Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Shooting at Stone City

Thirteen of us just returned from a high desert region an hour's drive outside of Livermore, a pagan sanctuary called Stone City, where we shot all the backwoods scenes with the two bruja characters (Nancy Leatzow and Erif Anduin) and others. Nature can be unpredictable and I was ready for extreme heat and howling winds to challenge our personal and technical processes but, in the spirit of almost everything in this project so far, grace prevailed. The winds slowed down for us and the Sun was not nearly as angry as it could have been (and was the week before we arrived). Our gracious Stone City stewards, Morpheus and Shannon, were there to address any needs or problems we might have -- lo & behold, our self-organizing crew made things very easy for them.

We shot all our scenes over two mornings and two nights with a few smaller scenes in between. The final night most of us sat around the big fire pit drinking rum (and young coconut juice! thanks Ilya and Flo) and beer (thanks Duncan!) and, sharing pirate stories and bad jokes. I was concerned that the late night of hilarity might deter the cast and crew from waking up in time for the 7am shoot the next morning. But they proved me wrong. Everyone showed up at the crack of dawn and nailed the scenes like the champs they proved themselves to be. What a terrific cast and crew! Everybody got along famously, bringing the all-important spirit of joviality to ease the otherwise more difficult aspects of filmmaking.

One difficult aspect of filmmaking includes setting up the right series of shots that work for each scene (this film has over 50 scenes) while minimizing the wait time for actors. Sometimes when actors wait too long their energy can become stale or flat, especially so with non-professional actors and most of the actors in this production were non-professionals. However, these actors often deliver a naturalness that trained pros sometimes lose touch with, no thanks to over-training. This is why I also love working with non-actors. On my next production shoot, I vow to wear a T-shirt that says NO ACTING PLEASE (it's the best kind of acting).

I have seen too much talent destroyed or distorted by over-training which threatens to domesticate the feral, creative child. This is why I never recommend people go to acting or film school to learn the craft. Instead, I strongly suggest that wannabe actors just go out and audition for as many parts as they can and treat each audition as a free acting class (never pay for an audition!).

Same goes for wannabe filmmakers. Use the thousands of dollars you'd spend on film school to buy a camera, a decent microphone, and start shooting whatever catches your interest. The movie is whatever you are paying attention to, wherever you point the camera, and why it pays to pay attention. I tell wannabe filmmakers not to make a feature first -- make a series of short films to get to know your camera, your subjects, and your style. Discover the miracle called light. I have been doing this since 1992 and am happy to say that this very spirit of discovery still guides me and that I am still awestruck by the magic of cinema.

At this point, 3/4 of the film has been shot.


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