Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day One

1 August, 2009

So this is it! After months of planning, we’re finally ready to capture the first moments of Conversion on film. Well, on digital format. One of the reasons that we’re actually able to afford to do this is that there is no film involved. Behold the magic of technology.

We’ve assembled on a quiet-ish (not quite as quiet as we had thought when we scouted the location all of a week before) street in an area on the northwest slope of Westmount, but that’s really part of Cote-des-Neiges. Dom had recalled the place because a friend of ours used to live down the street. I’d almost taken an apartment in the building in front of which we’re shooting, which somehow strikes me as a good omen. Even at the moment, I realize that this is because I’m looking for good omens.

As we prepare, Ash and I getting wired for sound and discovering a heretofore unknown issue- “chest hair noise”- I’m quietly having a moment of panic, because for the first time in months, something that should have been obvious has occurred to me: I have no bloody idea what I’m doing.

This is something that I’ve managed mostly to ignore as we were prepping the film, but as I’m studying the bus schedule, trying to determine when we’ll be able to take advantage of a bus passing in order to start filming the scene, I’m suddenly painfully aware that, not only do I know nothing about making a film, I know nothing about how to do the individual tasks I’m supposed to be doing as part of the film. I don’t even know if I can act. Sure, I’ve been a table reads (a term I didn’t know until I started working on the film) of the script and those have gone fine, but I always knew I could read. The sum total of my acting experience is playing roles in some harmless comedy skits on a TV show I worked on in high school, the longest and most challenging of which was called Vampire Vixens from Planet Russia. (I’m not making that up.)

To help me relax, the Director of Photography yells from where he is setting up across the street to make sure I know that we have exactly one chance to get the first shot right. Because the bus only comes every twenty minutes, by the time the next one arrives, the light of the setting sun will have changed and we will be out of luck. He’s right, of course, but that’s not exactly what’s running through my head at that moment.

Moments later, I allow myself to take it as another good sign when the miracle comes together. The bus passes, Ash and I say our lines properly and we manage to walk from the bus stop out of frame without falling into the bushes, tripping on the uneven sidewalk, or otherwise causing a derailment. I still don’t know if I can act, but I’m content in the knowledge that I can at least be competent, something which I had been doubting moments before.

Our first night, as it turns out, is an ambitious one. We had originally scheduled three short scenes (the first one being the most complicated), but because of a scheduling conflict, we’ve had to add another. Circumstances force us to constantly be rushing, which would make me more nervous if things didn’t seem to be moving along with relative ease. A few bumps and bruises (mostly me, being clumsy) and some “personality quirks” of the camera aside, we’re making what seems like good time.

Of course, as we’re leaving our first location, we pass the cops someone has called because they’re annoyed by the sound of our generator. (Lady, it’s barely 8 o’clock. It’s still light out and even we can’t hear the generator over the sound of the cars when they pass. You need to find yourself a hobby or something.)

As we’re filming in a local park a scene which involves the time-honoured literary tradition of hurling toilet paper at stuff, we’re surprised when one of our onlookers, about 12 years old, asks if she can help with the tossing. Since it wouldn’t fit the story, I have to say no, but part of me still wishes that we could have worked her in somehow. Random kid hanging out with people in their thirties, throwing toilet paper on things. On second thought, that sounds a little creepy.

Still later, in a tunnel that connects two otherwise completely distinct sections of NDG, we have another volunteer offer to supply some custom graffiti as background decoration. This is an offer that we are happily able to accept and so Conversion, which will be notable for the great tapestry of graffiti that serves as its backdrop, gets a custom piece of work.

Some time between two and three, we are able to complete everything that we had on our schedule. I’m a little rattled to see the time, not so much because it’s late and we’re filming the next day, but because I realize how badly I’ve underestimated the time it will take to do even simple work. In seven or eight hours, on four locations, we have probably assembled what will form all of two to three minutes of film. We have a very long way to go. The important thing is, we’ve made a start. Heading home, I’m too tired to rationally reflect on the quality of what we’ve done, but as I’m drifting off to fitful sleep, I’m aware that I have a good feeling.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thanks for the memories... I think

I had this wonderful idea that, as we were filming Conversion, I was going to be able to record my thoughts day by day, capturing each new and exciting moment within a day or two of shooting. After all, we were only shooting on weekends and a few select week days, right? So, with everything so carefully planned in advance, there was absolutely nothing for me to do during filming except stand in front of the cameras and act, right?

Wow, it's funny how idiotic that logic sounds in retrospect.

I don't know what I was thinking when that idea came into my head, but I certainly wasn't considering the fact that, when we started shooting, we didn't have locations for some shoots, we hadn't accounted for the fact that we'd have to drop one night of the scheduled shoot completely because our lead actor had a conflict and even some of the cast remained to be finalised (in fact, as I was to discover in the coming weeks, even some of the cast that had been finalised wasn't quite "finally finalised"). And that's not even taking into account the number of questions that one can get asked on a film set that one has never before considered, but which nonetheless demand to be answered. Where do you have to take those cables? How the f**k should I know? Except that I'm supposed to know, because I'm one of those people who's supposed to know what they're doing on this set. That's kind of a scary concept.

So I never did get around to writing my filming diary the way that I wanted to, but the good news (depending on your point of view) is that I take pretty good notes and I have a pretty good memory, and no one has yet established a statute of limitations on writing about experience.

In other words, the shooting diary is still a live project. So stay tuned here, because for the next couple of weeks, I'll be rehashing all the highs and lows, lessons learned and problems solved, of filming Conversion... learn from our fails and take strength from our wins. This is how we managed, with no external funding and no industry support, to get a feature film shot.