Summer almost done. Time for a pallet-cleanser. This is a real-time journal written by my very own brother Chris Peditto as he directed his recent micro-budget film Light & The Sufferer for $50,000 bucks a couple years ago. This movie features Paul Dano from 12 Years A Slave and There Will Be Blood. I love his writing here for the visceral sense of what micro-budget filmmaking is about—the towering highs, the epic fails, the absurdity of watching your crew this close to walking because the Egg McMuffins never arrived for second meal post 12-hours of a grueling day. Anyone who has worked on a micro-budget film will recognize each stage of movie-making quickly. Anyone who hasn’t will be instructed. Part 1 this week, Part 2 next week. Vamonos!
- FIRST READ THROUGH
First read through yesterday with the entire cast and all the department heads in the room. 25 people altogether. Quite a rush. 18 months of prep, four months of casting, everyone hunkered around a table at 14th street. I read screen direction and played soundtrack underneath at the same time to give everyone a feeling for the whole. Music and words married together beautifully. Now it’s time to lay it down. Off to the races tomorrow!
- DAY 3
Started beautifully. Washington Square, gorgeous spring day. Working with a dozen extras we brought in, and a handful of people we wrangled on the spot. Hours of prep for first shot. As usual, storyboards go out the window when confronted with the reality of time, lack of enough grip/electrics help and a setting sun we’re trying to catch for magic hour, which is about 45 minutes in actuality. We race for dusk, me shouting out from the center fountain area through a harried series of takes, the sky looking stunning. Lana’s (the DP’s) filters making the deep blue sky bend and swirl beautifully. The walk/don’t walk sign over Paul Dano’s head translucent, blinking above him ghostly, the crew oohing and ahhing. Dano looking utterly enigmatic, the moment so much more than I ever expected.
We move on, racing as the sun starts to rise, do not get through the master shot from above, the crew feeling like they’ve busted their asses for nothing. Exhausted, I start packing up cable, helping the crew who are as frustrated as I. I finish up and walk back to the craft service table to a disaster: no hot second meal waiting, even though I asked for it. All there is instant oatmeal, which hasn’t even been made for them. MAJOR FUCKING MISCOMMUNICATION. The crew who’ve worked for 13 hours, going over the standard 12 without pay, quietly enraged. With indie crews it’s all about appreciation, or the lack thereof. When you bust your ass you want to be treated right. If you’re not, you feel resentful, especially if you’re deferring. When you go past 12 hours and there’s no second hot meal waiting—these people will walk. Finally I go running, literally, for egg sandwiches myself, not wanting to talk about why this fuck-up happened with my production staff, who themselves are overworked, exhausted. I return with the sandwiches, the crew appreciative, me apologizing, promising this will never happen again. Can you imagine ruining you film over $30 worth of egg sandwiches? Tomorrow is another day.
- DAY 4:
As we moved into an amazing Gramercy Park duplex, the day began with a mixed bag of emotions. Some excited about our new digs, other crew members still feeling resentful toward production, who were not on top of their needs the previous day. Petty stuff, you say? Get an indie crew unhappy and feeling unappreciated and it can ruin your film. We dive into the day. The plan, as always, changing based on the exigencies of the space. Lighting as always, taking longer than planned for. Lighting as always amazing when finally complete – cold blue and red and black, atmospheric, reeking of money and privilege. Millions of dollars of art decorating the walls. We dive in, the cast feeling their way through complex blocking and business – crack pipes, cigarettes, vials and gun all tossed onto table. Major interactions with the Creature in this space, among the most complex stuff in the film, that which will make us or break us. After establishing eye lines for actors, we dive in. The scene slowly taking shape, the pace picking up, the lines and business coming together. We finish the first of four major setups in the space with the creature POV shot. Lana popping in her most trippy filters yet: actors as seen through the Sufferer’s eyes bending and swirling surreally as they look into its eyes. I am ecstatic, knowing we have something very special.
We somehow manage to make up for lost time by consolidating two shots into one, but with the Creature blocking in the next major setup, we have to pack it in at 6am without doing a take. I am told in private by my AD that there were people who didn’t appreciate my request to clear set of non-essential crew, some crew feeling like they can’t do their work, so why should they even bother? I feel my blood
boil. It’s 6am and once again there is another crisis. My AD and I, who get along great, arguing at 6am over this. What more can I do? I walk off feeling exhilarated at having shot so much great footage, but worthless, tears, literally, in eyes at having once again failed to be attentive to my crew’s needs. I’ll apologize yet again for the misunderstanding tomorrow night. Start over and hope morale is high. I hand off the last six dollars in my pocket to the AD and costume designer to take a cab. Stagger home, my eyes literally closing with fatigue as I walk down 23rd street. Pick up my messages on getting home. The camera department has requested two lights, which will cost $400 dollars. What’s $400 dollars, you say? It’s $400 that doesn’t exist. I’m already over budget. So now I have to begin tomorrow with more let-downs. What can I do? We must finish with what we have. That is all there is.
- DAY 5:
Second day at Gramercy Park. It began frantically enough hours before my arrival on set with a phone call about complaints re: food. Demented producer/directors who want to get their movies made don’t give a shit about what’s served for dinner and what’s on the craft service table. I eat leftovers after everyone else has eaten, since I’m endlessly worried about money. This can be a major oversight, especially when your production crew is not giving them what they want, when you think they are. Hearing through the grapevine that this was the case, I personally intervened, calling in catering from my favorite Middle-Eastern place, spending a little more but knowing everyone will love the grub and their work and morale will improve. What a difference it made! On top of better eats, Jonathan Lethem came by to visit the set and give an interview. Overall, our best day yet. The duplex looking stunning, every angle fantastic, the architecture amazing, the lighting and colors moody and beautiful. Crew finally working well together, the cast doing amazing work. Hopped on the subway, got out thinking about the shots coming up tomorrow, how to get them all, the challenges of working on location, walked with my head down, pondering how the make the day ahead, how to economize coverage without compromising my shots, then looked up to realize I had walked nearly two blocks in the wrong direction on 23rd street. Tunnel vision.
- DAY 10:
The days blur. I thought last night was day 9, looked at the schedule and realized we shot day 9 two days ago. Sunlight confuses me. I live in a perpetual state of chasing the sun. Last night we filmed everything in the cab with the boys. Green screen shots of the Creature chasing them over the Manhattan Bridge and back to NYC from the airport. Neon signs reflecting through their faces as they drive to the bridge, metal beams on the lower level of the bridge slicing through their faces as they talk nervously. Really beautiful. Of course the sun beat us again. Did not have time to get the cabby’s shot, so we will have to add that onto the airport day and hope for the best! Now my sole focus is writing this new scene that bridges the brothers’ meeting in the park till they get to Don’s room. I know what I want to do with it, now I have to get it down on paper. Content under pressure!
“All photos © The Filmmakers, Inc.”