A good film diary, some may say, should be kept during the filming process to ensure that all of the details, lessons learned, and actions that must be avenged are duly noted and recorded. I have a few takes on this:
- It's impossible to film and take notes at the same time when you're wearing 10 different hats.
- Writing about it afterward means you end up including only those things that you actually remember, meaning these are the true lessons learned.
- I have no other excuses for writing this some two months after the final day of shooting.
With these things said, here's what I've taken away from the making of "I'd Rather Be...Gone." Some of it (well, most of it) may sound negative, but then again, what's a story without drama?
First day of filming. Just me and the crew (Aaron, Tonje, Hilda, Leah, Richard, "the sound guys"). We film the character of Michelle (me), doing such things as getting ready for work, cleaning house, walking through the neighborhood....no dialogue. How Jarmusch of us.
I'm joined by another actor (yesterday seemed so lonely)! Rocky (Csilla) joins the group. I finally talk, and Rocky not only listens, but talks back. A story grows.
Yet another main character! Amy's back from vacation (managing to avoid a sunburn) and becomes April in front of 11 third and fourth graders. The kids are patient (good thing), Hilda's covered on the sandwiches and pizza (although no one saves any for me, of course; ignoring the needs of the director quickly becomes a popular trend). However, the large brass bell works out fine to signify the end of the school day. Fourth graders know the lyrics to Eminem, which I think is scary. Right afterward, I think I'm getting old.
Since this is also the first day we have a large number of people being filmed (21 total), this is, of course, the day that we experience the most intermittent, "temporary" technical difficulties with the sound equipment, run out of AA batteries, and take forever in general to get things done. No big whoop, but little things add up and people get restless. Patty (Sarah) waits about 12 hours to be filmed. She doesn't complain. She's my hero.
Richard's locked out of his apartment so he can't apply makeup. Before
I learn this, before I know he spent all night locked out, I get mad,
throw a pen in the air, and have to leave the room. I walk once around
the office and get over it. I wonder if people will notice the
difference in Richard's makeup application techniques versus
Tonje's. Ah well. Things go smoothly for the office scenes, and
everyone gets to leave fairly early, so all is well. (Look carefully
to see apple turnover particles in my teeth.)
Guerrilla filmmaking at its best....We skip the Gay Pride shenanigans to (almost) get kicked out of Anna and Beth's apartment building after, not having followed my first instinct, I agree to film the "staircase" scene in the lobby. The building manager isn't happy. So, April roughs it on concrete in one take. I think Anna and Beth hate me now....
On to the ATM....People in my neighborhood think the ATM is actually broken, so we assure them it's not without explaining that we're making a film. A little stressful, but the long day ends up at Csilla's place with three women in a bed and two dykes in a soft porn. My girlfriend's not only visiting, but is in the porn! Sometimes director's work is "hands on."
Separating the wheat from the chaff. Although we start the day late (were we supposed to meet at 1 PM? is there ever a day where everyone can be on time?), 2 AM is still 2 AM, which is how late we end up filming. Some complain under their breath, some vociferously, others not at all. I can work for 24 hours straight and not even notice (sometimes). But then again, this is my baby and a mother's instinct is to automatically be prepared for late-night feedings.
You live and you learn: plan ahead and don't listen to other people when you know you're right. The lighting's all wrong, we're losing light fast because we got to Sacramento so late (driving straight up from San Francisco), but the guys who live there are mellow about it and don't complain to my face. Biggest lesson I've learned from all of this: no one ever complains to your face. You're only the director!!!
We order lots of pizza and tread on. Mike, the sweetheart, fills in for Loman at the last moment since the actor we chose through auditions flaked, which I found out about by calling him to ask why he was late; his roommate let me know, "Oh yeah...he decided not to be involved with that anymore." Always prepare for contingencies.
We make it through, however, and no one falls asleep behind the wheel when we drive back. Or, I'm asleep, so I don't notice that Aaron's almost driven us off the road.
