July 16, 2016 – 5 a.m. My alarm is telling me it’s time to get out of bed because we’re filming Amygdala –a mystery/suspense story designed to be released as an episodic mini-series. The alarm was merely a precaution in case I fell asleep. I didn’t – I couldn’t shut my brain off. All the writing, rewriting, casting and pre-production were all coming to fruition, making sleep an impossibility. I head to Tim Horton’s for a coffee and pick up a bag of perk coffee for when the cast and crew arrive, and a bunch of disposable cups and stir sticks because the last thing I’ll want to do is dishes when I get back from shooting.
6 a.m. Repacking all the gear to make sure I have everything, double checking that all the batteries are fully charged, and printing extra copies of the script and shot list. Call time is 9 a.m. at my house for wardrobe and makeup and I requested all hands on deck for a meet and greet regardless of what time we were actually going to film their scenes. Most of them have never met each other let alone worked together, and their experience levels ranged from seasoned pro to enthusiastic newbie. I felt the initial team building was important because I didn’t want people showing up later in the day and feeling like an outsider.
8:50 a.m. Coffee’s on! The cast and crew start to arrive – our budget is very limited but our ambitions are not. Everyone appears to be just as excited as I am. While Ida preps Andrew for his special effects makeup, Darren arrives with several large army duffel bags filled with military gear, outfits and boots. The cast get into their wardrobe as jokes and stories are shared.
Why such a late start time?
Shouldn’t indie filmmakers be taking advantage of all the natural light and start at sun rise?
Normally yes, but when working with Mother Nature there’s more than just light to consider – low tide was at 12 noon. At sunrise there would have been an extra four feet of water flooding our set.
10:30 a.m. We arrive on set eager to start filming. We’re running a little behind schedule despite the key location being across the street from my house. In fact, the Amygdala story started with the location because I knew that stretch of coastline so well, the characters and story came later.
The tide is still going out and I position our three actors for the flyover drone shots, take a deep breath and say… “Action!”
12 noon. The scenes are going well. The drone shots took longer than expected but Carl is doing a great job flying the drone despite the heavy winds in the inlet and the glaring sun obscuring the view of his monitor. I would be calling a lunch break soon but the pizzas I ordered will not be ready until 4:30 – none of the local pizza shops are open early on a Saturday. If we had a bigger budget I would have had snacks for a light lunch, something I hope to have on the next shoot. The rest of the afternoon is spent blocking, rehearsing and shooting as we work our way through the shot list. Enthusiasm is high despite the blistering heat.
4:30 p.m. Lunch! Mine and everyone else’s first meal of the day (and Caledonia Pizza did not disappoint). We managed to get all but two scenes shot. One of us had to leave a couple of hours ago due to a bad sunburn and a touch of sun stroke, and I can tell the gang is getting lethargic. We were not prepared for the scorching temperatures and it has taken its toll on everyone. I want to reshoot the last scene, and we still have a couple more to shoot, but for health and safety concerns I say “That’s a wrap” and call it a day. We’ll get the rest on the next shoot.
Most head home to a shower or their swimming pool and a few hang around a bit longer to chat. The excitement level is still high and I consider it a really good day. When the last of them depart I pull the memory card out of the camera and copy the footage to my laptop and then to my backup drive. I want to review the footage but my years of working with audio has taught me to never edit or review material on the same day it was recorded. Let it sit and approach it with fresh eyes and ears the next day.
All and all it was a great shoot. We learned a lot about how everyone works together, which is quite well I should add, and we learned the limitations of the gear we currently have – I was not able to properly view the footage as it was being shot because I could not see the small screen on the DSLR that Aziz, our cameraman, was using. The bright sun made it impossible and we didn’t have the budget for an external monitor.
I knew that the sound of crashing waves meant we’d have to re-record all the dialog anyway so I wasn’t overly concerned about sound, but I should have had someone running a boom if for no other reason than to let the newer actors get comfortable having a microphone hovering over their heads.
The next day when I reviewed the footage some of it was too shaky or framed incorrectly – it was impossible for Aziz to see the screen clearly in the bright sun. You only get one chance to make a first impression and after several days of serious consideration I decide this footage is not going to be our introduction…
We’re going to do it again!
I spent the last of the money we generated on our fundraising campaign to buy a shoulder rig to get steadier shots, and an eye piece to fit over the screen so I am looking through an eyepiece rather than at the screen – no more glare! I am going to “Robert Rodriquez it” and direct from behind the camera and shoot footage with Aziz. If I’m going to be walking around on set with a portable monitor it might as well be attached to a camera right? I started shooting video long before I got into photography so in a way I was going back to my roots as a camera operator. So rather than purchasing a monitor I got a shoulder rig and eye-piece attachment.
Aziz and I spent several hours shooting test footage and matching the cameras so we can get everything from two angles. (Note: Due to a heavy course load at the University, Aziz has since dropped out of the project to focus on his degree. He’ll be missed. He has a great eye for composing shots.)
Andrew built a rig so the small dolly I borrowed could be used on a couple of tripods to get more movement in the shots. What we really need now is a proper audio recorder and microphone, a better camera, and of course enough money to make sure everyone is fed and kept hydrated throughout the hot summer days.
Check out our GofundMe campaign and please consider contributing to the series. We have a great cast and crew who are all volunteering their time and talents to see this series made, but there are some costs that simply cannot be avoided so please contribute today. Every little bit helps. On behalf of the cast and crew, THANK YOU for your contribution!