Saturday, February 8, 2014

in case you missed it...

good grief... i got so wrapped up in promoting this on my own blog that i completely missed posting the final results here.

conversion is out! it's now available for streaming or download on vimeo right here.

many thanks to all those who supported us through this crazy [ad]venture!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Fourteen

5 September 2009

People are generally surprised when I tell them that we shot a feature film in six weeks with no external source of funding. That surprise turns to open-jaw astonishment when I tell them that we actually only shot for fourteen days of those six weeks. But somehow, this is what we managed. Here we are at Day Fourteen and we are ready to wrap up.

Despite the fractious night a few days before, everyone (me excluded) is in a pretty positive mood. I'm still concerned enough that the camera will be used as an implement of murder in our final hours that I feel nauseous. Everyone else is upbeat, which is what we need.

We all know that if we can get through the first shot of the day, we're probably going to feel pretty good about ourselves. The first shot of the day involves us having to chase down a bus, the difficulty being that no one was going to give us a bus to play with, so we're having to depend on the buses that naturally run through the wilds of urban Montreal at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. We're aware that this presents dangers- chiefly that the side of the bus is going to be plastered with advertising that will require editing room trickery to conceal.

We're fortunate, in that we're shooting along one of the city's busier bus routes, but it's morning and the light is subject to change and we do have a full day of shooting to get to once we capture this bit. So we're all feeling a bit nervous as we run through the blocking of the shot, to make sure that an otherwise perfect take won't be ruined by Paul and I not being in the right position in front of the camera. Since the camera is positioned on the other side of a busy street and our bus spotter/ wrangler (Nik) is located several blocks away, we're having to rely on sign language and cell phones to get everything staged. It's all very stressful.

Then, as we go to get the extremely tricky first shot, something odd happens. The bus that whizzes by turns out to be the only bus in Montreal that doesn't have advertising on it. One take, one shot and it's perfect. Of course, Paul and I don't know this until after the take is over, because we're too busy trying to make sure our feet and bodies are doing the right things to notice what's on the bus. But that's the sort of moment when you have to think that, in some way, what you're doing is supposed to happen. After the accumulating pressure of the last six weeks and the fear that somehow everything was going to fall apart when it was so closed to being finished, this is like the gods giving me a pat on the head. It's important to notice this kind of thing and hang onto it. There are moments when these sorts of strange coincidences are all that's going to stand between you and a pit of despair.

We get the other shots we need and we move on to the film's final location, which happens to be an office where I used to work. Getting an office space that looked more basic, more like a regular office (not like the advertising agency we used previously) turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. People in advertising agencies, with big plush offices that have swimming pools get that indie filmmakers need places to shoot. People who work in non-entertainment fields, with offices that look like, well, offices are suspicious of what you might do. Getting this space was a stroke of luck and a big favour. Which I repay by having to wake one of the managers up at home on a holiday weekend because I can't get the door code to work and I trip the alarm trying to get in. The police arrive to the spectacle of the world's weirdest set of thieves, loading up the place they're breaking into with a lot of expensive-looking equipment.

Once we get the alarm turned off, things progress pretty smoothly. We're very clear on the shots we want, the order we need to do them in, who's needed when and when we'll be finished. Six weeks of filming has made us surprisingly efficient, so even when we take a somewhat longer than planned lunch and one of our performers shows up late, we're moving at a pretty good clip. We still finish a little later than I'd imagined, which causes a bit of panic, since it's getting dark outside. (Only months later, organising all the footage to get it to our editor, does it occur to me that seeing people working in an office after dark is not particularly strange. This is the sort of tunnel vision you develop.) The biggest challenge of the day actually turns out to be sound, because despite the fact that we are in an enclosed office with carpets and low ceilings, we have no control over the central air for the building and it makes a lot of noise. But we muddle through, George does what he can and, in the end, the day goes by pretty quickly. For a brief moment, I feel like we could keep working together for another six weeks and it feels nice.
Coming to the end of shooting has a surreal quality to it. I feel like someone should be there to give me a hug and some sort of certificate; "Congratulations, you have just completed something big, even though you had no idea what you were doing." That isn't how things work, of course, although someone does give me a beer and I'm fairly certain a couple of people patted me on the back. What I know in hindsight is that what we've completed is basically giving ourselves a solid frame, but that the majority of the work is going to come in what we can add to that. But as we're cleaning up after the day's shoot, I feel content in the idea that we've accomplished something. Not many people have been able to do what we've done. Months before, when I pitched Dom on the idea of making the film, I didn't imagine that we could have done this much. It still feels sort of amazing.