The morning after. The call time is way too early, 10 AM. Again, you live and you learn. One of "the sound guys" gets annoyed, brandishes a bad attitude, which makes me annoyed, and I call him on it later when I drive down to San Mateo with Kerryn to do some voiceovers. He does film production professionally, yes, but I can't handle the high drama. We end up finishing the voiceovers (I've developed a cold and have lost my voice, incidentally), but I'm wary. I decide that, although "the sound guys" are the most experienced folks on the crew, I'd rather have eager, dedicated neophytes than people who have never worked closely, or hung out, with the group. I've never fired anyone in my life. Hmmmm....
I've fired the sound guys. Well, not so much as "fired," as decided that they shouldn't work with the rest of the group. Morale was getting to be a problem, plus one of the guys was starting to demand things....This is low-budget, after all! We get creative, borrow a DAT for the long weekend in LA, and figure out how to take sound directly into the camera via the shotgun mic. "First-time" means ingenuity, creativity, and self-teaching.
Leah, the script supervisor, also decides to leave. I don't blame her. She wasn't being challenged, not because the role of script supervisor isn't challenging, but because we totally didn't know what we were doing. Had we known, there should've never been a dull, or at least inactive, moment. Ah well.
We rent a Kia to increase the total cars going to LA to three, including Hilda's and my own. Aaron's riding with me and Amy and Csilla, filming us on the way down as we stop for breaks at California-Americana restaurants and gas stations. We almost lose Richard, Hilda, and Kerryn in the Kia, which I only learn about later on in the day....As they made their way through the Grapevine, Hilda lost control, two of the wheels lifted off the road, and the car could've tipped over. What I thought in the aftermath, pulled up on the side of the I-5...that Hilda was overreacting, Richard was making fun of her, and Kerryn, silent in the back seat, thought nothing of the whole thing. Me: WRONG.
On top of this, Richard leaves some of his makeup on top of the Kia at a rest stop, meaning it flies down the highway when we hit the road. When we stop to go tell him what happened, Amy's makeup is streaking from tears (from laughing so hard). Richard and Csilla run back down the highway to try and save the one-inch, tiny circle of makeup. Of course, it's gone. Amy's makeup has to be re-applied.
We end up running out of light, choosing the most convenient (at the
time) "deserted road" we could find (about 100 yards from a main
highway). My girlfriend's mad at me and I don't know why ("KiaGate,"
we call it later on), and I take out my rage on the dirt mounds we're
filming. Kerryn runs off to "have a smoke" in the middle of nowhere,
it's late, we're cold, and we've been driving all day. We end up at my
dad's place past 1 AM, the accommodations (suitable enough for the
likes of my brother and me) don't quite pass muster with all of the
guests, and I think, "Divas, all of them!" I get over it and check
into a hotel in beautiful downtown Duarte, California.
Okay, one of the actors is being a MAJOR asshole. I think this person knows they're being an asshole. We all want to commit homicide and hide the body.
It's Kerryn's last day before returning to Australia, so on top of the tension created by alternately tired, sick, asshole actors (or a combination thereof), I'm not liking today. In fact, this is the worst day of filming for me, or so I think. I'm not built for such accumulated stress. I used to be a nice person. I'm in situations where I, too, become The Asshole. Mama never said there'd be days like this.
We get to film in a mansion! (Have you seen Grosse Point Blank?) The owner of Chateau Bradbury has graciously allowed us to film here for two days, as long as we keep the place spotless and make sure only those who are absolutely necessary to a scene are allowed into the place at any one time. We strictly obey his commands (for the most part). I grew up around the corner from the mansion, back when we kids all thought it was a haunted house, but it's since been bought and renovated by said owner and rented out for movie shoots, weddings, and the like. Thanks to David, my brother, for securing this place for us.
It's still my worst weekend of the shoot, but we manage. I lose my cool a couple of times, but I'm actually surprised it hasn't really happened until now. A low-budget movie set is a stressful beast, especially for a first-time writer-director-producer-actor. "Never again," I think, but I know this will wear off with time and a bad power of recall....
