Shooting a Film About a Filmmaker

With just six days to go until principal photography on ISN’T ROMANTIC? begins, I thought it would be interesting to discuss a unique aspect of this production.  Namely, the fact that the protagonist, Danny Kresky, is a writer/director.  Films about filmmaking present certain situations that make some scenes easier to shoot in some regards and more difficult in others.

When an independent screenwriter writes a script that he or she plans to shoot on a low budget, it pays to plan ahead and design the story in such a way that it will avoid a lengthy, expensive shoot.  It’s a simple fact of life in the movie business: there is never enough time or money, especially on an ultra low budget.

Right from the moment I conceived of IIR’s story, I planned to shoot it myself, so I kept that in mind during development.  I only have five speaking roles, two leads, one supporting role and two under fives.  I kept the number of se to a minimum, avoided special effects and set all scenes during the day to avoid tricky night shoots.  Making my protagonist a filmmaker was not due to any logistical considerations.  It made sense for the story.

This Saturday, October 13 is day one of shooting.  The scene takes place in a country inn where Danny is shooting a scene for a movie.  It’s the most complex scene in our movie and we wanted to shoot it on the final day.  Circumstances dictated we do it first and it will be fine.  We’re ready.  As I stated earlier, it makes for an unusual shoot.

On the down side, it requires more equipment and people.  In addition to our camera, we need a prop camera for Danny’s crew.  We finally found one, but it was one of the most difficult tasks of pre-production.  We also need extra lights for props and extras to portray members of Danny’s crew.  I had wanted to use my own crew members on camera, but there’s a reason they work behind the camera.  Most of them are not comfortable being photographed.  It makes for a more crowded set.

Another tricky thing is the fact that I am planning Danny Kresky.  So I will be calling “action” and “cut” both as Danny for the film within the film, and as myself for IIR.  Potential problems there.  I’ve decided that I will use the terms, “film action” and “film cut” as myself when shooting that scene.  After all, Danny’s voice sounds a lot like mine.

There are a couple of advantages though.  Normally, when lighting a set, care must be taken to ensure that lights, c-stands and other equipment is outside the frame of the camera to avoid spoiling the illusion of the scene.  Since our set is supposed to be a movie set, we can show any piece of equipment that we want.  More latitude in placing lights will make things go a bit faster.

On a personal note, I think it will benefit me in my duel role as a director and actor on the production, at least for that scene.   A number of experienced directors felt me playing a lead in my first film as a director would prove too challenging.  (I know better.  Like my fictional counterpart, Danny, I”m no ordinary schmuck.)  Danny is based on my stand up persona and is really a fictional version of myself.  That, in itself, makes things easier.  The fact that in that scene, I will be directing in my role as Danny, should help as well.  I can stay in director mode both in front of and behind the camera.  For that reason, I think shooting the movie set scene on day one may prove to be a better way to go.

Making a movie presents challenges and each shoot is unique.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  I’m ready, both as a director and as an actor playing a director.  One thing I do know for sure.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.

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