Days before principle photography, what could possibly go wrong? Ah! Funny you should ask.
It started to feel very real. I had the pleasure of meeting my wonderful crew, and visiting locations etc… All of a sudden it hit me that this may actually happen. I’m a “believe it when I see it” kind of girl. I don’t like to get too excited because I hate disappointment. I think there was always a part of me waiting to hear the whole shoot was canceled. But everything was moving along perfectly. And then…I got the call.
Five days before our first shoot day my lead actress, Amanda, had an accident. A wine bottle fell off of a shelf and exploded firing huge chunks of glass directly into her ankle and severing every tendon. Her foot was literally dangling. She was headed into surgery when she informed me that she would be in a cast up to her knee and unable to walk for ten to twelve months. MONTHS! She wouldn’t be able to take a single step. In fact, standing in place would be challenging. Amanda was sobbing, devastated and fearful that we would recast her. I told her not to worry and to concentrate on getting through surgery. I promised her it would be okay.
After we hung up the phone, I almost vomited. I’m sure on bigger budget films they would recast the role or post pone the filming. I mean, there were countless scenes where Amanda had to walk. Scenes where she simply had to move her lower body in some way. What were we going to do? Postponing filming wasn’t an option for us. We already had contracts signed with actors and crew. Money was already spent, flights were booked, and Natasha Henstridge was scheduled to be on set in two weeks. We would lose an enormous amount of money. Money that a small indie film can’t afford to lose. I was hoping my Producer/co-writer Mike put Amanda up to this and she was going to call back saying, “just kidding”. No such luck. This was actually happening.
The first phone call I made was to Mike. He’s not only my business partner, he’s one of my closest friends and mentors. He told me not to worry, and we would figure it out. I spoke to my DP Joe, and line producer Roy. I wanted to keep them in the loop. Most of the people I talked to saw no other choice but to recast Amanda. I have to admit that I saw their point. Shooting an entire film where the lead actress, who is in every frame of the movie, is paralyzed from the waist down, does seem a bit unrealistic. The problem is, for some reason, cutting Amanda loose didn’t feel right to me. As with many indie films, we went through a lot to get to this point. All of our actors stuck by us for over a year waiting to shoot 7th Secret. They were loyal and dedicated. That meant the world to us. I spent a lot of time with Amanda. I know first hand that she put her heart and soul into this project, countless hours researching the role and subject matter. She was an incredible talent and quite frankly, Amanda WAS Marissa in a lot of ways. It’s as if we wrote the script with her in mind.
That day I went over to see Mike to discuss our next move. I wasn’t surprised to discover that Mike felt exactly the way I did. We agreed that there was no way we were moving forward without Amanda. I’m not gonna lie to you, part of me was terrified. Let’s face it, this is my first film. My game face is on, but my insides are a mess. I did my best to prepare for this day, but I did not factor this one in. I had a moment of second guessing myself, but it was just a moment. Mike immediately picked up on it and kicked it to the curb. “Make it part of the dance”, he said. It was inspiring, but it also reminded me of the scene where Marissa had to dance…God help me.
That night Mike and I worked for hours. We had to rework the script to accommodate Amanda’s situation. We visited all the scenes where Marissa moved or walked, and tweaked them. I also had to meet with my DP Joe to rework camera angles and shots. Thank God for Joe. He was so flexible and willing to take on this challenge with me. It definitely forced me to be creative. For instance, there is a scene in the film where Olivia (Natasha Henstridge) takes Marissa on a walking tour of Club Corporal. Well, since Amanda couldn’t walk that seemed unlikely. So, instead of Amanda walking through the club, I had the camera be her eyes and follow Natasha. Every now and then we would bring Amanda over, plant her, quickly remove her crutches, and get a reaction shot. I actually think the scene ended up looking better. There was something very cool about it. In fact, I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
Reworking the script and shots wasn’t the only challange. Somehow I had to figure out a way to hide Amanda’s cast. Yet another opportunity to get creative, and fast! I worked hard with our costume designer Sally and we did our best to make it work. Thank God leg warmers made an appearance that year because they definitely came in handy! Long skirts worked for the coffee house scenes where Marissa performed her songs. Tables, desks, lot’s of close ups, and avoiding shots from my knee up all worked nicely too!
We waited a full 10 months for Amanda to regain her ability to walk and the following year we went back in and got some shots of her below the waist, and actually moving! Thank God for my brilliant Producer who had the sense to tuck some money aside for reshoots. If I were to give advice to any low budge indie film it would be to allow and plan for reshoots. Clearly we couldn’t bring back most of the actors, but Lukas Hassel was all in for capturing some much needed walking screen time with Amanda! It delayed a completion of the film for a whole year, but it was worth it!
Amanda’s accident was my first major hurdle! But let’s face it, on an indie film set, I think it’s safe to say it wouldn’t be my last. And it wasn’t. So…LET THE FILMING BEGIN!
AMANDA AND CAST (no pun intended)