The "party scene" gets transmuted to the "get-together scene" after none of the scheduled extras show up. Well, about a week before the shoot, the friend responsible for getting said extras found out what the film's about. Suddenly, there were no more extras. Hm. A few people in the film know people in LA, so we manage to scrape by with a few enlightened saviors.
Our last day in beautiful, smoggy, conservative, way-too-hot Los Angeles County. I'm reminded of why I moved to San Francisco.
We finish all of our scenes, however, save one, which we arrange to get done back in the Bay Area. Only a minor scratch appears on the borrowed DAT. Could be better. Could be raining. We all stay the night, except for Csilla, who has to work the next morning at 8 AM.
Back to normalcy! Well, relatively. A pretty relaxed day, and I get my first lesson from Marisol on how to look for the cut in a scene while you're filming different takes. (I don't fully understand what she means until post-production. The trusty refrain, "You live and you learn.") I think about Robert Rodriguez and how he did this all himself. The man's a genius.
There are a lot of phone calls and opened doors in this film. Which is fine by me, and only partly planned. The idea is communication, and how it's mostly thwarted....True communication comes in the most unexpected ways. Csilla raps for perhaps the first time in her life.
Okay, this is definitely my favorite day of the shoot. As per usual,
we're behind schedule (although I know we'll also, as usual, get it
all done, however painful), and it looks like the LA extra fiasco
might be repeated. Technically, it is: despite Hilda's strategically
posted flyers around the city well in advance of the shoot, despite me
and others telling everyone we know about it, despite the fact that we
auditioned and casted a few extras....only one person
shows up. Well, make that three, eventually. Another hero of mine: Big
Sarah! She's playing the part of Club Dancer and knows people at the
End Up....She leaves for half hour, after which she walks back in the
door and says, "I've got another carload coming." In walks part of the
Saturday-at-11-AM End Up crowd, not quite ready to stop dancing for
the evening (and, for all intents and purposes, it's still "evening"
for them), which is fine with everyone involved, especially me. We
promise them drinks and set up the first shot.
Some pretty cool footage here, however chaotic the situation....The yuppies at the bar, the Club Dancer angles and lighting, the redness of the CoCo Club, and something I thought would never happen: Amy and I have now felt each other's breasts. Independent filmmaking is all about the people.
Amy fell out of a chair today. Not only fell....She says, "my butt hurts," the chair breaks apart and sends her to the floor. After five minutes of laughter, we start up again, although Amy's got a wicked slash on her lower back. The first aid kit and Hilda supply a band aid.
A Hilda interlude: God bless Hilda! People like Hilda, like the Mother Teresa, only come around about once a century. She's psychotic, yes, but has the best heart of just about anyone I've known. You'd have to meet her to experience Hilda (chain apologies and constant state of way too much coffee), but she always remembers birthdays, always gets extra food (which scares me when I see the bill, then makes me appreciate the food later in the day), and is willing to do the grungiest work imaginable (like clean my kitchen). A toast, to Hilda!
Once again, we start late, and no matter how often it happens, I still can't get used to it, I still get annoyed. Marisol shows up at 8:30 AM (half an hour early!), but this doesn't really matter, since a few other people (who shall remain nameless) show up two hours later. I breathe, grin, and go on with the show.
Cala's a no-go since there's a huge truck in the parking lot running its engine, so we opt for Walgreen's after getting permission from Tishon, who works inside. We offer her a small role, but she gets a little shy when she walks out to her car to get something and sees us filming. We film the Sophia scenes back at home, then film Amy changing clothes in the back of Hilda's car.
An Amy interlude: I love you, Amy Kelly. No matter how difficult you
can be, no matter how difficult I can be, you're a brilliant
actress. Just be sure to always remember: director's tantrums are a
normal phase of stunted childhood development.
The most challenging moment of this whole process: the day we film with animals, namely Cynthia's two cats, Buddy and Jack. Buddy's white, Jack's black, and the object is to make them look like they're coming out of a computer. "Prepare for major scratching," Cynthia basically tells me, and I think to myself, "This project is worth the blood. We must all get injured for our art." So, the few number of takes we do go off without a hitch, and Buddy even hangs out in the monitor case for awhile. Things frequently don't happen as expected. I'm pleased with the footage.
