What you learn on an amateur film set

“What would you say if I told you I was going to be a Cinema Studies major?”

“I’d say that’s a wonderful addition to your Political Science major.”

My mother, the practically minded scientist, did not want to crush my artistic dreams in college. Instead, she advocated for the double major, especially two majors that when juxtaposed would intrigue even the most bland interviewer. In other words, rather than pursue a common liberal arts major: Political Science and Economics or English and History, I majored in one social science and one artistic discipline.

And while I adored both fields, I also felt that I wasn’t able to delve as deeply into either one. I subsequently determined that after graduation I would pursue at least one of them in greater depth. Fast forward two years and I’ve just completed production on my first semi-fictional short film about two awkward Orthodox Jewish first dates twenty years apart and in the exact same location: the Midtown Marriott Hotel lobby (where all blog-worthy first dates begin).

As I enter the arduous post-production phase, I thought this would be ideal time to reflect on what I’ve learned from the experience.

1) You can never have too many bagels. It’s New York, and short of buying 99 cents pizza, the cheapest way to feed an army– in this case your crew and cast– is with bagels and schmears. And even if your army is less than 10, there will inevitably be a few 20something males who can devour 3 bagels in the course of 5 minutes. Which is to say the men amongst you will treat craft services like it Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest, so buy in bulk.

2) Lighting can weigh more than your two thighs put together. My thighs– my meatiest body parts– are characters onto themselves. But this weekend they met their match– three Arri lights that easily weighed twice their combined body mass. In fact, these lights were so incredibly heavy that not a single person on my crew was capable of carrying them more than three feet without huffing and puffing. I was resourceful; I disassembled them and placed them into several reusable bags that I distributed amongst three of my crew members. The moral of the story being that filmmaking requires body building; invest in some weights now.

3) Actors may play mind readers, but they aren’t actually capable of reading the director’s mind. I was fortunate to work with four extremely talented actors and one hilarious medical school student looking for a change of pace. Despite their talent and wit, they still weren’t able to determine what I wanted from each shot without a little direction from the, wait for it, director.

4) Niceness will get you almost anywhere. My field producer, Lynne, was tasked with supplying libation to all the cast and crew. Her task was to do this for as little money as possible. While the bartender may have hesitated at first to acquiesce to her request, she gave a flirtatious nod, a feminine giggle, and a dose of West Coast friendliness– and the bill for the day was $20!

5) Just keep rolling. Inevitably something will go wrong on a film set. An actor will flub his lines, forget his yarmulke, or break a glass. To these I say l’chaim, and keep the camera rolling. Get through the scenes in spite of the mistakes. And just remember, if you capture the mistakes on film you can make a wonderfully comical blooper reel for your credits.

Now I begin the arduous editing process. Lessons on post-production to follow.

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One response to “What you learn on an amateur film set

  1. Wow. I can’t wait to see it!

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