“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 the third day of production was: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.” ―John Maynard Keynes
As discussed in the previous post we had a delay between Day Two and Days Three and Four. Day Three was January 17th 2015 and Day Four was the 18th. We had two long days of relatively short scenes. We chose to focus our next block of shooting after the office scenes on scenes that took place in Jennifer and Tommy’s apartment.
The apartment belonged to a long-time friend of lead actress Sarah Schoofs, Allie Scott, she very generously allowed us to shoot in her apartment on multiple weekends and even let us leave gear over night between Saturday and Sunday and boxes of props at the apartment between shoot weekends. This saved us quite a bit of time and stress with transporting everything.
Allie’s apartment couldn’t stand in for Jennifer and Tommy’s whole apartment, though. We considered it but settled on it being just their living room and bathroom. We would need another location for their bedroom. More on that adventure in a future post.
The scenes we shot on Day Three were largely scenes of Jennifer and Tommy watching different things on TV and basically emphasizing the distance between the two of them in their relationship as it is when we meet them.
One of the scenes we shot on the third day was what was originally supposed to be the first scene of the film. It would have a shot that moved up from a VCR to a TV and then Jennifer would turn off the TV and we’d be introduced to her and her world. In post we found it didn’t work at that point in the film. Plans change. Some shots don’t quite work out the way you thought they might. This was the case here. We still used it. We just moved it.
This was also a day with one of the Tilt Shift shots I mentioned when I wrote about day two. This is maybe my favorite tilt shift shot of the movie, because I think it really encapsulates best how we wanted the shot to work. Jennifer is alone, hungover, and listening to a voicemail from a client. I think it does exactly what we wanted the shot to do when Peter came up with it. It enhances the feeling that Jennifer is alone
One of the decisions that had to get made as we went into Production Days Three and Four is what were we putting on the TV screens these characters were watching? I had some fun videos a friend had shot we could have used, but I felt like I wanted to see something different and I wasn’t entirely sure what that was going to be yet. So, we shot blank screens and we added the content in later. This ended up being great for us in post as we could be very flexible about certain shots and what was going on. It also ended up being frustrating as it meant we had to do a lot of screen replacement shots in post. The truth is that we were probably never going to have content on screen during the shoot, because most of what we needed we hadn’t created at all, but this is the point where we affirmed that that was the decision we were making as far as how this film was being shot.
The quote of the day for the fourth day of production was: “You never get tired unless you stop and take time for it.” — Bob Hope
What we shot on Day Four was more about where Jennifer and Tommy were as their relationship starts to fall apart in the film and after it ends. I want to focus on two moments from this shoot day that make me very happy. One was finding maybe my favorite shot of the film. The other was taking a moment to rework a scene that wasn’t work in the moment.
One of my favorite shots of the film is one you’ve seen if you’ve visited this website. It’s our header image. The shot of Sarah Schoofs from behind a VCR and stack of tapes between the shelves of the TV stand. Honestly, I can’t recall when this shot came into play but I believe it was on the morning of Day Four, Peter came to me as we were getting started for this scene and said he had gotten an idea for how to shoot it the day before. He proposed this shot, which sounded very cool to me and much better than the more straight on medium we planned. So, I said set it up and let’s get a look at it. It was great. I still love it. We ran the whole scene from this angle and as we got a few takes of it I paused us and had us run through it and snap photos of different parts of the scene to use for promotions, because I knew it was working. We’ve been using this angle to promote the film ever since.
We shot a few more scenes on that day but I particularly remember shooting the film’s second to last scene. We’d shot what we thought was the first scene on Day Three and now we were just about wrapping up Jennifer’s story with this second to last scene. It wasn’t flowing and Shivantha and Sarah expressed that. Their back and forth in the moment felt wrong. They were right. On the page I thought it worked. In the moment, it didn’t flow and it drags the scene down and, honestly, ruins the moment for Jennifer.
This is a really tough thing to be faced with on set, I think. You’re not feeling the moment. The actors aren’t feeling the moment. What do you do? You’ve still got material to shoot. You still have to pack up and clean up the location. It’s getting late. You can’t do a whole rewrite now, but you also can’t just shoot it as written. It doesn’t work. I took a moment and thought it through. We cut all but maybe one line from the scene and let the body language tell the story. It was better. It felt more natural. It felt stronger. I probably would have cut those lines in the edit, if we had kept them. Ultimately, I cut the one line we did shoot from the final film.
I think you have to be able to flex when it comes to a script and you have to trust the people you’re working with to tell you when something isn’t working and really listen to them when they tell you that. That’s not to say they’re definitely right every time, but it’s always worth considering. If an actor feels uncomfortable with the way a moment or line is working that’s going to show for the audience on some level. Sometimes that works, because that’s giving you the right feeling for the scene. Often times it doesn’t. You’ve got to work with that on some level. Get the actor to a place they’re comfortable or adjust the scene or lines to flow better and get across what you intend.
I think one of the things that really highlights Day Four for me is just being open to hearing what the people around me who knew their jobs and were good at their jobs were telling me. Trying out a new shot idea that ends up giving us a wonderfully representative image for the film. Working with the actors to translate the intent of a moment better than what’s written on the page. Being flexible is really important.
Next I’ll cover Production Day Five, which included a shift in our workflow and on which we shot multiple key scenes.