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.*
January 31, 2013
Today we had a lot to accomplish. I can’t talk about the context of the morning stuff, except to say that it was intense and all looked really good. What made daylight setups nice in the house was that we were just working with natural light coming through the windows and didn’t have to combat the sun at all. We lost daylight before we could finish what we wanted for the day, so we pushed the rest until the next day and quickly got ready for the night scenes, a lot of night scenes. We were shooting the initial search of the house that the characters do when they first get there. It required us to move from room to room, changing the lights for each one as we went along. It was a long night. We had been on a fairly regular schedule of working 12-14 hours and sleeping around 7-8 (or at least most people had. I was glued to my director's book cutting, rearranging and reviewing shots.) Tonight was going a little later, as we went through at least 10 pages the whole day. We felt exhausted but accomplished.
I tried opening doors and windows in the house in order to let the cold in. I wanted to replicate the visible breath from the actors that they carried in the exterior scenes. It wasn’t working well enough, and I didn’t want to bring back the memories of the cold on our 2nd to last day and piss everyone off. So I gave up on that. That’s a little disappointing.
The more annoying thing that night was melted ice dripping onto the camera when we pulled the camera out of the doorway to get a wide shot of the living room. Luckily, the camera was fine, but the monitor stopped working. Insurance covered most of it, though I still ended up with a $500 premium. What sucked most about it though was that John and Peter needed to take my monitor, leaving me hovering over their shoulders for the rest of the night and the following day in order to see the frame. However, I’m thankful nothing like that happened sooner because I could have been completely monitor-less at a much more inconvenient time, like during the driving scenes.
Overall, it was a very successful day and night. I was more exhausted than ever but not because the days inside were more taxing than the earlier ones, just that the past 13 days were taking their toll.
We wrapped at around 3am and made plans to finish up with daylight and jump into the final night scenes, starting at 11am.
January 30th, 2013
The biggest downside of having to use two houses for me as a director was having to shoot the film out of order and go back to the beginning of the movie when we were nearing the end of the shoot. I really wanted to shoot in order as much as possible to really capture the emotional state of the characters, but I couldn’t have that, so I had to make the best of it. In the end, it actually ended up being a blessing in disguise because the temperature stayed in the 30’s and rain had come the night before, washing almost all the snow away. If I had shot the film in order, these last few days would have been devoted to the ending, which I desperately needed snow on the ground for during the exteriors. Luckily, we had already gotten all that done. One thing had magically worked out for me. Or I suppose, if I look at the glass half full, a lot of things magically worked out for me because production could have seriously been catastrophic beyond just a production standpoint, and thankfully it never was.
We started the day off with daylight shots by the fire. The footage looks great. The day went very smoothly. We then transitioned to night scenes by the fire. The scenes we shot then were some of my favorites. We wanted it to appear as if only the fireplace was lighting the room so we had the fire going but also used a china ball and flicker box.
It was awesome. I was especially excited about this scene because one of the very first things I talked about with John back in pre-production was that I wanted to shoot close-ups of the characters on wide lenses (something I had gotten from a discussion about Rosemary’s Baby back in Film Production 1 my Sophomore year of college). I couldn’t wait to see how that turned out.
Seeing the film as a whole now, that aesthetic worked so well. It’s maybe my second favorite scene in the film.
What was sad about the end of this day was that Kelsey, Erin and Adnan had to leave production early. Kelsey’s mother had planned an impromptu visit on the 31st, Adnan had to go back because his classes were starting, and Erin’s sister’s baby-shower was the next day. It was a bit of a blow to John’s productivity because he was losing his 2nd AC and grip, but Andrew had been paying attention to what Adnan had been doing and stepped in as his replacement. I felt like I was losing my rock. I was sad to see Kelsey go, but we said our goodbyes and then continued shooting until around 9pm. What was nice about shooting inside the house was that things didn’t need to be brought in at the end of long shoots. They just had to be stored safely, but generally left where we were using them. We all hit the hay with plans for early shooting the next day.
