Sunday, January 2, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Two

2 August, 2009

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can set you off in weird new directions. Today’s shoot involves scenes that were never included in the original screenplay, but which came from ideas that just seemed too good to pass up. One of the things that they have in common was that I didn’t think of either of them. One came from a giddy discussion with Ash and Dominic about enlivening a lengthy monologue late in the script and the second from a similar talk with Dominic and D.O.P. D.J. Matrundola on how to use an interesting location we had at our disposal.

The other thing that these scenes have in common is that both are shot in the place where we live. This caused me no consternation until the morning of the shoot, when I realize from the night before that there is significantly more equipment involved than I had originally believed and that there will be more people involved than I originally believed. As I awake, I’m thinking all of a sudden that I’m not entirely comfortable having a half a dozen people shuffling through the living room, using a toilet with a tendency to explode when not flushed exactly right and I’m nervous that our superintendent, already a little irate that we have contraband feline, is going to be severely displeased when we start blocking access to one of the building’s public areas.

Then, of course, there’s the problem of sleep deprivation. Although we’re not scheduled to start shooting until late that afternoon, those involved in the first night’s events have preparation to do and have in general had little sleep. So we’re all going in with nerves that are just the teensiest bit frayed.

The first crisis of the day is that we discover that we’re short-staffed. Since both director and D.O.P. are going to be in front of the camera for one of the scenes, we need an extra person to shoulder the burden on the other side. Eventually a friend of a friend of Paul Ash’s, Katelynd Kuhar, arrives to save the day. In fact, she saves more than that, since she is one of the people unknown to any of us before the shoot, who steps in and fills a huge gap in the production, sticking with us throughout filming, being on site for many of the remaining days, often until ungodly hours. This is one of the truly remarkable things about filming Conversion. People who have no vested interest and no personal connection to the project end up becoming vital members of the team.

There are a few glitches during the day. We get off to a late start, which has me worried since we all have to work in the morning and I don’t want to be shooting in the building until all hours, lest someone complain. Our toilet does indeed live up to its nature and shower water over the bathroom floor several times while we are upstairs, forcing me to take on the added role of Bowl Wrangler while we are working in the apartment.

When we move outside, we face a problem that has been a concern since well before we started filming: it’s raining. The rain is light, too light to actually show up on the film, I’m assured, but heavy enough to show up on the actors who have to appear outside, namely Ash and me, and heavy enough to potentially damage the camera.

One performer doesn’t show up, although the particular part in question is one that easily accommodates a stand-in. A car alarm, fortunately on Dominic’s car, is tripped twice, sending a blaring announcement of our unsanctioned work echoing through the halls of the building. These are the little things that can seem very, very big when you’re working on a tight schedule.

This day also gives me a very important lesson in how to work on films, although I don’t fully recognize it until a couple of days later. As we’re shooting downstairs, I’m plagued by the thought that the way that the scene is turning out, it’s not going to look at all the way I intended when I wrote it. Normally, this would mean that the writer just has to suck it up, but one of the advantages of being a producer on your own project is that you get to argue for your own ideas. This turns into a vociferous debate between me, D..J. and Dom and eventually, in the interests of moving forward and because I have the least experience of any of the four producers, I relent. I’m more worried that we’re going to be blocking the entrance to the parking garage all night and that this will cause problems in my life outside Conversion. The decision rankles with me, but I have confidence that I’ve at least made my points and am reassured that I’m simply not seeing things the way that they will finally come together.

Here’s my advice to anyone in the same position: If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t. No matter what people tell you, keep making your point until you’re either satisfied or forced to concede that what you want is impossible. As someone who struggles with self-confidence in general, it’s sometimes hard for me to stand up for what I think, particularly when faced with people who know better than I do. Listen to what others say- their opinions are as valid as yours, even if they’re opposed- but if you want something, don’t allow circumstances to cause you to doubt yourself. (If I can be permitted to flash forward for a moment, it turns out that we were able, in the editing process, to make the scene flow more along the lines of what was originally intended, a stroke of luck I had not counted on having.)

As it turns out, despite the day’s problems, we finish on time, no one comes to order us out and nothing gets lost or broken. Despite my unease at this last scene, we’ve accomplished something pretty remarkable- we’ve managed to get through our first weekend’s shoot and get everything we’d intended in the proverbial can. The scarier part is that this was the easiest shoot. It involved the fewest people, the shortest scenes and the fewest set-ups. Next week, we’ll start with the complicated parts, something that both frightens and excites me.

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