A day on set
In my last post I told you that my crew and I had just completed shooting four out of six short films, and I’m happy to announce that we’re now one step closer to the finish line, with Jorge’s “Eyes Up” as the only remaining shoot.
However, I promised to tell you all about my own first experience directing a film as an NYU grad film student, so here we go.
This is my “Director-trying-to-visualize-a-good-frame face.” With Sonya Vai and Lin behind the tree. Photo: Avi Kabir
This project is a so-called MOS film; an exercise used to teach us how to tell stories without any of the normal aids that can help carry a film.
It’s shot on super 16mm film, has to be in black and white, shot outside, with no dialogue or music.
In other words, it’s kind of like trying to bake a cake with only butter and water.
If this doesn’t sound like mission impossible to you yet, I’d like to mention that we only get two rolls of film — unless we buy more on your own (Codeword: EXPENSIVE!) — so every take has to count. I, personally, tried to step into my high jumping-mindset “You only get three attempts (at each scene), but try to clear the bar the first time.” As an adrenalin junkie I found great pleasure in that.
This is my “Director-holding-a-green-folder-while-trying-to-balance-a-cup-of-ice-coffee-on-head face.” With Master Lin. Photo: Avi Kabir.
If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’re probably aware of my financial situation, so I took it upon myself to make this production as cheap as humanly possible, for extra difficulty, you know …
But, you know what?! Thanks to God’s grace, Sonya Vai and my amazing crew it worked! We made a film! (Or at least, I think we did … I still haven’t seen the footage because it’s being developed, but one can always hope we actually did record something that resembles the film I had in mind.)
It takes a village! Just kidding, we were just eight people and one animal on my set, at most. (If you include the “dead cat” microphone in Pepi’s hand, we had two animals, but oh well.) Here with Pepi, Jorge, Lin and Sonya. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Here’s a fun fact for ya: Sonya, who played the lead character, was my AirBnB-host when I first moved to the city, and she was the only New Yorker I knew for a couple of weeks, haha. Besides being an awesome host, she’s also a super talented actress, and I’m so honored to have her in my film. Her co-star, Cleopatra, is a beautiful white pigeon that will get its own shout out later.
The two stars: Sonya Vai and Cleo! Photo: Avi Kabir.
My crew consists of the following rock stars:
Director of Photography – Lin (also known as Master Lin)
Assistant Camera – Jorge
Assistant Director and Grip – Kai
Sound – Pepi
Set photos and everything in-between – Avi
I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. Everyone worked exceptionally hard, and despite the rough weather nobody complained. We actually finished the whole film in less than eight hours spread over two days. Pigeon-Cleo was very well-behaved as well.
Here are some more photos from the shoot:
These two camera guys, Jorge Sistos and Qiying Lin, helped bring my vision to life. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Actress Sonya Vai warming up inside the car between takes. Photo: Avi Kabir.
I haven’t been OUT running, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been running. With Sonya and “Master Lin.” Photo: Avi Kabir.
The rain stayed away for our important shots, thank God! Lin and Sonya. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Sonya and Cleo’s first introduction. T’was love at first sight! Here with bird handler Eddie who was an absolute trouper/angel. He spent hours outside in the rain and didn’t even want an umbrella. What a hero! Photo: Avi Kabir.
Sonya and Cleo hanging out on location. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Avi did a great job capturing moments like these on set. I was actually so far into the directing bubble that I didn’t even notice that he was running around lika a paparazzo. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Jorge measures the light while Sonya and Cleo are waiting for the camera setup to be done. Photo: Avi Kabir.
With Lin and Jorge. Apparently I was very selfish and kept the umbrella all to myself. Sorry guys! Photo: Avi Kabir.
Also, if it wasn’t clear in any of the earlier photos: filmmaking isn’t glamorous. Here’s proof; I spent a significant amout of time crawling on the ground looking like a drowned weasel.
I’d also like to breifly mention that the tree-location was covered in poop. Human poop. So we had to throw away our shoes. But hey, what don’t we do for the art?
I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who helped us make this film possible! Now a month of editing awaits us before the premiere in December.
Bless you all,
4 down, 2 to go
I know you haven’t heard from me in a while, so before you continue reading I would highly encourage you to follow me on snapchat (username Maria Lavelle) and instagram (MariaLavelle1 & Lanoet) because that’s where it happens these days.
Like I told you last time, we’re in the midst of a three-week production period where we’ll shoot a total of six short films on super 16 film (aka the old-fashioned way), so my days have mostly consisted of waking up at 4 AM, hustling and bustling on set for as many as 12 hours or more, before taking a shower and going to bed while waiting for the cycle to repeat itself.
On Pepi’s set of “LAM/B” on Staten Island.
A few inches too short for the tripod? No problem; we have pumpkins! Lin, Kai (on pumpkin) and Avi.
