Thursday, September 12, 2013

Behind the Scenes - Part I

Hello again! If you could hear me say it, you’d know something’s not right. I’m just having one of those mornings where things are not as they should be, but I’m drinking my coffee – finally! –and hopefully that will make it better.

Still, I do want to write a bit about my first day filming yesterday, more so to have records for myself, as this is one experience that is surely polishing my view over what filming/screenwriting and directing is all about. At a smaller scale, it’s true, but the challenges are there and I am learning as I go.


I left work earlier – defining “early”: 5:30PM! People know what I’m talking about – and met mom at Piata Victoriei and walked to Cami and Stan’s place. A few drops of rain got me worried that I was going to be all soaked wet by the time we got there or even worse, I won’t be able to film outside. But, thank God, we got there dry and with a visible improvement in the weather.

I love the street Cami and Stan live on. It’s one of those suburbia looking, silent and comfy little alleys despite the fact that’s located in downtown. I like navigating on the narrow sidewalks among the trees, arguing with the protective dogs that try to scare me as I pass their homes. I was just having a conversation yesterday with one of them German Sheppards who almost spit on me with the continuous barking!

* * * I just took a lunch break and had a good laugh with friends and colleagues. It helped more than the coffee did! Just as a side note to my morning getting a bit better. ** *

Back to the story.

We ring the bell at the gate. They have two. One for the house the other for the office. I always ring randomly and then wonder why no one answers. Mom, who is with me along for the ride, makes note of my negligence and advises that I should ring the office, which I do, again. Eventually Stan answers and the gate opens to this fresh image of a wonderful man saluting me warmly. Huge hug with Cami and then I stand amazed at how big their four year old son Georgie has gotten. He’s sharing in a bilingual dialect, new info on his toys, castles and princesses and I am absorbed for a moment, but still unable to go that far back as to feel the thrill of an imaginary story. How time has flown by… meh.

Cami, as the excellent host she always is, is bugging me about food and drinks and what not and I politely try to tell her this is a business meeting. But alas, she is set her ways and soon enough I have a glass of water in my hand and I smell food from the kitchen. I try to focus. Mom is busy with Georgie practicing his Romanian with her and she is pleased to be part of his fairy tale world.

Cristi arrives bringing his assistant Denisa. A blue eyed beautiful young, rather quiet but pleasant little lady whom I’ve watched throughout the evening to see her smile. And she does smile and she’s beautiful when she does it, with that kind of candid innocence a young girl has in a situation that requires all her attention and seriousness. She’s very handy with the tools and helps Cristi to unpack and before you know it, everyone knows everyone and all the cameras, lenses, lights, cables and mics are set and ready to go.

I move around the house like an idiot with my baby laptop in my hand trying to remember all the details I have so minutely worked on for days now. I call the small Notebook my “baby laptop”, ‘cause well, it’s smaller than my other laptop. Yes, I know, it sounds stupid. But trust me it’s progress. I used to call them “baby human touch” in college. Or so I am told by former roommate back then, Geo. I personally don’t remember that hahaha.

Anyway. I find Anna sitting in the office with Max sleeping at her feet. Max it’s a beautiful young black Labrador who has been in training for a while and for a four legged battery, he’s extremely obedient and careful at all her commands. But for now he’s resting and so is Anna, waiting for za director (HA!), namely myself, to provide instructions for what’s next. And as I said, I’m playing this by the ear. I sit down with her and basically explain in a few words what I expect her to say, what the highlights of her interview are and she seems comfortable with it. Max doesn’t care. He is a natural, like all animals.

I find Cristi and he asks where in the house we’re filming and I know I want a place where there are book shelves in the back. But all the shelves are incased in glass so I can’t use light because it will reflect back, messing up the footage. I finally decide on a tiny, old fashion, pleasant to the eye corner with a brown leather armchair and a lamp on the side. A fancy old table decorates the image and I love that it has a chess board carved inside the wood and I can see it through a glass cover. I put some books around it and instruct Cristi that I’d like a few close ups of that image right there.

I quickly realize it’s late and it will get dark soon so we’re moving outside looking for a place to film Anna and Max together. The yard is rather long but it’s narrow, so there is not much room for all of us to fit and let Max be himself in such a tiny place. Plus it’s too dark because of the wines above our heads, which otherwise I love, but right now they took away whatever day light we still had. So we hide in Georgie’s play corner and chase him and Cami out to take over the swings. Anna and Max are getting ready. I install the mic hiding the recorder in her back pocket. She has the treats and toys she uses when training Max. The family cat shows up and finds a cozy place in a flower pot nearby. I watch her with a suspicious eye. There are no flowers there, only dirt and I have a feeling she’s gonna start peeing or something soon. I know cats, I have one at home. They never lay in the dirt unless they have an evil plan. So I wait. I fear that her scrambling in the dirt will attract Max’s attention when we start shooting. And the last thing we need with time being so precious, is to have a cat crap in front of the camera with Max ready to give her a good chase. Cristi is busy with setting up the camera for a few close-ups while I continue watching the cat. And sure enough, she starts digging. I’m like “you little pervert!”

