MAKING DAY 3 – (Part 1) — Preproduction
Having recently locked picture on a short film, Joe and I would like to share some of the experience with you. For the sake of chronology and organization, we’re breaking it down into three parts starting with preproduction.
A few months ago, I wrote and directed an eight minute project titled DAY 3 . I consider it to be a much needed kick in the ass for the zombie genre which has, let’s face it, been homogenized and done to death.
I’m sure many of you know that making a film, especially a personal project, is not particularly easy. It’s daunting to even think about sometimes – and not because it takes an immense amount of work, meticulousness, money, and effort to make sure it doesn’t sink at any given point… For me personally, the reason it can be scary is it means actually finishing something you’ve started.
I’m not going to delve into the writing process for Day 3 today but I would like to touch on something. Whether it’s a narrative fiction or a documentary concept, you generally know when a story has legs. I’ve completed three feature scripts in the last six years but I’ve started way more – they just never made it out of the tunnel. When a concept grabs me enough to warrant deeper exploration, sometimes sitting down and actually writing it will be entirely discouraging. The first draft, once I’ve attempted scripting it, will never do the concept justice. It will never live up to what it should be in my head. This is guaranteed to be true for me (at least initially). We all know the rough draft is supposed to be trash, but if you’re like me and the “first draft” is technically reeeally a polished 2nd or 3rd draft, you will sometimes hate what you put down to begin with. My advice is to accept that and put it on paper anyways because everything you’re feeling is perfectly normal. Jot it down. Fix it later. You can cry at some point in between.
The time between deciding to start preproduction and wrapping on our last shot was ten days. We held our auditions for the roles exactly a week before we were scheduled to shoot – which is kind of insane. I had about a day and half to meet, read with, and then lock down actors. The beauty of fast-tracking something like this is how quickly it forces you to move. You don’t have time to dwell, reconsider, or wallow in doubt because you are already on to the next task. There were a dozen more things piling up on the to-do list while I was in the middle of auditions. That being said, limitations are great – and I’ve learned to embrace them. It’s a stressful but ultimately rewarding springboard to getting creative, teaching you to solve problems with what you’ve got. Basically it forces you to become this guy.
One by one, things were getting crossed off the checklist. We had our actors, so we started filling up crew positions. We locked down our location but then had to worry about remaining props, wardrobe, catering, and oh, it’s a zombie film and I still didn’t have anyone for makeup. Phone calls, e-mails, scheduling a rehearsal – this is where producers are even more valuable than coffee. Despite having one, I felt a weird guilt throwing them in the thick of it this close to shooting so I took on a considerable load of preproduction myself.
A lot of phone calls, a lot of e-mails, thrift-shopping, and some walk-ins to businesses eventually got us our full crew, props, costumes, extra equipment, and Chinese food. FYI, we got 2 teams of makeup – a special effects duo for the zombie and a separate hair/makeup artist for the humans. Joe and I performed lighting tests a couple of days before shooting, trying out different setups and then quickly throwing color on them to see what we liked. Once we knew that, it was easy to figure out what gear we’d need to achieve the perfect look – and soon that was off the checklist too.
I personally love rehearsals, so it was important to me that the actors meet one another and have a chance to perform before the camera even shows up. We did a lot of improv one afternoon, and together invented a detailed backstory for Day 3. The short occurs several months after the zombie apocalypse and the government is attempting to pick up the pieces and move forward. Each cast member played their respective role in a variety of scenarios, improvising and ad-libbing within the context of our story’s universe. There’s that moment when things really feel like they’re coming together – that satisfaction like when you put certain Swedish furniture together and get it right the first time. We were all on the same page, ready to do something fresh and unique with the genre.
…Now we just had to make the damn thing.
Next week we cover Part II. Joe does a great Q&A discussing the look of the film, shooting with the C-300, challenges, and why Big Head might make a great producer!