Another lesson: don't devote 62 takes to an incidental, insignificant moment. Well, 62 is an exaggeration, but we spend much time and way too many takes filming the character of Delivery Chick (Cynthia) dropping off a package: Chick walking up a flight of stairs (twice), Chick P.O.V., Chick knocking on door. Many pivotal scenes didn't get half this many takes.
Mostly shots of me today, so I know we're nearing the end of this film shoot. It's lonely again. Where did all the people go?
Okay, we're back at Anna and Beth's, but we've only got about five hours to film today. I'm not gonna do anything to piss them off, since they've been so great to us, despite the fact that I got them into trouble with their landlord, after he found out that Anna and Beth were (remotely) connected to us filming in the lobby a couple months ago. Many, many San Francisco landlords are complete and utter assholes. If you ever come across one of these evil ones, please spit on him or her.
We manage to get halfway through the scenes we need to film, but this is okay, since Anna has kindly offered us her home for one other day, during the week. We can do this. No problem. Another lesson learned: be careful about scheduling. We always overscheduled, which led to many tired, cranky people by the end of a long day. You film and you learn.
We manage to postpone "the sex scene" until next time.
Okay, kick me. I'll bend over, and you can kick me. We're filming at Csilla's place today to try and get her room to come across as a room in Sam's house, and we make a big mistake: we film a "night" scene before we do the daylight scenes. The problem with this: we cover Csilla's windows with towels, dresses, a mattress, other items to hide daylight, then decide that since it was such a hassle assembling everything, we'll do the "night" scenes first. So, of course, we run out of daylight later on to film the actual daylight scenes. Sometimes, when you're in the middle of things, you fail to recognize the obvious. We do a little conceptual blockbusting and make it all work. Still....
I go off on Amy again, and this time she gets upset with me. This part of filmmaking, I don't like. I'm still cranky when we do the last scene, pretty much the only scene today that calls for April, and she punctuates it by bearing her pantied ass. I'm annoyed while it's happening and am too tired to protest, but later on, I lighten up and think it's hilarious.
I've taken off work today, the only time I've done this other than the LA shoot. I feel a little guilty, but it's my vacation time, so....
We take advantage of Hilda's connection at the SFSU School of Nursing, as well as my status as a graduate student in the Creative Writing Department. The rooms look great. The students have to practice in these rooms, so they're all set up to look like a hospital. And we were worrying that we'd have to drive out to Mendocino!
We never get to do the "Rocky hitching" scene, which was planned weeks ago, but it's small enough that we keep putting it off whenever we run out of time. I guess we have to have one scene that we just can't film.
The second to last day of shooting (well, we've added three extra days), and I'm getting very excited. I'm tired of people. I love everyone here, but I'm just tired. I brought this all on myself, I know, and I'll live to write about it, I know, but today, I'm exhausted.
We drive to Lake Merritt for "the fountain scene." As is typical, Hilda's car gets separated from the one I'm in, and the people in the other car think I'm taking them to the middle of the lake. We find them, show them where the fountain in question is, and all is well. The shots look pretty, the acting is great, and even though Rocky's last scene in the movie may be completely fucked up, we're almost done!!! (And hopefully, nobody will notice John's mysterious disappearance after the trio leave the hospital.)
It all comes to a close. A slow, quiet day, but still long....The "sex scene" happens (well, sorta), Gwyneth has her big moment, and we head back to me and Amy's place for champagne and chocolate cake. I'm relieved. It's over. We talk about our best moments, our worst moments, the things we didn't tell the director. Okay by me. I'm content to listen to Richard as he draws up a list of old movies I should see, his obsession with Hollywood starlets of the 1940's. These people are great, I think. A few of them divas, yes, but they helped me realize a dream, for very little pay. That's not a shabby character trait.
Like they used to say on Monday Night Football, "Turn out the lights, the party's over, they say that all good things must end." Or, as Richard would say, "the end of our little family." Yes, our bickering, dysfunctional, psychotic, devoted, loving little family.