We're smiling because we can sleep again. (Photo courtesy of King-Wei Chu)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Thirteen

3 September 2009

Um, oops. OK, I didn't mean to take a break from the shooting diary. Sure, when we released the trailer, there was a bit of a high and that had me a lot more focused on the future than on thinking about the process of actually filming and I've been sufficiently distracted by other things that I haven't come back and then it started to seem really embarrassingly long, which made the whole task seem so onerous and there are a lot of reasons why I haven't finished this, but really, there's only one big one... It's because I really didn't want to write about this particular night. And I know that no one's forcing me to do this and I could say "Oh, I forgot", but I'm the kind of person who would be so bothered by that sort of omission that I'd probably develop a rash or a tic... That's just me.

So you've probably figured this out: This is the night where everything was terrible. Worse than running hours late and having to cut scenes from the schedule. Worse than people not showing up. Worse than the roof caving in. This was the point at which tempers just came to a head, when things got ugly- permanently ugly. The one redeeming feature of the night was that there were so few people working (we were trying to be lean and quick and get a bunch of things done that had fallen through the cracks on previous shoots). In retrospect, there is absolutely no reason why things on that one day should have resulted in people blowing up at each other, in arguments and recriminations, but when you have weeks of tension on your backs, small things can tend to get thrust under the microscope.

When I say that this was the worst part of filming, I mean that it was the one time that I really thought that we were going to fail- that we wouldn't end up shooting the entire film. And that idea, having become as passionate about the project as I have about anything else in my life, was unbearable. In the end, I think that the only reason we did finish that night, let alone the rest of the film, was that the people involved couldn't bear it any more than I could. The only thing worse than having to work together at that moment was the idea that the time we'd put in was time wasted. It was truly one of the worst nights of my entire life.

Almost two years of post-production and time to reflect has given me a different perspective on things. That night, I was a basket case, desperately trying to think of solutions that would not result in a principal player walking out in a huff. Hey, it wasn't one of my best moments either. I take a small amount of comfort in the idea that it was a good lesson in terms of what to watch out for in potential coworkers, which I imagine might be useful in the future. It kills me to think that, the individuals involved being who they are (and, to be clear, I include myself in this), I don't know if there's a way that the ugliness that ensued could have been avoided. But I've seen the final product and I feel proud of it and I can honestly say that it is in part the result of those same huge, flawed, fragile egos working, however briefly, as a team. Does that make this bad night worth it? Actually, no it doesn't. I have a feeling that reconciliation will come when the film is out in the world and I get to find out if other people can see what I see. For now, I'll content myself with saying that, while this was one of the worst nights of my life, it was not a defining catastrophe of my life.

Lucky day #13. And now, let's never speak of it again.

Monday, April 4, 2011


The title says it all... Thanks very much to Ben Goloff for helping us put this together and credit to Dom for doing all the conceptual work.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Twelve

30 August 2009

One of the most surprising things about Conversion is how little it changed from start to finish. Most film scripts are rewritten so many times that the finished product often has nothing in common with the original story. No one in our circle knows that better than our director, who was forced to rewrite the script for his first film the week it started shooting in order to account for the fact that his producer didn't bother to secure most of the props or locations needed.

The one exception to Conversion's stability was what we call the "Clinic Scene". It has a lore all its own within the Conversion story and I could likely write an entertaining series of pieces just on the history of how this section of the film- which comprises roughly twenty pages of a hundred page script- came to life.

