Film-making, in my mind, is very much a team sport. Sure, there are auteurs and on-set autocrats but I never felt I thrived as either. In my opinion, my most unbearable films are the ones where I only listened to myself and took myself too seriously.
That's why, when I returned to my hometown over the 2016 holiday, I wasn't sure whether or not I'd even be able to shoot anything. A great deal of my film-making buddies were still in the area but, it being the holiday season and all, I wasn't sure if any of them would have the time or stamina to shoot a film.
I knew three things for sure. First off, we'd need to shoot this in a day. All my actor and crew friends had very tight schedules and scheduling multiple people for multiple days quickly became impossible. Second, we would need to improvise a great deal to tell the story we wanted to tell. And lastly, I knew I couldn't count 100% on anything.
I wrote up a script two days before we ended up shooting and sent it to Dave, my good friend and actor. Once he was fully on-board, I knew we'd at least try to shoot this thing. Whether or not we'd fail was still up in the air.
The thirteen-page script was ambitious. The last time I shot a film that long, it took me four days. With the actors improvising almost all of the lines after having no real prep time with the material, I knew there was a chance the edit would be impossible once I played back the footage.
We ended up scraping together a merry band of actors who could donate a few hours of their night to our project. Much to my delight, every single one of them knocked it out of the park. As a Producer/Director/DP on this project, I wasn't able to spend the time I usually like to with actors, and having only one other crew member, the actors were often left alone with each other while I untangled myself from a nest of cables.
What made this whole thing possible to shoot and edit was something people in comedy call "The Button." It's an endpoint in dialogue that triggers a following sequence. Perhaps it's an action by the actor or a simple line or phrase.
For example, when Danny (Alex K. LaGrange) is improvising in the car with Dave, he knew he had to somehow get to the line, "When was the last time you even spoke to Willow?" Everything up until that point was improvised by the actors, and then repeated in subsequent takes with varying degrees of consistency. Every scene had a precise sequence of 'buttons' and made editing for continuity much easier.
The most important hurdle that made this film possible was that the actors could relate to the source material. I didn't need to give much direction because everyone had experience with the subject matter. It's easy to riff off of one another if you've already thought about the topic thoroughly.
Lastly, the production was small and simple. I refrained from moving the camera, letting the actors drive the movement. This was partially because we didn't have enough hands on set to do anything fancy, but also because I didn't want to distract from what these characters were saying.
Lighting was minimal, using a small LED panel and a set of battery-powered rope LED lights. Everything else was practical, from porch lights to car headlights. The simplicity of the visual story was never a concern for me because it played an important part in the film-making.
Throughout the story and especially in the last scene, I wanted it to feel almost like an amateur music video for a local band. That's usually a visual taboo that's best avoided, but I felt our story needed a touch of that homegrown feeling. It brings authenticity to the theme of "millennial heartbreak in the heart of the Rust Belt". It's a story about non-extraordinary people in non-extraordinary circumstances, doing the best they can with what they have. Growing up in the Rust Belt, that was sort of the anthem of my people and it served as the emotional core of this piece.
In all honesty, I expected the worst when going into production for this thing. Too much could've gone wrong and nothing was certain. Luckily for us, everything that could've gone right did.
Thanks to everyone who took part in making this happen. We had so much fun making it. We'll see you later in February for the next film.