We all wait for the cat to finish peeing (no craping!:) then we politely but firmly move her ass away from the dog. We are ready. Anna laughs. I guess it’s weird at least, if not intimidating to have a bunch of people staring at you from behind a camera while you’re supposed to keep a dog in place and also say something coherent and to the point. Respect!

Right before Max gave up and went for the cat! :)
I’ve been working with people forever and still, here is another thing to learn about them. I realize that no matter how much I explain what I expect from her it’s hard not deviating from the subject, not going too much into detail. It’s hard not being stiff. She doesn’t have a role to memorize. And sometimes being natural and yourself is harder than we can imagine. So I start asking her questions while listening to her and little by little we’re caught in an in front/behind the camera discussion about her role in training the guide dogs, the challenges puppies bring in her line of duty and the differences in environment between Romania and Australia. The streets, the stray dogs, the food, people’s mentality. I didn’t even know  some of the things she’s mentioning so it's an interesting subject.

Then we move on to the fun part. Max steps in totally excited to retrieve his toys and be rewarded. It was fun watching him play, obey commands on spot. At some point someone walked their dog past the fence and all the other dogs started barking turning the scene into a live concert of “Who let the dogs out!” and Max lost focus for a bit. We had to cut and reshoot.

Then the damn cat again. She slips in among the flower pots, like a slick feline she knows she is and starts playing before Max. And she did it in such a visible way, that eventually Max thought “cat, enough is enough!” He stepped down chasing her but a few minutes later they kissed and made up so we could get our “actor back”.
We weren't very happy with the fence behind them. Max is black and he was barely visible against that dark brown. Damn light!
In between the outside and inside shooting I sat down and modified the script as to the changes I had made now, while filming. And it is in a moment like this that you know how ideal and how good it feels to be your own screenwriter and director to mess around with your own work as you please. And not so much as you please, but also as the various circumstances require. Of course, we stuck to the main idea of the shoot, but some things had to be changed considering the tools we had, the moment of the day and the person we were filming.
Look at my face. I look homeless haha
Inside we encountered another problem. Lights. Turning them on and off and repositioning them, and then on and off again, moving the camera, cutting corners, adding corners; eventually Cristi and I were both happy with the scene and we called Anna in. If at least outside we had a larger area and Max to keep her focused, here, with the light in her eye, she must’ve felt like she’s in for an interview with the Australian President himself. She took a stiff position in the chair, waiting for us to blind her with the lights and shower her with questions she wasn’t sure how to answer. Again, I sat down with her and pre-discussed what I needed her to say so when we started shooting she was absolutely beautiful. She might not have breathed here and there (hehe), but for someone with all sets of eyes on her, she managed the situation like a pro.

Anna was so sweet! She said: "that's good, the way you said it. I hope I remember that!" haha
More so, while filming, I got so caught up in my discussion with her that I started gesturing – like I always do! – that Crsti behind me went:
“Yes…” (very innocently)
“Your hand is in the way…” (just as innocently)

Shit! Haha
That's my hand in the camera right there! HA!!!
I start laughing and Anna probably feels better now that I have, with my professionalism, ruined the entire scene. But then again there is always an advantageous outcome to situations like this. I go:
“Well… Cut, damn it! Cut!” haha I always wanted to say that.

Of course we didn’t. We continued shooting and the interview went smoothly for a few minutes more. Then Cristi and I checked for sound and image and it was perfect. Once the gear was packed, we sat down for a minute and had a quick bite – Cami would have not let us go without a full belly! – and set up the details for what’s to come.

I got home at about 11:00PM and I was tired. But I was happy. Like I’ve had some revelation about all the little things I had not considered when writing this project. And how many more things I need to take care  of - from, authorizations (some are absolutely outrageous, but we live in Romania and therefore we must get them!), to parental approvals etc etc. But all in all, it went smoothly and I learnt a few things. Practice is always the best mentor after theory. But above all, I was again proven how people can be multi-talented, generous and focused, especially when it comes to something they truly have a passion for, understand things at a deeper level wanting to make a difference using their knowledge and expertise. And one of these people is Anna. If she was at any time a bit confused or insecure about things, it barely showed on screen. Despite the extremely short notice and few details I gave her before last night, she quickly grasped on the requirements and was an excellent partner and this short documentary benefited a lot from her participation.

Thank you Anna!!!!

I won’t say more about her and her role in Light into Europe. I’ll let you discover the wonderful person she is when the documentary is ready. Until then, enjoy these behind the scenes pictures and stay tuned for more!


A better Mela

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