Mr. Ash entertains the waiting troops
In "Conversion 1.0", this scene was not set in a clinic at all. It was set in a hospital emergency ward. And, while it had a number of extras required, there weren't any really developed characters save one. Just a bunch of injured people and some hospital staff trying to deal with them. It was months before filming that Dom and D.J. sat me down and brought me face to face with the fact that the hospital was a huge chasm in our otherwise paved road to getting the movie made. Sure, we could get people to loan us offices. Shooting outside was easily enough accomplished. But no one, no one, was going to entrust us with a hospital. Something had to change. So the three of us, as perfectly and creatively in synch as we were at any point in the project, started throwing ideas around. And what's surprising, when you read the two versions of the script (not that anyone who already hasn't ever will), is that the version of the scene that takes place in the walk-in clinic is so vastly superior to the original that I shudder to think we might ever have ended up with the first version (assuming we'd found anyone sweet and stupid enough to give us a hospital).

And this scene has already proved to have its own series of challenges. A chunk of it was written around the character of an unstable denizen of the night who is at the clinic with several rats. Unfortunately, our rat wrangler had a horrific accident early in the summer (details here) that almost took his life. Astoundingly, up until a week before, there was a slim possibility that he might be able to show up- with a couple of truly astounding scars on his head to add to character's believability. Unfortunately, the rehab centre had some issues releasing him to the clutches of a bunch of amateur filmmakers on an unsecured, uninsured set so that he could handle his rats. This is really one of the only instances where I think Conversion fell just a little short of what it could have been, through the fault of absolutely no one.

And, of course, there was the little issue that we were shooting in a hallway. No jokes. A hallway. When I first watched Dom and D.J. getting excited about shooting the clinic in this space- in the basement of BOS Advertising, which looks absolutely nothing like the upstairs- I was extremely skeptical. Possibly more skeptical than when I originally saw the alley where we ended up shooting the scenes outside the clinic. But, as I've come to expect, when we show up to begin the day's shooting, a visual miracle has been worked while I was quite literally asleep.

The lovely and fabulous MARQUISE
One of our hardest working and most reliable crew members has had an idea that quite possibly saves the scene from being suspect- too clean, too sterile, too cavernous for the space where it unfolds. His idea is that in order to disguise the pristine, unused quality of the area, the set should be decorated as if it is a space under construction. When I arrive- a good two and a half hours after the crew- the space is rigged with low hanging beams, scaffolding and heavy-duty plastic sheeting. From a nondescript passage, it has been transformed into a weird, claustrophobic little room with cheap folding metal chairs and long shadows that look like something out of The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. I'm used to catching my breath when I see what the people who have dedicated their time to the project have done, how much it means to them to put together something that will ultimately be a source of pride. Of course, what I'm really feeling, although I'd hate to admit it, is a sort of egotism. After all, I wrote the screenplay, I asked Dom to direct it... Sure, I love the fact that so many people are putting time into making a really good picture, but there is also a part of me that smiles thinking that they are doing all this because they are dedicated to something I created.

Truth be told, I'm still on a bit of a high from Friday night, at the fact that we pulled everything off, at the fact that I faced down my acting demons. So when I arrive, I feel like the life of the party, especially compared to those who have been doing a lot of hard physical work since the sun rose. I want them to know that I really appreciate, that we all really appreciate what they're doing. I get some smiles and a lot of weary looks and I have a sense that everyone would be feeling that appreciation a lot more if it were accompanied by coffee and baked goods. Unfortunately, I have neither the time, since I'm involved in all the scenes being shot today, nor the finances to be able to oblige. I'm already nervous that today I have to cover the expenses of a makeup artist (money well spent) and lunch for a large crew and a larger number of actors. As it is, in my rush to get everything together on my way down to the shoot, I've forgotten a couple of important parts of my own makeup kit and have to send Paul out to the nearest drug store (actually better termed the "least far" drug store) to pick up a couple of emergency supplies with the remains of petty cash.

