CHAPTER 3 - Smooth and by the Numbers... Maybe?
Aesthetics isn’t the only thing you wanna’ look at when finding a location. You want to look for power sources, geography and well just remember what you are shooting. Will it be a Chaplin film? If not, SOUND is very, very, important as we will get into shortly, (if of course you are shooting for it.)
The basement we are shooting is nice and air conditioned so shooting in the dead heat of August in muggy North Carolina just sounded like a grand thing to do. What we forgot when we picked this particular basement is the air conditioner was loud. Oh wait, we didn’t hire a sound guy so we missed that step when we were sitting down there during pre-production, smiling and cheering ourselves on for finding the place. So the day shooting began the first thing that had to be done is the air conditioner had to be shut off. A little late to back out and find a much more suitable or should we say comfortable basement. The home owner was not really happy about this either. That was not in the contract. Some basements are underground and tend to keep a little coolness. Some basements are not underground and when you stuff 4000 watts of blaring illumination on top of 115 degrees pounding down from above you have conditions that not only make it impossible to make a film in but also can be fatally dangerous.
Day 2 was running smooth and by the numbers. My Camera Assistant had given me an extended release Adderall at the beginning of the day seeing that I was already worn out. At 10:30 am, the basement was muggy, a tad bit hot and cramped, but nothing I couldn’t adapt to. I had been on Porn sets that were worse. (The body odor had not kicked in yet.) The Adderall had completely dried my mouth out so on top of stank breath, I was spitting sweaters. On breaks between set ups, I would rush out and chug two twenty ounce waters only to find fifteen minutes later, my mouth was a hosiery mill again. It didn’t matter at this point. The pill had made me a monster. I could have shot scenes in Satan’s Judgement Chamber and moonwalked between takes with that amphetamine running through my veins. I shot and shot, dumping 16 gig P2 cards every 40 minutes loaded with good shots and takes. (When you are shooting 720p HD, you get one minute per gig on the card. Do the math on my ratio.) There were no storyboards and the Director like most first time directors had spent a month typing up shot lists that consisted of 150 shots a scene. Not even David Fincher on a 60 day shooting schedule would get that kind of coverage. We reverted to the “No Huddle” offense which is bad because there is no organization but can be good if you have a DP and or Director who has edited before. I was both those so I began cutting in the camera.
At 3:30 pm I got a little woozy. The temperature in this room had reached 120 degrees. My camera and I were drenched in sweat. The only reason I noticed was because my viewfinder was fogging up so badly, I couldn’t tell if my shots were focused or not. We couldn’t keep the actors from sweating through their makeup so we had to start shooting in ten minute intervals. The actors would rehearse outside where it was only 99 degrees and then we would shuffle them into the cooker, put them in their place and shoot two or three takes, depending on how the particular actor fended in the heat. Some would start sweating immediately, others wouldn’t sweat at all. One of the actors we had a mere seven minutes to get him in and out to shoot his close ups or he was a geyser of perspiration. By the 6 ‘o clock hour, even I could only do 30 minutes in fear the sweat from my face and body may leak into the camera and short something out. By the end of the day, I believe the only thing that got me through was the Adderall. Where my body had quit running itself late afternoon, the fuel of the Adderall had put my eyes, hands, and arms into automatic pilot. I shot an abundance of rack and shallow focus shots using obscured OTS angles for most of the scenes for the day.
We had shot everything we needed to shoot remaining only one scene behind. I had run out of angles to shoot on the dreaded white wall. We were watching the footage and I finally spoke up in my “a-hole tone,” (that from that point never reverted back to the “nice Garrick tone.”) I said that we would have to shoot the other side of the room when we brought two more actors in for the next day. I told them I wasn’t going shoot anymore on the white wall and would quit and pack all my stuff up right now if I had to. When the good guys brought the real bad guys down for the next day setup something was going to have to change or they could go ahead and tack on the “Alan Smithee” title to the Director of Photography credit. My UCLA film theory geekdom kicked in.
“We shot the good guys on the white flat wall with shallow focus to give them a sense of constriction and claustrophobia so we should shoot the bad guys on the opposite wall with wide and loose angles and deep focus shots to juxtapose the two worlds,” I stated never missing a beat.
Sold. They agreed with me and for a second it made sense in a cinematic kind of way. It was actually a brilliant way to look at it. So now all I had to do was come up with a way to light the other half of the room and do it between the mini heat strokes my crew were having.
I stepped out of the basement. The cool air caught my left eye where I felt a sort of itch. My left eye is what I refer to when I’m shooting as my “Squinting Eye.” It’s the one I close a lot to look through the viewfinder. It must have become irritated or chapped with all the humidity, sweat, salt, and mold in that basement. Opened and closed for fourteen hours a day with all that gunk going in and out, I’m surprised it hadn’t fallen out at this point. I breathed in the fresh mountain air. It was 10 pm, so it was quite cool and refreshing. I swaggered over to the cooler to drink one more gut rot Cheerwine because the water had been tapped out around 7 pm. As I opened it up I found the reds of the cheapo Cheerwine cans had turned into the brighter reds of the more expensive Budweiser. I paused for only a moment before muttering under my breath: “Damn already?”
Chapter Four - A Drunk A.D and a Swelling Squinting Eye