“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
As I mentioned in Part 11 there was some intersection between what was happening in my life at that moment and the story. Jennifer, our lead character, was drinking to self-medicate. I was doing the same thing. There’s lots of reasons for it. I was stressed over a lot of things personal and professional and making a film was piling onto that a fair bit. Many people on the shoot were doing as much as they could to reduce my stress and make the film go as smoothly as possible, but in the end I was still stressed and still drinking to escape it. In March of 2015 that started to become a problem. I had three relatively minor, though escalating, incidents involving my drinking in March 2015.
I won’t go into detail on the incidents. They were really the sorts of things that happen from time to time if you occasionally over indulge. The problem for me was the incidents were three times in under three weeks. The final one required someone to get a mop and resulted in me have a mysterious sore spot on my head. One had a minor impact on a gig I was working at the time in that it was difficult to work with the crushing hangover and after taste of apple pie moonshine stuck in my throat.
None of these individual incidents were particularly bad as far as consequences, but they were incidents that were increasing over time and that was concerning to me. Having a spot on my head that hurt for days but not having any idea when I bumped my head was concerning. I didn’t want it to escalate further. I was concerned that the stress of making the film might lead to more and potentially worse incidents. So, I quit drinking. Not forever. I don’t think that my problem extended beyond drinking to (poorly) cope with stress, but I did decide it was best to quit. So, I stopped for six months. The remainder of shooting Meme.
While this doesn’t exactly mirror what is happening with Jennifer in Meme, and I didn’t really have anyone setting up an intervention for me, this was related. I was working out the issues in the film and in my real life.
And that leads us to production Days 12 and 13, the first weekend shoot we had after I quit drinking for the rest of the production.
The quote for the day for Day 12 was: “We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true. – Robert Wilensky”
Day 12 was our first day shooting at The People Lounge, a very filmmaker friendly Manhattan bar that is now, sadly, closed. The People Lounge was a two floor establishment with a large bar area downstairs and a smaller one upstairs. Great if you have limited resources and contacts for finding locations. It can be tough to find bar locations that are affordable on “no budget” in New York. Many are, understandably, hesitant to let anyone shoot, even if they’re closed, unless you can pay quite a bit of money. There are a lot of productions that are ongoing in the city and many of them have a comfortable budget even when they plead poverty.
One key factor about the way this shoot weekend was structured was that we had to wrap out Shivantha Wijesinha, which was almost done as it was. He had another acting gig coming up in April and needed to shave his beard for it. So we shuffled things around and he shuffled things around and we made this weekend work to shoot out a range of different scene we needed him for.
What ended up being interesting about this day later, is we cut half the day from the final version of the film. We had one bar scene with Lauren A. Kennedy that day and it ended up cut from the film. We had another very short bar scene with Shivantha that day. That also was cut. The scenes were fine in and of themselves but in context of the whole film they just weren’t needed.
The quote of the day for Day 13 was: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. –Marie Curie”
Day 13 was the last for Shivantha and was setup to be a short day because I had to get on a plane early in the evening to head to a film as art therapy workshop I taught at. I might have cancelled so we could shoot more, but the workshops were how I was paying for what I could pay for for the film. It was not often we’d have more than one in a month, so I needed to take the ones that came.
Conveniently, we shot in, my land lady, Val Opielski’s apartment in our building. Val would later compose the score for the film. I’ve been fortunate since our move to New York in that once we found our apartment we have managed to stay in it for the nearly 10 years we’ve been here. So, I didn’t have to travel much and had early access to the location.
We had a fun bit of problem solving to do for this day for our “Wall of VHS.” We needed to figure out how we could easily setup a stable “wall” of tapes. We had dozens that were donated to the film, which was great but if we put up this wall and they slipped and collapsed we could lose a considerable amount of time resetting them. I mentioned this to my wife days ahead of the shoot and that we were trying to think about how to solve the issue. She suggested packing wrap, which was sold in easy to use rollers. The packing wrap wasn’t sticky but it stuck to the tape boxes and stuck to other packing wrap.
While we did have to do a bit of problem solving and I was working on staying sober and not using alcohol to drown out my stress, which caused stress on its own, it was a very successful and relatively easy weekend for the shoot.
This was our last shoot before another hiatus. Director of Photography Peter Westervelt was moving to Los Angeles with his girlfriend and would not be able to be back until May.
In our next installment we’ll discuss our three day weekend shoot and getting the majority of the rest of the film shot before another long hiatus in principal photography.