The first thing we are shooting is a very brief cutaway to be used in another scene, making use of a third area of the Bos building. It takes virtually no time, but it does slow things a little, because it forces me to get into a different costume and makeup, then change back to my regular attire. When I come down from my costume change, ready to start the bulk of the day's filming, I'm a little thrown by what's happening. First of all, no one, not one of the actors there, are on the set. Everyone is still in the adjacent room awaiting instructions. Dom is sitting alone in a corner of the same room, looking through his copy of the script. Second, the crew seem to be in the process of changing the set around. I try to insist that it looked fine the way it was, only to be told that part of it collapsed, followed by a very defensive parry that the actors could still be taking their places and running through their lines.
Set malfunction

When I go to talk to Dom, he says that there's no point in getting people in place until the crew have finished rebuilding the set. He says this with some certainty. All of a sudden, I'm not quite so eager to take ownership of the project. I don't particularly want to argue with anyone, because they all have more experience than I do, so I attempt to make myself useful by applying some basic makeup to some of the scene's strange characters. I'm just as glad that the events we're filming are supposed to be taking place late at night, because I can feel my eyelids folding in pleats around my eyeballs. After some time of me trying to act cheery, one of our actors rightfully asks when things will be ready.

I sneak out to look into the progress on the set and discover a group milling around, looking much like they're also awaiting instructions. Straightening up to my full height (still not tall enough to be close to intimidating) I ask for an update, only to be told that the set is finished and that they've been waiting for us to be ready. It occurs to me that I'm so sleep deprived, so stressed about money and timelines and so woefully inexperienced that I have no idea if anyone told me that before. I'm almost certain I didn't know, but it seems like every time I open my mouth today, I chip a tooth on my foot. So I go back to see Dom. He's fidgety and annoyed that no one's told him the set was ready. Actually, I think that he's annoyed at other things and at everything. Remember when I said I came in on a bit of a high? Yeah, that's gone.

We corral the actors into the set and let them sit randomly while we take a moment to work out the logistics. There are a lot of logistics. There isn't a single extra in this scene. Everyone- almost a dozen of them- has a named character and, if not lines, important gestures. Virtually all of them move, as well and therefore all of the positions at the beginning have to take into account every future action, because space is limited and you can't have an action blocked because someone else is in the way and you don't want actions to become clumsy to get around the fact that the actors were put in the wrong place to begin with.

Normally, when anything gets this close to me, I expect a cocktail
Dom continues to look through his script while I try to figure out where he wants everyone so that I can tell them where to sit. After all, it's a team effort. Unfortunately, the team is a little off today. Every time Dom says where he wants someone, I'm able to point out a problem that this will cause later on. He's flustered, because, although we'd all talked about ways in which the seating could be arranged, he had imagined it differently and it's thrown off his instincts as to who should go where. Although I'm able to stop him from doing anything that will cause complications, my wits are too dulled to come up with any better ideas, so I just sit there, pointing out the flaws in each new position he recommends until he snaps. Things proceed like this for far to long, while everyone waits, until we're finally able to come up with a plan of attack that will allow us to begin shooting the scene. Begin. It's already afternoon and we're just starting.

None of the four of us who've been involved in the project more or less from the beginning are in a particularly good place.

Dom is overwhelmed at the length and complexity of the scene. His preferred style is to be able to adjust as he works, without feeling locked down to a particular sequence of shots or pre-planning. The geography of the scene demands a working method that is exactly the opposite and, all of a sudden, the director is in crisis, trying to reconcile the needs of the project with his method of thinking and working.

Paul is his usual amiable self, but he is obviously unnerved by his temporary lapse of memory the other day. He actually has the lion's share of the lines today and his character really finds his inner strength, something that he has to channel despite the fact that he is rattled. He should be able to focus on acting, on getting his head back where he needs it, but he's frequently required to run errands- as I mentioned- or to keep track of where people are, to make sure that no one inadvertently ruins a good take by returning to the set from a bathroom break.

D.J. is tired. He's physically tired because he's been the one doing the literal heavy lifting- loading up equipment, building sets, rigging lights and carrying the camera around for hours at a time (sure, it's light- try holding a cup of coffee perfectly still, so that there's not even a ripple in the surface, for six or seven hours and see how well you do). But he's also tired of us. One of the reasons that he was such a great addition to the team was that he had more experience than Dom, or Paul and certainly far more than me, working on films. Before we started shooting Conversion, he had directed his own short film and, early on in Conversion, the producers of the short film had apparently received a green light to develop it into a feature. A real feature, with a paid crew and a well-organised schedule where people are going to figure out in advance the sort of things we're taking care of ad hoc on set. More to the point, that film is his baby- where he'll have to work hard, but he'll ultimately be able to make things work the way he wants. The longer he seems to spend on the set of Conversion, the more visibly disenchanted he is growing with the rest of our abilities to run a tight ship.

