On May 22nd, with the help of four friends and one sister, we managed to shoot a short film. It didn’t go perfectly, but I’d say it went nearly swimmingly, and for that I am thankful. We kept the shoot to about four hours, despite a few hiccups. Here’s a quick rundown of some lessons learned.
1.) Don’t trust yourself to remember everything in the morning, even if you have made a list, and even if you remember to reference said list. I’d intended to purchase some food to be used for props during my Starbucks run. It was on my list. I had my list with me. But when it came time to order, I had one and only one focus: needcoffeenow! Luckily my crew was able to help me out, and we were able to grab some stuff at our location. However, this also led to using a branded water bottle in many shots, when we’d made grand attempts at covering all other logos. Things start slipping your mind when you have to think on the fly.
2.) Tell your Right-Hand Man to second-guess everything you say. In this case, I called my sister, serving as my production designer, and asked if she’d printed the cat photo I’d requested the night before. This sent her into a frenzy, which included waking up our understandably grumpy and put-out mother at a much-too-early-for-Saturday hour — all this because my sister assumed that I wasn’t crazy. What I’d really meant, instead of “cat photo,” was “dog photo,” which she had indeed printed the night before.
3.) Watch out for glass (and other reflective surfaces). There are things you can’t see on a little viewfinder, like yourself in the reflection of the glass doors behind your two leads. This ultimately leads to the weird, potentially-existential-crisis-inducing act of trying to erase yourself. From video, of course. But it could be a slippery slope. (See? Existential crisis. Right there.)
4.) Divorce yourself from the movie in your head (and embrace humiliation). One of my favorite scenes ended up happening because my lead actor was less than impressed with the aesthetic qualities of the leftover lunch I’d prepared for his character. Because of his slightly-unwarranted disdain for my lunch-making abilities (the nerve!), we ended up with a scene that was funnier than what I’d written in the script.
5.) Get to know your tripod, camera, and other equipment. I tried to get to know both of tripods, but we ended up only sharing a warm acquaintance. On set, this quickly turned into a contentious battle of wills, which resulted in my cast waiting around while I waged war with the pair three-legged monsters. My camera and I got along pretty well, though there are a billion settings I didn’t really have time to explore that might have helped some of the color temperature differences I ran into in post-production. The biggest disappointment was in my rigged-together dolly, which consisted of a skateboard, Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” books, and something else I can’t remember. In the dolly’s defense, it would have worked quite well if I hadn’t needed to dolly out at an upward angle instead of straight back. Because of this, I missed out on a couple of shots that would have added some visual interest to the film, but hey, that’s life.
6.) Before you have your actors do a wardrobe change, make sure you’ve filmed everything you want/need in Outfits No. 1. The worst part about this is we’d already filmed what we thought were the last shots (in Outfits No. 2) and settled in for a relaxing lunch. About two bites into my wrap, I realized I’d never gotten a couple of key shots I needed. When I informed my leads that they’d need to change back and that we weren’t quite done, my lead actress, who is one of the sweetest and most adorable people I’ve ever known, actually almost scowled at me. She’d probably deny it, but she did. And it was deserved. But them’s the breaks.
7.) Ask for what you need, even if you’re starting to annoy people. If you’re not getting what you need from a shot, keep doing it and tweaking it until it works. If you have to ask your actors to change back into their first outfits even though you thought the shoot was over, do it and get those shots. If you have to ask your actors to crouch awkwardly on the floor of an elevator and deal with you leaning on them in order to get the angle you need, well, get down and get cozy. If you need your production designer to run back to the room with all the props for the 87th time to grab something you forgot, tell them to get to it and chop-chop. You can’t be timid when you’re directing. You’re the boss, and you have to act like it. That doesn’t mean you should be a jerkface about things; in fact, I’d highly recommend against it. Be courteous. Be appreciative. Listen to what your team. But be firm. I’d also recommend surrounding yourself with a cast & crew who support you and your vision. Mine did. They were a stellar bunch, and I’m super-crazy grateful to them.
8.) Do not take home the leftover craft service. You will be stressed. You will be exhausted. This will lead you to eat it all (or at least way too much of it). Or maybe that’s just me.
That’s it for now. I’m done with the rough cut without music, though I still have to erase myself from those two reflective-glass shots and do some color correction. The hardest task, I think, is going to be adding music, and that’s on the agenda this week and into next.
If anyone has any relatively simple, step-by-step instructions on how to remove or otherwise smudge/sponge myself out from the background using Adobe Premiere/After Effects (I’m working in CS5), I will love you forever and ever.