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.