Filmmaker Diary: Making a Micro-budget Feature in 4 Days — Day Three

By Tom Dever · May 16, 2018

I realized I spent way too much time in the first two entries feeling sorry for myself. I didn’t mean to. I was genuinely just exhausted and both mentally and physically drained. Each day is a series of alternating highs and lows and when you do something for that long at that pace, it takes its toll. Caffeine and adrenaline run out at a certain point.

Just keep going.

Each morning, I woke up around 6:30 and wondered how the hell I continue going for even ten more minutes, let alone for two more full days. You eventually rally and find the energy. And nothing raises the energy level than having your work elevated by those around you. I am so grateful to have such talented people around me to work and collaborate with. To see how good a job they do under certain circumstances is amazing.

The camera department was incredible.

Twenty-two shots in a day would be a heavy workload. On our shoot, we averaged around twenty-two full scenes in a day. We moved so fast that we didn’t have a ton of time for blocking or a proper rehearsal. It forced them to constantly be on the move and having to frame on the spot. They were so good at adapting and working that sort of raw unpredictability into the visual style of the film.When you’re not shooting on a RED and don’t have a full lighting crew, you have to work that sort of aesthetic into the story, and they were able to do that. The DP did a great job of getting unique frames with a voyeuristic look that didn’t seem cheap but instead looked interesting and deliberate. On a normal shoot, I’d have a monitor and I’d know exactly what we’re getting. We just didn’t have the space or the time for that there, so the only frames I saw were through the viewfinder when I crept over their shoulder. While it’s scary not to have that, it also fosters a ton of trust in them. When I see bits of the footage at the end of the day, it is a tremendous relief to know they are delivering.

The sound department killed it.

Film sets have a tendency to glorify the camera department and production design while forgetting about the sound department. They’re sort of expected to be these mercurial acrobats that sneak into a scene and get perfect sound without ever saying anything or getting in anyone else’s way. Despite being on a rushed set in the middle of the desert with winds and crowded rooms, the sound was great. I actually had headphones so I didn’t have to wait until the end of the day to know that.

Where do props come from?

The other producer and creative partner who is editing the film and is sharing the brunt of the responsibilities with me has also handled the production design. When we wrote the film, I had no idea how many specific little props we had sprinkled into it: antique weapons, guns, knives, daggers, prop phones, elaborately described routers, costumes, specific types of luggage. These things don’t just materialize. You write it but someone has to comb through the script, find all of those things and actually have them on hand. As a director to be able to say, “Oh, shit, this is the scene with the pistol” and just have it there and ready is the sort of thing that pushes me through and makes me want to do a better job.

I also can’t say enough about the cast.

The life of an actor is usually full of downtime followed by come do this one scene from a bunch of different angles. You’re usually going to have clear lines and sides and six-seven-eight takes to feel a scene out or get clearer coverage. That’s just not how it worked here. It was consistently just now we’re gonna do this scene” and “now we’re gonna do that scene” and “they’ve only got two or three takes before we jump to the next one.” Granted, with a two camera set up crossing each other, two or three takes is actually four or six takes, but they’ve delivered every time.With so many roles, my brain was in a million different places before each scene. I felt the specific details escaping my memory and it sucked to let them down in that situation. I was able to help with continuity and blocking and little tweaks here and there, but they were being asked to provide so many of the finer details. But they were totally doing that. Walking into a scene and having the cast take ownership of specificity is so cool to see. To watch them think about molecular stuff about who is sitting where and how they would hold a certain prop is watching them craft these characters on a page into actual people.

Bringing the script to life.

When you watch them interact with this unique little world as characters you conceived on a page months ago and see it come across in a very cinematic and narrative way, there is really no better feeling for a writer. It makes you grateful. These people put in long days three hours from their families, their friends, their wives, their boyfriends. They make less than they deserve and they’ve been willing to buy into this crazy fucking story you are trying to tell. It reaffirms everything you love about this.

Acting has always terrified me. Even running lines with someone makes me nervous. It’s a skillset I just do not have. So watching people do it and do it well and do it better than you ever could have imagined when it was on the page is what is what pulled me through the day.At the end of Day Three, I was really tired. Somehow it was almost over. I needed to get sleep and find that last bit of energy because I didn’t want to let them down. Camera, sound, the cast, my partner—I owed it to them to get it done and get it done right.

To be continued.

Tom Dever writes for The Script Lab.

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