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The title shot of silence - Marquita screaming on the train platform is one
that really makes me smile. Luck was on my side. I had a steadicam and small
crew @ the 225th station on the 1 line in Manhattan--without a permit (which
cost $20,000 and no discount, so of course I had to shoot it guerrilla style).
Anyway, we had been up there for a couple of hours and just as the sun goes
down and we wrap the cops get off the train. I see them watching us from the
other end of the platform then instruct everyone to NOT make eye contact with
the officer, just keep walking. He watched us leave and didn't bother us but
it could have been a nightmare. It turns out to be a great shot for so many
reasons and is one of the shots that I'm most proud of.
Overall to give truly accurate notes on this production would take a 200 page
book to fully document all the ups and downs, the unbelievable, catastrophic
events that occurred on set and then to balance those out with the amazing reception
and screening response that I’ve received since I completion.
So I won’t bore you with the minutia just the big events. Here’s
my top 10.
First note: I shot this on location in the Bronx where I grew up, but I lived
and went to film school in Los Angeles at the time.
- At the beginning my producer quit. He had a newborn and had been evicted.
What could I say? So undeterred, I decided to do it myself - mistake #1
- Had to find the right Marquita, it took me 6 months and 2 trips to NY from
California to find the “one”. Once I had Aura everything else
fell into play. Showing her range, she actually gave a wonderful reading for
“Sonia”, the mother as well.
- Had a 5 month negotiation with NYCHA for a vacant apartment.
- Had a 6 month negotiation with Bronx VA hospital which was to serve as the
clinic. ( 2 days before I was to shoot a the hospital, another production
fouled up the mix. It seems that a grip, while placing a light on the ceiling
slipped and fell, while trying to catch his balance, he reaches for a sprinkler
valve which breaks, and sets off the sprinkler system on the entire operating
room of the VA. $1mm of damage and of course, no filming ever again.) At this
point, out of $ and time. I returned to Cali. However it took me another YEAR
to find a clinic that would allow me to film in their facility, not to mention
raising the additional funding to finish the scene.
- I had a crew Mutiny; and in order to make the day had to shoot a crucial
scene with only myself, the DP and the AD as crew. WE still got the shot though
about 3 hours before the next days call. I was up 23 hours that day and another
20 the next. I later assembled a new crew for the clinic and train scenes.
- The day we started shooting the building elevator alarm bugged out and wouldn’t
allow sound recording throughout the day. Also after months of scouting in
silence, the day we started filming was also the day construction started
on a job across the street from the location. A sound nightmare. It also began
raining profusely. WHEN Scouting ask about upcoming events in the area, go
to the area at different times of day.
- Using short ends to save money, I ran out of film one day. I know it sounds
like an idiotic thing to do, but when you are wearing 25 hats and putting
out fires constantly, and have no PA’s – at least at this time
in the shoot--plus trying to work with actors and keep your story together,
you forget the obvious… NEVER AGAIN just pay the $ get EXTRA film and
use full mags, everyone will love you , things will seem faster because you
don’t have to stop to reload every 2 minutes and it will be one less
thing you have to think about.
- One of my actors left in the middle of shooting to take a job in Buffalo
for a week. I had to stop shooting or recast on the fly, but decided not to
for sake of not breaking up the chemistry between the actors. This cost me
Thousands of dollars and 3 weeks of time. Never Again,make sure you lock up
actors contractually for the time period you need.
- I tried to cut corners on my telecine deal and got jerked by a place called
Filmworks in Santa Monica -Stay away at all costs. Even After 3-4 transfers
they could never get the color or the grain correct. So to this day I have
a SH*&^y transfer. I have since found out that there is a long line of
disgruntled filmmakers who have had the same experience. Where were they before
I spent my $????? Anyway, NEVER skimp on post it will haunt you forever.-guaranteed!
- Once completed, my faculty advisors hated it and wanted me to shoot an extra
scene or re-edit, but I was out of money and just didn’t have the energy
to reassemble the project, especially just for them. I didn’t believe
it needed re-editing. My faculty advisors, one in particular Leonard Shrader
–(yes, Paul’s brother), then prevented me from graduating. Things
got ugly real fast, faculty walked out of my meetings, wouldn’t return
my calls, said the film was awful, and that “people would run out of
the theater”. This at an institutuin that I’m PAYING. It got personal,
like I was challenging their authority and who was I to do this. This continued
for 8 months of going back and forth until I won the DGA award with the same
film they had panned. Once this happened along with some serious campaigning,
I was allowed to graduate. I don’t think the University wanted the embarrassment.
The Associate Dean wanted Leonard to put in writing what requirements I had
not met, he refused. So I walked. My experience has become a case study for
the university i.e. What is the correct protocol when a student has completed
work that satisfies the technical specifications of the degree but is not
palatable to the faculty on a narrative basis.
Note to filmmakers: Listen to criticism and apply it to your work. If it makes
sense really give it a chance, step back and look at it with the criticisms
in place and corrected, if in your opinion it is not better OR if it is good
but has become something other than what you’re trying to say then abandon
it and go with YOUR vision. At least if you fail it is with your work not some
else version of your work. I look at this example with my film school as my
first experience with THE STUDIO. Now I’m better off for having the experience,
as well as a more confident filmmaker.