Filming: Weekend Three

So tired. So very, very tired.

Our first weekend of full-on, all-out, difficult-difficult-lemon-difficult shooting was quite exhausting, but the good kind of exhausting, the kind where you spend two days with great people, the kind where you get to stretch your creative muscles, the kind where you remember halfway through that you can to sit down if you want and yell at actors from the comfort of behind a monitor. (Poor Ryan and Jim, they had to keep standing. Suckers.)

After the previous three days of lightweight shooting followed by a weekend off that threatened to knock me off my groove, we dove right in to the big stuff: we had two days to film every single moment set at Mission Control. This amounts to 33 pages of script, over a third of the screenplay. This is a ridiculous amount by any standard – even if you figure that some of those pages were only half- (or third-, or quarter-) pages mixed in with other scenes, that’s still an insane amount of material to cram through, especially when the director is still getting his bearings.

Our original intent was to wrap every shooting day by 5 PM, although we knew we’d have some days that would take us to 8 PM or maybe later. Here, we managed to split the difference, more or less, leaving our location by 7 PM Saturday and 6:30 PM today.

While some of the overruns were due to a large cast and crew’s ability to get sidetracked often with joking and chatter (we call it “Ackbarring,” as in: if you’re sucked into a sidetrack, look out, because it’s a trap!), most of Saturday’s delays were mainly my fault, a result of improper planning. I had my shot lists ready to go but never properly mapped out which shots would be best to shoot in which order. I think we got it close, but not close enough. (Several cast members spent hours waiting and waiting and waiting, which is what happens on a movie set, yes, but this was a bit much. And by “a bit,” I mean “a lot.”)

Fortunately, my cast delivered throughout the day, including some (what I hope to be) really big laughs out of some really small moments. That’s my kind of humor, the goofiness-in-the-details stuff, and I’m still thrilled to have lucked my way upon this much strong talent. (Yes, I knew some of them from before. But while this praise is mostly for the folks I’ve just met, it also fits with the Fu vets, too.) The jokes as written have gone stale to me from sheer familiarity, but the cast is able to shine a new light on the material, adding the right vocal twist or silly gesture to their line readings, saving my screenplay from itself. Good gravy, these are some funny people.

Sunday, while almost just as long, went much more smoothly. By now we knew the location and set layout (special thanks, by the way, to Elliott Block and R.J. Robertson for providing the props and gizmos and doodads that made the room look mildly Mission Control-ish), we knew which shots worked well where, and, most importantly, I had a firmer grasp on how things should be running were this an actual production. Which, apparently, it is. Who knew?

A final thought: A good number of cast and crew were not born when Return of the Jedi was in theaters. This is depressing on many levels, but mostly the level in which I am old.

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