I learned fast that the key to being a good director is surrounding yourself with brilliant people, and that’s what I did. I had a crazy talented cast, a dedicated and experienced crew, an amazing DP, and a producer/co-writer from heaven. This was my first film, so trust me I know I was up to my ass in alligators. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a couple of things on my side. No one was more passionate to tell this story, than me. My vision was crystal clear and although the bulk of my experience was in theater, I was confident in my ability to work with the actors. Unfortunately, it was the experience of being on a film set and the lingo that left me at a disadvantage.
My first day on the set, I had the pleasure of working with Amanda Figueroa, Cilda Shaur and Michael Patrick Lane. I couldn’t of asked for a better group of actors on my first day. They trusted me, and it meant the world to me. The fact that they are talented as hell only made my job easier.
I had the BEST DP ever, Joe Hennigan, and from the beginning I had a great chemistry with him. I read horror stories about DP’s whose main concern is the look of their reel. It was clear from day one this was definitely NOT Joe. His main focus was bringing my vision to life and he continually reminded me of that throughout the process. The beautiful thing about Joe was he was able to read my mind. There were many times that he knew before I even spoke if I was happy or not with a take, or if something was bothering me etc.. It was hard at first to vocalize when I wasn’t happy with something. Everyone around me is working their asses off, and they are artist like me! I didn’t want to hurt feelings. And there were times when I didn’t want to hold up filming. There is pressure on a film set, especially an indie to making your day. If you don’t, there’s no going back. You really have to weigh what matters and what you can let go. I had no problem adjusting and letting things go. I see the big picture. But the things I simply couldn’t let go of, had to be vocalized. That’s when Joe stepped in. He encouraged me to speak up and reminded me this was my vision. I definitely couldn’t have made it through that first week without Joe. More than anything, I trusted him with my baby. Completely.
One of the most challenging parts of my first day was understanding the lingo on a film set. I was able to figure most things out, but occasionally I gave myself away. The first time I was asked if “Video Village” was to my liking, I smiled and said, “I’ve never been there. Is it in the area?” Blank stare, awkward silence ….Oh yeah, this is going well! How did I not know about Video Village? Did I miss that chapter in the 20 “how to direct” books I ordered on Amazon and never read?
Joe would yell things out like, “Did we say sticks or steady for this one?” Excuse me? Sticks or steady? What the hell is he talking about? When did we talk about sticks and steady? We definitely spoke in great length about every shot and what I envisioned as far as camera angles etc…but did we discuss sticks and steady? I calmly responded, “hmmmm…let me check my notes”. I grabbed my phone and googled: What are sticks and steady in film? Ah ha! A minute later I yell out loud and proud STEADY! We said STEADY! And Joe responded, “Yeah that’s what I thought.” Okay then! Next! Bring it on Joe. I’m getting good at this.
It wasn’t until after we wrapped that informed Joe that I had no idea what he was talking about that first day. He was definitely amused by that fact.
One of the most stressful parts of my first day, aside from Amanda not being able to walk, was yelling “Action”. Ridiculous right?. The thing is, I’ve heard the word “action” yelled so many times in TV shows and movies where some actor was playing the role of a director. I think that maybe cheapened it for me. It’s kind of cool and cheesy at the same time, you know what I mean? Every time I said it in my head, I couldn’t help feeling like an actor playing a role.
I went through several options in my head. Should I just yell “ACTION!”, or maybe just softly say, “action”? I asked my producer, and co-writer Mike, and he said some directors say aaaannnndddd….ACTION! I didn’t get that one either. What’s with the delay? He said it gives the actors a moment. Oh God…there’s a science to it? They can take a moment before they start the scene, in fact, I encourage it. Must the way I say “action” dictate that? Maybe I’ll just get my AD Steve to say it. I bet he says it good. Better yet, why can’t I say, “Whenever your ready”? That’s what they say in the theater world. Or perhaps I can just say, “Alright…go ahead”. That’s more me. In fact, that feels right. But, everyone expected to me yell, “action”, and it is my first film. I don’t want to freak everybody out. I had to sound like an official “director”. I had to yell Action!
The big moment came. I did it. I yelled “ACTION”! Just then my DP immediately yelled “CAMERA CUT” due to a camera issue. Oh well, I guess we’ll call it a practice one. I’d still prefer, “Alright, go ahead”, but you know…either way it all means the same thing. Let the filming begin! Let the magic happen! I’m ready to do it again! And then I suddenly realized I was gonna have to yell CUT too. Lord here we go.
Me in Video Villiage
No mater how many conversations I had with experienced people about directing your first film, nothing could have prepared me for this first day. It was like a whirl wind that you have to experience to really get it. A decision had to be made every 2 minutes. And everyone looking at you for every decision. There were times I wanted to scream, “I don’t give a rats ass what tie he wears! I’m deciding camera lenses here! <Google: Camera Lenses> But the thing is, that tie is crucial! And if I get it wrong the whole film is ruined! Okay, not really, just felt that way. Ugh. The pressure!
One of the funniest parts of that first day was My AD Steve. 7th Secret is a voice over driven film, with the lead character Marissa narrating. It was important that we leave room in each scene for those VO’s and make sure those pauses were filled with action. I needed the voice overs read aloud for timing purposes. My AD Steve graciously volunteered.
Before I go any further, I need to be clear that I fully appreciated Steve’s effort. However, hearing Steve’s very monotone voice saying things like, “Smack that ass, hard”, was too much for me to handle. The moment he read the first voice over I lost it. I almost had an accident in Video Village. On the monitor, the look on Amanda’s face was priceless. I had to yell cut, and when I did, everyone laughed. Amanda pulled me aside and asked if I could please read the voice overs. I happily obliged. Poor Steve…
The intensity, and fast pace environment of a film set was invigorating. This whole day was a total high for me.
There were moments when I took a step back and looked around at all these amazing people, set and lighting designers, wardrobe, hair/make-up, camera people, sound guys, production assistants, AD’s, my DP and line producer (I have a whole chapter on Roy!) working their asses off to bring my vision to life. It’s crazy when you think about it. They don’t even know me. Every one of them working harder than the next. And let’s face it, on a low budget indie, they’re not doing it for the money or fame. They’re here because they want to be, they love what they do, and more importantly, they care. I vowed at that moment that no one on this set would work as hard as me. I don’t know if I ever fully expressed with words how much I appreciated every single one of them, but I hope Mike and I succeeded in showing them.
So much love and hard work went into preparing for this day. I had no idea what to expect. I was an actress for years. I did stand-up comedy, sketch, improv etc.. I’m a story teller. That’s what I do and who I am. But I have to say, it never felt this right. I feel blessed having the opportunity to direct this film, and look forward to directing many more. I have no idea what challenges lie ahead for me, but one thing I do know for sure…
I FOUND MY HAPPY PLACE!