Fireworkers – Day 9

Christina has constructed a 7 minute continuous shot that lands halfway through our characters journey. We spent a lot of time discussing whether or not to keep this shot in the film due to the difficulties of pulling a shot like this off. It’s a difficult proposition for any indie film. Especially difficult for a project like this one given the experiment we’ve undertaken and the fact that we’ve got a tiny crew; there’s barely an extra set of hands to help out.

The shot is setup to catch the characters in the midst of their night. The shot starts outside, goes inside comes back outside. Theoretically it’s one of those shots you remember. The scene(s) takes place at night as well, which is its own set of difficulties.

One of the first things I learned in preproduction for How We Got Away With It is that night exteriors are the most expensive thing to shoot. Shooting at night requires light for the cameras sensor. So you need lights, people to move those lights, food to feed those people, and money to pay for it all. We had none of that. Haha.

So as a result, we had a very short window of time to actually shoot the scene. We knew there was no point in shooting day for night. I’ve just never seen it work where it looks natural. That meant the only other option was to shoot it at dusk. Basically within the 25 to 35 minutes after the sun ducks behind the tree line. So for a 7 minute scene, that means we’d get about 4 shots at it. Not a lot for something this technical.

When I made the schedule for the shoot I built in a 3 hour rehearsal block for the shot. We rehearsed in the afternoon, setting everything we needed and putting in a few hidden lights. This is where the scene would either have the potential to happen, or not. Everything had to be exact leading up to the moment the camera rolls because we knew that there were going to be too many variables to control once we got into our 35 minute shooting block.

As actors and producers this was our greatest test. We were all running, literally running, around leading up to the first take and subsequently in between each take resetting. But we had to let that go and nail our scene. Given the technical demands of the shot, we could not miss one because of a performance problem.

We went through the first 2 takes, each one having some technical issues, but each take got better and better. The shot is a continuous series of seven scenes with someone coming in and out of each two person scene. My scenes were dead in the middle of the shot so I had a couple minutes sitting, living in my characters circumstances, waiting for Gibson (Heather) to walk into my life (scene). As the take is going I can feel that it’s going well. And with that feeling, as the time and light dwindles. is an incredible tension not to screw it up. It’s the closest stage performance feeling I’ve ever had on film.

Heather walks in, our moments work well. I walk out of the room and down a hall as camera is walking backwards into the next room where Xavie (Michael) is waiting for our scene. As camera moves back into the room it pans over and tilts down to Michael who’s sitting having a scotch. I then cross between Michael and camera to get into position for our scene in a two shot. And as I’m crossing BOOM!!! I hit the mic on board the camera. Take destroyed. I’m instantly devastated feeling I’ve let everyone down.

Neither Will, the DP, nor I call cut even though the scene is blown. We keep going, which was the worst thing to do because the clock is ticking. After we finished the take I ran to Will who was running to me to say I hit the mic.

So we go again. Squeeze out two more takes before the light is gone. After the last take we all just kind of stood there, not knowing if we got it or not.

We head over to DIT and nervously wait for the footage to off-load. Finally it’s ready. We watch the last take. It’s good but unusable because the exterior scenes are way too dark. Shit. We go back to the 2nd to last take. We watch with great anticipation. We nailed it! We’re high fiving and hugging , it was a great moment and testament to the collaborators in that room.

The unforeseen benefit to having to wrap at sunset was that we were done for the night! It was a much needed opportunity to unwind and recharge for the final push.

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Fireworkers – Day 8

We really lucked into something when we made the schedule for the shoot: our heavy interior days were followed by an exterior day. There have been so many instances where I’ve said to gene that something has saved us, be it lucky weather, generous locals, a break in traffic flow, etc… But this inside/outside flow in the schedule is one of the biggest.

After yesterday’s marathon day, into a late night, and then chopping 3 hours off the top of our day today, we needed to be energized and on point to make our day today.

The day didn’t start perfectly. I woke up to some pretty heavy rain, wherein I tossed and turned nervous that the day was gonna be a bust. Fortunately, by the time we ate breakfast and got to the location the rain was fading. In fact, once we got into the forest the rain was almost unnoticeable.

We had to hike in with our gear to get to the locations Christina had scouted and written for. But damn, once we did, we were in for a treat. I keep thinking this place couldn’t get any more beautiful than our last location, but it does. It just keeps getting better. And we needed the morale boost today. Being outside surrounded by such beauty created a buzz in each of us.

Christina is making bold choices in the way shes chosen to cover some of the scenes. But as the scenes come together, and I’m getting to see how the pieces will fit, I’m getting very excited. Especially with how the exterior scenes will contrast the interior scenes.

Ultimately we made the day with time to spare. It was a productive day with some very high quality images captured. And we ended early enough to have a nice dinner at the pub and get to bed early. Which will be very useful as we move into the final days of shooting.

Below is a selection of shots from today’s locations:

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Fireworkers – Day 7

Twenty. One. Hours. It was a day of epic proportion. The kind of day where breaks and meals are put aside. Because, even though no one is saying it, we all know that if we don’t make the day we’re gonna loose the movie.

