This post was written by Harley Chamandy.

The idea for Where It’s Beautiful When It Rainscame during the pre-production of my first feature film Allen Sunshine, which I was trying to make in New York for the past four years. The process was extremely grueling, especially since Allen Sunshine is a low-budget feature film.

Dealing with agents, unions, cold calling people, and working with so many different egos made me rethink my position as a filmmaker and made me question if making films is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Due to many different factors, including the pandemic, and different actors' schedules push, I was forced to delay my feature film until the summer of 2022. Additionally, I  decided to shoot the film back home in Canada.

Although my feature film was delayed, the silver lining was that I had met one of the most incredible actors during my casting process, a 10-year-old boy named Benjamin Pajak.  When I first saw his audition, I knew I had to work with him.

As the film’s schedule was pushed and Benjamin was booked for a role on Broadway in The Music Man, he was not able to be a part of the film anymore. I liked him so much that I decided that I  would write a short film just for him, and shoot it in the same week.

I wanted to avoid everything I was going through during the pre-production of my feature film. I created a set of rules for myself: no professional actors besides Benjamin. Every character in the film needed to be street cast, and a majority of the actors needed to be cast on the day of shooting. No permits, no location scouting, just showing up to the location and stealing the shots that I needed, no crew larger than 5 people on set, and improvisation was highly encouraged.  

I wanted to strip down all the unnecessary elements of filmmaking to remind myself what it is I love most about cinema. The magical moments that cannot be scripted, characters that are bigger than life, the absurdity of the human condition being questioned and exposed twenty-four frames a second. I wanted to surprise myself and throw myself into the unknown but, most, importantly, I wanted to take risks. 

Where_its_beautiful_when_it_rains_2'Where it's Beautiful When it Rains'Credit: Courtesy of Harley Charmandy

The night before the shoot, I walked to my planned locations with my friend Levi, who was helping me street cast. I met Omar, the man who worked at the deli near Levi’s apartment. I told him we were looking to shoot in the deli and that I wanted him to play himself in the movie. Without hesitation, his eyes lit up and he agreed to be part of the film. When I asked him what time worked for him, he responded, “Any time, come whenever.”

That ended up being easier than I expected. 

The difficult part of the casting process was when I thought I had found the street performer I wanted to work with in Washington Square Park. When I texted him the day before the shoot, I got no reply and I had to find someone new.

Luckily, I met Raven, a great saxophonist, in the park and we went for lunch to discuss the scene I wanted him to play in. One of the biggest lessons I learned while making this short film is that “if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.”

In film school, they tell you that you need all these permits even for short films and they try and make everything more complicated. I was able to secure a whole deli and a diner for free just by asking kindly.

On the day of the diner shoot, the owner, who we expected to play the cashier, got sick so we decided to cast one of the waitresses that was on shift. 

Where_its_beautiful_when_it_rains'Where it's Beautiful When it Rains'Credit: Courtesy of Harley Charmandy

Besides the challenge of stealing shots, especially on Super 16mm film, and my cinematographer, Kenny Suleimanagich, operating and pulling focus, the biggest challenge was shooting at the Bronx Zoo.

Usually, that would require a bunch of different permits and approvals but we did not have time to wait around. We snuck the camera in a baby stroller and walked in with Benjamin and Kenny. All the animals came to life when we were there and it was truly magical getting the gorilla to look at  Benjamin through the window. It’s moments like that, that could never be scripted, and it truly felt like we were creating magic. 

The final restaurant scene was also quite challenging in securing since nothing was “contractual.” I had to rely on the owner’s promise that he would come in at 5 a.m. to open his restaurant. A big part of the shoot’s ethos was just “letting go” and trusting that everything would fall into place. If it didn’t, we’d have to think on the spot.

Even when they tried to kick us off the ferry for having our camera gear, we still managed to get our shots and get everything we needed in the can. Like Werner Herzog says, “Ask for forgiveness and not for permission.”

It was truly one of the most exciting and liberating experiences I have had as a  filmmaker. Being able to work with a talent like Benjamin was so rewarding as he was not afraid to take risks, and to work with non-professional actors. The shoot also reminded me that there is not just one way to make films and that you should not have your vision compromised by all the external factors of filmmaking.

The knowledge I learned from this short film I applied to my first feature film Allen Sunshine which we shot last summer in the Quebec countryside with my cinematographer and one of my closest friends, Kenny Suleimanagich. Even though there was a structured script, I maintained the same energy and ethos of the “guerrilla” style, working again with non-actors, children, dogs, boats, and fireworks.

One of the main lessons I learned from the experience of making Where It’s Beautiful When It Rains is that filmmaking should be fun and that if you are making a film you are in a very fortunate position, and the final product will reflect the process. 

I encourage anyone reading this article to write something right now, call your friends with cameras, and make your film with what you have available around you.

This post was written by Harley Chamandy.