Thursday, June 23, 2011

FEAR, LOATHING, AND PRODUCTION NOTES: A Savage Journey Into The Heart of Indie Filmmaking (Part 4, Shooting)

It was a beast of a day, hot and wet, air sticking to the skin like damp wool. We were still a good 2,000 vertical feet from our destination.

"I can't," Lansing shook his head, flinging beads of sweat here and there. "I just can't."

It was too late to send him back to the cars now. We were there illegally, sans permit, and a nazi-outback park ranger had been tracking us since the start of production. Alone in the forest with no woodsman skills, she'd be onto Lansing in no time, and I doubted he'd withstand more than a second or two of waterboarding before revealing our location. He had become a serious liability.

"I can't let you go now. Too big a risk. I'll have to throw you over the edge." 

I'd not realized I was speaking out loud until Lansing's face knotted up. I could see the son of a bitch was on guard then. I pulled him in close and dropped my voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I'm going to tell you something because I might need backup in a minute. Don't panic now, but I think Uwe's gone around the bend."

I pointed downhill to where Uwe was crouched in the underbrush, a predatory stare on his face, a splash of crimson on his lips. Lansing turned, and I yanked him back sharply. "Jesus! What are you doing? Don't meet his eyes. You'll provoke him." 

"Is he dangerous?"

"Hell yes he's dangerous. What kind of question is that? He's slipped too far into the role. This is Stanislavsky's nightmare. The best we can hope for is he comes back down from it before anyone gets eviscerated. You didn't give him the scythe, did you?" 

Uwe's jaw had gone slack, but he continued to eyeball us. I gripped Lansing by the shoulder. "Here it comes now. He's fast, but heavy. If we're selected as targets we'll have to work together to knock him over the side."

And Lansing was gone, scrambling up the rock face with all the dexterity of a mountain goat. We'd reach the top now with all actors intact, but it was a hollow victory. My body was weighed down by a fatigue that had nothing to do with the climb or the sleepless nights. It was the early sign of a manic fit, a severe bout of depression. I had already doubted my ability to provide morale for the entire cast and crew. Now I wondered how long I could prop up my own deflating mood before the entire production  came down around our heads.

As far as psychic anchors go, you couldn't find a worse candidate that I. Yet, on a microbudget film, the director is often expected to be that foundation. This expectation is heaped upon other duties. It's a must that you edit the film in your mind throughout the shooting process, cutting and rearranging the footage as more becomes available or reworking entire sequences when (as so often happens) a shot is impossible to achieve. The scenario is not unlike trying to solve an equation in your head. You bang through the math in steps, solving for each section and holding the number in your mind while you attempt to solve the next for the next piece. It's typically halfway through this endeavor that some of the more well-intentioned crew might ask if you've remembered to solve for the first piece of the equation. If so, what did you get? Perhaps they can shoulder some of the burden, if you'll only tell them what you've solved already and what still needs to be solved. This would be a tremendous help, provided those solutions weren't slipping out of your short term memory every time you stopped to explain the equation to someone, and provided any of these people offering their aid knew how to do math. And they don't. None of them know how to do math, or rather, how to make a film, which, in case you've lost the plot, is what I was actually talking about.

The remedy to this often involves snapping at assistants, and dismissing all questions with a wave of your hand. The periods of respite this action buys you are blissful, but it's not destined to last. The production is a ship with no one at the rudder, and these are treacherous waters.

"Don't wipe it off!"

Uwe had burst from the underbrush, flailing wildly at unseen assailants with an improvised war club, and managed to land a glancing blow upon Sandy's leg before she could scramble away. Bright, angry crimson dripped from the wound.

"Squeeze some of it into this." I dumped our batteries and handed Sandy the empty case. "I forgot our corn syrup, and we're going to need some blood for this scene."

She obeyed, hands trembling, and I had to wonder what it was that kept us coming back to it time and time again. A personality defect? Some misfiring of the synapses, mistaking pain for pleasure? No, that wasn't it. Filmmaking is a torturous experience, but there's nothing else like it. We do it because we love it. We do it because we have no choice.

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