January 29, 2013
Today was a great day. We had another very emotional scene to cover, but it was only 4 pages this time and the sky was cooperating. We had a glorious overcast day and a fresh blanket of snow. It was even warm out, or at least what felt like warmth after days of bitter cold, almost 35 degrees!
The day went extremely well. Two of my favorite shots in the film came out of today. You can’t know them now, but if you watch the film with my director’s commentary, I’ll point them out to you. The performances were phenomenal. I made it a point to go over and talk to Emma after every take. Not because I was over compensating for the 26th/27th, because I wanted to. I wanted to be a better director than I had been. Her performance was brilliant and I wanted to be sure that she knew that I felt that way. I wanted to be sure all the actors knew I felt that way about all of their performances. Emma appreciated it. The footage from that day looks gorgeous.
There’s not much else I can say about today without giving anything away. We got a lot done and we did it quickly and efficiently. We were in a rhythm that was really working for us now. We were working as a team.
There’s one behind-the-scenes photo of me and an actor that I so wish I could share from this day, but I can’t; I can’t share too much of anything. That photo will likely make it in the DVD special features or as part of a “For the Fans” section on the website that I want to build for people who purchase a digital download. So, if you’re interested, you should definitely check out the Summit site after the film is released and look out for the opportunity to purchase the film when the time comes.
At around 4pm, we all had to pack up our stuff and move to our final shooting location in North Adams, MA. The second half of the plan to solving the losing-our-picture-house-3-weeks-before-production problem was that I had found a house on Craigslist that was in the process of being flipped for sale, and the owner allowed me to rent it for 4 days. Luckily, John and I had come up with ways to match the interior to the exterior. If you watch the film and really look out the windows at some moments, you can kind of see slight continuity issues, but it’s so incredibly faint that I really think we pulled it off to the point where most people won’t notice unless they’re told (like all of you have now been).
So, we did a company move over to the new house. If you thought 4 bedrooms and a living room was bad for 20 people, try 2 bedrooms and a living room. The bedrooms were bigger, but this time furniture-less (I don’t think I ever mentioned that the old house had 4 full beds and 2 couches, so only a handful of us were actually sleeping on blowup mattresses and/or sleeping bags). We would all be cramped into the two rooms with our mattresses and sleeping bags except for John, Peter, Charlotte and Matt, who all decided to get a motel room 15 minutes away. Matt covered the cost. Emma also decided to get herself a motel room so that she could have a break from everybody. Everyone else agreed to stick it out in this pretty disgusting house that had no hot water or any heat downstairs. This necessitated trips back and forth from the motels for people to shower. Colin even chose to sleep in the living room, the room without any heat, alone by the fireplace. He said he preferred it down there. It’s interesting that everyone agreed to stay there, but it was like all our personal living standards had gone out the window in the last week and a half. If I had brought them to the house first, I doubt we all would have been okay with it. But as luck would have it, because it came after the other more comfortable house that had already worn us down, it seemed doable. Fortunately we only had to be there for 4 days and then it would all be over, but from a production standpoint, we had quite the task ahead of us. We had three days to pull off 1/3rd of the film, all of which required a lot of coverage and lighting. This is where John got to have fun with low-key lighting, replicating the moon coming through windows and fireplace lighting, but it all required a lot more setup time than the previous days outside. What made it more difficult was that John had not seen this house until the 18th, when we briefly dropped by before getting ready for the first day of production at the other house. I found this house last minute and felt that it could work for what we needed and made quick script revisions to reflect the new layout compared to our original picture house. John, on the other hand, had not seen it or had a chance to reassess the shotlist until pretty much today. It was smaller and had fewer rooms than the old house. It required a lot of quick thinking and creativity, especially for the more cramped areas like the bathroom.
We pulled it off, but as usual, a part of me will always see what it could have been if we at least had more time for art direction with the last minute house. Regardless, I was glad we had a shooting location at all because it was a bit “touch and go” there just before production.
That night, I got ready for the following day. We were going to utilize as much of the morning as possible and then jump into the night.