November 14th, 2007

Film Geek

There was film. And it was Good.

Tonight was my first night of shooting for my current short film project, a clever and funny script written by the very talented Balth.

The goal of making a film was actually only partly the impetus for this project. It's partly to get some of us back on the horse, as it were, and past the block of OHSHITWEHAVEN'TMADEANYTHINGINAGES that feels so overwhelming to get over. It's partly for us to get more practice with all the twelve million elements of filmmaking (yes, even the living room opi have that many elements) and get better at this stuff. And it's partly a test case, figuring out how long it takes us in reality to get a short film production off the ground (that we aren't doing in 48 hours) given all the other stuff in our lives, discovering where we need more work, what our stumbling blocks are, what we're best at, how to plan better in the future.

So the test case is, as alluded to, a living room opus shot with decent but mostly consumer-level equipment that we've borrowed, bought, or stolen from work, on no budget, with a tight schedule and a lot more heart than brains (in my case anyway). Not exactly your Oscar contender, but my hope was always that it would turn out well enough that we'd enjoy showing it to people, and maybe even feel confident submitting to some lower-tier festivals. I felt pretty certain that the clever story and good acting would compensate enough for any shortcomings in the equipment or our use of it that I'd feel good about trying to get it shown.

As you may have observed, the last month or so has been a bit frantic for me. So pulling this shoot together was not as easy as it might have been, had more of my focus been dedicated to it. Fortunately my crew is both tiny and patient, and did not mutiny. Somehow things came together, but I was still kind of a mess today. I thought it was likely that once we got into the swing of things, I'd remember how to ride the bicycle, but I was still feeling woefully rusty and less prepared than I wanted to and worried about not doing a good job. And I was having some Stuff in other areas of my life which, predictably given that I had a big project to focus on, was completely obsessing me. I was downright bitchy most of the day, not to mention sick to my stomach.

And it was a bit chaotic to finish getting things ready, and I was feeling short-tempered and impatient. Also, I smelled bad. REALLY bad. Like, I have become my worst nightmare-- the Fragrant Pagan. Jee-Zeus-Christmastime, it was bad. Pass the deodorant and the palette knife, please. Everyone was polite enough not to actively recoil from me, but I feel guilty about it nonetheless. It's the kind of stank that makes plants wither and small children weep.


So we somehow got it together, wolfed down some dinner, and got to shooting.

And it was FUN.

We got slowed up by a few things (lessons learned, duly noted) so we didn't shoot one sequence that I wanted to have done, and that's a bit of a concern, but I think we can make it up at the next shoot. But everyone was easygoing, good-tempered, patient, uncomplaining, and willing to both joke around *and* to snap back to the task at hand-- exactly the kind of people I love working with. The actors were terrific (one, a bit part, I'd cast sight unseen and was worried about that turning out ok, but she was SO good) and extremely creative.

Dear gods, I hope the footage turned out ok!! We're doing so much of this by the skin of our teeth...but I'm telling you, some of the shots we got tonight were GOLD. One setup I had wanted involved shooting as if from the bottom of the coffee cup the actor was looking into. I thought it would be amusing, but when we actually set it up and he poked his head into the shot, I thought we'd all die laughing, the way he did it! It was beautiful!

I have to say, I *love* writing, and I want to make more time to turn out some scripts, but it's a real thrill to me to take something that someone else has written that I really like, and to break it down and interpret it, and see how I can make it emerge from the page. Like I said, Balth wrote great stuff. But having these moments enacted on camera, with the actors adding their expressiveness and quirky flourishes-- whole new comedic layers were there. I cannot wait to see what this looks like when it's finished. And I've told my editor that he has pretty free rein to cut it how he likes, so the finished product will be like enjoying it for the first time all over again.

I'm exhausted, but I'm so proud of my cast & crew, and so pleased with how the night went. My bad mood dissipated completely in the camaraderie and creativity of the night. It was enjoyable as well as productive, which is so important to me. And one of the best parts of the night, for me, was to feel *excited* about filmmaking again. Once we got started, I felt suddenly, seamlessly, at home in the director role. Like I'd been doing it forever. I knew what I wanted, I knew what I liked, I may not have known expertly what I was doing, but I still felt confident and calm and ready to work. Totally focused, the time flying by, so natural and just so damn good. Tonight renewed my feeling that this is something I was meant to do, and that is so valuable to me right now, because I've been having a lot of doubts lately about whether my focus is too scattered, whether I can ever achieve anything well without giving up a lot of stuff, whether I'm committed enough to filmmaking.

