Lots of films have bad days. Some of them are just slightly annoying, while others end up being a full-fledged clusterf*ck. You can’t get rid of them entirely, you just have to hope it isn’t too bad and doesn’t have a domino effect on the whole project, as one really terrible day can kill a film.
Assuming you survive, one of the big tests is how the production responds. Does it rally, making up the difference and then some? Or does it kind of sputter along, not making things worse, but not really fixing anything either?
You may recall that Day 2 on GAME OVER was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Very little went well and, honestly, I thought we were minutes away from a meltdown at a couple of different points. So how did the production respond? Let’s take a look.
The Night Before
As soon as filming wrapped for the night, there was an impromptu meeting far from earshot between several production heads. I don’t imagine it was a pleasant conversation.
Which is how myself, director Dave Bullis, 1st AD Zach Zimmerman, 2nd AD Michael O’Donnell, and the only PA worth a damn (Eric Torbio) ended up in Dave’s living room, trying to sort thing out over cheesesteaks.
My theory: the production lacks a motor to keep all the different departments moving forward. A number of times in Day 2, things got bogged down (or stopped completely) for no reason whatsoever. That’s not good.
I offer to be more assertive on-set when things start to slow down.
One thing discussed at the meeting the night before was the utter worthlessness of several of the film’s PA’s (other than Eric). Apparently, they were recruited from a local high school and essentially spent the entire day leaning up against a wall, doing whatever it is kids do these days. This isn’t entirely their fault, as I’m pretty sure no one was really in charge of them. That’s part of it, but I know for a fact they were given things to do and just didn’t feel like it.
So, since they weren’t doing anything, every time I walked by a PA leaning up against a wall, I gave them something to do. Some of it was important. Some of it wasn’t. I had one PA tape a trail from the set to the Green Room, since people were constantly getting lost. They spent a lot of time running messages back to the Green Room for us, stuff like how long until we’d need an actor. They were mostly ok with it, except for this exchange:
Me: “You a PA?”
Me: “I need you to get [coffee order] for the DP and AC.”
He started to chuckle.
Me: “It’s not fucking funny. Go. Now.”
He got the message (but screwed up the coffee order). More importantly, it scared him into be slightly helpful, instead of just one more mouth to feed. And when I told Dave that I had started yelling at his PAs, he smiled.
Sometimes you’ve just got to have a bad guy, and who better than the person who’s leaving town as soon as the production is over?
Motivation is high, as everyone knows that the production is under the gun, time-wise. Things move at a decent clip, not frenetic, not slow. New on set for day 3 is photographer and cinematographer Marvin Burwell, who loans me a wide-angle lens to play with.
And so, not really knowing how to shoot effectively with a wide-angle lens (this is why I get a cinematographer), I wander around until actress Tammy Jean (who’s playing the DJ in the party for the new video game system) gives me a few pointers. Then, Marvin checks in to give me a few more.
I don’t think a whole lot of it until a couple of days later when I do my standard basic research of everyone I might potentially write about (I find some interesting tidbits that way), and discover that Tammy was (is?) a Playboy model, something no one bothered to tell me. I’ll let you do the NSFW Googling at your discretion.
The day moves along. The time for lunch comes and goes. We keep filming. Finally, we break for lunch. Only, there is no lunch. The crew wanders around the holding area, snacking on carrots and whatnot. 15 minutes. Still no lunch. The producers don’t know where it is. Neither does the director. No one does. I lay down on a wrestling mat they were using for some stunt practice. 30 minutes passes. It’s 40 minutes before the decision is made to start setting up for the first post-lunch shot. 5 minutes later the food shows up. All that momentum gained during the day is lost. A ravenous crew eats and rushes back to work. By this point, the day is almost over. We won’t get our pages. Obviously, another day of filming is going to be needed, but when?
Actor Kenneth McGregor has to leave in 20 minutes, but his big stunt move is still left. He starts taking over, making sure they get it before he has to leave, directing the other actors. Clearly he’s done this before. We get the stunt. Kenneth runs to the car. We shoot a few more setups and then we have to be out. In no way are they done.
Will it cut together? Honestly, I don’t know. They’ll need at least another day of filming, maybe more. As for me, I’ve got to be on the road. So while that’s not a wrap for GAME OVER, it is for me.
Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.