When Disaster Strikes: How My Set Fell Apart at the Last Minute and What We're Doing About It
Filmmaking is a logistical nightmare. This much we know to be true. Every department has to be on top of its game and meeting its deadlines, and the entire cast and crew has to be in-sync for a set to work properly. With so many independent, yet crucial variables that have to come together in seamless fashion, it's amazing that people are as successful as they are making films. But that's not to say that things don't occasionally go terribly and utterly wrong, and that's just what happened today to a production that I'm DP'ing. Read on for both the story, and what my production team and me are doing about it.
So I show up to set this morning. It's 5:30am, and I'm all bleary-eyed and yawning, just itching for the crafties to whip out some coffee and pastries. That's when the director and the producer pull into the parking lot. I can immediately tell that something is terribly wrong when I see the director's solemn face as he gets out of the car. He shoots me one of those looks (you'll know the look when you see it), then comes up to me and proceeds to tell me that our lead actor, the one who's scheduled to be in every single shot of the day, has dropped the film for some unbeknownst reason. It's the worst case scenario, and there's really nothing that we can do to salvage the day or the production schedule, so we call off the shoot.
At this point in the morning, it's clear that we have to formulate some kind of backup plan, and we have to get said plan into motion quickly because time and money are running out (aren't they always). What we ended up deciding might seem like the obvious choice, but compared to some of the alternatives, I absolutely believe that it was the right one. Instead of deciding to nix the project or put it on a lengthy hiatus due to a lack of resources, we decided that we would recast our lead and continue with the film as planned, but in a much more independent and low-budget way. We'd use the production equipment already available to us for cheap or free, and we'd use locations to which we'd have periodic access (aka our homes and apartments).
Sure, production value is likely to suffer, and the film might not have the technical quality that it would have originally. But as the recent, Oscar-winning documentary, Searching For Sugar Man taught us, story is king, and as long as your audience is engaged in the story and the characters, they're more likely to forgive a film's technical shortcomings. My team and I are going to take this theory to the bank and make sure that the script is as tight as possible, that the actors are fully in tune with the project, and that once-complicated lighting and camera moves are simplified to the point of being highly utilitarian. And while this last point makes my inner DP cry a little bit, getting this film made and telling this story are more important than snapping off some killer shots.
It's unfortunate, but occurrences such as this one are all too common in no/low budget filmmaking, and they can very easily kill even the best-laid plans. The cast and crew are getting paid very little, if anything, and people are donating their time and efforts in hopes of being part of something cool and having new material for their reels. Oftentimes, life just gets in the way. There are bills to pay, kids to take care of, family emergencies, and all sorts of things that just have to take precedence over filmmaking. That's just the way it is, and we, as filmmakers, have to learn to make the best of these trying situations. Hopefully, that's what our team did this morning, and hopefully the project will come out the other end stronger than ever.
Have you run into these types of worst-case scenarios in your filmmaking journeys? How have you solved them? Tell us about your filmmaking disasters and solutions in the comments.