I’ve been volunteering with Raindance for almost three years now, and I only recently worked up the courage to direct my first short film.
The experience was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating. It mostly went something like this:
1) 2 WEEKS PRIOR TO SHOOT: EXCITEMENT
“Oh man YES, people have jumped on board and the ball is rolling! Two weeks until we shoot. Tons of time. So stoked, gonna do so much prep.”
I had prepped a lot in the months leading up to the shoot – compiling reference materials for my DP and the art team, breaking down the script, shotlisting, storyboarding – I felt like I had done it all! In the two weeks leading up to the shoot, I was convinced I would perfect everything and be beyond ready for the actual day. I had been reminded by filmmaker friends that you can never really be prepared for what may happen on the day, but I ignored those claims and continued on my way. It’s amazing how fast two weeks can go by.
2) NIGHT BEFORE SHOOT: CRIPPLING FEAR
“The shoot is tomorrow and I don’t think I did enough prep.”
I don’t think I slept a wink the night before. This will probably sound funny and adorably naive to those that have been making films for years, but I was petrified. I had spent the past few months pouring my heart and soul into this story and the next day would be my one shot to get it right. I was grateful for my team, overwhelmed by their generosity, and was worried about letting them down. My mind raced through experiences I’d had on sets where things had gone terribly wrong, or key people hadn’t really known what they were doing, and how that had dampened the atmosphere. I was terrified of that happening on my set but I reminded myself that this was a learning experience, my first kick at the can, and that I couldn’t expect perfection.
My Producer came over early in the evening to finish some last minute prep and to give me a pep talk. He reassured me everything would be okay, and gifted me with a hilariously amazing John Cena t-shirt (long story). His kind words gave me the last boost of confidence I had needed and I knew that at least ONE person believed in me (in reality, everyone on set believed in me, I think I was just having trouble believing in myself).
3) SHOOT DAY, 8 AM: DESPAIR
“Oh God I don’t think I’m cut out for this, I feel like an imposter and sounded like an idiot at the safety meeting and now I don’t want to say cut because I feel rude for interrupting the actors.”
I’m generally an outgoing person, particularly in small-ish groups. Public speaking and leading, though, are not exactly what I’d call my strengths. I’d rehearsed in my head what I had wanted to say to the team at our morning meeting; that I was beyond grateful to them for helping out, that I couldn’t wait to work as a team, that I wanted this to be a happy, fun, collaborative environment where everyone’s voices could be heard. Instead, I mumbled a few thank yous, mentioned that the stairs were slippery and quickly threw it out to my Producer and 1st AD to get the ball rolling. I was convinced everyone could see through my excited veneer into my crumbling, petrified soul.
I had naturally blown everything out of proportion in my head, and was over analyzing every word I said and every breath I took. As we were switching scenes mid-day, I decided to take a break and finally check my phone. When I went to my bag, I realized it had been entirely emptied and its contents had been replaced with apples. On a typical day I would’ve found this hilarious but I was already such an emotional wreck that this prank just made everything boil to the surface.
“Someone stole my stuff,” I said in a panicked voice to our sound man. Unsure of what to say, he consoled me calmly and kindly. As if on command, my producer emerged from the other room and took me outside so I could have a good cry and let everything from the day out.
Looking back I realize how melodramatic this scenario was but in the moment my volcano of emotions couldn’t be suppressed. My team was incredibly understanding and continued to support me after my meltdown, and my belongings were eventually returned along with a good laugh from everyone involved.
4) SHOOT DAY, 11 PM: PANIC
“Are we going to finish on time? I don’t want to keep people later than they were expecting to stay and oh gosh they probably think I’m so inept and why did we spend so long trying to get a close-up of the flickering candle flame? Ahhhhhhh!”
The fellow whose house we shot at works in the industry, and was joking with us that film shoots often “start as Citizen Kane and end as Anaconda 3.” This could not have been more accurate. It got to a point where we were scrambling for time near the end, everyone was exhausted, and the incredible actors had their most pivotal and emotional scene to perform.
We decided to shoot the final scene in one take to save time (which I was excited about because oners are my favourite thing in film). My AD, DP and I walked through it and then brought the actors in. They nailed it on the rehearsal, and from the corner of the room we heard a crew member say “ohhhhhh” as she realized the reveal and twist ending. That was a satisfying moment, and with each take the actors continued to pull emotion from themselves that I hadn’t even expected. I was blown away. When it came time to say “that’s a wrap,” I felt like I couldn’t even recall what had happened, as if the day had gone by in a blur.
We managed to finish 5 minutes past our anticipated end time, which I owe to my AD, who kept everything moving efficiently.
5) FOLLOWING DAY: RELIEF, SATISFACTION, ONCOMING ADDICTION
“Geez it hasn’t even been a day and I already miss everyone. At least I can get some slee – oh wait, no – post-production. And what about that project I wrote a few years ago, I wonder who I can call…?”
I woke up the next morning and felt a wave of relief mixed with slight embarrassment, I felt as if I hadn’t performed to the capacity that I had expected and wanted to.
My team, on the other hand, had blown me away. They stuck it through, were impeccably professional, creative and kind, and worked their asses off to make my vision a reality. I wrote to each of them expressing my gratitude (even though I knew words would never be able convey what I was feeling).
My DP was one of the first to respond – he’d also been one of the first people I brought on board and was the one who understood exactly how I wanted the film to look (and made that vision a reality!). He noted that he’d had fun, that we’d all had fun, and that was the whole point of the thing we were doing.
He reminded me that no one is born to direct, no one comes out of the womb directing amazing projects and challenged me not to give up. I’m still so grateful for his words, and can’t wait for my next chance to prove myself to myself.
I was lucky to have Raindance’s Vancouver chapter by my side supporting me the entire way through. The two directing workshops I took with Peter D. Marshall last year equipped me with the skills I needed to be versed in the process from beginning to end. I had access to a wealth of people and resources that could advise me on best practices and, when my location fell through and we were panicked looking for a 1st AD, Nadia swooped in and found us both at a Booze N Schmooze.
Oh, and, a friend has kindly brought me on board to direct another short so, here we go again…