Film Journal: Week 9- Bathroom Humor

Actors, sitting quietly, waiting to be lit.

Actors, sitting quietly, waiting to be lit.

It was a production weekend again. I feel like I just ran two back-to-back marathons: I always forget how physically strenuous film production is. It’s satisfying, but strenuous.

The “weekend” really began on Thursday this week when our producing class was  cancelled giving us several extra hours of prep time. If time had weight those hours would have been worth a fortune in gold. Platinum. Gold-pressed latinum. We as a team used the time to build a set out of Styrofoam insulation sheets: it turned out to be an ideal material to work with since it cut easily, took paint readily, and weighed next to nothing so it could be easily loaded and unloaded into a minivan by one person.

Once my teammates left I spent another hour and a half working on wardrobe for the main character. According to the script he was supposed to wear a utilikilt, which proved to be a more difficult item of clothing to find than I anticipated. I’d ordered one, but it wasn’t going to arrive on time and I was scrambling to find alternative options. I’d folded kilts before, but I had some black fabric around the house and I figured I could probably find a way to make one as  a backup.

The first fabric I tried was black jersey. I had a lot of it and it seemed like it would have a good weight for what I needed. I very quickly learned why jersey is not used for kiltmaking: it won’t lie flat because it stretches and it won’t take a pleat because it won’t lie flat. Frustrated I went back through my fabric collection to see what alternatives I had. The only other fabric that I had enough of ( a kilt takes about six yards, BTW) was a bolt of black silk dupioni. It was likely to be the most upscale punk kilt ever made. The silk lay flat and took a pleat but lacked the weight to have a good “swing”. It was, incidentally, entirely held together by safety pins.

I put it aside for the night and went to bed. By morning my body was screaming at me for the hours of set building and kilt folding, as it turns out that spending days sitting upright in a classroom or editing suite is not good training for a day spent stooping, lifting, kneeling, bending, and balancing. It didn’t help that I woke to rain.

Frustrated by my homemade kilt options I decided I would get an early start and just see if I could pick something up at Hot Topic. Their website indicated that they carried kilts (there was one option) and I thought I might as well give it a try. I loaded the van and drove to the mall, only to discover that kilts were an online only item.

“I could order one for you.” The store clerk offered helpfully.

“Nah, thanks- I need it today.”

Since I was there I decided to keep an open mind and see if I could find something better. Maybe I could find something distressed and covered in buckles. And I did- except that they were only in women’s clothes. All the menswear at Hot Topic looks relatively normal, but all the  clothes for women appear to have been mauled by a tiger in a scrap yard.

Defeated I decided to stick with my homemade kilt. If it was having trouble holding a pleat then clearly the only solution was MOAR SAFETY PINS! I’d made it to the shooting location an hour before call time so I sat in the van and pinned pleats while I waited.

Our first day of shooting went reasonably well: it took us a while to get up to speed as a team in our new roles, but this was to be expected. We loaded in during a break in the rain and got right to work preparing the set and the actors. We had two scenes scheduled with three shots each and we managed to stay on time and get everything we needed. The biggest obstacle was an incessant beeping from the parking garage across the street which alerts passing drivers that a car is exiting. It took us over an hour to figure out what it was and there was just no shooting around it so it will probably become a nightmare in post.

The first day of production made me realize that, when it came to performance from the actors, I was going to need to work with them outside of the set. By the time the set was dressed and the lights were set the only time left for rehearsal was for camera rehearsal. I knew that the scene we had scheduled for Sunday was where the real “heart” of the story was, so I asked the lead actor if he would be willing to do a last minute rehearsal the next day in preparation for our Sunday shoot.

We arranged a rehearsal on Saturday night. I had gone through the shot list during the morning and prioritized it, knowing that we had about forty minutes of card space left and that our time on location would be very limited. I wanted to be sure that the camera and lights would have to move as few times as possible, but that meant that the actors would need to jump around in the scene and they would need to know what order to prepare for.  We talked through the schedule and then ran through the scene several times until the broad strokes were in place.

If Friday was spent getting up to speed then Sunday was done at a sprint. We had a hard eight hours on the location, which we translated to five-and-a-half hours of actual shooting time. We unloaded at the building early and began staging things at the door to the locker room that was going to be our set (to the chagrin of the women’s volleyball team). Our producer kept giving us time updates every time he looked at his watch, which was stressful but effective in keeping us on task.

We got ready to do our first shot just in time for a steady pounding to begin in a room next door to the bathroom we were in. We were mystified as to where it was coming from and I sent my sister to investigate. It turns out that there was a costume shop next door and they were going to be hammering grommets all afternoon. And as an ex-costume designer I know that when the costume crew is hammering grommets on a Sunday it is because a production is imminent. The costumers were kind enough to agree to hold off on hammering when we did takes and we would give them an all-clear once we were done rolling so they could get back to work. I plan to drop off thank-you cookies today.

Once we got going the first six (out of twelve) shots went reasonably smoothly. The bathroom was narrower than I’d remembered which made lighting excruciatingly difficult. It was also grosser and in poorer repair than I’d noticed before. We called the monitor over at one point to point out a giant hole in the wall that was there when we arrived so that he knew we hadn’t put it there- an especially important distinction considering that our script is called “The Glory Hole”, and the afternoon monitor had arrived at the exact moment that I was in the process of cutting the aforementioned glory hole in the false wall that we had built.

“And that’s our Director,” I recall hearing, “cutting a glory hole in the wall.”

Our actors were troopers- focused, professional, and not one single complaint. I would hire them again based on that alone. Their performances were good, but it was so hard to tell with so much commotion around each shot that it was hard to tell- I’ll find out today when we prepare our dailies. I went home afterwards and watched a few episodes of “Orange Is The New Black” and every time I saw a great reaction shot I felt a twinge of doubt and worry that I wouldn’t have such great reaction shots to work with. And I don’t blame the actors so much as I blame my ability to communicate what I need. It’s an art that takes a lot of practice and  I think this must be the hardest part of being the director: the doubt of not knowing whether you are coming across clearly.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on March 3, 2014.

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