Yesterday Angie and I had the privilege of participating in Brock H. Brown's latest film, The Subject. It was my first time on a real film shoot. In other words, one in which real film was used. It was quite a learning experience, and quite a workout.
When we arrived, shortly after 9am, the studio was still locked. We passed the time chatting with fellow filmmakers and the lead actor received his sickly makeup treatment. Finally, we were allowed in at around 10am.
We were greeted by a studio filled with crap: couches, chairs, tables, TV news studio desks, theatrical sets, etc. This was large studio, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25'x50'. And yet, it was nearly full of all this stuff, or at least the half where we needed to shoot was full. Emptiness to bare black walls, mind you, is critical to the look of this film. So, after a quick assessment, we moved everything from one side of the studio to the other, tearing down the sets in the process. We pulled back the curtains to reveal... more stuff, which we also moved.
In the control room, the other critical location for this film, was a ton of stuff, three big desk, configured as a student radio stations, with nothing where it needed to be for our purposes. Again, a quick assessment, and we decided to clear the room, rearranging the desks to meet our needs without turning off or disconnecting the maze of wires and equipment that makes the radio station go. Banners and photos came off the walls, desks were moved, CDs were tucked away. The control room windows were thoroughly cleaned inside and out, and I was introduced to the wonders of gaff tape (what can't this stuff do?!).
There we were, with the set just as the screenplay called for, and not two and half hours after we should have started shooting. Everyone got into full costume and the first setup began. By 2pm, only four or five shots and two or three setups had been completed, out of a total of 70 or so. Bearing in mind the need of one of the actors to leave at 5:30, and the need to vacate the studio shortly thereafter, the shoot kicked into high gear. Even then, there was a lot of standing around, a lot of waiting.
I learned a lot. For one, planning is everything. Brock had full storyboards, setup overheads, shot lists, and more. Two, it's good to have someone around who knows the intricacies of the camera and lighting equipment. Three, it was reaffirmed that Brock is an excellent director in all respects. He always had an insightful answer to every question, whether technical, blocking, lighting, or performance, he knew what he wanted and could clearly articulate it. Further, he solicited and listened to suggestions (and even listened to unsolicited suggestions, too), and was willing to adapt and be resourceful. He tolerated me, even though I was probably out of line on a number of occassions, pointing out concerns I was having with angles and lighting. As an actor on this project, it was most definitely not my place, and tried to bite my tongue as much as possible, but I couldn't in every occassion. Thanks Brock, I hope you'll have me back next time.
It was great to be in the company of people who were very sharp and quick in all aspects of filmmaking. It was nice to be around people who spoke the language of filmmaking, whether it was F-stops, stop loss, flagging, bounce, etc. I could speak freely about these things and people knew what they meant.
Although it got rushed towards the end, it was still challenging and fun. From what we saw on set using digital stills, this film will live up to Brock's vision in every way. There were even some unexpected bonuses, particularly the reflections in the windows, on both sides, which creating some captivating, though unplanned, visuals.
There wasn't as much pressure as I had anticipated. I thought that the burden of having limited film stock available would be an ever-present pressure, but it was not, because everything had been well planned, and Brock could, at a moments notice, gauge if he was ahead or behind with respects to schedules, shots, and footage unused. And due to the technical savvy of the crew, the setups were relatively quick and painless, without too much time wasted getting the equipment configured. Though a little slower than video setups, it was not tremendously slower, as I had anticipated. Again, due to the skill of those involved, and the planning work that was put into it.
It was a full ten hours of work (we had to put back everything we tore down or moved, don't forget), and I could barely get around today, but it was well worth it. I really can't wait to see what the footage looks like. This will be Brock's best work to date, I know it!