Sunday, February 20, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Ten

26 August 2009

I've never been what you'd call an athletic person. That's not to say I'm unhealthy- I've never owned a car, so I do a lot of walking, I eat well most of the time, I enjoy getting fresh air and I used to use my bike to get around a lot. Part of the issue is that I'm asthmatic, which means that I have a very short window of intense physical activity before I stop being able to draw air into my lungs. My body won't be tired, but it just can't keep going because it's deprived of oxygen.

So you'd think someone in my condition, writing a script in which she wanted to play a major role would know enough not to put her character in a lot of situations where she had to run. Turns out, I'm not that smart. Tonight, a potentially ill-advised Wednesday night shoot, we will be running. In fact, that's virtually all we'll be doing.

This is the night that we'll be capturing a lot of little bits that would otherwise be forgotten. Tonight, we are only four- me, Paul, D.J. and Dom- no sound, no script, no lighting, nothing. What we're after is a succession of quick shots of Paul and I running as well as some shots of the city, which is, in its own way, a central character in the film. In contrast to our shoots over the last couple of weekends, tonight is pure chaos. There is no real plan, other than to go downtown and grab shots until we think we have enough or until we collapse from exhaustion.

Tonight doesn't really require a plan as such. We all have ideas of shots that we want to get (I will say that my main one turns out to be an utter failure, because, when I envisioned it in the winter, I failed to take into account that trees grow leaves). The lack of equipment means that we're able to pick up and move between locations at a moment's notice and the fact is that we have lots of ideas means that there's an air of excitement about the night. I'm sort of hopeful that we'll get what we need before we become a batch of cranky children, desperately in need of nap time.

The first order of the night is to get some shots in one of Montreal's loveliest but least used metro stations. There's no specific plan, but once we get going (which, true to form, takes a little while), the sequence of shots becomes self-evident. I get a little uneasy when, during the first shot, I take a very nearly disastrous tumble on a steep staircase. Did I mention that I'm running in four-inch heels? I recover well-enough and we get the rest of the shots, step by step. Then it's off to the city for more running shots and some landscape shots.

As we're doing the city shots, I become aware of something that I hadn't realised before. Despite our general enthusiasm, it seems that we have different ideas of what Conversion is. It's been the case from the beginning, of course and there have been little disagreements on how certain scenes should be done, but up until this point, we've more or less been locked into a script. With the restraints off, there is a difference in aesthetic approaches that comes to the fore. As we discuss the difference in aesthetics, the differences in our interpretations of the script become more obvious.

For my part, I believe I've written a script about the difficulties of finding and maintaining individuality. Dom and Paul are both focused on the idea that the principal theme of the script is the importance of friendship, but in different ways. Dom's view is that the story is dramatic, emotional. Paul, being a stand-up comedian, sees a story that is human, but ultimately light-hearted. D.J., a fan of high-energy and high-impact films, sees a frenetic urban adventure on a small scale. In fact, all of these views will inform the final picture, but they make it strangely difficult to agree on how the shots of the city should look and should function.

I want still, haunting, slightly seedy images that emphasise the indifference of the surroundings to the individuals in it.

Dom wants big, expansive vistas that capture the scope of the city in comparison to the smallness of the characters.

Paul is the most amenable of any of us, but also wants to try to include a few moments of visual humour as a way of linking back to the humour in the script.

D.J. wants shots that jump and move and capture the kinetic, constantly moving nature of an urban environment.

We proceed at a decent pace, but these strange squabbles break out over the most innocent things. On the bright side, it's a sign that we're all pretty invested in our visions of the film. On the bad side, it's making something that should be easy a lot more complicated.

The night ends with us ascending Mont Royal, the mountain at the centre of the city and the discussion that develops is indicative of the different opinions at work: Dom wants to walk to the main lookout to capture the spectacular view of downtown. I want to drive around to the lookout on the far side of the point that looks out towards the city's gritty east end. D.J., aside from wanting us to hurry up and make a decision, is decidedly ambivalent about doing either shot, since he doesn't think it will add much. Paul is open to either option and tries to negotiate between all of us to find a settlement. (In the end, I get my way that night and we also get shots of the main lookout in the early morning. Both shots will end up in the film. So compromise is not always necessary or desirable.)

