I ran my hand along the wet rope, feeling the river water drip from my fingers, and carefully lunged my left foot forward positioning it away from the slippery mud.
“Don’t fall,” I thought to myself, “You’ve got tens of thousands of dollars on your shoulder, take it slow.”
The camera was propped on top of my shoulder and I had a death grip on it. Dropping it wasn’t my concern, however. It was falling into the running water myself. It doesn’t matter how good a grip I have on the camera – if my entire body goes down, it comes with me. Most camera gear doesn’t take kindly to water, but especially not camera body’s and lenses which are the most important and most expensive parts of the package.
As I took one more step forward, I arrived on a rock island and was able to put the camera down. I made this crossing several times to our outpost where we filmed for the majority of the day, each time being as careful as the first.
Never Underestimate Rushing Water
Never underestimate rushing water and never underestimate the challenge of making a movie.
I almost titled this post “The Bitchfest” because of the sheer amount of problems that arose today. Some had been simmering for awhile and reached their boiling point in the sweltering heat of the barren rocks, while others came as quickly as the water flowed over the waterfall near our set.
Either way, many on the crew weren’t happy. The issues included:
- Subpar grip gear. Already the grips have replaced the dolly, track wheels, found protruding nails in some apple boxes, and lamented the lack of rocky mountain stands. Today, however, they joined the bitchfest because they didn’t have the proper frame to fly a 8′ by 8′ rag, even though it had been requested in pre-production
- Catering options. One of our crew is lactose intolerant and last week he had to order takeout from a nearby restaurant because all the food at lunch contained dairy. Today, another crewman who is vegetarian was left eating trail mix and a few fruits when catering served only meat sandwiches at lunch.
- Unplanned coverage or complex blocking. The main scene we shot – discussed one way in pre-production – transformed into significantly more after the blocking of it was changed resulting in additional amounts of coverage and more complications.
- Accommodations. Despite the fact that we go on the road next week to shoot in some remote locations, accommodations for the crew had yet to be shared which had us nervous. A talk at lunch was had with production that settled it and made sure our accommodations would be acceptable.
- Speed and effort. At times, the speed at which we shoot feels slow, despite our need to go faster and get through the pages/shots planned.
Finally, the biggest issue of the day turned out to be the set dressing done by the art department. They spent the first part of the day prepping a scene that involved debris from a downed spacecraft and the bloody mess left behind by a person inside that craft. As we filmed the reverses and the wide, things looked OK. It wasn’t until we crossed the water, onto the rock island where the debris was, and saw it up-close that the set dressing wasn’t going to play well on camera.
In short, and to be blunt, it wasn’t good enough.
The director of photography (DP) was not happy. He explained how it didn’t look good, how it undermined everyone else’s work if what’s on screen looks fake as he believed it would, and that we need to find a solution to help us make it look better and, ultimately, make a better movie.
As this criticism was laid down, I stood about 50 feet away along the river bank looking down on what was happening. To me, nothing unusual was happening. The DP is a passionate person, often intense at times, and I simply figured they were hashing out some blocking or camera placement in a way the pacing of our schedule demanded.
It wasn’t until I went down to the rock island to get my marching orders that I found out what transpired. The gaffer turned to the key grip and said, “I’ve never seen him go off like that. I’m used to him being so upbeat.”
Uh oh. I approached the DP and he explained why he was upset. I took a look at the debris, and the props, and agreed with his general assessment and simply started bringing the camera back up to where we had just shot the wide. Art department would be doing more work to make things look better and we’d have to reshoot what we had just shot.
As I was packing up our staging area, I heard the director talking with the special effects/gore artist who was picking up many of the pieces he laid down. Their conversation was honest and open and encouraging to hear after receiving the bad news. It ended with the special effects guy saying, “If it looks bad, we should make it better. It doesn’t matter about ‘feelings’ or whatever. It’s about whether it’s going to be good in the movie.”
Ultimately, the art department came back on set and improved their initial pass at it. We reshot the wide up on the river bank and came onto the rock island to shoot coverage.
This is where I thought things would get back to smooth sailing. I was wrong.
The Endless Scene
After today, I felt silly for thinking Monday was a hard day. The scene we shot on that rock island never ended. I never had an idea for how many shots were left nor what shot was next. The heat was soul-sucking and drained me of a lot of energy. I took every chance I could to sit down and drink water and yet I was called to my feet a number of times I couldn’t keep track of to swap filters, change lenses, and lift the camera up onto the EasyRig dangling over the DP’s determined eyes.
I like hard work and appreciate it, but that satisfaction usually comes after it’s all done. In the midst of it, it can be grueling and tough.
To top it off, we had a special effects shot slated to be our last shot of the day. So we perpetually had that important martini shot dangling in front of us and it felt like a carrot on a stick that we’d never reach. Coverage was constantly being added with quick punch-ins or easy move-the-camera-over-there shots (which are never as quick or as easy as you think they’ll be, even if they are relatively quick and easy compared to a planned setup).
Because of this constant sense of being lost and the physical nature of being hot, the day seemed to drag on until, finally, we got to our special effects shot. The crew gathered round, the camera started rolling, and we nailed our one-take chance to get what we needed.
That shot ended up being the Abby Singer.
When wrap was called, most of us were sunburnt and sweaty, scorched by the sun and burned by the hot temperatures – physical and emotional – that reigned supreme throughout the day. We had to cross over the water, making sure not to slip into the treacherous waters, and haul our gear about 200 yards up the river bank and to our trucks.
At the end of it all, it was the longest day on our shoot so far and with the most amount of shots – 44 different setups total.
Nobody fell into the water. Nobody walked off the set and quit. Nobody lost their jobs.
But that doesn’t mean you still should never underestimate the power of water or the challenge of film production. Even though the water I had to step over to get to our rock island was only 3 feet wide, that’s enough for me to slip and bring down a $50,000 camera with me.
It doesn’t take much for things to be precarious and filmmaking is deceptively tough.
Day 7 Wrap Out
• I didn’t have much to complain about today, except that, as a result of what happened with the art department, camera had to work much faster to make up for the lost time. We did it, though, mostly because our DP worked his ass off. I simply took his lead.
• It’s easy to get dehydrated without feeling explicitly thirsty. Many times today I didn’t think I’d wanted water and then chugged the whole bottle. Be safe and drink up if you’re outside.
• Honestly crossing slippery rocks with an expensive camera is scary. I know production has insurance, but I don’t ever want to be “that guy who dropped the camera” *knock on wood*
• Another disadvantage of shooting handheld I thought of: making lens changes or any adjustments to the camera is harder unless you have a quick mounting option to go back onto sticks. Unfortunately for us, the way our rig is setup means I have to take the mattebox off before I can do that, which isn’t worth it.
• The G&E guys are awesome for providing plenty of courtesy flags, apple boxes to sit on, and a place to rest the camera when it wasn’t on the EasyRig throughout the day. Thank you Magic Mike, Kevin, Shane, and Brian!
• Our slate is ridiculously buggy. The timecode display is all out of whack and my 2nd AC has resorted to using a clamp to keep it working. Even still, there’s often a 10-second delay before we can roll while he squeezes, smacks, and bats at the Denecke TS-1 before it cooperates. I wish we could use a dumb slate.
• The camera walkie channel is quiet most of the time, so I’ve started going over to the G&E channel where all the jokes come in through my ear.