“Making Meme” is a series of blog posts about the long process of taking a project from an idea to a completed feature film. I made a lot of mistakes on the way and learned a lot of lessons, but I also had a lot of fun and got to work with a lot of wonderful people throughout the process. These posts are presented in the hopes of helping others in their struggles to make a film.– Sean Mannion, Writer/Director, Meme
The quote of the day for our fifth day of production was: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.― Nora Ephron”
When you’ve primarily made short films or web videos that only end up being 20 minutes long at the very most you have moments early in the production of a feature where you marvel at how much you’ve done already. You’ve already shot enough of the film that you almost have the whole arc of the story. The end feels so within reach. There’s still a long way to go you remind yourself, but look how far you’ve gotten already. Those moments are lovely. They can keep the energy up to get the film done just as long as you don’t let the moment after, the moment when you calculate how long it will take to finish the rest of shooting, drag you down.
We had a very important conversation following days three and four that helped immensely with the logistics of shooting the rest of the film. Director of Photography, Peter Westervelt brought up the point that we would work better on set if we had a better idea of the scene blocking before we arrived. Our previous week’s shoot wasn’t very complicated for that but there were moments that we were figuring that out instead of getting setup properly. So, Peter, Producer Carolyn Maher, and myself got together and diagramed the scenes for day five. We were only shooting one day that weekend, Saturday, January 24th.
The scenes were more complicated for our 5th day. More people. More movement. Lots of videotapes. We were shooting two big moments for our lead characters Jennifer and Tommy. Jennifer discovers the Meme tape in a box and that starts her on her search for the creator of the tape. Tommy receives a tape he’s been looking for through much of the movie, Beneath the Black Moon, a fake VHS horror movie I’d invented for the film. We were also shooting the first time Jennifer watches the Meme tape.
Being more on top of the way we wanted to move through the scenes helped us focus more on the moments we were trying to capture. These were not short scenes we were shooting and they were important scenes. Coming in as prepared as we could be was important to getting the most we could out of these scenes.
We laid out the plan and the shot list to match. On the day we made adjustments, as is normal, but it really simplified that part of the day. It gave us more room to find some interesting shots in the moment. Many of which made it into the final film.
This was the first day on camera for the film for two key characters as well: Carrie played by Assistant Producer Kitty Ostapowicz and Kyle played by Chaz H. Cleveland. Carrie and Kyle VHS collectors with Shivantha Wijesinha’s character Tommy. Kitty had already been with us everyday but today was Chaz’s first day with us.
The scene we shot on the day that proved most complicated and took the better part of the day is one where Carrie arrives at the apartment with the Beneath the Black Moon VHS for Tommy. It was longer than most of the other scenes in the apartment and involved movement through a short hall and then back to the couch where much of the scenes in the living room had taken place. This is where that blocking diagramming we’d done ahead of time really helped. We didn’t follow it exactly, but it got us where we needed to be to figure out the minor adjustments needed to actually shoot it.
Still, there are moments in shooting where you have a notion. Moments where you think, maybe we should toss the plan and just do X and it would greatly simplify shooting and you have to stop and ask if that’s just a cool idea that might work or a great idea that will make the resulting movie better. Will it screw you over in editing is a big question to address.
We had one of those moments in the complicated scene where Carrie arrives. We had one shot that was at first a two shot of Tommy and Kyle, which then becomes a solo shot of Kyle and then a close-up of Kyle in the foreground with a wide of Tommy in the background of the shot. What was working for us for this shot was just the reactions Chaz gave us as Kyle to everything else in the scene. There as a whole drama happening around him that he wasn’t a part of and just reacting to. We briefly considered just using this shot. It played really well on its own for the scene.
It played really well for the scene. It did not play really well in context of the whole film. We chose to shoot the whole thing as planned and I’m glad we did. It could have worked to play the scene like that and we definitely toyed with that in post-production. It worked on its own but in context it felt out of place. The movie wasn’t about Kyle being isolated from these things happening around him. The movie was about Jennifer and how the interaction in this scene affected her life. So, we stuck largely with what we had originally planned, because it fit the whole film better even if I liked the scene on its own more from just this angle.
This was our last day at Alley Scott’s apartment. She was very generous allowing us to take it over. It was a tight fit at times for cast and crew but it was a fun few days. We started finding more of a rhythm to how we worked together for this project. We learned a bit about what was working and what wasn’t logistically.
Next we’ll look at Production Days Six and Seven and a new location and batch of characters.