the lighting was so perfect and we managed to get almost 3 scenes done; about 10 pages. Of course, it took a 14-hour day to do this. An artistic choice I made with the film was that we would get tighter as the film went on, both in shot composition as well as lenses. At first, the characters would be portrayed in a lot of wide shots and two and three-shots. But then as they became more individualized in the film, not just simply a group of friends on a trip, I chose to shoot more singles. This was the first day of shooting where we changed lenses and got tighter. It was wonderful getting to see that footage look so good.

We then had to go up into the woods with two characters to get a scene that was meant to be set just before dusk. We got ¾ of it, but then the lighting became too inconsistent. It was okay though because we still felt accomplished. This particular scene was actually scheduled for a later date in the original schedule. We then headed back to the house where Charlotte and Adnan had been setting up for a night scene at the back of the house. We got it all done, though we did have a minor continuity issue when it snowed during one person’s close-up. It’s a minor issue, but I actually think it works because the one character it’s snowing behind is standing in front of the car headlights. In that sense, snow would be more visible, whereas the others are in the dark and presumably under an awning. The snow ended up looking pretty cool because it helped emphasize the extremity of the weather conditions despite the lack of snow on the ground. 

It’s just one of those happy accidents that you sometimes get in film. We wrapped at 8pm, just beating the frigid cold that came later that evening. 

We had a really big day ahead. It was the scene that I felt would make or break the film. I was so nervous and excited about it at the same time, though maybe more nervous. I could not sleep at all. 

Shooting Summit - Day 7

<- Start from the beginning.

January 24, 2013

We took the day off to transition to daylight the following day. Nothing too new to report except that I barely got another 4 hours of sleep and spent the rest of the day obsessively trying to figure out how we'd catch up.

I feel like for most of the shoot I was in this stifled state of panic over trying to get back on schedule, as I watched us continually fall ever so slightly behind each day. One key thing I took away from this experience was how hard it is to be the director and producer. I had done it for all my shorts, but they were such small-scale projects. It’s much more difficult with a feature. Most of the time, I just wanted to be a director and do as I pleased creatively, but I always had to be thinking about the bigger picture of budget and scheduling. In pre-production, I was responsible for almost everything including finding crew and locations, and securing funding. I even had to figure out how to pull off the practical effects (with the help of Chris, Art Director) because the makeup effects artist we had onboard early in the process bailed on us a month before production. A MONTH BEFORE PRODUCTION! I didn’t mind all of this in the beginning because it was my first feature. It felt good to be doing it all on my own in a way, but on set, it was just too stressful. When a sacrifice needed to be made, it was always the director in me who had to make the sacrifice because the producer in me said so. I suppose in the long-run, it’s a great learning experience to be able to reflect on the choices I made and understand why I had to make them. It’s probably better than being resentful toward someone else who was acting as producer and had to make those calls. But in the moment, it can be hard having an inner dialogue with yourself, weighing your options and being pushed to make a call at a moment’s notice when you’ve got other things on your mind. I suppose I felt like I was missing out on a few creative moments where I could’ve been working with my actors and not worrying about the business side of the film. On the flipside, however, I don’t really think I would’ve liked having someone breathing down my neck, making the calls I felt were mine to make. So, I guess I’m saying that if you can afford it, don’t be the producer of your feature, especially if you’re the director and writer. That’s definitely the wise choice, but I also feel like I probably won’t make this choice next time either because I have a hard time not being in control. (Two Years later, having now worked on ‘Kelsey,” and other large projects since, I say I would definitely at least always have a co-producer.)

I spent some of the day trying to figure out how much money had been spent so far. Without a competent production manager, and having to be my own ‘line-producer,’ it was very difficult and stressful. To me, one of the most important things on set is that my people eat and that they eat well. I had invested a lot in food, but they were going through it like mad. The super market runs were producing insane bills. I suppose I didn’t realize, having only ever shot in the summer before, how much more people eat in the winter, especially when they’re running on fumes. I also suppose I didn’t realize how consecutive shooting days would play into that. It’s weird when you try to cram a feature into 2 weeks, trying to shoot multiple days in a row. It’s like this paradox where it gets both easier and harder at the same time as each day goes on. Maybe that doesn't make sense, but I have to assume that that sentiment rings true for anyone who works in production. I guess it really depends on which way you’re looking, how far you've come or how far you have left to go. We had already accomplished so much; it felt great. In theory, the worst was behind us, but looking at how much we still had left to do was daunting.

I decided that bookkeeping would have to wait until after production because I had no time for it. Whatever people needed, I was tasked with finding a way to accommodate the request so that we could keep going. I had estimated the budget would be $15,000 in pre-production, and having crowd funded $12,000 and getting $11,000 after Kickstarter fees, I had already anticipated that $4,000 would be put on my personal credit cards, not including the car loan I had for the Summit-mobile. In reality, it ended up around $20,000 (still not including my car loan.) To this day, though, I don’t regret incurring this debt because of what was accomplished.

I decided to use the rest of the day to problem solve as much as I could. I sent a PA out to find some sort of face protectors/warmers for the crew to wear while outside for the rest of the shoot. (As pictured on me in the cover photo.) We needed to combat the cold as best as possible. Everyone was wearing an insane amount of layers, but staying warm remained nearly impossible. The most commonly affected body part was our toes. I simply do not understand how people keep their toes from freezing in the snow. Even with wool socks, good snow boots, extra wool socks, and toe warmers, our toes would still go numb. It was insanity.

 

Later in the afternoon, John decided to go out for a drink with Peter (1st AC) and Charlotte (Gaffer). I sat with Matt and attempted to go over my scheduling plan. He was weary, but he felt like we could do it. The greatest challenge we were facing was a high-angle, opening shot of the car driving down a snowy road that we had yet to secure. If you’ve seen our faux-trailer for the crowdfunding campaign, then you know what I’m talking about. That was a shot we needed to get during the day, but the roadside hills we intended to use for the shot were a ways away. We weren’t sure yet when we’d get it, so we put it on the backburner, figuring it could be a shot that’s done later, without the cast if need be.

Later in the evening, a few people were sleeping, but almost everyone seemed to be hanging out in one of the rooms. It was the cast, Matt and a few others. It was the party room, I suppose, particularly where the people who didn’t have to be out in the cold during the day would hang out. They told me to stop being such a “responsible mom” and hang out with them. I did for about 15 minutes. It was nice seeing that the cast and Matt were enjoying themselves, and it was great to feel that people actually wanted my company rather than completely hating me. I was, however, mostly worried that the camera crew felt this way, but they were out for drinks, or sleeping, so I had no idea. I just wasn’t in the right mindset to hang out and laugh. I had to go back to my room and get back into my director’s binder. I had to be up at 4am for daylight scenes the next day, so I decided to try and rest.