Making the Movie

16Jul/050

RitM: Day One and Done

Rain in the Mountains, Day One
What is Rain in the Mountains?

Check the timestamp at the bottom. I'm back already. The first day was fantastic. Better than we hoped for. We're already four shots ahead.

Here's how it all went down. My alarm goes off at 4:12 this morning, but I'm already up since Lillian woke me up at 3. I have plenty of time to breakfast, shower, fire off a few blog posts I've been saving up. At 5am I go to the other cabin to check on Joe and Steve, the only actors called for today. It's dark. Their alarm didn't go off.

Still, we make it to the Lacey theater parking lot by our designated meeting time, 5:30 a.m. The caravan of cars snakes out of the parking lot and twenty minutes down the highway to an un-marked dirt road. At the end of this road is a gate and the portable toilet we ordered from B&W. Looks like they dropped it off at the right place.

Joel jumps out of the lead car and opens the gate, then locks it behind us. The Mima Prairie Preserve isn't open to the general public -- that's one of its many attractions. (We had only one passerby all day, an entomologist looking for beetles.) The other marks in the plus column are distance from city noise and breath-taking natural beauty:

Christine did a good job of planning the first day. Nearly all of the scheduled shots were action shots -- and boy howdy were they. One requires Steve to climb a tree, another for him to scooch across a branch and cut the noose. After the Dead Man falls from the hangin' tree, Eric chases him across the field and tackles him. And tackles him. And tackles him. Take after take. Joe and Steve got a fair share of grass up their noses.

We have a minor scare during the day's only extended dialogue shot. Joel hears that the film has rolled out but isn't sure when. We ended up re-doing it for safety and getting better performances from the actors. With that shot, we had already completed everything scheduled for the day. We broke for lunch early.

I eat quickly and download the two mags we've already shot. The forecast and the morning's clouds had threatened rain. By lunchtime its abundantly clear that ain't happening. Expecting low-light conditions, I had loaded the empty mags with Fuji 250D, a more light-sensitive film stock. I now re-fill them with Kodak 50D, a stock which performs better in bright sunlight.

Changing film out of the magazines, you have to avoid exposing it to light. This requires a "changing bag." Although it sounds like an item from Dungeons & Dragons, it's really a very simple device. A bag wrapped in another bag (to be extra safe) with two arm holes that have elastic on the end. You put your empty mag in there with a full film can and proceed to appreciate how blind people manage so well. If you're careful, you succeed in moving the film into the mag without getting tape anywhere it shouldn't be and avoid closing the hatch on the lining of the changing bag. I've practiced this several times before today, but never on my lap in the back seat of a hot car.

While I finish that up, the rest of the cast and crew hang Joe. The hanging shots were scheduled for tomorrow, but since we had the whole rest of the afternoon, and since getting Joe into the harness and up into the tree takes a fair amount of time, Christine makes a wise call to shoot them today.

When you see the movie, marvel at how real it looks. If you are scared, imagine how Joe must've felt when the crew ran the ladder out of frame.

The harness isn't comfortable, and Joe is glad to have done with it. We decide to do a "pick up" or additional, unplanned shot, to film the ending that he and Steve had come up with. I won't spoil it, so let's just say that it involves the Dead Man laughing and running over a hill. Even over the hill, Joe's screams are so loud and proud we have to back off the boom mic.

Another 400' roll done for a total of 1200 feet. Both the very first shot of the movie, and the very last. And it's only 2 o'clock. Now we'll have plenty of time tomorrow for extended dialogue shots. The crew is tired and happy. We've been broken in. Baptism by fire, in most cases.

Lessons learned: Don't write "Kodak" 250D; the 250 ISO film is Fuji. Make sure the roll numbers of the film match the roll numbers on the camera and sound reports. Anticipate better when a focus distance or light reading is needed.

I'll attempt to post about the movie at least once every two days. Keep checking back to follow the progress of the film. I've tried to gloss most of the terminology -- try moving your mouse over the word "mic" in the penultimate paragraph. If you see anything else that needs explaining, or you have questions or commentary, leave a note in the Comment section below.



About J. Ott

John Ott is a writer, filmmaker and technology geek. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
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