You already know where my head is at.

And that's where we all are as we start filming. The first couple of shots go smoothly enough, but the four mindsets I've just outlined collide very shortly into the scene over whether or not we need to take a single extra shot in one section of the scene. Debates that are civil at best seem to surround every single movement of the camera. I'm personally certain that the worst acting that I do in the entire film comes that morning (hurrah for the editing room), because I'm barely able to get back into character between bickering over how everything unfolds. There is a moment where I seriously think that blood is about to be shed. Wouldn't that be ironic in a scene taking place in a walk-in clinic?

Rolling... for now...
It's bad enough that an argument almost erupts over the fact that I have to get up to go pay for the pizza that's being delivered for lunch. Once everyone starts to get cross with each other, it just sort of snowballs.

I'm too nervous to eat anything (stay tuned for Conversion: The Diet Plan) and I've discovered that my normal resourceful self has departed. Luckily for me and for the project, Paul has his head on straight. The problems we're facing can be dealt with, but we have to help Dom calm down and think carefully and sequentially about everything that needs to be done. There's no point in just leaving him to his own devices, so Paul rightfully suggests that we should sit him down and help him go through everything that we will need to cover once the gang returns from lunch. And that's exactly what we do.

With three cooler heads, we're actually able to make more progress. Talking through how the scene will unfold makes it much easier to deal with and to plan out what shots we need to do in what order. It's not a military-level plan, but it's at least something we can get a good start from. We eat and then we're in place, ready to resume our shooting, all of us in place, up to speed on our lines (despite some truly hilarious mistakes during rehearsals). we are ready to go.

I'm especially pleased that we're in place and ready to continue a half-hour later, when D.J., his face still grim with frustration and skepticism, returns from an animated discussion on his personal project. We are ready to continue and we are able to rip through page after page of script, shot after shot, movement after movement, like plodding professionals, until, well, until the roof caves in:

We're all a little rattled by the events of the day. We know what shots we want to take, but, amidst continued bickering murmurs, it's easy to get screwed up. I feel like I need three extra sets of ears to keep up with everything that's going on- with all the people moving around, with all the needs of the various actors, with all the concerns about the set and sound, with all the issues of timing and angles and... It occurs to me that I have suddenly become this small figure with very, very large ears simply trying to compute everything that I'm receiving, unable to form rational reactions to what is going on. At some point, did I think that I had control over this thing?

For all actors, having a clear eye line is important. Really important
It's during a longer break between shots that I have my awakening. People are taking bathroom breaks, we're moving folks around to suit the next set of shots that we're doing, explaining to others why we they need to stay in absolutely the same position in order to preserve the integrity of the scene (yes, in your world, it's been six hours, but in movie world, this all takes a few minutes only. I'm pretty useless, because I'm not sure exactly where to put anything and so, like most times when I've proved useless, I'm trying to hide behind others, lest someone think I know what's going on. Yeah, this is my thing, sure. Immediately in front of me, two people who have been closely involved throughout the project are having a conversation. And, as has become my habit today, I listen to what they're saying.

What they're saying is hard to hear. Essentially, they're enumerating everything that's being done wrong on the shoot. Or, rather, they're enumerating everything that's being done and discussing why it's wrong. As far as I can tell, the film is doomed. Every single scene we've shot is fatally flawed, rife with the signs of amateurism and will, ultimately, if the film ever manages to be assembled into something watchable, be an embarrassment to all involved. And these are people who have the experience to know what they're talking about. Then one of them pivots his head enough to notice that I'm standing there with my big ears and shrugs saying "I mean, there's different ways we could do things".

