Thoughts of a Filmmaker in Pre-production
Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times – Blog 1
The advice I give to indie filmmakers whilst going through the pain of getting a feature off the ground is to keep writing, keep working, make a short film. So, here I am. Making a short film.
Even though Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times is only a short, and just seven pages, pre-production is as all-consuming as with a feature film. There’s casting, scouting locations, managing the budget, scheduling, and of course endless discussions about wardrobe, design, makeup, and the cinematography. Immersed in this pre-production chaos you also need to think about how the story can be told, and how your production team will come together to deliver your ideas. The sudden daunting reality of film making will either crush you or plug you in; for me this pre-production process is like electricity. I am alive - it’s like skiing; It’s like I’m dodging trees, feeling the wind in my hair, jumping, landing, falling, laughing. Yet again I’m seeing new opportunities, making new friends and learning so much.
It’s an exciting thing – to uncover who will tell your story and where, and how. This is where the high-functioning ADHD tribe thrive; having to juggle actors, locations, crew, budget, schedule. It is about being able to listen to, and passionately engage with, a diverse mini Universe of people – Sound Recordists, Cinematographers, Producers, Script Editors, Actors, Production Designers, Location Managers. I know my technical limitations as a filmmaker; I can struggle with a domestic tripod at home. But when it comes to building a team and making people feel part of the story they are telling, it is something I love to do, and I’m good at it. Because filmmaking is fun. It is play. It is imaginative. Story telling is a privilege. It is permission from the Gods to explore ourselves and be creative. Over the last few weeks, when talking to actors, I have found myself referring to the glove scene in On the Waterfront. In this scene actress Eva Marie Saint accidently drops her glove. Instead of calling cut, director Elia Kazan let the scene develop. Marlon Brando picks up the glove and what follows is something never witnessed before in film. It is a strange metaphor for the relationship between Brando and Saint’s characters, it is playful and spontaneous and it feels edgy. You don’t really know where this is going. It is like real life. It wasn’t in the screenplay and you’d struggle to write something so powerful, and you’d have even less chance of executing it properly. There must have been thousands of accidents like this in film before but this time, in 1954, an accident was allowed to play out. Brando is the genius, Kazan gives him permission to be a genius. Watch the scene here.
Is that too touchy-feely? Too heart-led? My feeling is that if you have no heart on set, with the crew and cast who are giving up their time and energy to be part of your story, then you may end up making a heartless, soulless and mechanical film. And there are too many of those being made. It’s important at this stage of filmmaking (before the shoot) for me to be open with everyone; to talk about my fears, my hopes, my failures, my successes. I love the possibilities. I adore the combinations. I know that this can easily cripple a filmmaker. This is not for the over thinker. If something feels right, an actor, a location, an idea – you have to jump on it, go for it, and with gusto. If you over rationalise a decision, you can disable yourself from making a commitment. And a failure to commit to an actor, a location, a crew member, or even a simple prop, can have a knock-on effect right through the production.
Even though it’s a short film there are still hundreds of decisions that have to be made. Perhaps even thousands. As a filmmaker you set the destination but at some point you have to let go of how you get there and put your trust in the people you are working with. I call this the “bobsleigh moment”. It’s when you look at the cast and crew who are now part of a functioning unit. They are taking control. They are owning their roles. They are making decisions. They are running with the ball. They are making it happen. You, the initiator of the idea, are now in a bobsleigh with 30 other people. You cannot get off. You are locked in. You are now a passenger of the idea you launched. I repeat. You are now a passenger.
At one point, it was just you and some words on a page. Just you. But now, you are a member of a functioning team that is heading towards a finish line – and we are all racing towards it like excited dogs. And this is the hilarious part. If you had to lose one person on the first day of principle photography but still get the film shot, who would it be? The sound recordist, the cinematographer, one of the lead actors? If you did, you wouldn’t have a film. But you could probably lose the director on day one and still get something made – if the right team has been put in place and the destination has been set. Yes. You could probably do without the director! This is strangely satisfying and it is something I have communicated to all the team. I am the most important person and the least important person at the same time! I intend to be there, however, because filmmaking is so much fun.