Updated: Mar 12, 2019
In the past, during the frantic scramble of production, I have found it hard to avoid my thoughts being pulled into a narrow avenue of tunnel vision. When I was a film student, working on my senior film, Anomie, we required a central location that we found nearly impossible to obtain. We needed a house that had character, that looked old and lived in; not a suburban cardboard cut out. We needed several days of unobstructed access, with owners gracious enough to let us film a night home invasion, shoot-out, and fire live blanks out of a shotgun. And of course being broke students, we needed to be able to do it for free.
This proved even more difficult than we could have envisioned; after months of preproduction, it was only four days before our prospective shoot that we settled on a house that would suffice. I remember loading up the gear the day before the shoot; a full box truck. Help was sparse, a few friends dropped by for a short time but most of the crew was in class or busy. I remember having a deathly feeling of dread:
This is going to be a disaster.
I had this feeling before. While most of the time everything went great, once, it went dreadfully wrong. Not since then had the feeling hit so strong. We learned that some of the neighbors didn't take too kindly to the notion of us filming, even though we had the express permission of the home-owner and the local police. Apparently these neighbors were prepared to raise hell anyway they could. As a director, I felt woefully unprepared. We were not only filming the shoot-out sequence, but a rather significant portion of the film. We hadn't spent enough time at the location to have a detailed plan for any of the departments. My producer, Oran Domingue and I, spent six hours straight working out a schedule to cram the whole shoot into one three day weekend. There was no margin for error. We certainly didn't want to deal with angry neighbors on top of that.
Twelve hours before call time, the morning before the shoot, my producer and I talked over eggs and bacon.
Do we need to pull the plug?
It is easy to lose perspective when making a film. Perhaps even more so as a student. The bubble of college life protects from finance, from clients, from fees and insurance, but there is often nothing to protect one from illusions of grandeur. One often has the feeling that the whole of one's career shall be determined by those few semesters.
We can all laugh and shake our heads in retrospect, but there is no understating how monumental even such a small project as this could feel when experienced from within.
This is me, my calling card. This is my statement to the world.
I have since concluded that no single work of art will ever be a full representation of an artist. A work can only be a fraction, a faint impression the creator left behind. It seems to me a folly that anyone should ever try to make such a sweeping mission statement. Not that one consciously sets out to do so, but I believe the intoxicating atmosphere of film school encouraged such thinking, or at least, did little to prevent it.
So, feeling the weight of eternal consequence on our shoulders, we discussed the possibility of rescheduling. We could seriously jeopardize our host's relation with her neighbors. The house wasn't the perfect location – it was a compromise. The schedule was tight; perhaps impossibly so. Our crew was too small. Only our pride stood in the way of realizing the blatantly obvious. So we had no choice but to humble ourselves as we drearily crunched on buttery toast and sipped our coffee black. Finally we had a realization. There was nothing truly preventing us from filming at another time. We had been thinking within the construct of film school. The semester was ending, I would be turning in my project half finished, but this is a film we're talking about. Damn the class, we have to do the film justice!
I want to concede that some people may have the opposite problem. Of course, it is just as bad, or perhaps worse, to delay, delay, delay, but that is an issue of the opposite nature.
My head hung low for the rest of the quarter. I was defeated. Classmates offered their condolences to me like I had lost a friend. My professor was understanding. So long as I showed up next fall with a rough cut, I'd pass the class.
I have since learned that there is no shame in pushing back your shoot so long as your schedule can accommodate it. But this was precisely what was so hard for us to discern. If you find yourself pondering the same question, it will necessitate a large step back; out of yourself, out of the immediate circumstance. You have to ask yourself whether the film can exist under different auspices than the ones that created it. If you and your collaborators are truly passionate about the project then surely it can. It might take a few phone calls to the key players; a good meal doesn't hurt either. In our case we found that the barriers we had perceived were more immaterial than we imagined.
If you decide to pull the trigger, try not to waste those precious days; put it into meeting with your team. Do those rehearsals with your cast that you always wanted but never had the time for. The worst thing would be to end up exactly where you started. Fortunately in the light of our past mistakes, we knew what we had to look out for.
Six weeks later I was stumbling over dolly tracks in a darkened house. Three AM, bright HMI lights bursting through the windows, I discussed with the cinematographer, Brad Watson over whether or not the muzzle flashes from the blanks would read on camera.
The location was magnificent, our hosts, impossibly hospitable, and we were in the country; in utter seclusion, an atmosphere highly conducive to film production. We were halfway through the climactic scene, it must have been about twenty five individual camera set ups in all. We didn't go to bed until the sun rose, but it was manageable.
This time we had planned extensively, we had a full crew, and enough time to spend the whole day walking through every set up, arranging the exact shooting order. None of that would have been possible had we stubbornly struggled on six weeks before, ignoring the bigger picture. There is no question in my mind that our decision to reschedule was the single most vital decision we made in the course of the film.
In all its flaws, and successes, I am proud of Anomie. I don't mean to wallow in memories in writing this. I have made other films since. They have been smaller – more intimate – better, I think. I plan to make many more. But I shall never have another senior film, upon which so many blind hopes, so many ambitions rode. Perhaps that is a good thing. - Bryan Anomie can now be viewed online. Watch it here: https://vimeo.com/211430939