Updated: Apr 17, 2020
On a low-budget indie film set everyone does a little bit of everything. Sound guys sweep the floor, production assistants become extras, camera men run for batteries, directors of photography find props, hair and makeup artists manage homemade sprinklers and, on occasion, actors make lunch runs. Everybody on set (an auto shop by week, film studio by weekend) is quirky and opinionated and bursting with potential...myself included, or so they keep telling me. But I guess we'll let the final product speak for itself.
Our small crew of approximately 10 people have spent all day creating a stormy night inside an old garage, with a jimmy-rigged rain apparatus spraying warm water over the windshield of a parked truck, one of our handy crew members shaking it to create the sensation of movement down an old, poorly paved road. With mics hidden under battered sun visors, lights at my feet and a make up artist a few steps away with a spray bottle, I hesitantly scramble into the safety of a truck, gathering the train of my sopping dress in my arms and begrudgingly accepting a cigarette from my unlikely savior. Though not the first scene in the film, this is the first scene shot on the first day on set of "Dead Birds," a quipy and surprisingly moving 1980's romantic dramedy about unlikely lovers...and the propensity of one of them for chicken salad.
I've been so thankful for the opportunity to work on my first full length film in Richmond, Virginia with local writer and director Bobby Mercer and the delightful crew. We are only three days into shooting "Dead Birds" and I've already learned so much about the goings on on a film set, especially one with a small crew. Everyone is constantly teaching and learning from one another, offering up their advice and experience wherever necessary to improve a camera angle, tweak lighting or enhance a particular moment.
There is a lot of patience and on-the-spot-fixes required, but this doesn't detract from the experience; rather, it makes everything richer. Robert hops in a pool with me to catch an unplanned underwater shot. Alyssa finds me more prop cigarettes (that we smoke between takes), and Joe buys me scrunchies. Dylan flirts while manning the clapperboard (I know this is not actually what it's called) and Wyatt tells me about his favorite series on Amazon Prime during our lunch break.
You might notice that I'm writing a lot about the crew more than the film itself. I noticed that too. While I think part of it is to not give anything away, another part is to reflect on relationship-building, and the friendships that form when you spend 10 to 12 hour days with a small group of people. We are the definition of "low budget," so no one is there for the paycheck. Everyone is there instead because they want to create something beautiful together, and common interest is priceless when working with other artists.