And that's important to me, not just because I enjoy crafting original material and taking it from script to screen, but because as a professional writer of many books about film and television, I've always felt it is important to understand the process and experience of moviemaking. That's what a lot of film and TV journalists don't get or don't understand (and which endlessly vexes me as a reader). For me to be a good reviewer, a smart and knowledgeable one, I think it's necessary that I've practiced the craft...no matter if it is on a no budget production or low budget one.
Someone once said to me at a convention that you can't give a movie or TV show an "A" for effort; that it doesn't work that way. But in some sense, I think perhaps it does. I guess what I'm saying is that I would prefer to sit in a theater and view an ambitious failure, something new and exciting and different (even if flawed...) rather than something mainstream and uninventive. Knowing and understanding and working through the difficulties of the filmmaking process from start to finish, I certainly hope I've garnered a vital perspective on how and why failures occur; on how important some shots can become; and why film and television straddle the worlds of art and business. A journalist who's never lifted a finger; never written a script; never acted; never held a camera...well, they're basing their reviews essentially on...what? Personal subjective opinion? Maybe? You tell me.
So anyway, today I thought I would chat just a little bit about some of the innumerable and valuable lessons I learned while crafting The House Between. I should note, these are pretty much my subjective feelings and thoughts alone. Others on the project boast their own uinque experiences; their own remembrances, and I respect all of them. These are just my feelings, pure and simple.
1.) Casting is vitally important. In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Scotty urged one of his co-workers to use "the right tool for the right job." I don't know if I ever understood before how important casting truly is; finding the "right person" for the "right job." But down to the last person (including our guest star), I felt that we had the right person for the right character each and every time. Despite all the Z-Grade stuff I've done over the years, I don't know that I've ever felt how tangible and vital good casting can be. In the past, I usually just cast my friends...and some were absolutely wonderful and some were...not. Here, everybody is - of course - a friend too, but each talent brought new layers to the characters I had crafted. People grew into their roles; people understood their roles; and if I may be so bold - I think some people fell in love with their characters too. I know I fell in love with all of them. I loved that by the third day of the shoot, actors were commenting critically about the scripts; that their characters wouldn't act in a certain fashion at a certain juncture.
2.) Vision meets Reality and in the end comes compromise. After much delay, I learned that not every single shot is going to be the most beautiful, meaningful and artistic portrait in the world. Sometimes it can't be...for very dramatic physical reasons, especially if the parameters of your set won't permit it; or if you don't have a louma crane, or the like. A corollary to this is the following advice: don't shoot important scenes in the parlor. For some reason, our parlor location was just cursed. Every time we did a scene there, it turned into a disaster. Maybe it was the size of the room; perhaps it was that there was a mirror involved. Who knows...
3.)Trust the experts. I learned that there is no crime and no dishonor in stepping back and allowing for collaboration; permitting for the experts to do their jobs; to incorporate the creative originality of other talents. To give you a for instance: At first, I felt really guilty and lame that I was stepping back and letting a stunt coordinator (the exquisite Rob Floyd) block the fight scenes. I mean, I'm supposed to be an auteur, right? But then I realized, that's what a good director (or good captain) does. He must trust his people...he must solicit their input and more.
For the first time on a movie shoot, I actually had a resource like Rob at my disposal (both in terms of make-up/SPFX and stunts), and I would have been foolish and short-sighted not to unleash his creative genius. But instinctively and personally, that was tough for me at the start to understand...I felt guilty. And then, honestly, when I saw what Rob could do, I instantly felt overwhelming relief. It was one more thing I didn't have to handle myself. I could worry about the shots; about the script; about the characters; about the schedule; and trust in Rob to get the best out of the actors and the movements. The same was true with the lighting. It was just best to get out of the way and let my brilliant lighting directors do their job...because they understood things I didn't. How wonderful is that?! To have such resources at your disposal?
4.)Respect the process of the others. Everybody works in a different way, and again, this was something I learned and came to respect. Some actors preferred extensive preparation to get them "in the mood" for the scene; others just wanted to step in and do it without much discussion. Some preferred spontaneity; some wanted rehearsal after rehearsal. I feel that watching Tony Mercer, Jim Blanton, Kim Breeding, Lee Hansen, and Alicia A. Wood, I came to understand the process of acting better than ever before. I also learned that for each actor, there was a different set of issues, a different set of insecurities and that as a director, it was my job to find the best way to communicate with each particular talent. I don't know if I always achieved that goal, but one of the best and most enjoyable things for me in directing this bunch was learning how to relate with each person and personality in a way that took into account their needs and work process. It was... quite simply ...wonderful.
5.)Be prepared, but being in the moment is actually more important. I had shot lists going in to The House Between, at least on "Arrived" and "Settled." But you know, there's that old adage about war, that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and I think it also holds for filmmaking. I knew what I wanted, but if I had been rigid about those shot lists, we would have missed some great opportunities. In particular, in the fifth episode, "Mirrored," everybody on the production began thinking outside of the routine, outside the letter of the script, and in terms of character and emotions. Suddenly, we were picking up on new things, shooting original material and taking it all in a new direction. It felt great. Shooting that episode, I think, was the best day of the whole shoot. At least for me.
6. Never stop moving. Because if you do, you'll realize how fricking tired you are, and how crazy the whole enterprise is, and how many obstacles you have in front of you, and why this whole damn thing is impossible. Like a shark, you've got to keep swimming. If you stop, insecurity will snap at your butt.
So that's my sermon for the day.