14 August 2009
The first shot of the night is beautiful. I know it is before I've even seen it. Normally, I try to look at all of the shots as soon as they're taken, if only to enrich my understanding of how films are put together and what the different terms I'm hearing actually mean. This time, however, I just get in position to move on, because by the time we finish the first shot, we're running over an hour and a half behind.
This first part of the evening was supposed to be the simple part. We're filming on the balcony of two of the film's actors, because we wanted to break up the action in one party seen by having a bit of the action take place outside. We specifically wanted to shoot on this balcony, because it has the most beautiful view in the city- you can see it at the beginning of the trailer. (Sadly, that shot is now an archive. The next door neighbour decided to extend his building, obscuring the view completely.)
Once this simple scene is done- more than two and a half hours later and well after we believed we'd be finished- we have to move on to a new location across town. Unlike the week before, we do not have the option of rescheduling, because this entire weekend- the only one where we will shoot all three days- is required to get down all the scenes with actress Heather Nangreaves, who has come in from out of town to play a key role for us. She's incredibly prepared and hardly ever requires a retake. It's almost eerie how perfectly she matches the cadence of the lines as I heard them in my head, without me even saying a word. I feel confident that, once we get this first quick scene, which requires a number of extras and tricky camera angles, that we will be able to make good time on the rest of the shoot. I'd feel even better if it weren't well after midnight by the time we leave for our second location.
The funny thing is, we didn't even know where we'd shoot this part only a few days before. We had a couple of ideas, but they were really good, or at least they didn't feel right. So D.J. and I had set out in different neighbourhoods, trying to see who could find something workable first. He won. Without wanting to get too descriptive, as soon as I saw it, I knew it was right. I am even more certain of that when I see how Dom and his cousin, Jean-David (who is responsible for the majority of our inside locations and who will distinguish himself as an iron man, going beyond the call of duty every time he is on set) have decorated it. For a moment in the hectic process that is Conversion, I'm unable to just go on with what I'm doing. I have to take a moment to look and appreciate what's being accomplished.
Knowing that our fancy opening shot has eaten away a lot of time and that we still have a lot to shoot, we settle and are able to start getting shot after shot in quick succession. There are a lot of shots, dialogue captured from different angles and there are occasional interruptions from passing traffic (and one from passing drunks looking to start a fight), but tonight, things are moving remarkably smoothly. We block out each section and the number of retakes required are fairly minimal. Between takes, we're running lines to keep ourselves fresh. This is working remarkably like a real movie.
In the blur to get everything done, for the first time, I can picture in my head exactly how everything is going to come together, how each shot will cut into the others. Thus far, I've sort of been getting lost in the vocabulary of lenses and angles and lights, but as we're firing these bits off, I have the sense that the end product is going to be something special. (If I can be permitted to leap forward for a moment, it so happens that my favourite sequence in the film is part of what we shot there. Ironically, it's a sequence with almost no dialogue, so I really can't take credit at all.)
Our enemy tonight is the clock. As much as our shots unfold with precision, it takes time to get the shots right, move the lights, get the sound perfect... Eventually, inevitably, the sun is going to come up and then we're out of luck. By the time we have to shift our filming to an alley across the street, I'm thinking that we're going to have to cut things short once again and that we'll have to reschedule another segment. However, I'm surprised that, unlike last week, no one else seems ready to give into exhaustion. We have a fairly dialogue heavy sequence to shoot and the first part is one long shot, the kind where things are prone to going wrong and every step has to be timed perfectly. And still everyone around me is game to make it through until the end. (Even the guy who's only scheduled to be on set two days later, who dropped by when we were shooting on the balcony and who agreed to hang around to be in a shot that, as it turns out, is the very last thing we will end up doing this night.)
We keep at it, because there seems to be a resoluteness setting into the addled minds of everyone there that we will not allow ourselves to be defeated by time. As we're taking those last shots, when exhaustion is causing little pinwheels of light to dot my field of vision, I feel humbled at the fact that everyone else soldiered on when I was ready to give in. It's a strange realisation, and one I seem to keep having, that other people care about getting this finished and getting it done well.
As we're slowly disassembling the lights and cables at the end of the night, having finally captured every shot we'd meant to, I realize a couple of things. I've been awake for twenty-four hours, as have many of the people there. (In fact, Nik once again is leaving to go in for a shift at work.) We are scheduled to resume shooting in just over fourteen hours. All day Sunday, we will be shooting in a place with a lot of actors and extras- our biggest crowd yet- in a location where the power supply is a little questionable. There's lots to keep me anxious for the next couple of days. But at the moment, nothing is making me anxious. At the moment, what I want is just to sit and look at the rapidly lightening sky and enjoy the feeling that a combination of good luck and good work have made for a pretty good night.