Having gotten our shots from the mountain, we pile back into the car to head home. We're too worn out to keep going, even though we know we don't have all the shots we need. We may have been too ambitious, thinking that we could shoot every insert we wanted in one night, but there's a pervasive sense of defeat in the car as we descend back into the city.

At length someone brings up the subject we're all a little shy to talk about; the coming weekend. This will not be the longest weekend for us. It will not involve the most movement, because we are primarily shooting in one location each time. The problem is that we're actually shooting a third of the film in those two days, including the longest single sequence, the scenes with the most speaking roles and the dramatic crescendo of the story. And now that we know that we have these competing visions, it's obvious that we're going to have disagreements as to how the most important scenes in the film should look. The inevitability of these debates makes it crucial that we are more organised, more professional than we have ever been and the fact is that we haven't truly scouted the locations as well as we should have.

The debate grows in intensity. D.J. is nervous that things don't look well organised and nervous that Dom doesn't seem nervous. In the middle of this "robust dialogue", D.J. starts to talk about the importance of working out shots so that the camera is moving frequently, which is when I get involved. For the scenes we're scheduled to shoot next, I don't want the camera moving a lot. As exciting and rich as our big shots have been until now, I'm dead set on having as little movement as possible, because I want the focus to be entirely on the words. The two of us are spitting out arguments as fast as we can, neither really listening to what the other is saying, with Dom chiming in over the top to add to the tangle of verbal confusion, when D.J. says something that stops the whole thing short. He says that without a lot of camera movement, the scene will be boring.

He means that the scene will be static, flat, visually uninteresting, but I'm heated up and I think that he's saying the writing itself is boring. It's two in the morning on a Wednesday. We have been working on this for weeks and organising for months, with the understanding that we all believe in the project. I can feel something hot erupt in my sternum and for a moment I actually feel smoke curling out of me. Dom and Paul intervene to at least allow us to part in peace, but it suddenly seems like there's a very heavy wedge thrown in the team.

At the end of the night, on the way home, I'm indignant, convinced I've been grievously insulted. I'm not thinking about whether or not what we shot was any good. For the only time in the shoot, I don't care. And for the first time in weeks, there's an icy fog of tension hanging over the production.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Nine

22 august 2009

Oh, how I have been waiting for this day. For starters, after the killer schedule of the last week, this weekend involves only one day's work. We've asked everyone to be on call for the following day, but looking at what we have to shoot, none of us thinks we'll need that unless we're horribly disorganised. Second, the day's shoot is actually a day shoot, meaning we don't have to be up until all hours (although we have to be up early). And of course, there's the fact that, for the only time in the entire shoot, I have the day off. Well, not off exactly, because I'll have plenty to do, but the difference is that I won't have to do it while acting. I have no scenes today! But the reason I have most been looking forward to today is the venue in which we are shooting, Bos Advertising, a chic advertising company in a 19th century industrial building, stunningly refurbished with ten-foot windows, exposed brick walls and... wait for it... a swimming pool that we're free to use. I already know that the main thing getting me through today will be the knowledge that, at the end of it, i get to go swimming. Whatever works, right?

My first duty of the day is to run and get breakfast-type food for everyone while the crew get set up. When I return laden with fruit and baked goods, I'm astonished to see that, not only are they getting everything together for the first shot, but others (it was not hard to assemble a crew for this particular day) are putting things in place for subsequent scenes, so that we're already well ahead of the game. In fact, throughout the day, as the main group moves from one place to another, part of the crew is always going to the place we've just completed shooting and moving equipment to the place we'll be going next. We are an efficient little machine.

Although it was easy enough to get crew for the day, the same did not hold true for extras. The glorious office space in which we find ourselves is open-concept to let the light flow everywhere. It must be wonderful to work in (when Jean-David, who does work here in "real life" first showed me the place, I didn't want to leave), but the problem is that you can see everything from virtually everywhere and if desks are empty, it's going to be painfully obvious. Plus, of course, you want to show some movement, to give the idea of a buzzing, active and tense workplace, which is what we're supposed to have. So our first challenge is to look extremely carefully at every position that the camera will occupy and determine the absolute minimum number of desks we need to fill. It's a very delicate affair and the annoying thing is, this isn't anything that people will likely notice in the final version. It's just that it's the kind of thing they'll notice if it's not done properly.

