Thoughts and reflections on writing, directing, producing, and starring in my first short film.
I’m making a movie. I keep reminding myself of that. It’s been years in the making, and I finally managed to get it together. A short movie, but a movie nonetheless. I’m going to bring a piece of art from concept to completion and into the world. No matter what, that’s pretty cool.
It almost felt like any normal day. I woke up excited. I was prepared. I had everything I needed.
Then the 1 o’clock call time starting creeping closer. And closer. And closer. At 10:30 I read over the script again. That may have been a mistake. All of a sudden I was flooded with doubt. Is this good? Am I good? What are we even doing?
Questions about everything from my creative abilities to whether or not the script contains a throughline of toxic masculinity began rushing into my head as though someone had just blown up the Hoover Dam.
Then I took a breath. Took a shower. And reminded myself that this is normal.
Not only is this normal for filmmakers, this is normal for the human brain. Our brains, I continued to remind myself, are conditioned to experience fear and anxiety in order to protect us. This feeling is a coping mechanism by my brain to protect me against failure. It can go fuck itself.
Just like stage fright, the feeling went away when everything began. We got to set, things were moving fast, people were energized. And for the first time in my life, I was in charge of this whole thing.
The first scene was between me and my brother, David Edwin Williams (Sebastian). Short, easy scene. Simple setup. Badass silhouette lighting. A good way to start.
By the end of the day we were having fun.
It was starting to come together and, oddly, the film was looking similar to how I imagined it. Why is that odd? Because that’s never the case.
My mind is very visual and this script is five years old, which is to say I’ve been through these scenes dozens if not hundreds of times in my head. The location and scenery is different, sure. But if you’d have told me five years ago that the opening one-shot I wrote would actually be the opening shot I wouldn’t have believed you.
We knocked out a couple scenes to give us more time on Sunday. One of them — the rooftop shot — left us feeling uncomfortable. It was rushed for time and because of rain, plus I had forgotten my shoes. I didn’t have any time to adjust performance. Dustin Hyer (our Director of Photography) said we got it. He may still be right, but I had to go with my gut. We got another pass at it Sunday.
I’ve never had to make so many quick decisions. Do you like this shot? What if we shot it this way? Did that work for you? What if I say this here?
All things considered, I think I did okay.
This was the meat of the shoot and also of the film. For most of the day I got to only direct, and although I felt like an amateur, I thoroughly enjoyed the process.
When establishing a shot list, I realized how important the knowledge of editing is. I have virtually zero knowledge of editing, so I don’t know exactly what shots we need to be safe in post. Does that wide cut into that closeup? If she’s on the left side of the camera in this shot, in the next shot she’ll need to be… Do we even need to see that for it to make sense?
I know what I want it to look like, and I think I have good instincts, but I think post-production will be where I’ll grow the most.
Thank goodness I had Dustin. He’s a skilled editor as well as a cameraman, so he knew what we needed to capture. He’s also very collaborative, so even if he felt strongly about a shot, he would always say, “but we can get whatever you want,” or “but it’s your movie,” or “just a thought.” I appreciated that. Only once did I make him do a set up because I wanted the shot only to realize it didn’t work.
Dustin likes to keep rolling rather than cutting a lot. I’m all for that (but then again, if I were the editor I may feel differently). I tended to say “whenever you’re ready” instead of “action” because I know yelling something that means, “Okay, start acting… NOW!” can be jarring for actors. Before I yelled “cut,” I always looked at Dustin and asked, “Good?” Amateur. But learning.
At the end of the day I died.
Not figuratively because of the long day — I had to act like I died. Among the many firsts this film gave me, this was another one. I don’t think I’ve ever died on film. I’d certainly never been shot.
I chose this movie to be my debut for several reasons, one of them being because it seemed simple to shoot. Suddenly I’m faced with a special effect gunshot, fake blood and a death scene.
I hope I didn’t overact it. And goddamnit do I hope it works, because if it doesn’t neither does the film.
That was going to be our day, but we were ahead of schedule. (Take note Hollywood studios — your boy can come in ahead of schedule!) So instead of bringing Alex Bowling (Mullen) in the following day, we stayed until 10pm and did our two remaining scenes together.
Of course, because things slip through cracks when one person is acting, directing, and producing, the shirt I needed for these scenes was the same shirt that had just been soaked in blood. Good thing David had an extra white shirt.
Wouldn’t you know it, the last scene of the day is when I remembered what I loved about acting. I got to do basically as many takes as I wanted while Alex and I played off each other.
Other than the rooftop reshoot, we were done. And I was in pain from being on my feet for two days straight.
Saturday night we partied.
We got the rooftop scene again. We changed wardrobe, and I had on the proper shoes. This one felt a lot better.
Then we loaded out.
I don’t know if I’ll ever produce, direct, and act again…
It’s just too much in my brain all at once. I wasn’t too overwhelmed, or even overstressed, but I just wanted fewer things in my brain at once. For example, on day one I would have rather critically thought about each characters respective goals in that day’s scenes than run to Kroger to get water. Also, the aforementioned shoes and shirt incidents. But for something so small, and for such a small budget, I managed.
I have no idea how people do this for an entire feature. A lot of help and delegation I suppose.
Now on to post-production!