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.

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