The motion picture. Flashes in time, preserved for eternity. Pixels in transit. You can bear witness. Look, I was there. Yes, I was. Then rewind it. Movies. We live forever. Unless the power goes out.
We’re not trying to thank the medium for committing life to memory. Movies speak for themselves. We want to look at the moments that don’t get
committed to digital, the chance events that happen to all filmmakers, on set or between, while we’re ambushing eternity. These are the moments that make the films that last forever, even if the stories themselves are already lost to the rush of the next production.
1… Independent film is an angry rottweiler.
We were filming at Coney Island in the off-season, and Jeremy hopped a
fence to find what shots we could get on the other side. What he found were dogs. They were paid to keep teenagers, bums, and independent filmmakers out. They took pride in their efficiency. One of the best features of the new cameras is that you can get them up over a fence pretty quickly.
2… If you simply don’t give up, you will succeed. Is incorrect.
During auditions in Times Square, the studio door started rattling. Before we
could address the interruption, a woman fell into the room. She was in her late 50s, wearing bright red sweatpants with little Empire State Buildings, carrying between five and a hundred old shopping bags. She was there to read for every role, is what she told us. We kindly asked her to wait, and dreamed she would leave before we were finished.
Naively dreamed. She catapulted herself back into the room, dropped her bags, grabbed the first side she saw, mashed her glasses against her eyes and
gave us everything. She shouted every word on the page, including slug lines and stage directions, right into Adam’s face while Jeremy nodded his head. Page numbers were left to our imagination. She never asked for direction. She knew she nailed it.
3… Name-dropping helps. Who cares if you don’t have a name?
On Locomotive, we spent a day shooting at a gas station in central Philadelphia. We only took up one side of the pumps, but we tried to limit traffic flow on the other side while we shot. An old woman pulled up on the working side in a run-down car that shook like she was re-entering orbit. She dragged the car to a stop, cranked her window down and hollered a lot of things about public obstruction and the importance of her time and Gas! and something else that was probably our fault.
The gas station attendant handled it. He and Nate, our cinematographer, had traded gloves about half hour before. The guy’s gloves were thin, his hands were cold standing outside all day, and Nate’s gloves were too thick to work the camera. Excited to be part of a movie, the guy started helping us control traffic at the pumps. The old woman yelled again and the attendant walked up to her window and said “Sorry, ma’am. This is Hollywood.” She backed out of the shot, parked her car, and watched us shoot for about an hour.
4… Looking exhausted means you look busy. Looking busy means you look important.
We were scouting locations early in the morning looking for a rail yard to grab some shots of our main character walking the tracks. We didn’t have a permit to shoot the yard, but the scene was necessary and we felt brave because only minutes earlier, before coffee, we were exhausted, but suddenly we felt awake and capable of anything. We wanted to look around inside the yard, so we planned a little, drank more coffee, drove in and parked right in the middle of the yard, as noticeable as we could get. We jumped out of the car with our cups of coffee, red-eyed from lack of sleep, rubbing our all-nighter beards in focused thought and pointing wherever we wanted to shoot, acting the whole time like we had everything to do with official railroad business.
Eventually a car crept up on us, trying to find out what we were doing, but our cinematographer sent him on his way by waving him on over and over and shouting “hurry up, hurry up, hurry up” until the guy drove past and was
gone. No time. We’re here on business. We walked around for another few minutes until a supervisor came out of the office at a distance and threw up his arms to mean “seriously, what are you doing?” By now we had our shots planned (coming back later to get them is another story) so we gave the guy a thumbs-up, one of us shouted “looks good” and we drove away as officially as we drove in.
5… Penguins are natural filmmakers.
It was so cold while filming one of the scenes in our last feature, Locomotive, that we ran out of ways to stay warm. Cars had to be moved
to clear frame for long shots. Jackets on standby were frozen from the wind that came from everywhere, including inside our clothes. Hand warmers were worthless in seconds. Without anyone asking permission, or even apologizing for their own presumption that others wouldn’t mind, we all found ourselves, crew and cast and all involved, as soon as we heard cut, swapping in and out of one large human huddle, face to face, shaking against each other, in a single universal display of unspoken animal need. Action, and we were back to playing it cool. Cut, and we were a Jello mold. We never spoke of it later that nite to those who weren’t on location. We never spoke of it again. Not even now.
Check out Adam and Jeremy’s other Film Courage article
Movies capture moments. Which are then recaptured. And recaptured again for safety. Then we rewrite them and grab them again in pickups. They’re
edited, edited out, edited back in because “somebody was right the first time.” We mix them for sound, score them, score them “with a little more… something!” All before a test audience decides the scene should definitely be cut.
But all of that work (except for the test audience) gets our moment a little closer to the Truth, and that’s what we want, that’s what we need to preserve, even if we sacrifice a little spontaneity to get there.
Still, spontaneity isn’t a bad thing, and moments like the ones above led us
looking for a way to re-incorporate these live moments back into our work. We’re now in pre-production on The Retreat, a film about both theatre and the movies, about a group of performers who recreate their failed relationships on the stage. We’re excited to see what happens on that stage, in front of an audience, behind the curtains, and behind the camera. We’re ready to capture more moments of rottweilers, or whatever is over that fence, especially the memories that ambush us.
Support THE RETREAT, a new film from An Open Place Productions here.
Contact the team anytime through www.anopenplace.com.
Jeremy Waltman is a director and writer from Tacoma, PA. His work began in graphic novels such as German and An Open Place. It evolved into film concept art and international galleries. When not filming he can be found teaching digital media and art in various colleges and universities. He currently resides in the Appalachian Mountains.
Adam Lucas is a playwright and screenwriter from Tacoma, PA. Like him, his plays stick primarily to the east coast. His produced works for the stage includeFlood Story, Suffer the Support, and De(con)struction, about the late Andy Kaufman. His works for the screen include the short films Red Lace and My Four Inch Precious, which did well enough at the festivals, thank you very much. He has also doctored things for the small screen, both here and there, but he won’t tell you what. He currently resides in Brooklyn.
Check out Adam and Jeremy’s other Film Courage article