(Interesting side story: I got the most direct, simplest, and clearest tarot card reading EVER at Between the Worlds this past weekend. I was in the Womb Room [an art installation-- go ahead and giggle, Del and I did] and part of the experience was to get a one-card reading. So in my mind I form the question, "Can I accomplish all the things I want to do that are so meaningful to me now, or is my focus too scattered? Should I narrow it down to one or two things?" But when I sat down for the reading, I simply said that I perceived some very major, deep shifts occurring in my life and would like guidance. Reader Lady pulls the Three of Staves and says, no joke, "You're at a crossroads-- three roads-- sort of a t-intersection. But it's a card of beauty and art and harmony, and everything's coming together, integrating. You're on the right path. There's no need to narrow your focus because it's all coming together." No shit. That's almost verbatim. So I'm like, ok then! Good to know!)

Anyway. I have a lot of work to do in this particular area of my life. I need to shoot a lot more stuff, but more importantly, I need to get some time working on other people's sets, on other people's crews. (Which I'm really insecure about, because I don't think I'm good enough at any one thing that I'm likely to do on a crew to really sell myself to anyone.) I need to get involved with WIFV-DC and sniff around for a mentor. I need to build more industry contacts, organize my headshot files, finish out all the AIM basic classes and start on the master classes. I need to think hard about what could be my specialties when working for other people, and put extra time into building those skills. I need a film work resume, pitifully slim though it will be right now. I need to write more about film and the film industry to help my visibility in the local community.

And I really need to start building my own equipment kits. I bought a mic for this shoot-- a relatively inexpensive one that I researched enough to learn that other DV filmmakers felt it was a solid mic for low bucks that delivers pretty good sound and is a worthwhile investment when you're doing projects for peanuts. I have my gel kits, my blackwrap, some general supplies like clamps and clips and tape of various kinds and good work gloves and flashlights and extension cords. I think I'm going to make a list of the stuff I would like to own, listed very item-by-item, from the simple little stuff up through the big ticket wishlist items, and post it somewhere so that if someone wants a gift idea for me, or someone comes across something on eBay, or hears about someone giving away or selling something, it's easy to see what I'm looking for. I'll have a much easier time crewing for other people-- if I decide to specialize in one or more techie areas-- if I have the carrot of my own equipment to dangle.

In other DV news, I got tapped at work to tape one of my department's professional development workshops as part of a grant obligation we have to fulfill. Of course, it's Saturday morning (ugh) right after shooting Friday night, possibly late, so I should be in FINE shape for it. And it's so going to be home video quality...I can't even light the place properly, and let's not even talk about having to use the camera's onboard mic. But hey, it's an instance of people at work taking my interests seriously and giving me opportunities to do fun stuff, and I will probably at least get some unofficial comp time out of it (one of my coworkers thought I should be paid separately since they'd have had to hire someone if I couldn't do it, which I certainly wouldn't object to, but I really doubt that's going to fly in a place where many people are routinely expected to work beyond their 40 hours. And I don't feel confident enough about the product I'm delivering to really push the matter).

It should be an interesting week, if I survive I got handed a proposal for a conference presentation that has to be done by Friday, which I'm involved with because I am now the department's "tech expert". Lord help us all. My techie friends out there, you can go ahead and laugh your asses off at that one. How frightening is that??

After getting through this week, I am indulging myself this weekend. After Saturday's shoot and getting Random to work, I think I might go retreat to a cafe where I can plug in my laptop and write and caffeinate until it's time to pick him up, then we'll have quality time that evening, and then Sunday I might, might, might just plant my ass on the couch and watch movies and TV and write and read Anna Karenina and nap and be a huge slacker all damn day long. Oh, the heaven! Oh, the ecstasy! So decadently indulgent! to bath and bed, never to offend with BO this bad again...
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