The other challenge is in keeping things moving along. True to our established pattern, it takes us about ten times as long to get the first shot- another thrilling drop in that shows off the full beauty of where we're shooting- as it does to get anything else that day. So, despite our best efforts, we're already well behind where we wanted to be by the time we've finished shot one. We've organised the order of shots around the fact that it's easier to move people than equipment. However, since the action takes place on two different days, we're frequently forced to ask everyone to change between shots. Some days, you can do everything right and it'll still be complicated. I just try to keep smiling. Everything is going pretty smoothly. And the smoother things go, the sooner I will get to go swimming.

Next up on the list of things that I get to be stressed about is that one of our actors hasn't shown up. I try calling him and get voice mail. I make signs to put up around the building in case he hasn't been able to locate the door. I leave a message with every number I can think of for him to call. No luck. So now we have a shortage of extras and I need one of them to play a defined part. I watch the efficient team moving lights and cords around and I wonder how I'm going to break this little piece of news to the others who don't have a break from their regular duties.

As I try to think of a solution, I find my mind kind of wandering. I'm sitting on some filing cabinets, chin in hands, looking at the action upstairs and knowing that the next scene we shoot needs the missing actor in it. But really, I'm thinking about the fact that one of our extras has this really amazing shirt on. Being a really unapologetic aesthete, I'm fascinated by this shirt and I'm sort of saddened to think that the fact that he's so far from the camera will prevent the complex sheen of the fabric from appearing in the final film. I'm not joking, this is actually what's running through my mind.

The extra in this case, is Dom's uncle and Jean-David's father Jean-Guy Marceau. It's always a thing with me when a man takes care about how he looks and this shirt, a rich sort of purple-magenta colour that changes in the light is the kind of thing that says to me that the person wearing it thinks carefully about their appearance. It's not the sort of garment one picks up on a whim. It also looks like something that a person working at an energetic, image-conscious office run by a guy sporting bleached hair and a couple of earrings (as this one is) would wear. So it occurs to me- why not ask him to play the featured part? I mean, he looks perfect and the role, while distinct, doesn't even require him to speak, plus, he has family members there, so he'd be more inclined to help out than a stranger on the street, which is my other option at the moment.

When I raise the subject with Dom, he looks at me as if I've just asked if I could pierce his testicle sack with a pen. You see, the fact that his uncle is here at all is kind of remarkable. He's literally just finished a round of chemotherapy that week and it was a real unknown whether he'd be able to come and how long his strength would hold out. It's a very difficult debate to have when your best argument is that you have a gut feeling based on someone's shirt. But at length, Dom agrees to ask him. Yes, I am aware that this makes me a monster.

Now the ironic thing is that Jean-Guy has actually been acting since before most of the upstart producers of Conversion were even born. He's an acclaimed stage actor and at this moment (February 2011), he's actually performing with a theatre troupe in Europe. So we're that much more fortunate when he says that yes, actually, he does feel up to staying and playing a larger role. In fact, he gives the character a remarkable amount of depth for the brief time he appears and it's the things like his performance that, I believe and hope, will give Conversion an added dimension that makes it worth viewing more than once. (Ironic touch: The scene in which he is most visible actually is set on another day than the first scene, so the shirt I so admired never does get its moment on camera. You can catch a glimpse of it in the background, but most of his action takes place when he is wearing a very elegant blue shirt instead.)

The day is filled with little issues that are the kind of thing that independent films face all the time. We have a shot that we all agree is probably the "hero shot" of the film, a long pull back that Dom and I had separately envisioned as soon as we saw the office. However, our shortage of extras makes it seem awfully empty. As a result, several of the people in the final shot are crew members, seconded to appear in that shot only.

Midway through one of the early scenes, Dan Derkson, a member of an esteemed Montreal Improv group who gives us enough material to create an entire "Best of Dan" DVD, knocks a cap off his tooth in the middle of a particularly intense monologue.

