It's exactly a week since we arrived back in New York after making DR in Albuquerque, and with a week of R&R mixed with watching and reviewing the footage, I've had the chance to digest what it is we did in those two weeks in the desert, and how we can do things differently next time. Next time??? I know, we just got back and there's still work to do on this one, but I'm so excited about the footage I can't help but believe "next time" is going to come before we know it - I'm already churning with ideas.
So here are a few lessons learned in the making of Desert Rain:
This one is a maybe...still thinking about it, but I'm thinking next time I will NOT shoot in sequence, or at least not shoot the 1st scene on the first day. The reason? The opening of your film should be strong - in our opening, our leads get evicted and have their car repossessed. The strength is there in content, but when I say strong, in this case I mean strong technically...the camera work should be solid, performance solid, direction solid...all across the board. On the 1st day of shooting you're probably NOT going to be there yet. We needed time to warm up - we really hit a stride a few days in, but up front we were still searching, and though the audience may still be searching early as well, still getting to know us, I think you want to start with something less significant on the front end of your schedule. I said maybe to open this statement - the maybe lies in the fact that MAYBE the actors benefited from starting at the beginning. They really grew into the characters as the story evolved and the drama heightened.
Which leads me to my next lesson - rehearse. We had the opportunity to do this, but I chose NOT to. I get bored easily, so I thought it would benefit all if the scenes were fresh to us, especially me. I was wrong. I SOOO enjoyed working with the actors, that I wish I would have spent a little more time rehearsing scenes. There were plenty of discussions beforehand - we really searched for answers together - but maybe we should have played some stuff out before the cameras rolled...again, maybe...I know, I'm so wishy washy.
If you want to direct, get a DP! I have plenty of experience shooting and operating camera. Some people actually think I'm pretty good at it. Most of the footage in DR is striking, but some of the shots reminded me of the fact that I was wearing 10 hats at once, and if the direction didn't suffer, the photography did, and if the photography didn't suffer, the craft service did. Point is, you can't do it all, especially if you're directing. I tried to get a DP but it didn't work out. In the end, I hope most people think I'm crazy for suggesting anyone else could have shot this film the way I did, but that may be wishful thinking. Next time, I get a DP, even if I win awards for the photography.
Use a friggin' monitor! I had all these wonderful ideas in pre-production. One of them was, if we want to make a feature in 10 days (we needed 11 plus a b unit day) you can't have people standing around looking at a monitor. I figured the flip screen on the camera was enough, well guess what, it's not! The damn thing lied to me! The actual image projects slightly wider than the screen, and in some shots we see things in the frame, like boom poles, and camera filter holders, that I did NOT see when shooting. We'll need to crop and resize a few images because of it. I think we did work faster without the monitor, but a little 7" screen would have been just fine, even if it meant an extra day of shooting. Use a monitor people - I will for sure next time.
Work with what you have. We DID do this, so in this case I'm stating something that worked for us and allowed us to achieve our goal. We shot with the money we thought we could actually raise and did not aim higher - we can get X amount of dollars, that's our budget. We used locations we knew well and had ties or ins to, we used cast members we knew or came referred, wardrobe and props we owned, and so on and so on...the car Dan and Skye drive throughout the film is actually owned by our lead actor, Dan Van Hart! That's the way to make a no-budge film!
Here's another thing we did - we were ambitious in our story. We raised the stakes. Many indies think they need to have two people in a room talking about shit no one cares about, except the filmmakers and their friends and family. We took an indie, maverick attitude toward our production technique, and applied that shooting method to a film with high stakes, action, and drama. We have fights, a kidnapping, a car crash, a crazy number of locations, police vehicles, and guns. Our characters make tough decisions that lead to real consequences. The story twists and turns. There's little sit and talk here - we really went for it. We're taking the audience on a ride. That's what you need to do at any budget level. It's not easy. You have to be ambitious and find a way. That was our greatest strength - making big things happen with the very little we had. And you know how we did it...
Don't take no for an answer! It takes a lot of effort to make a film - ask anyone who does it or anyone who was around us when we made the film. It also takes a lot of guts and moxie. Use that moxie. Let someone know when they say no, that's not acceptable - you're blood and guts are in this thing. We shot at a popular restaurant in ABQ. We had permission to be there, but there was one issue - the music was on. We asked to have it turned off while we shot our scene for sound considerations (and music clearance issues!) - keep in mind, they were still operating as we filmed. We were told no, they couldn't turn it off - it would turn off their whole PA system. I told the manager, look, we've been out here making this movie for 10 days now, we're working our ass off to create this thing, it means a lot to ALL of us this little thing we're doing and if he could take one minute to go downstairs and turn this music off for no more than 20 minutes I would really, really appreciate it. I pleaded with the guy - he saw how much it meant to me, and he did it. We got the shot. We had moments like this everyday, weaseling our way in and out of locations and trouble...our will and determination guided us past these obstacles. We NEVER took no for an answer - not once. With no insurance. With no money to offer. With no permits - we always pressed for a yes, and we got it.
Last thing I'll say here, and we did this, so I guess again it's not REALLY a lesson learned, but sometimes we DID lose sight of this simple idea - enjoy yourself! There's nothing more exciting to me than making movies and if you're going to do it, enjoy it, the whole process, good and bad. There's no experience like it, it comes and goes so fast, so enjoy it, relish it, have a laugh, live in that moment...and then do it all again next time. :)