Comments on The Subject

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!


Brock said...

Well first of all, I just have to say “thanks Josh and Angie for coming along to help out on the shoot”.

Yes, it was very tiring and difficult. In fact, now that I reflect upon it, I think this may have been the most stressful and heated shoot I've executed. Pantomiming was tough, but mostly because none of us knew what we were doing. Outside In was tough, but only because we had to wait for the store to clear out before we could shoot. The Subject was by far the most difficult. We did over 90 shots in 10 hours. 25 set-ups. We crammed two days of work into one. Thankfully, by this time, most everyone in my crew has been seasoned enough to pull off a few difficult tricks. We're still students, but as Josh said, we knew about f-stops, blocking, etc. I think my gaffer, James and my cinematographer Chad must be referenced in this respect. They both know a lot about film and about lighting and I think in a few years they'll be doing it professionally.

Towards the end, the shoot did get rushed, but I love it when that happens. It forces us to be quick; to steer towards the only plausible solution, and it cuts out dilly dawdling. One thing I absolutely hate is when the crew starts slacking. No one slacked on Saturday because no one had any time to slack.
Like Josh said though, even when we were in "high gear" there was still a lot of waiting. That's just due to the "hurry up and wait" nature of film. Every shoot I've been on has been like that in one respect or another.

The best part of the day I think was when a teacher wandered into the studio and saw that we had completely rearranged the control room. I didn't hear everything he said because my cinematographer and I were hiding behind a large set - errrr...I mean, we were setting the camera up. It was funny though because I heard him say, "actually, this looks nicer then it did before". Yeesh. Some people at that school take one step forward and two steps back.

Also, I'm glad you offered your suggestions Josh. Some members of the crew didn't expect the actors to offer technical suggestions, but that's ok. I think there's more leeway on a smaller scale shoot like one of mine as opposed to a large-scale shoot. Everyone's a part of the team and wants to see the project finished. So of course I'll have you back.

I'll get the on-set digital snapshots soon. They should be a pretty good prediction of what the processed footage will look like.

Brock said...

Until I get the snapshots, here's some test footage I shot with the film a few weeks back.



Gabe said...

Is that Hudson!? He's creeping me out, man! Wicked cool visual.

I too learned much from being on one of Brock's sets. I wished I could've been there. I also had a few comments for Brock while he was filming, but you have to be sly. Piece of advice, Josh - take Brock aside or lean into his ear and act like you have an acting question. ;-)

Joshua Provost said...

Wow, yeh, amazing pictures. It's freaking me out.

I could take Brock aside, but I might be better served just learning to keep my mouth shut and let people do their jobs. :)

Brock said...

I'll usually listen to any comments or suggestions people have for me. Sometimes there's a bigger picture involved and I don't use people's suggestions because they wouldn't fit into that bigger picture. That can be hard, but usually everyone gets it when I show them the film later. But yeah, whisper this stuff in my ear and not in front of the cinematographer or crew. I'll listen well.