The past eight weeks of my life have been more insane than I could ever have imagined, but we did it! After two years of raising money, we finally made it all happen and shot the film! Directing a feature film is an entirely different experience than making a short film--it was hard, it was challenging, the days were long, but I really enjoyed directing. Of course, there are many things I'll do differently next time, but there were so many things I didn't anticipate, some of which include:
1. Questions, questions and more questions. As the director, you are the creative visionary for every aspect of the movie. I didn't realize how many questions I would be answering all the time, like do you want a blue vase or a red one? Do you like the sea green or the kale green? I think next time, I will definitely have a long and involved pre-production period so many of these questions are answered in advance. Of course, there will still be more questions, but thinking through a large number of the details ahead of time can totally help.
2. There is no time to think. Again, in the moment of directing a movie, you are exhausted beyond belief and there is just too much to do. I don't think this would change on a 20 day shoot or a 90 day shoot. There will never, ever be enough time, money and help to get everything, so, as the director, you really and truly have to know what you what from each scene. In other words, it is good to know the blocking and coverage in advance because in the moment, there is no time to think, just time to execute. I knew what I wanted from many of my scenes up front, and the DP and I had gone through much of our coverage in advance, but still, directing is really the art of being decisive under extreme physical and mental stress. I think I got through it gracefully, but still, I didn't know just how tough it would be.
3. Shooting out of order is a much bigger challenge than I expected. Of course, we all know that feature films are shot completely out of order to maximize time in the locations and according to actors' schedules. I didn't anticipate how challenging it would truly be to think this way--out of order. I had gone through my script and made notes on all of the emotions for each scene, but it's still tricky because in my story, the growth of the plants was challenging to keep track of. It was like, okay, is this the point at which they grow or not and how does that relate back to what it happening in the narrative? Very tough.
4. Working with children was a pleasure. I wasn't sure of what to expect in working with children, because it was my first time. But we cast some really wonderful and amazing child actors who were an absolute pleasure to work with. I never had to cut or slow down production because of the kids, so that was a total joy.
5. Working with extras is incredibly stressful. What you really need is excellent crowd control in working with extras. During the science fair scenes, we had over a hundred extras, all of which I was directing at one point. I had a mega phone and a plan in terms of what I wanted, but it's still hard because choreographing their movements and staging the blocking in the moment takes precision, timing and silence, something that's clearly not easy in a large gym full of people.
6. Did I mention exhaustion? I knew it would be tiring, but I didn't fully get it. As the director, things cannot move forward unless you are there, so you are pretty much on set all the time, standing for 15 hour stretches. Most of the time, I felt like eating was a huge burden that I didn't want to be bothered with, as well, but then I realized that I needed to have energy to make it through the days, so I would try to snack a bit here and there, but I def shed a few pounds through the shoot. The tricky thing also was that there were in some tough situations weather-wise, like the cold, fog and rain of NorCal, and of course, this year, it was unusually chilly. The kids all hated the cold, and so did I, but I always kept a positive outlook towards it, just so we could get through it. (yeah, isn't this hail just beautiful??)
Anyway, more to come, but these are a few small, initial insights...