It’s true. We filmed last Saturday and TBH it’s taken me this long to get around to writing about it. Sunday was a physical collapse day. My DP sent me the footage in a 90 minute compilation and Monday was about selecting my favorite takes. And I’m gonna say it now, this is SO GOOD. I know, everybody blah blahs their own shit, marketing hype blah. Well, you’ll see for yourself in a couple weeks or less. Then Tuesday, well, that was Collapse Day. The lion’s share of work was done and I could just come down from what started in July as a funny short script.
So here’s how I, a first time director, got it done, and done well.
First and foremost, and y’all know I hate that shit when people are all “oh I’m so shocked and honored and humbled just to be one of about one million people nominated for this award!” I take credit where it’s mine, and when it comes to my novels, well it is all mine – I wrote it, I edited it, I blurbed it, I did the jacket copy and cover.
But movie making is a team sport. (And I’m gonna try to NEVER use the word “film” because I associate it with too many humba dumba doo self-serious types.)
This would never have happened without Thomas Allen, my DP. Not only because he volunteered to film it, he got me “crewed up” and met with me multiple times before shooting so we could get everything prepped.
It would have been sorely lacking without Cody Hamilton and Theresa Morin, my co-stars, in their film debuts.
Cody pushed for multiple rehearsals, which I was more than delighted to have. He comes from a theater background and this is his first film (and Theresa’s!), and the problem with many short films is that lack of time put into developing the performances.
Too often actors are left to themselves to learn their lines, or are given what Judith Weston, my guru whose book Directing Actors I’ve read twice and will read again and again until it’s memorized, calls “directing by adjective.” That is, directing outcomes by saying “Be more bitchy,” or “be less sad,” or as vague as just “I need more/less.”
When really you need to say, “Okay, you’re about to meet with this guy who’s stood you up twice. And now he’s late.” And let the actor react and develop their own emotion (which, if you’ve keyed it right, is gonna be at least a little bitchy when the fucker shows up). Or if you need to adjust the sadness, “Okay, your kitty died, but you have your other kitty waiting for you at home, it doesn’t fix it but you’re not alone.”
This is not to say I did a perfect job on this on my shoot. It was nine pages in one day, and there were definitely times I committed the sin of “giving a line reading,” i.e. telling the actor exactly how I wanted it, or to make it close. But that was also part of the learning process – when to be pragmatic, to say, okay, that’s what we’re getting here. “Moving on.” (And yeah I’m least satisfied with my own performance but more on that later.)
I started flailing pretty early in the day, given that I’d taken on the role of both director and one of the three actors. I realized that I had to give up some control, to triage – to focus on what I knew best, my acting, and directing my actors, and trust that Thomas and my AD Eddie Vigil and the crew would get me what I needed on camera.
By the end of day, I was only reviewing my own performances on video because of course those were the ones I couldn’t see IRL. In the other shots, I developed a shorthand with my DP – did you see what I saw? Yep, got it. Okay, let’s do one for safety and then “moving on.” And watching the raw footage the other day? It was the right decision.
I had some shots I had to have, and however difficult they were, he made them happen.
I got really tired near the end of the day, I’m old and out of shape! And it affected my performance, I know that. And under other circumstances, the direction could have fallen apart as well. But, the SS Crunch sailed on, and on course, anyway, because of one word:
Repeated passes on the script with my screenwriting group, taking notes and making changes. (Humanizing Brad, for instance, with his attachment to Daytona for starters.)
Rehearsals and taking notes from my actors, making adjustments to the script and adding in physical comedy developed by my cast.
(Did you notice the pattern of TAKING A NOTE? There are a lot of people out there who won’t. Who will refuse to adjust an action line because they’re always right about everything! And you can imagine how much everything suffers when someone’s like that.)
Taking a short filmmaking class, thanks to Eddie Vigil for putting that on!
3x a week acting classes for a year at Take 2 Performers Studio, through which directly or indirectly I’ve met everyone involved in this production.
Reading, reading, reading books like Judith Weston’s, Ivana Chubbuck’s The Power of the Actor, Michael Rabiger’s Directing (no humba dumba doo there, very practical advice), Rousseau and Phillips Storyboarding Essentials, and more.
Storyboarding every shot. I can’t draw a stick person, but I took photos of every scene with stand ins, so that I could show my DP exactly what I wanted before shooting day, and so we spent no time on shooting day dithering about, trying to decide where to put the camera, actors, etc.
Creating my shot list, making sure I knew exactly what it would take to get the look and feel I needed.
All the little producer details, from setting up a good crafty table to buying the LED fluorescents for the basement.
Maybe most importantly, learning from the mistakes of others.
Did you ever watch the Cinemax series, “The Chair”? TLDR two directors are given the same script to film. Of course they end up nothing alike, since one’s an indie NYC director and the other was a YouTube personality. The NYC director wasted a ton of time on one shot – a shot of a guy walking into his bedroom and falling on his bed. Seriously, she took that one shot over and over and over. All the time and resources she could have spent reshooting critical emotional scenes, wasted on that. The dude fell down, “MOVING ON.”
Or Project Greenlight. Jason, what a dick, amiright? Talk about someone who wouldn’t take a note! ANY NOTE. Who wasted aeons of preprod time on house hunting, who outmaneuvered his own team to get to “Matt and Ben” to get what he wanted, who chose to lose several extra days so he could shoot on film – days that, when the end product was revealed, that he could have sorely used to make a better STORY instead of wasting that opportunity, getting all hot and horny for celluloid.
So I did everything a first time director could possibly do to make the best possible movie. And I had a team I trusted to do what I couldn’t, and do it the way I was seeing it.
I love writing this now, not after the short comes out. Only a handful of people right now know how good this is, and if the world agrees, it’s going to be a kick to see them read this later.
I know, I know. How many times have I done something really good that fucking tanks anyway because reasons or even more painfully sometimes not even because reasons?
The song I sing to myself, or try to, every time I release a book or, now, a movie, is “No Guarantees in the Western World.” Because there ain’t. The greatest thing in the history of everything ever could sink like a stone, amidst all the noise and static and yelling, some piece of shit with more marketing power behind it just stomping all over your baby.
Oh but this is good. You’ll see for yourself soon enough! I would say I’ll just die if it doesn’t succeed, but I won’t. I’ll march on. Maybe it’ll take 2 or 3 or 4 episodes to really hit.
And number two? In pre production! Filming early January 🙂