Rain Days

You’d think with our production located solidly in the Midwest for the last 4 and a half years, we’d have backup shoot days for bad weather contingencies. Nope. However, we have shot in drizzle, slightly more than drizzle/less than rain, drizzle hail, falling snow, and standing snow that went up past our ankles. All of that has lead to a pretty serious cancellation policy. If something is falling from the sky, I cancel the shoot. Granted it doesn’t feel good to have to reschedule, and I feel like I’m falling behind, but it also makes us all feel much less insane. We did have two nights of shooting with temperatures in the 30’s so far for episode 8, but at least they were dry.

We had two shoot nights scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday nights this week. Rained out. Actually, that wasn’t the beginning of this week’s issues. The shooting of this scene has been particularly plagued.

Since it’s a fight scene with weapons and I wanted to shoot it in a public alleyway, I thought we should be above board with the authorities so that they didn’t show up and shoot my actors. So I contacted the police station. That’ll teach me. I wanted to shoot two nights from 7 to 11:30 p.m. in an alley that isn’t normally trafficked or near anyone’s residence. We had power all ready from a local business, and would use our normal set-up of clip lamps and work lights; not a big production. They wanted us to get production insurance. Fair enough, but it was going to cost us something like two grand. That’s like 7 percent of our budget. Then she told me that they’d be less likely to approve us because the city prefers productions shoot between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. I asked what that meant for night scenes and people with day jobs. She did not have an answer for me. I asked who would actually make the call on our production at the end of the day. She said the Chief of Police and the City Manager. I asked if I should speak with them and explain my situation. She said that wasn’t how it’s done and I should just submit my application. I suggested that might be a waste of my non-refundable $50 application fee when she’d already told me my odds weren’t good. She did not have an answer for me. I suppose that’s how these things are done.

So, I started looking for private property on which to film the scene. Businesses with parking lots where all we need are owner permission. After looking at a couple and talking to a few different business owners we have a cool location ready for us to shoot there. It’s a lot different than I envisioned, but it looks different than any other place we’ve ever been in the show, so that’s cool. Plus, it’s isolated. There should be no problems with our actors waving their weapons around. Big plus.

Then one of our actors had a sudden schedule conflict pop up. So I only had them for the first of two nights. Okay. So I start to restructure the shooting order so that we can get everything with them on the first night. Then, on the day of the shoot, I got a text from our amazing stunt coordinator John. He’d lined up three stuntman-actors for us to battle with. One of them suddenly dropped out and another said he would be late. John quickly found a replacement and everything was a go for launch again.

Then the nail in the coffin. It had been threatening rain all day. I kept checking the weather online and the p.m. rain showers would just not go away. Finally, at 4 p.m., it started. I stood outside in it for a second to gauge the misery factor. It wasn’t good. I sent out the email calling it off.

After I called it off, I found out my lead actor was sick anyway and a night out in the damp cold would have been a really bad idea for him. He was going to do it anyway, because he’s a total badass, but he was happy to stay inside and take it easy for a night. I was too. We watched Despicable Me and had Eliza’s first chili of the season. It was fantastic. Much better than a night out in the rain, shooting a scene that would take half as long in clear conditions.

Some scenes are just tough to line up. I don’t think having a bigger budget makes it any easier either. Sure, you can afford production insurance, but the city’s still going to be a sack of bureaucrats and the sky is still going to spit on your schedule. Actors might drop out less if they got paid more, and I probably wouldn’t have to worry about finding a big ladder for a night and then a car big enough to transport that ladder, but it’s all just scale. As part of my day job, I sometimes interview movie directors. When I interviewed Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai), I asked him what his favorite part of production was. He told me it all pretty much felt like putting out a series of fires. There you have it. It’s never going to be easy. Our volunteer fire department probably has much more manageable burns to deal with, but as long as you sign up for this, there’s going to be fires to put out.

Man, Backdraft is a great flick, isn’t it?

Thanks for reading, guys.

–Jake

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