Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Conversion Shooting Diary :: Day Fourteen

5 September 2009

People are generally surprised when I tell them that we shot a feature film in six weeks with no external source of funding. That surprise turns to open-jaw astonishment when I tell them that we actually only shot for fourteen days of those six weeks. But somehow, this is what we managed. Here we are at Day Fourteen and we are ready to wrap up.

Despite the fractious night a few days before, everyone (me excluded) is in a pretty positive mood. I'm still concerned enough that the camera will be used as an implement of murder in our final hours that I feel nauseous. Everyone else is upbeat, which is what we need.

We all know that if we can get through the first shot of the day, we're probably going to feel pretty good about ourselves. The first shot of the day involves us having to chase down a bus, the difficulty being that no one was going to give us a bus to play with, so we're having to depend on the buses that naturally run through the wilds of urban Montreal at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. We're aware that this presents dangers- chiefly that the side of the bus is going to be plastered with advertising that will require editing room trickery to conceal.

We're fortunate, in that we're shooting along one of the city's busier bus routes, but it's morning and the light is subject to change and we do have a full day of shooting to get to once we capture this bit. So we're all feeling a bit nervous as we run through the blocking of the shot, to make sure that an otherwise perfect take won't be ruined by Paul and I not being in the right position in front of the camera. Since the camera is positioned on the other side of a busy street and our bus spotter/ wrangler (Nik) is located several blocks away, we're having to rely on sign language and cell phones to get everything staged. It's all very stressful.

Then, as we go to get the extremely tricky first shot, something odd happens. The bus that whizzes by turns out to be the only bus in Montreal that doesn't have advertising on it. One take, one shot and it's perfect. Of course, Paul and I don't know this until after the take is over, because we're too busy trying to make sure our feet and bodies are doing the right things to notice what's on the bus. But that's the sort of moment when you have to think that, in some way, what you're doing is supposed to happen. After the accumulating pressure of the last six weeks and the fear that somehow everything was going to fall apart when it was so closed to being finished, this is like the gods giving me a pat on the head. It's important to notice this kind of thing and hang onto it. There are moments when these sorts of strange coincidences are all that's going to stand between you and a pit of despair.

We get the other shots we need and we move on to the film's final location, which happens to be an office where I used to work. Getting an office space that looked more basic, more like a regular office (not like the advertising agency we used previously) turned out to be one of the biggest challenges. People in advertising agencies, with big plush offices that have swimming pools get that indie filmmakers need places to shoot. People who work in non-entertainment fields, with offices that look like, well, offices are suspicious of what you might do. Getting this space was a stroke of luck and a big favour. Which I repay by having to wake one of the managers up at home on a holiday weekend because I can't get the door code to work and I trip the alarm trying to get in. The police arrive to the spectacle of the world's weirdest set of thieves, loading up the place they're breaking into with a lot of expensive-looking equipment.

Once we get the alarm turned off, things progress pretty smoothly. We're very clear on the shots we want, the order we need to do them in, who's needed when and when we'll be finished. Six weeks of filming has made us surprisingly efficient, so even when we take a somewhat longer than planned lunch and one of our performers shows up late, we're moving at a pretty good clip. We still finish a little later than I'd imagined, which causes a bit of panic, since it's getting dark outside. (Only months later, organising all the footage to get it to our editor, does it occur to me that seeing people working in an office after dark is not particularly strange. This is the sort of tunnel vision you develop.) The biggest challenge of the day actually turns out to be sound, because despite the fact that we are in an enclosed office with carpets and low ceilings, we have no control over the central air for the building and it makes a lot of noise. But we muddle through, George does what he can and, in the end, the day goes by pretty quickly. For a brief moment, I feel like we could keep working together for another six weeks and it feels nice.
Coming to the end of shooting has a surreal quality to it. I feel like someone should be there to give me a hug and some sort of certificate; "Congratulations, you have just completed something big, even though you had no idea what you were doing." That isn't how things work, of course, although someone does give me a beer and I'm fairly certain a couple of people patted me on the back. What I know in hindsight is that what we've completed is basically giving ourselves a solid frame, but that the majority of the work is going to come in what we can add to that. But as we're cleaning up after the day's shoot, I feel content in the idea that we've accomplished something. Not many people have been able to do what we've done. Months before, when I pitched Dom on the idea of making the film, I didn't imagine that we could have done this much. It still feels sort of amazing.

We're smiling because we can sleep again. (Photo courtesy of King-Wei Chu)

1 comment:

  1. I notice that you have used one of my images without appropriate attribution. Please link the image of golden guy winning a race back to it's flickr page. It would also be nice if you could acknowledge me as the artist. Note that the work is protected by copyright and should not have been used without permission (and appropriate attribution).