So far, we’ve wrapped four films, and as if being on set wasn’t pure bliss in itself, we’ve also had the chance to see a variety of locations, weather conditions and real-life characters at every corner of the city.
We shot in a secluded community garden in East Village for Avi’s film “Scattered,” all over Staten Island for Pepi’s “LAM/B,” in the middle of Times Square for Lin’s “When you’re taking a selfie without your sunglasses,” and in Brooklyn for my very own “TENDER” — which I’ll tell you more about in my next post.
On the set of “TENDER” – with Sonya Vai (leading actress), Lin, me and Kai.
This coming weekend we’ll stay in Brooklyn shooting Kai’s “Mr. Edelman,” followed by Jorge’s “Eyes up” in Central Park.
There’s no other way I’d rather explore the city, and seeing a new place through the lens of a camera is really unlike anything else. Actually, just being on set with the hardest working people I know for hours and days on end is unlike anything else.
On the set of my film “TENDER.” Stay tuned for my next post. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Running from location to location with tons of heavy equipment with a clock ticking makes us look like hardheaded participants in The Amazing Race, while the intensity and quiet of loading the camera mags inside a light-proof changing bag — without being able to see what our hands are doing — makes us feel like surgeons on Grey’s Anatomy. For the remaining time we either feel like actual filmmakers or soldiers in the Army.
The teamspirit, adrenalin, efficiency, pressure and precision it takes to put together these small pieces of art containing our storytelling voices is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever been a part of.
That feeling was only intensified when we — after four days of back-to-back shooting — gathered our belongings from a pumpkin patch on Staten Island, and the warm wind was accompanied by beams of bright orange light that shone upon our tired faces. I don’t know if it was the combination of exhaustion, hunger, sunburned skin and pure satisfaction that made it so magical, but magical it was.
Photo: Avi Kabir.
In my next post I’ll tell you all about my experience of directing my first non-documentary short film in NY.
First real shoot
After seven weeks of planning, scheduling, camera techs, tons of paperwork, directing exercises, long days at school and countless hours of careful instruction it was finally time put our preparations to work.
Today, “Crew 7” — group of six aspiring filmmakers from five different countries — kicked off the three-week production period with our first real shoot together.
CREW 7: Jorge, Lin, me and Avi. Pepi and Kai didn’t make it into the picture.
For me, the day started at 4:45 AM, and from there on out we didn’t waste a single minute (or foot of film, for that matter). Shooting on Super 16mm film is so expensive that every shot had to count, so we brought our A-game and I feel that today’s work really added context to the phrase “filmmaking is the ultimate teamsport.” I feel so honored to work with such talented people!
Throughout these next weeks we’ll shoot a total of six short films, where we’ll all hold different crew-positions for each film. I have the honor of serving as the Director of Photography for my buddy Avi’s film “Scattered,” so I was handling the camera the whole day. The Arriflex camera is a heavy-ass chunk of metal from the 1950s, so things could have been more comfortable …
But for each handheld shot I had to do, I praised the Lord for my weightlifting days. The thousands of barbell hits that used to bruise my shoulders probably served a dual purpose.
In case you wonder how I looked while dealing with this old German piece of cinema gear … well here’s the raw truth.
Jacob (Avi’s young talenter actor), Jorge and me. Photo: Avi Kabir.
And oh, if you think I’m trying to “look cool”or something with that one leg on top of the bench, Nike cap, sunglasses dangling from my ears, and a fat blue track suit, I’ll have to explain a thing or two:
- The leg = takes some of the weight off my wrists, and helps stabilize the frame.
- The cap = blocks some of the light from the sky, which helps my pupils adjust to the eyepiece I’m looking through. (For technical nerds: We used several neautral density filters, which work as sunglasses for the camera, so it was mighty dark inside that viewfinder.)
- Sunglasses = Same as above. They only come off when my eye is in the eye piece.
- Fluffy track suit = Well, we were told to dress in layers because “IT WILL BE COLD” … but it was really quite functional, considering how much time I spent crawling on the stingy hay-ground.
- And that facial expression? Oh my, let it speak for itself.
With Jacob and Lin, who was the indispensable First Assistant Camera. Photo: Avi Kabir.
Actor and director, Avi Kabir. Photo: Maria Lavelle.
“Intimicay is key.” Photo: Avi Kabir.
And my favorite photo of the day: It’s actually NOT staged, but rather a photojournalistic glimpse of the aftermath.
– Directing is exhausting, just ask Avi.
Jorge and Avi. Photo: Maria Lavelle.
Thanks for a great shoot, Crew 7! U da best.
Now I better go to bed … because I’ll have to head to set again in a few hours 🙂
Phew! It’s been a while since I last stopped by to give you an update, and leaving you all hanging on the “Rough Patch” I mentioned last time wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but if you read my post “You know you’re a grad film student when …” I hope you can forgive my … rather sporadic … blogging.
