Wednesday, September 1, 2010

25 Months Ago: Day 19

DAY 19 - August 1, 2008

Friday night. Back to the Shadow Lounge, except that this time we were filming outside.

I'd had a bad day – or perhaps a bad week – at work, so apparently I wasn't in the best mood when I picked up Wendy before driving to Buffalo. Although Wendy was not needed on camera for this scene, she came along to help out.

Shadow Lounge was open to the public this time, so I filmed this scene handheld in order to minimize our presence on the street. Lightweight camcorders make handheld camerawork almost too easy, yet part of me is still slightly wary of filming without a tripod. I tend to go handheld only when there's a reason to stay light on my feet and keep moving – i.e. when time is short, the environment is awkward, or the scene is logistically complicated. I've always liked on-the-fly handheld camerawork in movies, particularly in indie films such as the French New Wave classic Breathless, and I'm generally pleased with the results when I try it in my own movies – it seems to encourage more adventurous and spontaneous camera angles. Yet I remember how sick people got (literally and figuratively) of shaky-cam indie films in the Blair Witch* era, so part of me is wary of pushing my luck. Sometimes the Godard/Truffaut approach will do, but sometimes you do need to be a little bit more Kubrick, if only to show that you do actually know how to make a movie properly.

John Reinbird and Ian Belknad were to reprise their roles as Liz's bandmates on this shoot, carrying their instruments as they leave a gig. But while John R. was able to make it, Ian had to cancel. Since this scene took place on a completely different day (and actually a different city), I reasoned that the lineup of Liz's band could be different, so Liz used the power of Craigslist to recruit someone else.

In fact, Liz overachieved in this regard – I had five extras show up, most of whom had even brought their own instruments to carry as props. Obviously this was far more than I needed, but rather than send them home I decided to have four of the extras portray another band walking out of the club with their instruments in tow.

The fifth extra, Adam Beaudoin, I selected as Ian's replacement on the grounds that he looked the most like Ian – on the off-chance that audiences wouldn't notice the difference. (In fact, no one who's seen the film has commented on the fact that Liz's band has changed drummers.)

Playing the band's former lead singer was Rob Suto, who had been an extra in the previous Shadow Lounge shoot and who struck me as the perfect choice for the role. Liz and Rob apparently didn't get along too well during the shoot, although I was too focused on making the movie to notice.

Rob, Adam and John R. all came up with some useful ad-libs. I seemed to be extremely lucky in the casting of this film – even bit-part actors were finding entertaining ways to embellish the script, without even being asked. I've thought about why this might have happened, and have two theories on the matter.

My first theory is based on the fact that this script had a complex structure, with numerous flashbacks and other short scenes, many of which end abruptly because we suddenly cut to another scene or another time period. Most of the bit-part actors had not been given the entire script, however – only their own scene, which often ended abruptly with a seeming lack of closure. So the actors may have felt that they needed to invent additional material in order to give the scene some kind of ending.

My second theory is that people nowadays are more media-savvy, and more eager to show off in front of a camera, than they might have been in years past. When I was making films during and after film school (back in the 90s and early 2000s), it sometimes seemed like a struggle to get performances out of people. Some people got it, and some people just seemed uncomfortable and awkward. But by the year 2008, the Internet and reality TV had gotten even non-actors accustomed to the idea of public self-expression. So now everybody's ready for their close-up.

During the drive home, Wendy told me that she'd seen my personality change during the shoot. When I first picked her up, I was in a foul mood. But by the end of the shoot, I was smiling and in high spirits, because I was doing what made me happiest – I was making a movie.

* Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but I named the main character Josh in honor of The Blair Witch Project, where approximately 60% of the dialogue was people yelling “Josh!”

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