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.


  1. but things moved forward, and we have something beautiful. All these competing views coloured the film, inevitably, into something wonderful

  2. The different perspectives were all crucial to the final film, definitely.