Over the course of the shoot we knew we had three massive days scheduled. Today was the last of those days. Even though we’re on a pretty short schedule, its incredibly difficult to maintain the pace we’ve been working at. So, what was scheduled for time-wise a couple months ago during preproduction, will take much longer than originally intended. That’s not a fault of anyone. It’s a fact. But, to everyone’s credit, we overcame the obstacles to make the day.

The bulk of the pressure, on a day like this, falls on the director. It’s a tricky position for Christina because she has to be sure to get the coverage she needs from scene to scene and get in all the scenes for that day. She has to have a strong vision of how the film will cut together in order to know what is essential.

On a big day like this, there are two distinctly different philosophies/approaches: shoot the hardest scenes first and get them in the can or shoot the hardest stuff last busting through everything else first. I usually prefer to shoot the tough stuff first, but due to time of day scheduling, we had to shoot our largest scene last. It’s a long six person dinner scene wherein the characters make choices that define how the movie will proceed. One of the three most important scenes in the film, plot wise. And I think it’s safe to say, no one likes shooting a dinner scene. Certainly in our case, by comparison, given the beauty/freedom of other scenes in the film.

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Thankfully, due to everyone’s hard work and selflessness, we got what we needed. But at a cost. Because we worked so late into the night we have to push back our call time for the next day. So, even though we’re out of the pressure of this day, tomorrow will be demanding as well, given that we’re gonna be chopping three hours off the top of the day to allow everyone to get some much needed sleep.

Tomorrow will define the rest of the shoot for us. We’ll either hit the ground running with the momentum of today’s victory or we’ll slowly grind to a halt as fatigue and pressure inevitably take their toll.

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Fireworkers – Day 6

This was a day of EPIC proportion. 45+ shots. Numerous company moves. Ridiculous locations. AND we picked a couple scenes from the day before. Major.

The problem, if you could call it that, is that its so beautiful here you want to roll on everything.

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Fireworkers – Day 5

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I had flashbacks all day back to a never ending day we spent holed up in a bathroom shooting a couple scenes for How We Got Away With It. We have an amazing location here in Nova Scotia. Our main spot is a fantastic old house along the bay. The textures in the house and the way time and use has affected it are adding so much to the production of the film. It’s a look and depth that an independent film doesn’t have the time or resources to recreate.

All that said, it was a prime example of why Hollywood builds sets with movable walls. And the fact that the people of Nova Scotia circa the turn of the century were damn short! It’s also the difficulty in scheduling where, from New York, you’re guessing on the time it takes to set up a space. Which, given the size of a c-stand relative to the size of the house, takes twice as long. So, we missed our day and we’ll need to be on point tomorrow to get back on track.

The good news is we’re capturing beautiful content. The performances are spot on and we’re seeing our hard work payoff on the monitors as we watch each other work. Another immense benefit to this approach of making the film is that the actors have done their work and they’re bringing it on every take. We don’t have time to wait on performances. And that only works with actors that are gonna put in the time before they get to set. You would hope that’s the rule and not the exception but unfortunately that’s not the case.

Monster day tomorrow with a number of shots that we will not have a second attempt at if the weather, and given our locations, the public do not cooperate. Coupled with an insane number of company moves, we have our work cut out for us.

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Fireworkers – Day 4

At the heart of this project, after the initial idea for the script, the idea was to cast six actors who had each produced a film before. Today we learned the power of that choice. After what could have been a project ending series of events yesterday we hit the ground running today and brought in a bunch of beautiful footage.

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One of the unbelievable benefits of shooting up here in Nova Scotia is the support of the community. We are a very small cast and crew and the support has been staggering. We shot in a functioning amusement park today with no interference whatsoever. Everyone left us alone as we plodded along. I can’t of another place that would have let me ride a roller coaster ten times straight with out getting off. And for the price of one ticket. My neck is killing me by the way. Hahah.

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Gene jumped on the roller coaster for a couple rides, siting in front of me with a GoPro attached to the back of his head. Pretty funny getup, but it worked awesome. Amazing what that little camera can shoot.
Overall, a great day. Still not fully recovered, but we took a good step.

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Fireworkers – Day 3

The day started like this:

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And ended like this:

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In between was the single most difficult day I have ever faced as a producer. I’ve never had so many pieces fall apart, and had so many backup plans not come through in a twelve hour period. And on top of all that, we basically lost our last day of prep, which was to be the only day of prep with the entire team in the same place.
By the time the business day was over, FedEx had been called for the umpteenth time and flights had been booked, we decided to sit and read through the script. Our first read-through as a whole cast. Boy was that a fantastic hour and a half; For each of us to fall into the story and let the days struggles fade away. I’m gonna spend my last waking moments doing some acting work. Something I know I’ll enjoy. I need it and I need it.
Tomorrow, our first day of shooting, will set the tone for the entire shoot and test us as a unit. Given the loss of the day and the intangibles that are yet to be solved, we are surely set to be playing catchup throughout the entire shoot. Scary to say, but how we respond tomorrow will make or break the entire shoot.

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