Principal Photography is Done!

For better or worse.  Hopefully more of the former and less of the latter.

Sunday afternoon we completed filming the final scene of “Shenandoah Treasure Hunt,” which happened to be the second scene chronologically in the script.  The penultimate scene filmed was the fourth scene in the script.  Filming out of order has me worried I might have missed something important.  Indeed, last Saturday I forgot a scene, somehow crossed it off my list even though we hadn’t shot it.  Crystal commented earlier in the week, when I sent out the call sheet, that it wasn’t on the list, so thanks to her we got it worked in on Saturday.

Saturday, once again, was beautiful, with clear, painfully blue skies while we were shooting the day-for-night scenes.  Then, naturally, when we switched to the actual daytime scene, it got cloudy and dark.  Fortunately, the DP was on top of things and compensated beautifully.

I got some production stills from him, but stupidly forgot to copy them to my portable hard drive, so won’t have access to them until next weekend.  I intend to collect a few together and create a web page.  No doubt the actors have taken quite a few, probably even videos, but we didn’t make arrangements to get copies to me.  Now they’re off to the four winds.

Once again, I suffered acute depression on the way home Sunday.  I feel better today, but on the ride home I was pretty convinced I never wanted to do this again.  So many compromises, so many things that felt rushed.  Averaging 10 pages a day seemed so easy before, but I think it’s much more realistic to aim for a max of 10 pages and accept an average of around 7-8 per day instead.  There were many times where we simply didn’t have time to do more takes, as then we wouldn’t be able to get in the rest of the scheduled scenes.

I think if I had some expert helpers and extra lighting equipment we could go faster.  Nate had to do 99% of the work himself; about all we could do is fetch and carry for him.  But if we had dedicated crew who knew how to set up lights, they could be working on the setup for the next scene while we’re filming, which should help make things more efficient.  Of course, that also makes things more expensive, so all sorts of trade offs.

On Sunday, I was confident by the end of this week I could cut together a rough version of the film, to identify any missing scenes or scenes that simply do not work (for technical reasons or otherwise).  Yesterday disabused me of that notion.  I have over 600 files that total almost 126 gigabytes (and take hours to transfer!).  I estimate a total of 700 minutes, or a bit more than 11.5 hours.  Which need to be edited into around 80 minutes.  That’s actually a pretty good ratio (perhaps too good, meaning not enough coverage for optimal editing), the usual is 10 minutes filmed for 1 minute in the final cut.

My new estimate for a rough cut is around Thanksgiving, which is barely a month away (how fast this summer has gone!).  Then I need to catch up on beta reading I committed to back in spring(!) and, finally, deal with my own writing I have queued up.  We typically take the week between Christmas and New Years to hang out at our place in Virginia, but I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be doing editing most of that time.

I’ve looked at a number of the ‘dailies’ and been pretty happy (indeed, looking through clips last night — so I can label them with scene/shot/take so I have some prayer of getting started with editing — helped lift my mood).  Unless there’s some egregious errors that are impossible to work around (e.g., I only one usable shot of a certain scene, and the boom mike is clearly visible in the corner of the frame; but I think I can crop it fairly easily), I don’t intend to do any reshoots or pickups.  Partly because the actors all insist they need additional compensation, despite what I made clear when this project got started, but also because they’re all busy and it might very well be January or even February before we’d have time to get everyone together.

While ‘watchable’ is a fairly low bar, it is, nonetheless a challenge for a first-time writer/director.  I tried to minimize that risk by having experienced script editors help me with the story, as well as experienced cast and crew, but it still needs to be edited together.  If my attempt at a rough cut is deemed inadequate (I hope not, but kind of expect so), then I will lobby my executive producer (wife) for some funds to hire an experienced editor to see if they can come up with something watchable.

As I work on cutting together the movie, I’ll also be thinking about material for a trailer.  Hopefully I can have something interesting by the end of the year, if not by Thanksgiving, and will be sure to make it available here.

Any lessons learned at this point?  Schedule fewer pages is number one.  Get the contracts signed before filming is another.  I’ve tried to look through the camera (well, look at the camera’s monitor) to see how the DP is framing things, but largely failed to do so.  I think that’s a major mistake on my part.  I focus on the actor’s delivery, but since I don’t know what’s in frame most of the time, I might not be catching something important.  I think, at a minimum, a shot list is important.  I had a list of all the scenes scheduled for each day (though somehow marked one off mistakenly, so even that’s not guaranteed), but missed a few shots I needed to get and had to remember to get them later.  If I had the shot list going into each scene, then I could check them off as we go and know nothing got missed.  If I continue with movie making, I’m going to hire an artist to do storyboards.  I think that would go a very long way toward assuring the vision in my head got captured, because I could show the DP what I had in mind.  I expect the DP to come up with better ideas, but they can only be better if he knows what I had in mind in the first place.

No doubt when I finally start getting the editing going I’ll identify other weaknesses, but these are the ones I know about so far.  This movie was intended to be a learning experience, and it has certainly lived up to that goal.  I think there’s a reasonable possibility, once I’ve got the movie assembled, that I’ll get excited again and want to continue, but as I type this, I’m straddling the fence.  Which is better than on Sunday, when I was firmly on the f-this side of the fence.

On to editing…

Author: mitusents

Biochemist, MBA, then programmer. Now novelist, screenplay writer and hopefully director. What a strange trip it's been.