I believe that at this point, I'm supposed to feel like I want to die. Or I'm supposed to get angry and be determined to show these snobs up by making the best damn movie we can make. But the fact is, I'm so tired and worn down that I just hear the criticism and accept it, hoping all the while it's not true. We're too late in the shoot to change what's been done. I don't think that what we have warrants that kind of criticism and I'm damn sure going to do everything I can to make sure that the edit of the film showcases us at our very best. What I feel is humiliated. I walked in here this morning believing that everyone was here because they believed in the project, because they believed in something that I had created. For a lot of the people here, this is a job and, like any job, everyone thinks they could do better than the bosses. I am drenched in a wave of self-pity and, if I had the time, I'd go into the corner and sulk for a while, until the people responsible came and made a specious apology in order to keep things moving along. I don't have that time. We need to get back to work.

And, just afterward, the roof falls in.

So now, we have a dilemma. We have a portion- a small portion, but important- of the scene left to shoot. I feel like a monster, because, as we make our way through the rubble and stunned bodies, all I'm thinking is that we need to find a way to keep going. Mercifully, I'm not the only monster on set. D.J. is actually the one who comes up with a plan to restrict the camera's movement so that we are, essentially, never looking at the portion of the set that's collapsed. It's very clever. In fact, I can say with authority that in the end, it will be impossible to distinguish footage taken before the disaster than after.

The stable part of the set
We get what we need. Personal disputes and set malfunctions aside, we have made it through our longest scene and we have every line recorded. (Strangely, the very end of the scene is possibly even more effective than it would have been under the original script.) If the set had collapsed ten minutes before it did, we would have been doomed. We'd never have been able to get the shots that we needed and the whole day would have been a write off. We would have had to re-book the site and hope that our fragile coalition held together an extra week or so. But fortune smiles on Conversion. We have to cheat a little, but we can cheat with style. It's not a bad curse to have placed on you. As long as it holds up.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Eleven

28 August 2009

"What we've done so far is great, but the film lives or dies on what we shoot this weekend."

Why do I keep saying that to people? Sure it's true. For some reason, when I was doing the schedule, it seemed like a good idea to pack the film's climax and the scene that makes up almost a fifth of the script into one weekend. Logically, I can see how it works, because of other constraints on the shooting and because you really wouldn't want to have the most intense scenes earlier in the schedule anyway. You want them to come at the point where people are emotionally invested and when they've had the film on the brain for several weeks. At least, that was my theory when I was throwing darts at a board, trying to figure out when things could be fit in. What the hell do I know about doing a shooting schedule? I'm still trying to figure out enough to be able to express my ideas. But that's the thing about producing something yourself. There is no safety net. You are the only person you can rely on. Well, you and your other producers, who are generally just as strapped as you are.

It's definitely true that, because of the way that the schedule has been put together, this weekend has the power to make or break the film. But why do I keep feeling the need to tell everybody?

First up is the climactic scene of the film. We've managed to get back on decent terms after Wednesday's "boring" incident, but there's still a current of unease. Complicating things further is the fact that Georges, the sound guy who has attended us faithfully in the last few weeks, had a prior engagement and is unavailable for the weekend. This wouldn't have been anyone's choice of scenes to start a new key crew member, but we're lucky to have found anyone. Marc Desaulniers comes to us from Jean-David and is from the beginning a true professional. This at least allays some of my fears for the evening, but I'm still on edge. We start off by shooting a very brief scene outside, in front of the Parc metro station. It goes pretty smoothly, but there is one person who is hassling us about our right to be there and capture him on film (despite the fact that the camera is pointed away from him). I say nothing, but throw him a look that causes him to demand why we're threatening him. It also makes him move away and shut up. Yeah, I'm not in cheery form tonight.
Fred guards the coffee from a possible thief
I should feel great. After all, someone has agreed to loan us a cafe for the evening. Not some dump, either. It's been consistently voted as one of Montreal's best cafes and has a lush interior to die for. It's the perfect offbeat, memorable space for an offbeat film to reach its high dramatic point. Besides, how many times can you say that someone loaned you a cafe for the evening? Plus, our actors are raring to go. One of them- Mikaela Davies who, fortunately, is nothing like the character she plays in the movie, ends up spending the entire night with us, when one of her later scenes gets rescheduled until just after dawn.