One of the scenes is shot in a closed office with a giant glass wall looking out at the rest of the desks that requires an unbelievably intricate set up of equipment and people to ensure that nothing is reflected in the windows. As we're shooting, there is a small pile of bodies on the floor, all filling some role in between takes, but basically like large sandbags while the camera is rolling. Even Dom has to basically flatten himself after snapping the slate and ends up calling action from underneath a table.

These are the sorts of problems you face even when you're prepared. There are always things that come up and, in moments of frustration, it's easy to forget that this is all part of the adventure. A woman I worked with once got annoyed with a coworker who was complaining about how there were always problems to deal with and she snapped "Yeah, well if there weren't problems, you and I wouldn't have jobs". It's remarkably apt statement in a number of situations, but definitely in film-making. If there weren't always issues getting a picture to look just right, or positioning everything properly, or making sure that things look and sound believable, everyone could run outside with two or three friends and a camera and shoot Raging Bull. The problems aren't just a side effect of the process, they are the process and your ability to overcome them defines your talent as a film-maker. Or so says the woman lying in a pile of bodies on the floor, who has no film-making experience.

It's strange, but even though I swear we've lost time shooting, we end up on our final scene a little earlier than I would have liked. It's one of those little things that strikes me as odd, even though there's nothing wrong. I had pictured the scene taking place at night, in the dark. Instead, it's shot at twilight, with the sun setting visibly as the characters deliver their lines. As we're starting to set up, I'm tempted to offer to buy everyone dinner in order to stretch the shooting time so that it gets dark, but looking into some of the exhausted faces and realising that D.J., charged with organising all the technical aspects of the scene, is getting short-tempered, I decide to let things proceed without objecting. Besides, if we push things too late, everyone will want to go home right away and I won't get to go swimming.

In the end, I don't think that there's anything wrong at all with the way this scene turns out. It's just one of those moments where there's a divergence between what I saw in my head and what ends up on film. In a way, those are the most interesting parts of the film to me.

The day winds up with us enjoying a sunset by the pool and, most importantly, with me in the pool. I'm happily bobbing up and down, swimming from one end of the pool to another, beer in hand and maintaining a conversation. Let it never be said that I can't multitask. Obviously, not having to act has made this a particularly relaxing day (and has made me wonder what I could have brought to the party if I hadn't been so egotistical as to insist I could play the lead), but my zen-like bliss goes beyond that. Yes, there were some frayed tempers towards the end of the day, but here we are as a group, sitting around a pool on a beautiful late summer's night, feeling a sense that we've all put in a good day's work and earned the sleep we're going to have. At the end of the day on the 16th, I felt pumped, empowered, victorious. Today, I am serene. The roughness and shakiness of the first couple of days has resolved itself into this, a feeling that we have things under control, that we can all take some time at the end of the day and toast our own accomplishments. We're more than halfway through and, strangely, things really do seem to be getting better.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Eight

20 August 2009

We're flying now!!!

We worked three consecutive days last weekend! We got some amazing footage! We didn't get in fights! Life is good on the set of Conversion, which is why this makes a particularly good time to do a weeknight shoot. After all, everybody's psyched, we're making progress and personally, I know I'm going to have an easy weekend, so bring it on!

As I sit at my desk, working away, I can feel the excitement building. We are shooting on a Thursday night, so we'll all have to be at work in the morning. I know I'll be exhausted, but I'm not terribly worried, because I know that I used to be able to do this kind of thing no problem when I was in my early twenties. It's not like anything would have changed in the meantime. I'm excited.

I'm even more excited, because I keep getting text messages from Dom telling me that a) I won't believe what DJ's done for the shoot tonight and b) Dom has added a little extra just to make things that much better. I can't wait to see what it is. By the end of the day, I'm not sure I'd know how to respond if someone asked me my name, but somehow, I make it through. I could jog home, I have so much energy, but I realise that timing dictates that I should take public transit. Plus, I have asthma and it's just going to spoil everything if I end up collapsing on the street.

In the wake of the past weekend, where we got so much done and where we were so on top of things, everyone seems motivated. Everyone except the person who's supposed to be playing a busker at the beginning of the scene we're shooting tonight. I talk to him during my brief stop at home to change clothes, put on makeup and haul ass down to our location, immediately adjacent to the place where Dom and DJ work. He seems a little hesitant about the role he'll be playing. It's possible that he thought it would be larger, but what we want is to have someone perform- literally perform a whole song, as a street busker. It's supposed to be a poignant moment within the whole, the moment where the story changes gears and you first get a glimpse of the serious emotions underlying the glib dialogue of the main characters. I'm not making this up. I wrote the damn thing, so I know what everything means.

