Monday, June 25, 2007

Mistakes- part 1

As a young filmmaker I learned the most from those projects that didn’t turn out so well and I think that’s probably the case for most people. For the next couple of posts I am going to share some of those mistakes and the lessons learned from them.

In the dead of winter my junior year of college I was the production manager on a student film. The film was called Stage Door and it was about an old actor who returns to the theater of his youth. There, he is haunted by ghosts and the vision of a woman who represents something-I never did figure out what.

I took the job because a) the director liked me and wanted me to work on it (flattery gets you everywhere) and b) the idea of taking a week off of my 9am Russian Lit. class in mid-January was very appealing. c) I was impressed by the director because he had a real production strip board, something I had never seen before. He had some sort of color-coded organization system, which I never quite figured out. If it was red it meant something, black something else, blue yet another thing. It was all too much for me as I was used to working with crumpled pieces of notepaper shoved into my pockets.

I was also impressed because he had a budget of $15,000, which was a lot of money in 1985 for a student film. My thinking was with that sort of dough AND a color-coded strip board how could it be a bad film.

What follows is a series of the lowlights of the week.

1) On one of the coldest January’s on record we shoot outside for four hours. The camera batteries froze, the lens fogged from running inside and out, and after about two hours someone stopped keeping track of how much film we shot, so we ran out. We spent two hours outdoors in the cold go through the motions of shooting but getting absolutely.
2) My roommate, Craig, was drafted to be one of the “Ghosts.” He was given an 8am call time and put in this heavy white make up- something out of Kabuki Theater. At 1pm he still hadn’t shot, so he went to class to take an exam in full costume and make up. He was really pissed (and reminds me to this day). At 2am we finally shot his scene, which consisted of him kicking the prone body of the lead actor as we tilted down from his Kabuki face to his Jack Boots. He was in make up for 18 hours for this.
3) After two days we move inside the theater where the director wants a shot from the back of the theater with the stage lit by a single bare light bulb. When he is informed we cannot do this because of a lack of exposure, the director insists we try it. An hour later we show him the set up and he agrees it is no good. He forces us to use every light available to us to make his “vision” work. Three hours and many blown fuses later we shoot the scene. It lasts all of 4 seconds in the final cut of the film.
4) The director was determined to use red letters for the title sequence. They bled all over the place so the title of the film looked like “stonehenge.”
5) The director submitted the film to the student academy awards in the narrative category. The academy shifted it to the experimental category.

Lessons learned:

1) Money and color-coded strip boards mean nothing, story is everything.
2) Never use red for your title sequence.
3) Communicate your vision to everyone well in advance.
4) The director decided to become a production designer instead of a filmmaker.
5) I met Stephan Fopeano, one of my best friends and future collaborator. (He brought coffee.)
6) Don’t blow off a week of Russian Lit. I ended up getting a D.

PeterH

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