I mentioned in another post how some friends and I decided we wanted to make a movie together and how it lead to the movie I now have. Here’s the behind the curtains stuff.
When we first started, the idea had been that the three of us would work together on our films – three shorts that would join forces for an anthology feature. One of us had a proposed budget that he’d provided and bit by bit we started talking about ideas. It was going to be an anthology, that much we agreed on. And we agreed on the concept – something happening in the woods. And so as we all started to flesh out our ideas I began working on my story and the film’s wraparound narrative.
My idea had to do with an old man that lived in the woods and would leave out his treasures and horrors for wandering people to find and then he would punish those who became too nosy. It was a skeleton that needed meat but it was a good start. As for the wrap, I tied it into my story and had it extend so that in the end we had nods to all the stories. I liked the idea and the story but I am no good with writing a screenplay. Years back I wrote a couple for a friend but I don’t know that they were any help for anyone. Thankfully I was the director this time around so I just had to make it so that it was understandable to me and the cast. I wrote the screenplay and it became a constant work in progress as I honed it and worked on making it make sense. It’s funny looking back, how much changed in the screenplay but, I’ll get to that.
Now that I had something to work from I started to realize that I wasn’t the most comfortable having someone provide equipment for me to use. This was my project too and I needed to have skin in the game so I bought myself a camera and some accessories and started to remind myself what it was like to make a movie. I had never made one like this. When we shot movies, I was either actor or cameraman/director and we improved everything save one movie where I was just an actor. I was directing this time.
Next I had to cast this thing. My film focused on mostly young people with roles for three adults. I turned to my friend Paul and his family to fill my cast. He has a big family and a family that makes movies and is used to what that entails. After a lot of talking back and forth the cast started to take shape. The thing was though that I needed the core characters, the Old Man and the Old Woman. The Old Woman was going to be my friend’s mother but when her health turned we needed a replacement so I turned to another friend, who I decided would do the male and female roles to make it weird. With the cast set we all got together in the winter of 2016, a year after we had started working on the film project. One friend had shot most of his film by then and two of us were waiting to get going. During the waiting, I worked on my script and commissioned two friends to work on wardrobe and a mask for the film. Both are incredibly talented artists and I liked the idea of supporting local people and having them create something unique for the movie. Man, did they. The cloaks that one friend made were perfect and added a hint of mystery and creepiness to the characters and the mask that my other friend made was perfect as well and changed what I thought about the character. At one point the Old Man was going to be more mysterious and weird, with my friend, who is bald, wearing a bad fake wig with blood coming out from underneath it but by hiding the face you gain a power with the character in that ANYTHING could be beneath the mask. It was just what I needed. I set about distressing the cloaks and working on what I could before I got shooting. We did a run through of the script with the full cast in the winter of 2015 and I showed them the costumes. We made plans to start shooting as soon as the weather broke and next we had to find a forest.
Not an easy task.
There are a lot of woods around but I wanted to keep my project as secret as possible, the plan we had had initially, and I needed property that I could legally be on.
We started shooting in the early spring at a local church my friend whose family I was using for the cast went to. It was a great shot and we started to make a lot of hay and got a lot shot but we ran into the first of many problems. The sound was muddied because the church was near to a highway and scheduling was running into problems. Finding days where everyone was available and the weather was OK became a problem. We ended up switching locations to a friend’s family property but the fam was selling the property soon so we had to hurry. The problem was now that one of my actors had disappeared. He had some things going on and after waiting and waiting and waiting it was clear we had to move on. We tabbed another of my friend’s family members to join the other two young men in the cast and we got back to shooting. We shoot the first half of the film and I started re-thinking things. The person who was to be the villains of the movie was unavailable for a long stretch so I re-cast the characters with myself, knowing what I needed and how I wanted them to sound. It was weird but made the most sense. I also started to re-think the rest of the film. I wasn’t sure of the availability of the young girl I needed and so I started to re-think everything. My film began to change. The story grew more complicated and I needed more cast members. I turned to someone I know that acts and she reached out to some friends and I lucked out and found a young woman and two young men to fill out the cast. The age difference in the young woman I cast to what I envisioned made me re-examine the movie and what I was planning. The story changed. With the story change I started to drop lots of dialogue. I was asking people to act in something that I was still learning to shoot and the film was overly talky. That was the style I was going for but I didn’t want that to become a burden. As I moved along with the film it went to the second of three sections and I shot with the two new young men. I needed new woods now that my last site was unavailable to me so I went with some woods near where I live. Great spot but again, the sound. At this point though I needed to shoot and hope for the best. Schedules were getting more difficult and by now it was getting towards the fall of 2016 and I needed to get this thing done.
The new woods were great and we managed to shoot everything thanks to the cast members, who, having acting experience, were easy to direct. The problem came when some guys parked not far from where we were shooting (the woods were part of a former community center area). One of them asked me if I was ‘straight’ and I took that as asking if I wanted to buy some manner of drugs and knew that we needed to get out of there. When my wife showed to shoot some film – I was about to join the film as a character and needed a camera operator- we notified the father of one of the boys that we were moving spots (dad had been parked nearby as well for safety since I was a stranger to these guys) and got our stuff to move. The two young actors walked past the guys in the car, their costume masks on, and one was told that there’d be trouble if he wore his mask near them. We got right the heck out of there. The last thing I wanted for any of us is trouble from some idiots playing at being tough.
We got everything we needed in one day and so we moved forward and I started working to edit the film. As I did I found that I really liked that aspect of things. It helped me focus on what was working, what wasn’t, and as I put things together I saw that I needed to lose some things. They were fun moments but they didn’t help the film and I got the feel for the film’s rhythm. As I was cutting I found some temp music to put in, Creative Commons stuff, but I wanted an original score. I turned to one friend who plays Viola but she wasn’t able to do it. Another friend, the one who had made my mask, is also a talented musician and he was game to do the music.
Things were moving forward.
I found that the footage with the guys was muddy at points because of the ambient noise but I was at a point where I had to move forward. If I have one regret on the film, it’s the sound. I feel bad that there’s some issues here and there but within the parameters I had we made things work.
I was able to get my last two cast members together to shoot the end of the film in the fall of 2016 but scheduling and daylight were against us and the footage we got turned too dark too fast so we had to shelve things until the spring of 2017. I worked on the edit. I worked on the script. I worked on the things I could and I waited.
We finally found a date that worked to shoot and we got the last of us together and made a final push in Mid-Spring. With me in front of the camera and another friend operating it we could lock down the last of the film, the ending, and we shot the wraparound as well. I was afraid if we waited to shoot the wraparound that we’d lose the young woman so I wanted to get the footage in the can.
We were done.
WE were, but I wasn’t.
Editing was still fun and bit by bit the story came together. I cut the film down, I moved scenes around, and suddenly I had a movie. When my friend was able to come over to work on music he and I worked on music together and created some really fun and weird sounds to go with the film.
I got back to editing.
I got back to cutting.
I got back to moving.
And now I have a movie.
It has gone through a name change. Cast change. Script change. Location change. Music change. Crew change. It took two and a half years to come to life. Over and over I kept wanting to scrap things but couldn’t because people had trusted me to make this movie and I couldn’t betray their work on the film and trust in me so I pushed on.
We scrapped the big plans we had for the films – hiring an FX artist we knew to have a great big ending – but I am happy with what I have. It’s not perfect. I have regrets. But it’s my movie. I am surprised by what I made but I am happy.
I hope everyone else is too.