cult: principle photography

I had originally planned to shoot from July 9th to the 16th, but we ended up going until the 22nd. We still have a couple days of shooting left that will be scattered around the next 2 weeks. When it is all said and done we should have around 15 total days of shooting. For a feature film, this is not a lot.

In order to accomplish shooting a 90 minute film in this amount of time I had to get creative with how we were shooting. On an average feature film production the crew will work about 10 hours a day, for about 30 days. This means that every day you shoot about 3 minutes of the movie.

With half the time we had to shoot twice as much. Shooting entirely in one location saved us a huge amount of time. It adds up to days of time for just moving from location to location on most film shoots, so we were able to completely avoid that. Our small crew and limited gear actually helped to save time as well. I planned to shoot with what I had, so it almost never took longer then 20 minutes to set up a shot.

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Doing many jobs yourself is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Instead of explaining what you need to multiple people, or discussing certain aspects of the shot with your crew, you just do it. This can save a lot of time, but it keeps you closed from potential good ideas and alternative ways that discussions with other crew members might have.

On my short film “Filmmaker,” I was constantly having discussions with my Director of Photography Sean Finnegan. The result was that each shot was hitting it’s maximum potential. Every detail could be taken care of by a different crew member. This takes more time, but it is almost always for the better.

Filmmaking is like a juggling act, and the more you try to juggle the more likely you are to drop something. In order to Direct, Produce, DP, Camera Op, and Focus Pull at the same time I had to be extensively prepared.

Another major obstacle was that about a week before production was set to begin I had multiple actors have to back out. Luckily, the remaining actors had actor-friends who happened to be available. With less then a week before shooting we had no time to do a table read or production meeting. This meant that ideas about characters, scenes, and the production in general would have to be discussed on the day. Thankfully, everyone was on the same page, and there weren’t any arguments or major disagreements when we were shooting.
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The biggest thing I did to make sure we were hitting our 6 minutes a day was continuing the shooting style I had begun developing on Filmmaker. Most filmmakers shoot a lot of coverage. They shoot the same scene from many multiple angles to make sure they get everything and so that they can edit around enabling the audience to follow the different actions in the scene. I prefer to cover entire scenes (If I can) in long moving master shots.

Essentially, what I do is have the camera move through the scene focusing on specific moments as they happen. I’m doing the editing in camera. This can be very dangerous for multiple reasons. The top reason being that you have no options when it’s time to edit the film. So if the shot isn’t paced right or there is an error you didn’t catch on set, you are screwed. There is nothing you can do. You didn’t do the scene from multiple angles so you can’t adjust the pacing of the scene in anyway. You can’t cut around any errors. It has to be perfect on the day of shooting. Orson Welles was famous for shooting this way so that he could keep the studios from editing his movies.

In order to make sure my shots are going to be coherent and fit together, I storyboard all of them beforehand. I imagine the film from beginning to end multiple times. Every single shot. But that doesn’t completely cover you. Half of the time I realized something wouldn’t work with the scene we were about to do so I would completely change how we were going to do it. You can’t get a perfect feel for everything in pre-production and you have to be able to change and mutate as your film does.

Two of my actors worked for a local news channel so when they weren’t on camera they became crew. Those two, with Abe Diaz (our sound recorder) formed a 4 person crew. I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful these people were. Alex Skomars would be acting in a shot, and then be a dolly grip for the next. (By dolly I mean wheelchair on a sheet-metal track, but it all looks the same on camera.) Nate Hanninen slated most of the shots, even the ones that he was in. Along with the rest of the actors, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to do this with.

Stanley Kubrick once said “Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling.”

A month ago I wanted to know what he meant by that. Now I do.

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I’m extremely privileged to be in a situation where I can make a feature film at age 22. I’m not sure how many other filmmakers have done this, but I know it’s extremely rare. I owe everything to my parents and the crew. During shoot I kept wondering how indie filmmakers manage to do this without living at home and begging their friends to give up their lives for two weeks.

I really do think we are making something great. I can’t wait to show this to people. I can’t wait for the crew to see how their efforts paid off.

I know i’ve spent a lot of time talking about technical problems and the anxiety of trying work within my limitations, but to be honest this was easy. Now don’t get me wrong, filmmaking is some of the hardest work you will ever do, but I enjoyed it so much. I loved it. It felt natural to me. When the first day was over I was kind of shocked. I had spent so much time hyping myself up for how intense it was going to be, but it was just fun.

I felt a high I had never experienced before after everyday of shooting. The hard work felt like nothing because it was so fun to me. I was putting all hours of the day into this. After everyone would go home, I would sync sound and put together a rough cut of what we shot that day. I didn’t want to stop making the movie. I really don’t know what I’ll do when this is all over.

That’s a lie. I know exactly what I’ll do. I have another film that I’ve been writing for the past 4 years but I really need to focus on what I’m doing now. The thing is, it’s an addiction. When you do what you love, your life feels complete. Making this film has confirmed my belief that this is what I was meant to do. I’ve always known since I was old enough to hold a camera, but now that I’m working on something substantial, I can’t see my life going any other way. This is it for me.

There was someone who I went to high school with that wanted to be a filmmaker as well but dismissed it as a childish dream when he went to college. I won’t judge his reasoning for saying this, but I have to completely agree with him. The childish notion that you deserve to succeed at something few can do is the only thing that makes you able to attempt it in the first place. A strong curiosity and imagination are a filmmaker’s best assets. A filmmaker never has to grow up. I feel like I’m living the dream I’ve had since I was a child.

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As production wraps and editing begins, there will be so much more to write about. I can’t wait to see my vision come to fruition and start the process of submitting to festivals and distributing. I’ll be sure to post updates regularly.

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One thought

  1. Congratulations Lance. It’s a monumental effort to get a project like that off the ground by yourself. You’re doing it man!

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