Low-budget Independent filmmaking is about compromise. Compromising yet still bringing your vision to fruition. For us, due to budget, we had to make a compromise in the art department. Which means we didn’t have one. Art department is especially important for independent film because it can easily, in a cost efficient way, boost the look of the world in which the action takes place. Having a dedicated person looking at the set/world of the film, if done right, usually isn’t noticed by the average film watcher. However, that same average film watcher will notice when the art direction is messy, inconsistent and unfocused.
So, as I mentioned, we did not have an art director on this movie. A risky move, yes. But it’s one that I felt we could risk given the high quality locations we had for the film. Because I knew the locations intimately and the locations are amazing, I knew we could basically role in and shoot. We’re fortunate to have main locations that are very rich in texture, color and character.
That said, it’s still important to craft the world in a way the supports the story. There’s a 7 person dinner scene in the film where all the friends come together and joke about old times. We don’t have the budget to have a restaurant full of extras, or the crew to control them even if we did. So, to get around the issue of an empty restaurant we decided to shoot outside in a gazebo in the garden of the restaurant. It’s a sexy location and I fell in love with it the second Jon formulated the idea. But, as I’ve aid before, you gotta Hold On Tightly and Let Go Lightly. We decided to move the dinner inside the restaurant due to the weather last night. So we had a bit of crafting to do. We needed a creative solution to there being no other people in the restaurant. This is what we came up with:
We decided to avoid the main dining room and shoot in the side garden room. The question was, how do we maintain the intimacy of the gazebo now that we’re set inside in a larger more open area. We started by pulling out all the tables and leaving this large room to have just one round table in it. ie. this is something special that has been done for this group of people.
We pulled everything out of the room, so we could shoot 360 degrees, and let our DP go to work shaping with light. We had the added constraint of widows and mirrors around the room but we felt the upside and possible depth of space was greater then the downside. Michael put up a china ball for an even, very attractive light source and supplemented his key light with the practical lights around the room, all of which were on dimmers.
This last shot isn’t the final look, but you get the idea. The progression of these shots represents a collaborative and exciting solution to having lost a location due to weather. We told the story of the scene in a smart and classy way. Is it as sexy as we envisioned? Maybe not. Am I happy with what went into the camera? Absolutely. It looks great. We had complete control of the space. And the performances were great. We would not have achieved this level of quality by trying to rush and cram the scene in before the rain hit.