The reality of working in the low-budget, independent realm is that often you are subjected to long days with no end in sight. I have gotten used to passing by the 10 or 12 hour mark on our way to a nice, round 15 hour day. This isn’t always as bad as it seems – sometimes I’d rather work longer than have to come back for another day – but other times it can be exhausting, especially when it’s the 2nd day in a row that it’s happened. That’s the position I found myself in on one shoot.
We were creeping up on 12 hours with about 5 more pages to shoot and I was beat; Dead tired and ready to go home. There was no overtime and no 2nd meal and this was not the first time we had gone over schedule on this production. To say this production was rough would be an underestimation; It was brutal. Everyday there seemed to be problems to fight against and slug against. Time always seemed to tick-tock three times faster than we wanted it to. In the middle of production, I felt that if I could survive, I would be able to put up with anything the movie Gods could throw at me.
Meanwhile, the other powers that be had done an aggressive schedule for the day’s shoot that I found myself in the thick of. There were close to 12 pages to be shot AND a fire burning stunt. Combine this with a lack of power provided from the location and a Genny running out of gas and voltage and things were looking grim. Call was at 2 P.M. and by midnight we had barely scratched the surface of the dialogue scenes, although the fire burning stunt had gone successfully.
I tried what I could when I would get stressed or tired. You remind yourself that it’s “only a movie.” But, that only helps for so long until your body succumbs to the whims of the subconscious mind. After multiple long days my body was automated to do what it was told. Camera here, lens there, focus, focus, focus. Time seemed to travel fast but the production was dragging.
At 3 A.M., we had finally finished the exteriors for the location we were at and getting ready to move inside. That’s when I realized I was not the only one who was tired. Everyone else seemed ready to go. Sound, grips, even talent who rested during the stunt were OK with packing things up. The director went over to talk to the producer about calling it a day and coming back. We all needed rest. That’s when the producer dropped a bombshell on us:
“The location is going to be destroyed tomorrow.”
What? What does that mean?
“It won’t be here tomorrow, they’re tearing it down.”
I’ll tell you what that means: we have to shoot our stuff or find a new location. Already over-scheduled and running over-budget, it was abundantly clear to us that we would have to stay to finish. Even the director who stood up for the crew had to swallow the news and go on with the day reluctantly.
But things got even worse, as the scene we were about to shoot was a 4 page monologue with the principal actor. Now, usually a scene like this I can relax as a focus puller because it means getting one mark and adjusting to the actor’s leans during the take. But man, 4 pages? We weren’t even going to be done in time to get McDonald’s breakfast, I thought.
The lead of the film, however, had other plans. After waiting for close to 8 hours to do his monologue, he came in prepared. Rehearsal? Shoot the rehearsal. Takes 1-2. Done. Move camera. Ready to roll.
Probably close to seven takes out of three set-ups and not once did he mess up a line, have to restart, or even deliver a poor performance. He nailed the monologue in the wee hours of the morning when all of us were ready to check out.
And thank god he did because I don’t know if I would’ve lasted past what ended up being hour 16. I’ll always remember that day for how hard it was to get through. The problems, the exhausting physicality of it, and the way that our lead actor came in and saved the day. Sometimes talent wastes your time, but sometimes they can really help you out when you need it most.