I won’t bore you with my daily routines, but the truth is that there simply is no time off as a grad student at Tisch. Honestly.
Every day starts early and ends late (it’s not uncommon for me to be at school for 14 hours or longer ever day). Add the commute and normal life things such as sleeping and eating and there’s just no time left.
“But you have the weekends, though, right?”
Well, the weekends are spent shooting our directing exercises; which often takes up all Saturday and all Sunday. Read more about our weekend adventures HERE. It’s worth your time, I promise 🙂
But you know what?
I love it! There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, and nothing else I’d rather do.
Here’s a little snippet from my Snapchat. It’s a random collection of short clips from everyday life at NYU:
Right now we’re about to wrap up pre-production of our first project; a black & white, MOS film, with no music or dialogue, shot on Super 16mm film. It sounds like the easiest thing to do, but when you’ve been robbed of all the crutches that would otherwise help carry a film, it becomes a fun challenge.
It’s also a true privilege to shoot on actual film!
Last weekend’s directing exercise was supposed to be fun as well, but I think our crew can agree that getting sprayed off a sidewalk with a water-hose could’ve been more fun.
Long story short:
We had set up everything for our scene on a PUBLIC sidewalk in Midtown. However, some people with troubled egos decided that the public sidewalk wasn’t public enough for us to shoot on, so we got into an argument that ended with two men calling the janitor in their building who then started “cleaning” the sidewalk with a water hose where we were shooting.
The picture below was shot before he realized his methods weren’t effective enough. He loosened the hose from the socket to create a sprinkler-effect that sprayed all over shortly after. For the record, we weren’t even shooting in front of their building; we shot in front of a shut-down café next to their building.
Since we also happened to have $xx.000 worth of equipment in our hands at the moment he started spraying, we had to leave — or defend our case in court, I guess.
I wish we were shooting a journalistic documentary, because then we could’ve slammed the First Amendment in their faces, but oh well. Pick your battles.
I personally think we handled it pretty darn well. Go Crew 7!!!
Talk to you soon!
A rough patch
Maybe I was naïve, but I honestly thought I could go through life without even knowing I had any wisdom in the form of teeth.
That illusion, however, cracked about a week ago when all that wisdom became too painful to bear. I signed up for a consultation, told the dentist I would like to stay awake for the procedure, and after having politely turned down the prescription painkillers, I walked out of the dentist’s office with an icepack on my cheek.
“Hah! That was easy. I just had a tooth pulled, no biggie” were my thoughts as I strolled down the frying hot Manhattan streets. I started wondering who came up with idea of giving patients a full anesthesia for something as little and insignificant as this. I also pondered over all those YouTube-videos of loopy teenagers believing they’re unicorns after being drugged down to handle the pain of teeth-pulling. My conclusion was that the whole “putting under” practice was merely a business trick used to keep the dental care prices high.
Granted, I did cling onto that ice pack until it became the same temperature as my skin, so make no mistake, it wasn’t exactly comfortable. But I told myself I’d probably just channeled the pain-tolerance of my inner athlete, so I carried on.
The next day was spent walking and shooting in Central Park until it got too dark for our camera. Again, no biggie.
Then. Good lord.
I was scheduled to come back to have another one of these evil molars removed two days later. I walked into the dentist’s office with confidence bigger than the clinic itself, and asked to stay awake for the procedure this time as well. A few raised eyebrows later and a scalpel had started digging its way into my gums.
This is the turning point in the story.
Apparently, this so-called “surgery” was just that; it took two hours, three doctors and so much pain I saw my life flashing before my eyes before they managed to get the thing out. That is, before they managed to get PARTS of it out. The amount of force they used made me question whether or not I would get permanent neck-damage from having someone pull my head that hard. But then, the chief-dentist stepped in to retrieve the last pieces by removing some om my jaw bone and stitched me up.
Once it was done, my face had already ballooned into the shape of a chipmunk’s, and my body had started coping with the trauma by making me so annoyed with everyone and everything that PMS would fade in comparison.
Here are some examples:
– I wanted to yell at the lady at McDonald’s who had given me a fork instead of a spoon for the prescribed post-op ice cream that was now melting in the 90°f (32°c weather).
– I wanted to sue the City of New York for making the roads my taxi was driving on so freaking bumpy, and Toyota for not making the springs in their cars soft enough to cushion those pumps.
– I wanted to punch the pharmacy lady for not understanding what I was saying and making me repeat my date of birth five times (it probably sounded muffled because of the gauze in my mouth, but still).
– I wanted to hit our landlord because living on the fourth floor with no elevator SUCKS when you can feel how every step you make fuels the chipmunk face. Lower the rent, pleeeaaaseee!
Then I went to my room and cried until I felt less annoyed and started feeling sorry for everything I thought about general anesthesia, the poor loopy souls in the YouTube videos and the innocent people who just tried to do their job.
Thankfully I’m able to laugh about it now 🙂