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.

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