As I head down to the night's location, I notice for the first time that it's starting to get darker earlier. I know how long we had to wait for the sun to go down even a few weeks ago. It's still Summer- I'm comfortable in the sundress I'm wearing- but Autumn is coming.

I arrive and it seems like I missed a call time. Everyone is already there, and things have been dragged out and put into place. I don't even make it to the door of the office (to drop off my bag with the night's necessities). I stop dead in my tracks part way along the street.

Let's back up so that I can explain what's going on. Tonight, we're shooting one scene. That doesn't sound that ambitious, but it's a long-ish scene and it's pivotal in the script. So it's kind of important that things unfold well. The action takes place at a bus stop and one of the reasons that we've selected this location is that it has a sign post that could pass for a bus stop sign. Plus it has nice graffiti.

The thing that stops me part way down the street is that there is a bus stop- a real bus stop with a bench and lights and a sign- in the area where we're shooting. It's almost unreal. Here we are at an abandoned corner in NDG, normally home to derelict autobody shops and low-rent housing, and it suddenly looks like a busy strip with a night bus passing through it.

And to add to that, we have a bus. Not an actual bus, of course, but something that looks shockingly like a bus when seen through the eye of a camera. I've arrived on set and the magic of film is laid out before me.

We're all there, ready to start, except that our busker, whose part is the first thing being filmed that night, is AWOL. When it's getting to the point that we can't wait any longer, Dom calls him. And is told that he isn't feeling well and won't be coming. At the point in the conversation where I grasp this, I let out a sound the reverberations of which are still being felt in the outer universe. Such are the dangers of independent film-making. No one is obliged to do anything. Everyone in their own mind is doing you a favour.

Since rescheduling is not an option (we already have one scene to catch up on that we weren't able to shoot on Day Three), we assess the situation. We have one more crew member than we technically need, or at least, one more that we need for the first shot. And so, Peter Blair, who is one of those unsung folk who fill many roles on the set of Conversion, gets drafted to play a homeless person begging for money on the street. (If you look closely, you can also spot him as a guest at the loft party.)

It's later than we'd planned when we get started, but things are able to get rolling quickly. We even have a photographer on set to capture the magic. Unfortunately, the magic keeps getting interrupted by people using the street as a short cut, since it has no traffic lights. This is extraordinarily frustrating because we are absolutely buttoned-down for the night's shoot. We know exactly what we need to do, where and when. And we'd happily proceed with that, except that there are so many F*^KING cars going by.

We move from the first shot to what I consider the "money shot" of the entire film. I've told people about this so many times I don't know how to even describe it. The fact is that films use this kind of shot all the time, it's just that they don't use a still camera when doing it. So let me repeat: 5 inch camera mounted on 20 foot crane.

The placement of this shot is no mistake. the line that accompanies it is one on which the entire script pivots. There is a sea-change between what has gone before and after. Trust me on this one. It takes a few (ahem) attempts to get right, but once we do, it's pretty remarkable, as we all attest having watched it on the tiny monitor.

From there, we proceed to shoot at the actual bus stop. It's quite incredible how genuine it feels. Right down to the part where the bright lights at the bus stop start attracting bugs. Lots of bugs. The lights we've assembled are serving as a giant beacon for every flying thing in the known universe. I don't even want to open my mouth, much less speak, for fear one of those things will be flopping around my palate for the next hour. I remember that we were shooting during this time. I also remember that, whatever we were shooting, I was concentrating more on keeping my teeth clenched than on acting. I swear I found bug corpses in my dress for the next year.

One thing that is completely annoying is the number of times that we have to stop because there are cars racing by. The street next to which we are shooting is popular with speed demons because, unlike the street just above it, it has no traffic lights. Every other take is lost because a car comes rolling by, which is infuriating when you have a half dozen people whose actions all need to be coordinated. The rest of us are doing fine, but our positive energy is gradually turning into a sort of insane wrath against ANYONE who drives past our set. Sure, we'd probably come barreling past the same corner to save a few minutes ourselves, but for the moment, we hate you.

