Putting It All In Perspective

As I write this, it’s Friday of wrap week and most of the crew are gone.  I’ve been doing some second unit filming while Susan Johnson, Angela Carroll, and my wife Rena have been heavily engaged in the wrap of the show — ensuring that final payments are going out to everyone and that things are being shipped where they need to go, and so on.

For me, I’m at a point now where it’s possible to start taking stock of what we accomplished — what we did well, where we could improve, what we’ve learned.  I am pretty committed to this sort of a process because each production is a learning experience and advancing up the learning curve is an important one.

As I think I’ve indicated before – when I think about this, I think in terms of two things: process and content.  Process refers to how we get things done — how the production is organized and staffed; how we set up and manage our transportation, housing, communication, and how we also set up and manage our shooting day each day – call sheets, production reports, etc.  Content refers more to what we actually got “in the can”…..the performances, the look, the amount of coverage per scene (i.e. how many camera setups and takes).

Broadly – here’s reality number 1.  We set out planning to shoot 16 days in the Bahamas, and 2 days in Los Angeles.  We ended up shooting 16 days in Bahamas, and it will take 4 days to complete the Los Angeles scenes.  But what this means is that we really, definitely, got what we needed from the location shoot in the Bahamas — we decided to leave no doubt about that.  So we took the time we needed to get all of the things which can only be gotten here.  The scenes left for Los Angeles are all shoot-able on a sound stage — office scenes, an underwater lab, a hospital room, and a forensics lab.   I think we made very good decisions in this regard and maximized the use of our unique location, which is a major asset of the film.

In terms of why we ended up kicking two extra days back to LA —  in the first place,  we hit real weather problems in the first week that cost us a full day.  We had more bad weather in the first two days of filming this movie than we had in the entire previous film.  The weather gradually improved during the first week, allowing us to minimize the damage so that we were basically one day behind after the weather passed.  Beginning in the second week we tried everything to make up that day – but we found that our open water work in this movie was just too intricate and complex to allow that to happen.  We found, for example, that the work required of the dolphins this time did not happen as quickly as before, and in retrospect I think we know now that it’s because last time our work with the dolphins in open water was just dolphins, and one girl — the only boats involved were the camera boat and the dolphin boat.  This time, when the dolphins arrived, there were as many as six boats in the water, plus a diving platform — and as a result the environment was more confusing for the dolphins.  They still did very well, mind you — but not as well as previously and everything seemed to take more time.  We ended up having to schedule extra openwater sessions with the dolphin, and two extra openwater days overall.

Reflecting on this, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.  On the one hand, being less ambitious with the schedule would have reduced the pressure on everyone — but on the other hand, in indie film-making, if you’re not scheduling the days to get the absolute max out of each day, then you’re basically wasting someone’s money.  If you think about it, a film like this, when you break it down, ends up being a certain number of days of first unit shooting (20 in this case), 13 hours a day, so you’re basically talking about 260 hours to get an entire film in the can.  Each of those hours is precious and each day needs to be very full and very productive.  It’s just that if you overschedule, you then find yourself having to make very difficult decisions as the day unfolds — do we sacrifice coverage to make the day, or do we allow scenes to drop off and be rescheduled in order to make sure the scenes that we’re getting are good?

I’m pretty confident we made good decisions in this regard.  We had a wonderful cast so performance was relatively easy to get — it wasn’t like we needed 8 or 9 takes to get a good performance.  We had worked through most of the scenes in rehearsal so the actors knew what we were looking for, and the really delivered.  That said — in any given scene in an indie film, the director typically is not able to get all the coverage he would like, even when using two cameras as we did.  I know that in the previous film, Eye of the Dolphin, that was a major issue — I was really deeply concerned at the end of the shoot that we had some scenes that were under-covered.

Otherwise, regarding the process by which we made the film — there were a lot of really positive aspects that allowed us to be more efficient and save money without sacrificing speed or pace of filming.  We made creative arrangements for the cast to be housed in local houses in Smith’s Point during the filming day instead of bringing in trailers from the US, which would have been very costly.  This also helped our relations with Smith’s Point, as it brought more money to the community and we felt good about that.   We also made arrangements for all of our vehicle fuel to be bought at one gas station nearby, with daily monitoring, and that resulted in an overall savings in vehicle fuel and better control — which was good, because it turned out that we needed the savings in vehicle fuel to offset an overage in marine fuel.  I also felt that our use of the Red One Camera — two of them — helped tremendously with our efficiency and has given the film a “look” that is shocklingly good …. and leaves us with more control in post production to fine-tune the look of the film than would have been the case with any other camera.  We have all become huge fans of the Red camera, and I expect to continue to use it in the future.  (For those not familiar, this is a newly created more-than-hd digital camera, each from of which contains 4k worth of information compared to roughly 2k for HD.  This means it has, arguably, more detail and information than 35mm and yet the system has been configured to have virtually all of the characteristics of 35mm so that – particularly when using 35mm film lenses as we did–the end result is indistinguishable from 35mm but in fact contains more information, and thus makes it possible to do things like punch in from a medium close up to a closeup without creating grain or anything else that would compromise the image.  To make a long story short, we had two great cameras and our images were beautifully captured.)

I will add tho this over the next few days.  Have to move on now.

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