Disaster on the set!

I’ve had my fair share of treacherous film set experiences in the past three years I’ve been a student in the film program. We’ve had hospitalizations, a truck carrying valuable equipment (and crew) flip, time crunches, and discrepancies of all sorts, but none could compare to my personal experience on my recent junior thesis short film, “Double Date”. Though I’ll never experience childbirth due to my biologically male genetics, I think I have acquired at least some insight on the difficulties of bringing something into existence (my film).

The pre-production process of my film was relatively easy, and I admittedly was far more involved with roles outside of my description as writer, director and editor. I made sure everything was running smoothly in each department, I held a relatively successful crowdfunding campaign, and I thought I had oiled every metaphorical cog in my filmmaking machine — but was I ever wrong.

It all started when we arrived on set the second day of shooting, I think I’ll call it Double-D-Day. As director, I was a few minutes late to set because I was helping another department transport materials to our location- no biggie. With about an hour allocated to set up the restaurant we seemed to be on-schedule. That’s when it hit… the negativity.

I am a very positive person, and when I’m producing, my top priority (other than getting things rolling and an awesome film made) is to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves, because no one should hate what they want to do for a living. But this gosh-darn negativity… it crept through our set like a virus, overtaking almost every green crew member in sight. It was unavoidable. Suddenly, the negativity train pushed us more than an hour behind schedule — that’s like a billion dog years on a film set.

With morales low on set, much of my crew either gave up on their roles, sought the easiest (and worst) ways out of situations, refused help, or just had no clue what they were doing. Mr. Director (a.k.a. me) had to put on his ten-gallon producer hat and lasso the film crew-gone-wild back to common sense-ville. “Everyone stop what you’re doing and listen! We are an hour behind schedule, so I need everyone to get their act together, pay attention and do your jobs…” or something like that is what I had to yell over my set in last resort.

For those who are unfamiliar with a director’s role on set, their main concern is basically giving instructions to the talent (actors) and talking with producers and director-of-photography. I was literally grabbing equipment out of crew members’ hands and setting things up myself, re-organizing the shot list using my editor’s brain, and solving problems for anyone on set… In other words I was producing, not directing. Any direction I could give to my amazing talent (which I am very thankful for) was in sharp, to-the-point instructions — usually between takes and holding the entire set together.

We had wardrobe malfunctions, poor judgement with problem solutions, mishandling of equipment, and even miscommunications with our shooting location. That was all in one day on set. It finally came to an end. We held a mandatory meeting and brought up our concerns, frustrations, and advice to our crew and prayed for a better final day on set the next morning.

Through all of the mishaps, issues, and disastrous moments on set, I am thankful that it all occurred on my film set… WHAT??? I know, I just wrote several paragraphs talking about how awful the experience was, but I wasn’t kidding when I say I’m thankful. I’m thankful that I was the one who was able to take the quickly-deteriorating situation and put it back on track. I am thankful that I was able to be resourceful enough to solve so many issues, even though it wasn’t my job to do so. I am thankful that my other director friends’ film sets didn’t experience the same brain-fizzing, face-flushing aggravation I did — something I handled with as much professionalism, positivity and composure as I could manage.

Though I was physically shaking as I explained the story to my professors, I was not, nor am I mad. I wish the experience was different, but it happened, and I can’t change the past. I can only learn — and hope my crew has learned — from the set of “Double Date”.

In the editing room I managed to salvage as much as humanly possible from the atomic bomb of a film set and I actually came away with a fun, entertaining, feel-good film. Watching it with a large audience for the first time was rewarding — people actually laughed at most of the jokes I’d written. It was very rewarding. The feedback I got from my peers, the support I received from the other directors, and the encouragement from friends and family really got me through the experience.

A good take away from this post would be…

  • Watch out for negativity — it will spread and try to kill morale
  • Make sure your crew knows what they’re doing
  • Keep calm, don’t panic — but get your crew back on track
  • And lastly, stay positive — although it goes without saying, only good things will come from positivity. You will feel much better if you choose to look at the bright side of things. It’s okay to be disappointed, but move on and try to do better the next time around.

After eight months of labor from pre-production to post, we delivered a healthy short film. This post is another outlet to healthily vent about my experience, because I don’t want my friends to see me as a living-breathing complaint factory. I thought it also made for a fun story to tell.

Until next time, look on the bright side of life.