In a fit of pique, we decide- well, some of us decide, because I think we're joking until it actually happens- to send Jean-David out to redirect traffic a block north, so that it doesn't pass by our "set". I'm giggling about it, because it's not like drivers will automatically turn just because some guy happens to be pointing, right? As it happens, if you outfit the guy correctly, they will.

Of course, we barely get a couple of peaceful takes done before the police arrive to chastise us. We hang our heads dutifully, ready to tell them that we'll stop being bad as long as they let us continue what we're doing, but once they've said their spiel, we're all left a little confused.

They're very clear- we are not allowed to divert traffic one street north, as we've been doing. We figured that.

Then they add: You can stop traffic, you just can't divert it.

Wait, what?

That's right. The police force will let you go, even if you have no permits whatsoever, if you stop traffic. You just can't show them an alternate route. Go figure.

Thus goes the magic of the night. We know what we're doing. It still takes a long time. A longer time than I had imagined. But it gets done and it gets done well. We sit at our magical bus stop until the equally magical bus arrives, at which point we are finished.

By the time I get home, I am aware only that I have to make a choice between going to bed for an hour or so and showering immediately to get to work early. I'm slightly reassured by the fact that the major event of the subsequent day will be our company barbeque. I'm allowed to be brain dead for that, aren't I?

As I puzzle over that question, I'm hopeful that there won't be many other work nights that we have to be out.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Seven

16 August 2009

You might recall, or you might just hop back to Day Three of the filming diary, that I said I was so cold by the time we finished shooting that I had to be covered in a blanket between takes to stop my shivering. I'll forever remember this day, lucky day seven, as the day that Mother Nature decided to get back at me for complaining.

Today's shoot is at the loft of artist Steven Shellenberg, whose works form the backdrop of the day's scenes. As we arrive bright and early to start loading in equipment, I'm aware that it's warmer than it has been in the mornings. I joke to Heather as we're picking up coffee that this is the one day I want it to be cloudy and cool, because we're in a fairly confined space and, in order to get the sound perfect, we need to shut off any air conditioning. Nonetheless, I'm prepared for it to get pretty warm and sticky while we shoot. At least we're starting early.

This is a special day for us because LaPresse, Montreal's premiere daily newspaper, is sending a reporter (with photographer) to talk to us about what we're doing, how we're managing to make an entirely independent film and what the potential implications of the technology we're using are.

We're still getting everything set up when the media arrive, lights being installed, generators being fueled (I love the smell of gasoline in the morning), props being placed. Dom occupies himself with explaining the project to the reporter while today's crew efficiently get everything in place for us to start. There's a lot to cover today. There are numerous extras, five separate scenes to shoot, a lot of angles to cover in each scene and more.

The action today takes place at a bizarre party where the two leads find themselves, so we've asked everyone to show up looking at least a little offbeat. As part of the collection of oddballs, we've retained the services of a body painter, to make someone into a human statue. Unfortunately, when she arrives, we find out that she was unable to get her model to come with her. So now she has no one to paint.

Looking around, it's undeniable that we have a lot of crew today- more than we really need, given the space we have to work in. That's when Dom has the idea that Fred, one of the tireless labourers filling a plethora of roles behind the scenes on Conversion, would make a really imposing human statue. So, instead of spending the day moving equipment around, laying cable, lifting lights and helping place the boom, Fred will get to spend the day covered in paint and standing as still as humanly possible, to ensure that there are touch-ups are kept to a minimum. We'll definitely need touch-ups, the artist assures me, because it's starting to get warm with all the people in the loft.

As everything is falling into place around me, I feel pleased at how organised and how determined we all are. This weekend has been a bolstering experience for my confidence in our ability to make a film like the pros. Or at least like advanced-level amateurs. And at that moment, as I'm flushed with pride, it dawns on me that I can't remember a single one of my lines. It's like I've been so preoccupied with getting everything else done thus far that I haven't had a lot of time to think about the acting I'm doing. Now that I have nothing else to worry about, my brain's gone on vacation.

