Monday, August 16, 2010

Notes from a First-Time Filmmaker

“He should be looking left of camera, right?”
“The sun is moving!”
“We need a half apple.”
“How about this case of grill tools?”
“Slate in!”
“The slate is now diamonds.”
All overheard during my short film shoot last week. My directorial debut, which sounds fancy and grand, but was really just a starter project – a three-minute short film for Justin Lin’s Interpretations Film Competition. And though the whole thing unfolded gracefully, I definitely got a healthy taste of the challenges of filmmaking.

First, my simple little three page script went through several revisions. One of my writers groups gave me great suggestions on early drafts. I wrote out implied domestic violence, added a Grandpa character to eliminate questions of child abandonment, and changed the ending three times.

Then there were casting obstacles. Finding a non-union older Asian male to play Grandpa proved harder than expected. Eighteen white guys submitted to my breakdown, but no Asians. I ended up finding a non-actor through a friend of a Facebook friend. And a few days before my start date, my leading man fell out and had to be replaced. After multiple Tweets and phone calls, an amazing actor from my theater company was able to step in.

In between creating a shot list and call sheets, I bought snacks for craft services and hunted for props. Flowers that looked like they were bought at a gas station. Picture frames that could be used and then returned the next day. And a gaudy painting that played a key role in my story. I ended up finding a beautiful monstrosity at the Out of the Closet thrift store.

Shooting was a joyful exercise in DIY filmmaking. We used beach towels and blankets from our cars to cover up the windows. I taught an 8-year old first-time actress about finding her mark. Every moment was filled with beautiful work - trying to visualize imaginary sight lines, keep the boom shadow out of frame, and scribble notes on the daily editor’s log.

My first film was a learning experience for sure, but also a masterpiece in its own way. I’m so proud of how the shoot went. My cast and crew were amazing. Working so tirelessly for nothing but love and lunch. I couldn’t thank them enough for all their hard work and talent. Now the footage goes to my editor, and for a moment, I can focus on the other short film I’m producing and brainstorm future projects. Because now that I’ve done it once, I can’t wait to do it again.

Update: Watch the finished product below!

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