I've shot two microbudget feature films plus a few no budget short films as well. Based on this experience I’ve decided that the one constant you can count on when shooting a microbudget film is endless surprises and endless improvisation. Let’s list some of them from the first week of shooting Fucking My Way Back Home (FMWBH) in 2015.
1) Exhaustion. I’ve shot at night before. A little. But never, ever a week of overnight shooting. The entire story takes place in the course of one evening. The interiors we can shoot during the day and “cheat” as night by blacking out the windows, etc. But all the exteriors and the many scenes in the car driving around, etc. all have to be shot over the night. Call times started at 7am and we finished when the sky lightened up, shortly after 5am. Then it was back to the HQ where we had to dump all the footage onto hard drives, organize the gear, clean up, etc. After that it was home in time to make breakfast for our two daughters and get them off to summer camp and daycare for 9:00. Some mornings I fell asleep sitting up on the couch. Kathryn and I would stare across the table from each other, jaws slack, eyes buried under Samsonite luggage. By the end of the week we were both done. I’m sure the whole crew was. I didn’t expect it to be so exhausting. This coming week we have sent our girls off to “grandma/grandpa camp” so all we have to care for is ourselves. I think this will help a lot. It’s also a reminder that one of the barriers to women getting more directing roles is structural – the lack of childcare. We had to rely on friends to take turns sleeping over in our bed in case the girls woke up in the night. If we didn’t have those volunteers of awesomeness and willing/able grandparents this film would be impossible. One more reason to support affordable childcare.
2) Support and enthusiasm. On the Friday night I counted a crew of 16 people on set or at HQ doing various jobs. That’s a lot of people working all night long for no money. Some of them have day jobs that they are working around, some of them are looking for experience. Such hard work and enthusiasm is really humbling to me and restores my faith in humans. Some of these people I’ve known for years – like Alex L, our DP. And Joffre Silva who was our production designer on A Brand New You and joins us again on FMWBH. Ditto our key wardrobe, Zuzana Grimm. Others we met for the first time through Craigslist ads – like our amazing and indefatigable production manager, Holly Rowden. Or through other random connections – like Margo our incredibly resourceful make-up and hair artist (she wove each of Manu’s two moustaches by hand), who has waxed some of our people at the spa where she works. And Jade, also working wardrobe, who is the daughter of the contractor who has done work on our house. I could go on (and will return to this theme and more people). I simply cannot believe the amount of effort and passion they are putting in. Even the “behind the scenes” support of people who stayed overnight at our house, sometimes with their kids, so that both Kathryn and I could be on set all night. And then there’s Jason – he deserves a whole post of his own. He owns the café around the corner, Haven Espresso, and we borrowed his car, his truck and shot in his café. He helps park the trailer with the car on it, does minor repairs on the truck to keep it on the road, is unfazed when we bend the bumper because of the weight of towing the vehicle. His generosity is astounding.
3) The need to improvise. On Wednesday night we were shooting near the Royal Ontario Museum, on Bloor St. It was the final scene to be shot that night. And it didn’t work. It didn’t work for one main technical reason – we didn’t have enough lights to do a wide shot and it was so late that there were no more people on the street – it looked abandoned, which was inappropriate. But there was also a creative problem – the scene didn’t work. It felt contrived. On the spot, at 4am, we rewrote the scene so that it contained the same intentions but achieved it using more credible actions. We were forced to improvise because of technical issues but I think that we ended up with a better scene because of it. In fact, while we don’t have to rewrite every scene every night. We do have to rethink every shot list for every scene every night – lighting restrictions, space restrictions, time restrictions all force us to be flexible in getting this film in the can.
If you have any questions about the shoot, the actors, our process, our gear, don’t hesitate to ask and I’ll get back at you.
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