I know how all the action should take place. I know other people's lines. I know where each prop should be in the room. But I have no idea what I'm supposed to be saying. Desperately, I try running through my lines with Paul and Nik, which ends up with me watching the two of them do the lines together, because I can't remember any of it. I'm in a panic. We're almost ready to start and I'm stumbling like I've never opened the script before. Of course, panicking isn't making things better, because fear is causing my memory to fail more and it's making me aware of the fact that it is getting warmer with each passing minute, which is uncomfortable on top of everything else.

Somehow, Paul and Nik get me on track and I am able to muddle through. This will not be a banner day for me nailing my lines, I can already tell. It's been a point of pride with me that being the author of the script means that I'm usually able to knock off my parts pretty quickly. I feel like I'm going to make up for that today.

Finally, we're ready to roll. It's much later than I anticipated and I feel badly for the fact that all our extras have been around for much of the morning when they could have been sleeping in. But now things are ready. I dodge into the bathroom to retouch my makeup, because I notice that I've already started to melt a little in the heat. Then we start shooting.

The first shot of the day is of Paul and I walking down the hallway to a room at the end where the party is taking place. As we do our walk, something feels off. As we get to the main room it occurs to me: The air conditioner had been on earlier. I had assumed, given the temperature, that someone had already turned it off.

I'm not quite sure how to communicate the sort of heat we're dealing with. As a test, try holding your hand close to any light bulb in the room where you are right now. Feel how hot your hand gets. Now imagine that you're surrounded by about fifty of them each about a hundred times more powerful than the one you're close to, none more than a few feet away and many of them pointed at your face. Within the first couple of shots, I feel like someone is holding a lighter under my ears. Compared to Paul, of course, I'm lucky. He's wearing a wool jacket a jeans with socks and boots. I'm wearing a sundress. Even so, this heat is like nothing I've ever experienced. I can feel my ankles sweating. We've just started. Things are going perfectly, but we're going to be here all day.

As it turns out, this is probably the hottest day of the summer. Even when I step outside to get food for the damp and clammy masses, the temperature is well nigh on unbearable. Some of the extras help out between takes by patting the moisture off the principal actors. Needless to say, Fred needs to be touched up every five minutes or less as he slowly suffocates under a layer of paint. It's a hell for everyone- the crew have a lot of physical labour, but they can take shirts off, douse their heads with water, what have you. The cast don't have to move much (with the notable exception of Rob Brown, who steals the scene but almost dies of heat stroke in the process), but they can't do anything to change their appearance from one take to another.

Strangely, despite the temperature and the hard work, there's a pervasive spirit of camaraderie. Perhaps it's the heat turning our brains to mush, but the sort of temper flare-ups and frustration you'd expect when you pack a bunch of people in a confined space together aren't there. It seems strangely like we're having fun.

This holds true even at the worst point of the day, which comes late in the afternoon, quite unexpectedly, in less than a second. All I see is D.J. lunging forward and at the same time I hear an disquieting thud. Somehow, the camera got knocked onto the floor.

After some checks, we determine that the camera itself is fine, but that one of the cables needed was damaged and no longer works. As the sense of panic starts to rise again, I'm astonished that a good half a dozen people in the room are coming up with ideas on what to do to fix the problem. Everyone, all volunteers, many not connected with the film industry at all, wants to get things back on track. In the end it's Kathleen, drafted the week before to a speaking part and now back as an extra, who points out that there is a store that should have what we need and which is close enough that we can still make it before closing at five (we have about fifteen minutes). D.J. is packed into a cab and, miraculously, is able to replace the cable. Everyone waits patiently, enjoying the brief respite where we can turn off the lights and turn on the air conditioning again.

By the end of the day we're generally exhausted and all about six pounds lighter than when we went in. At the same time, it's a sort of happy exhaustion, as opposed to the oppressive feeling at the end of our third day. Things today were mapped out perfectly, sequenced properly and, most shocking of all, we finished at pretty much the time that we had planned. Despite the number of people present, nothing in the loft was damaged (one prop required a bit of surgery before being returned to its owner, but the operation was successful). For once, we're not crawling to our various abodes looking like roadkill. We're even smiling. I have never sweat so much, worked so intensely or been more tired, but at the same time, I've never been happier.