“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
Days Ten and Eleven were March 14th and 15th of 2015. Unlike most of our weekend shoots so far this weekend we weren’t shooting at just one location. For this weekend we shot at three different locations. It was probably the most stressful weekends of the shoot because we had to shoot some key scenes and had some very frustrating issues with one location in particular.
The quote of the day for Day Ten was: “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. -Steve Martin”
Day Ten was shooting Tommy and Jennifer’s bedroom scenes. We’d shot everything in their living room earlier in our shoot schedule and this weekend we were shooting the rest of the apartment scenes which took place in the bedroom. We didn’t use the same location for the bedroom as the rest of the apartment because the bedroom in that apartment was too tight to shoot in. Producer Carolyn Maher graciously volunteered her bedroom for the shoot.
There’s a concern sometimes in production when you’re shooting two locations as one location that the audience won’t buy it. The moulding on the wall isn’t the same. The door is wrong. And any number of other differences that might suggest to people that the location is different. In the end, unless you give people a reason to assume the locations are different, no one notices, because you’re presenting them this as all one location. They’ll take that at face value
This day presented us with challenges just based on our shooting plan, we were cramming a lot of scenes into this day, and also we were shooting what can be sensitive scenes. Specifically, we had a sex scene to shoot. Sex scenes are awkward and unsexy. I’ve shot them before. Crew feels awkward, cast is exposed, and everyone kind of just wants it to be over. It probably also doesn’t help that the sex scene itself is intended to be awkward and uncomfortable in the film.
The scene ended up going well. Sarah Schoofs had done this before and approached it with her usual charm and enthusiasm. Shivantha was also great and professional about the whole process. Crew was all respectful. It went as well as you can hope a scene like that going, plus we all got to have laugh when it turned out the movement of the bed was wobbling a light cable causing it to flicker in time with the movement. Sarah called this our “Disco Sex Scene.”
I’ve included nudity and/or sex in several films I’ve made. It’s part of life. I represent that in my work on some level. It’s very important to be respectful about it when working with your actors. I get very upset when people don’t treat that with the respect it deserves. People are physically and often emotionally exposing themselves and being vulnerable for the project. Always do everything you can to respect them and their control and right to control their bodies and how they are represented. Do what you can to make people feel comfortable. I try very hard to do this and I hope I succeeded. I made a point to respond positively about any requests Sarah or Shivantha made for the scene.
That ended up being the easy part of the day.
The tough part came when we were shooting an emotionally difficult scene between Sarah and Shivantha. They needed to be focused for this pivotal scene for the midpoint of the movie. Unfortunately for them, and for our audio recording, there were a few children across the street. I believe they were tossing around a basketball. I couldn’t see it. They were making noise and talking loudly and so we resolved to see if we could get them to chill out a bit for us. So, we sent Assistant Producer Kitty Ostapowicz down to ask them if they could keep it down. That was not so successful.
It’s tough to control for sound on location. It’s particularly tough when you’re shooting on no budget and have no real capacity to lock down an area. Even when you do asking people to quiet down or not walk through a certain area or anything else only works if they choose to comply. There’s not much that can be done if someone decides that you can just go to hell.
These kids decided that we could just go to hell.
So, first they just kept making noise. Maybe more so than before. It was exasperating. We tried to get some takes in. It wasn’t working and it was stressing everyone out. It had already been a long day at this point and this was just making it longer. Producer Carolyn Maher went down to try and ask them nicely to stop. It was her apartment and she lived in the neighborhood after all. Maybe that would help?
It did not help. It did not help at all.
Once Carolyn had returned, the kids had figured out what window we were at. The windows had been covered with the curtains for some earlier scenes, including the sex scene, but this scene we wanted the windows uncovered for. So, they could see us working from the street. Now every time it looked like we were shooting the kids would shout at us and make a hell of a lot of noise.
We’re trying to figure out what we can do. How can we shoot this now? Is there an alternative? Can we come back another day? Can we shoot something else now? This is when Shivantha, normally a very relaxed guy, gets up from the bed, in his underwear and starts heading for the door. He’d had enough of these kids and was going to go tell them off. That not having worked twice already I got between Shivantha and the door. Talked him down. It didn’t take much. As I said, he’s normally a very relaxed guy. Our solution was to “stop feeding the trolls,” we pulled the curtains, shut off the lights and called a break.
During the break we had Shivantha and Sarah do their lines in a quieter backroom. An on location ADR trick as a backup in case what we were doing wouldn’t work. We discussed how to approach shooting in the room now. We’d managed to get a wide with the curtains open for a couple takes. We resolved to leave the curtains closed. After a few minutes we turned the lights back on but didn’t start shooting yet. The kids started making noise again, but without the obvious feedback seeing us getting frustrated, it died down.
I went to the main room at the back of the building sometime during this to chat with people about the plan and grab a quick snack from the crafty table. As I was talking to someone, it might have been Art Director Nicole Solomon or Assistant Producer Kitty Ostapowicz, they looked at me concerned. My nose had spontaneously started to bleed. I hadn’t had a nosebleed in years. I used to get them as a kid due to dry airing the winter, but since then it hadn’t happened. These kids were such a pain in the ass that it gave me a nosebleed.
We went back into the bedroom and finished out the scene and a few more things we needed to shoot that night. The kids made a little more noise now and again but then went away. Sarah and Shivantha were a bit raw for a bit from the experience. They fed it into their performances in the scene. I think it worked out in the end.
The quote of the day for Day 11 was: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once. –Albert Einstein”
Day 11 wasn’t nearly as much trouble as Day 10, but it had its own set of stresses. Day 11 was just three relatively short scenes, but they were three scenes that involved two locations. We had to do a company move.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a company move is when you are shooting in more than one location in a day and have to move the whole cast and crew from one to the other. Even under the best circumstances, I don’t like company moves. Early on when working as a Production Assistant on some independent shoots with good sized crews and resources, we’d had some company moves. They didn’t go well even when they didn’t go that poorly. It’s stressful and and it opens up the production to more opportunities for things to get lost or to go wrong on some level. Still, we needed to do one for Day 11.
Though it might have been cheaper for the production we didn’t have anyone make their own way to set. I reserved two vans to pick us up and drive us between the locations. I wasn’t thrilled about the cost but keeping the whole cast and crew together made me feel much better about splitting the day up.
The company move was the main challenge of the day. Other than that, things were relatively simple. We were shooting a scene at Kitty Ostapowicz’s apartment, which was to be her character Carrie’s apartment, and we were shooting two scenes in the lovely, but I believe now closed, Singularity & Co. book shop.
Both of those locations went well and we didn’t have any issues with noise kids.
In the next installment I’ll return to talking about the parallel between the main character’s drinking issues and my own, which I alluded to in a previous post; Day 12, which we cut most of from the final version of the film; and Day 13, which had me running off to the airport as soon as we wrapped.