First, some context: I’ve spent the last twelve years happily typing away in hotel rooms, coffee shops, and my dining room, churning out scripts and revisions as needed, gleefully oblivious to what really goes into the making of a movie (let alone a little web series!)
Now I know different, and it’s all wonderful and frightening and exhilarating and terrifying. But at least I wasn’t alone: I co-directed with the multi-talented Robert Consing.
1. And this is probably the most important thing – bring candy to the first day of shooting.
My mother, bless her heart, bought a two pound box of See’s candy for me to share with the cast and crew on day one. I gave my little opening “thank you, now let’s kick ass on Reality Reboot” spiel, and then I mentioned the candy, and then the applause arrived. That little gesture – I’d like to think – made up for most of my rookie mistakes, which I will list now (in the interest of brevity, I’m limiting my list of mistakes – and triumphs – to ten). The general disorganization, chaos, and panic are givens. I’ll try to stick to the specific.
2. Spend weeks and months perfecting your script and your game plan, and then, on the day, be prepared to throw it all away. For an
anal well organized Virgo like me, this was definitely one of those terrifying/liberating moments. On day two of our four day shoot, I realized we would not have time to shoot everything I wanted – simply not enough hours in the day. So in about two minutes at 5:30 a.m. outside our location, sitting on the curb, I took out a Sharpie, and cut the script from 25 pages down to 20. 20% of my precious baby gone, in an instant!
I remember Chester See, our lead actor, after I handed him the butchered pages, asking me, “is this okay?” in a gentle, concerned way, as if the news had just come back that the tumor was malignant. And I remember how proud I was that I actually had a coherent answer: “yeah, the emotional trajectory of the scene I cut shares some of the emotion we’ll see in the third episode anyway, so this will just tighten things up.” He seemed to buy this, and I actually believed it. And – best of all – I think it improved the piece.
3. Don’t be stingy with praise! I’ve always had the hard ass attitude, part genetic, part the result of one particularly brutal architecture professor I had way back when, that if I’m not criticizing you, that’s as good as praising you. Well, it’s not. So focused was I on trying not to completely f&%k everything up that I don’t think I praised the actors and crew enough for all their tireless, wonderful, and in most cases, unpaid, or woefully underpaid, work. So, to all of you:
Case in point: our lead actress, Elizabeth Ho, who had the Herculean task of acting the hell out of her part while essentially sitting motionless on a washing machine for three days, did it: she nailed it.
Another case in point: one day I sent our production designer, Beth Van Dam, scrambling for cheap underwear, Barbie dolls, and a very particular kind of gross cookie (no judgment, please).
Every day was like that: I woke up with some new “wish list” tchotchke I absolutely had to have, and she handled it all in stride with a smile and gleeful heart. People like that will skate through life, and deserve to. Thank you, Beth.
4. Be open to the happy accident. Little example: for no particular reason, I asked Beth to buy some roses that I might, or might not, use, for the character called Twitchy (the inimitable Galen Howard). Well, at the last minute, I decide to stick one of those roses in Chester’s mouth, and it became an important prop for Episode One.
When figuring out how to get a pen into Twitchy’s hand for another scene, my complex staging was wonderfully upstaged by a simple suggestion courtesy of Liz and Chester. They said, “Why don’t we do it this way?” and I said, “Duh, why didn’t I think of that?” (well, even if I didn’t say it out loud, I damn well thought it; oops – see number 3 above). Thanks Liz and Chester.
5. Figure out when you’re supposed to say “action” and “cut.” There are a few words the cinematographer says – in this case the brilliant and incredibly well organized Cira Bolla – right before you say action.
I think it’s “camera ready,” but I’ve already forgotten. I can’t tell you the number of times I yelled “action,” only to have Cira or my co-director Robbie (more on him next time) or someone else on set gently remind me, “um, not yet, Alfredo.” You can imagine the confidence this inspired in my actors and crew! As for yelling “cut,” I think it was a virtue that I didn’t know when to say “stop.” If I was being entertained by what the actors were doing, I would just let them run on, even if the camera angles and lighting were all wrong. And some of the best little impromptu moments came from that (see 4 above).
And now, lest I try your patience, we will take a break. Numbers 6 – 10 next week.
p.s. - the waiting around – let’s call this…
5.a: when I was a little kid, I had a bit part singing in the chorus in the background of a movie. I remember waiting for hours and hours and hours to come on set for about half an hour work. But we had air conditioned trailers and endless tables of craft services food at our disposal. We were kids, and it seemed like heaven (even our absence from school was excused)!
Not so here. It was roasting hot, and that See’s candy ran out fast. So: to Liz, Chester, Andrew (the cavalry to the rescue in episode 2), Galen (Twitchy), Mike, Quentin, Steve (our three fabulous commentators), Howard (surprise appearance later), and Kelly (the reason you’re hitting pause – our underwear model): thank you for your patience – next time amenities will be provided!