Everyone arrives on time and is ready to go, but there's still an immediate delay (hey, it's our trademark), because the way that we had planned to shoot the whole sequence seems, in light of our conversation on Wednesday, too static. So we start to move furniture around, plan ways that the actors can move, plan ways that the camera can move, generally try to compensate for the fact that what we're filming is a very long stretch of dialogue between two people sitting in a cafe.

Normally, I'd be maintaining my determination that everything will be OK, but for tonight, I'm not that person. You see, tonight, I have to do some real acting- not just cheeky grins, smartass one-liners, or acting like myself generally. I have to act. I'm supposed to get emotional, which, ironically, is something I find difficult to do in real life. So I'm not being a good producer tonight. I'm being a strung-out actress who sort of wishes that her fellow producers were able to spare a few minutes to calm me down. That's just not how it works on a production this small. Our director and his right hand (Jean David) are pulling sofas around.

I can also notice the differences in myself when we're working. Normally, I get wrapped up in things and time flies by. Instead, tonight is crawling. It feels like something is interrupting us every five seconds, whether it's a passing car or a light needing to be removed, or someone stumbling on a line (it happens) and the fact that we're getting interrupted is making it more and more difficult for me to get into what's going on. The producer part of me is agreeing or giving opinions, but the stuttering pace is unnerving the actor part of me.

At some point, I'm sent out, with Dom, on a mission to get food for the masses. I'm aware that we still seem early in the sequence for how late it is, but I figure it's just my sense of time distorting a bit. When we get back with our bounty of bagels, I find out differently. I try to talk out the next series of shots that we need to get and D.J., who's been quiet all night, responds flatly "Then we're f**ked". [Note: he did not use asterisks, since they are difficult to pronounce.]

You always have to have some fun...
We still have the meat of the scene to shoot, there are at least a half dozen camera moves planned, coverage of a variety of different actors, plus the lengthy part at the end where Paul and I have to be dead on for the film to hold any emotional resonance in the end, and, I find out, it's after three in the morning. Our staccato method of quick shots and multiple angles so that we can figure out later which ones look the best together have pushed us over two hours behind schedule. And that normally wouldn't be a problem, except that there's this flaming golden sun that's going to start rising around five which is going to make it impossible to get consistent looking shots of the people in the cafe. The normal way to fight the sun (and it is, apparently, always the enemy for filmmakers) is to use a large curtain-like rig that blocks the light. This could have been done, but... The but breaks down into an argument over who should have thought of the need for one of these curtains, who should have told whom that one was needed... And thus do we lose another few precious minutes of night.

We get started again, trying to focus (at least most people are- my brain is like a pile of scrambled eggs and I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing). The stress and the pressure are making everyone prone to having brain spasms. We're not acting like the well-oiled machine we have been. I'm too worried about the acting part of my night to function well as a producer and to complicate things, I have a wicked case of the giggles. Discussions that would normally be rational are taking on the taint of the childish and every time something has to move, everything comes to a dead halt. I'm struck with this sense that something is about to give.

Since D.J. has been the uneasiest about this scene, I'm expecting it to be him that ex/implodes, so it comes as a surprise when the victim of the night's stress turns out to be Paul. He doesn't yell, doesn't throw things, doesn't stomp away or start throwing punches, but he hits a wall where he simply can't get the words out of his mouth. It's the kind of thing that happens to people under pressure and the pressure isn't helped by the fact that he's angrier at himself than anyone. This is not something that's happening because he's unprepared or because he doesn't have a sense of what he should be doing. Like me at the loft, this is what happens when you're wearing a lot of hats. Eventually, the head breaks down.

The good thing is, when you're dedicated to something, as he is, you find a way to overcome it. He pulls himself together, works through the lines like the trooper he is and then, all of a sudden, it's my turn. This is what I've been afraid of all night. One long-ish speech that's supposed to be emotional, sad, defeated. It's the most challenging thing I've had to do as an actor and it's the one scene in which my inexperience had troubled Dom just a little when I said I wanted to play this part. I have to think that he's got to be having doubts again, because I am still finding it really difficult not to laugh. I can't even make eye contact with some of the people in the room. I've been trying to help Paul get through his bits and as a result, I'm not entirely sure I can remember what I'm supposed to be saying. I have this insane fear that the cameras will start rolling and I'll spit out all Paul's lines as quickly as I can, then turn around to find out that the sun's come up.

