A Film is Born Three Times: Pt. 2 Production

“A film is born three times. First in the writing of the script, once again in the shooting, and finally in the editing.”

Robert Bresson, French film maker.

Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 on Re-writing here.

You’ve written the script. You’ve done the pre-production. You have your shotlist in hand and you’re ready to shoot. Surely, you have an image of what your film is going to look like in your head. The thing is — it’s really hard to make that a reality.

Once you’ve made your first or even fourteenth film, isn’t part of you a little disappointed it doesn’t look exactly how you pictured it? No? Just me, okay.

There’s a number of factors that go into why your film will change during production. Let’s go over a few reasons:

  • casting
  • location
  • equipment

Casting

You and a friend are prepping for a film competition and it’s the night before your first shoot day. You’ve got your gear and props, your script finalized, your cast set and call sheets sent out. Now all you need is–

Oh wait, your lead actor just quit. Now it’s 11pm at night and you’re supposed to be filming a mere 10 hours from now.

This is exactly what happened to Desiree and I when we were prepping our Mystery Box Film Challenge short. Our lead actor was cast via the film commission in Philly, and he decided at 11pm the night before the shoot that he wasn’t going to drive to Northeast Pennsylvania to do the short. Because he’d have to get up early. I can’t even make this up. The actor had the script and knew where he’d be filming for days in advance, and chose literally the 11th hour to change his mind.

Desiree and I very calmly… went into panic mode. After a moment of us going “literally, WTF” we contacted everyone we knew in the local film community, and the search was on. Friends contacted friends until we connected with a guy named Joe, who was more than happy to help us. He turned out to be a great actor, a better choice than we originally had, and our short film continued as scheduled.

Especially in the case of short films and volunteer projects, you could lose people at the last minute. The goal is to have a network you can turn to in order to fill in the gaps. Or start getting creative with the cast you already have.

Location

When I originally wrote The Road Less Traveled, I had envisioned a cat and mouse chase inside a literal slaughterhouse. Instead, we ended up in an antique barn, which I ended up liking so much more.

Sometimes your limitations on location will be budget related. You intended on x but had money for y (or z was free).

Weather, too, can play a part. If originally your location was going to be outdoors and a storm blows through, you might have to re-evaluate and see if you can film an indoor scene instead.

My thesis film, Routine Procedures took place in a crater….but since that’s impossible to create on no budget, we filmed in a sand pit used by construction. We filmed on days they weren’t out scooping the sand. A unique feature was that a lot of it was flooded, so we needed to purchase a canoe to get to the optimal location.

Equipment

You’ve got everything planned. Absolutely nothing could go wrong.

You get the idea now, right?

You don’t have enough batteries to continuously shoot. Your media fails. Your stabilizer isn’t stabilizing. Your mattebox donut has ripped and too much light is now hitting the filter.

This is one example where we had to replace a piece of equipment with something unexpected. The rubber “donut” that goes from the mattebox to the lens had torn, and too much light was hitting the filters. We replaced it with an old school mousepad with a hole cut in it. It worked great! Plus I ended up seeing this kittycat mouse pad on the next project I worked with this DP so obviously it made an impression.

Film sets are Murphy’s Law Incarnate. You need to be able to roll with the punches.

The following scenarios have happened to me or someone I know:

  • the DP underestimated how much media we’d need to record on and nobody media managed even after I pointed out we were going to run out of cards. The last scene of the day was filmed shooting one line of dialogue at a time on the last two minutes of card space.
  • Your wireless follow focus has lost signal and has some issue that can’t be solved, so you pull it off the barrel of the lens and pull focus by hand (like the pioneers did!)
  • The director suddenly wants a Steadicam-like shot without there being a budget or an actual Steadicam around. You see a rolling desk chair and get some ideas…

Don’t let an equipment malfunction limit your ability to shoot your film. There’s often a way around it if you take a moment to look at your options.

A Steadicam setup I did years ago for someone’s crowdfund campaign. The camera was way too light for the Steadicam, so I bongo tied a few 5lb ankle weights on there to compensate.

One of the absolute best skills you can have as a film maker is problem solving. If you can be adaptable, creative and a team player, you can find a way around your problem and into a solution.

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