As a trick, I try to think of the piece as a number of blocks of text and then remember one key word from each block. Then all I have to do is memorise the order of the blocks and I can make it through. As long as I don't sound like a child reciting words at a spelling bee, everything should be fine. At the moment, I'm most worried about letting everyone else down, after all that's been put into the project.

The camera and lighting are moved, Marc checks my microphone, which has been showing a nasty tendency to fall down the inside of my dress and we're ready. D.J. reassures me that, if I need to stop, I just have to signal, that we'll get the lines from different angles, so I don't need to feel pressured to do one perfect take. I feel like I'm hearing him from underwater- all distorted and distant. It's not exactly nerves, what I'm feeling anymore, it's as if I've slipped into another area where there is only me and my little blocks of words. Dom tells me to signal him when I'm ready, so a give myself one long, deep breath to push any remaining and nod- let's go.

Dom calls action and I start. Then, abruptly, something goes wrong with the camera. That's the sort of thing that makes actors freak out and lose it on set, I'm sure. 

My memory of the next five minutes is gone. I'm so terrified of giggling that I can't bring myself to even look in the direction of anyone else in the room. So I look down and just try to focus on the words. I'm completely unaware of what's going on in the room around me, I wouldn't know if the place was on fire. If there are traffic sounds outside, I don't hear them. I just jump from one lily-pad of words to another until I can make my way back to the pond. The one thing that I do remember is that, at a key moment, my voice sort of cracks. I can't say that I meant to do it, but I feel when it's about to happen and I certainly don't fight it. It's just a fleeting realisation before I go back to my lily pads.

Professional actors don't think like this. They are focused enough that they are within their characters, inside the moment as the character experiences it. Even at the most intense moments, I don't achieve that. I'm always aware that I'm acting, aware that I'm pretending. But I like that little crack in my voice, because, whether from exhaustion or fear or because I'm overwhelmed, that instant is quite real. So when the take ends- only a few seconds before the camera hits its cut-off point of five continuous minutes of filming- I exhale and take just a second to feel good about myself.

"Do I have to do that again?" I ask, terrified that I'm going to find out that one of the lights was blinking, or my microphone fell down my dress again, or the camera focus wobbled... all sorts of things that have scrapped other, perfectly good takes in the film.

Dom and Ash both smile reassuringly and tell me no, what I did was perfect and my feeling of pride grows just a little bigger.

"Yes she does," D.J. reminds us, obviously exhausted from a few too many nights like this. "We have to do the wide shot."

Well someone has to get me back to planet earth. We reset and run through everything again to give us an angle to cut to. We still have a lot of work to do, a lot of shots, because there's a lot that needs to be captured in order for the film to truly come together- after all, this weekend is crunch time, where the big scenes are unfolding. There is no time for me to get lost in my profound sense of relief that I've faced down my acting demons and I can go back to being me again- split between producing and acting throughout.

It's a bit of a cop-out to end this here, but I honestly can't get into too much more detail, because, of course, these are the big scenes we're shooting and I can't give away everything that happens... By the time we finish, it's after seven in the morning. It's no longer dawn, the sun is up and there's traffic on Parc Ave. outside. We pack up and move things back to the way they were. Jean-David, having tended to us all night, half making sure that we had everything we needed, half making sure we didn't accidentally wreck the place, decides to stay on and open the coffee shop. That's right, he goes from working on the film to making espressos until the morning shift arrives (which won't be for another few hours).

I'm so elated at having made it through the evening that I'm barely able to contain it. Everyone else looks at me with weary smiles or avoids me completely. As high as I am, I'm aware that we've just put in a very difficult night- almost twelve hours by a group of people who were, for the most part, working for the eight hours previous. I'm fairly bouncing, but there is a weight on the shoulders of a number of the people there. We knew we were going to feel tired, but this is a dangerous time to be feeling it. As we part, there's a little sense of anxiety cutting into my buoyancy. What we have to shoot on Sunday is longer and more complex and if everyone is going into it tired than there's no guarantee we can get it all finished. Ah yes, the producer is back.