Production Diary #9 - Here, At the End of All Things
Here we go. The moment we had (& you have) ALL been waiting for is finally here: the last two days of production on Wayward Guide!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As the calendar crept closer and closer to the end of the year, we were eager to shoot the final sequences of our show and begin the next stages of this project in 2018.
Now remember: these shoot days were not part of the original schedule. We, foolishly, believed we’d be able to move the entire company, midday, up in Pine Mountain, to shoot several exterior scenes ON TOP of almost 11 pages of interiors in the morning. Inexperience is a funny thing. And we were full of it way back in October. Additionally, our town hall shoot days were grossly overstuffed and we had to come to terms with finding another day to shoot an entire sequence there (or maybe even somewhere else! More on that in a second).
Luckily, the cast needed for these pick up days was VERY minimal and everyone was free. Just 5 characters on day one and 3 on day two and NO juggling of one million actor schedules. Huzzah? Indeed.
It’s going to be difficult for me to talk about what we did on this particular day as it is perhaps one of the most spoiler-ific sequences of the whole shoot. It is LITERALLY the climactic scene. But having a day to JUST focus on that was a gift.
In fact, being in that space at ALL was a gift. During our scouts leading up to block two, we had explored a number of options for where to shoot this scene. It didn’t HAVE to be at the Town Hall location, as originally intended. It was written in a way where we could justifiably move the action elsewhere. Even in the scene that precedes it, where a character directs everyone to where they should be heading next, we shot multiple versions DEPENDING on what location we were able to lock down. That’s movie magic people!! We could’ve COMPLETELY rearranged our vision in the middle of shooting and you would’ve been none the wiser.
We were ultimately able to return to the American Legion and stick to the what was in the script. PHEW. But there was a catch. And let’s face it, at this point with this production, when WASN’T there a catch? We could only be in the space from 6 AM to 6 PM, with a HARD OUT at 6. Due to the size of this production, we often went overtime with our schedule, shooting until the last possible minute and then rushing to load out. On this day, we could not do that. There was an event using the space that night and we had to scoot our asses out of there. It was all hands on deck as Alexis wandered the halls, shouting out a countdown.
CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: You Gotta Be Truckin’ Kidding Me!!!
This day’s challenge wasn’t so much a problem on the day, as it was one leading up to it. The evening prior, I received a phone call from Corey, who was finalizing the shot list with Benji, who had just spoken to Walter, our Gaffer (Electrician). Apparently, a friend was using Walter’s Grip Truck (a large vehicle that included ALL lightning/rigging equipment we were using the whole shoot) to run errands for Walter while he was working another job on the day off. When stopping for gas, this guy filled the tank up with diesel instead of regular gas. If you aren’t aware, using diesel on a vehicle that doesn’t require diesel, is effectively like drinking a vial of poison. The car has to be immediately towed, drained of the diesel, and flushed through, or serious damage can occur to the fuel system, engine, and injectors (<— I googled that last part but I still knew it was pretty bad).
You may be wondering how this all affects me. Well, being the free producer who lived closest to Hollywood, I was tasked with heading to Quixote, a film equipment rental company, to pick up their last remaining grip truck in all of LA before they closed at 7 (it was 6:30), drive it up to the mechanic in Burbank, and help this poor boy, as well as Walter and another grip on our crew, unload the entire Grip Truck and reload it onto the new one. It was certainly a hell of a lot more physical work than I was expecting to do that evening, but the swiftness with which the problem was solved gave me such a deep appreciation for our crew, the physical strain they’re willing to put themselves through to get the job done, and how efficiently our team’s communication had gotten (albeit 2 days before we wrapped). The downside: This truck was already booked as a rental for a different production the following day and so the equipment needed to be transferred onto a THIRD truck in the middle our shoot the next day! #FUN!!
Even after a month of early mornings, excessive physical labor, and late nights filled with brain-numbing decisions, I woke up the morning of Day 14 bursting with jubilance and ready to wrapper this sucker up. We were about to complete the most difficult aspect of Wayward Guide Production (unaware of the horrors that awaited us in January when we saw the complete tally of expenditures that got us to this point) and, by golly, we were running on sheer pride to get us through the day.
We were at Canyon Ranch, an outdoor filming location in Thousand Oaks that would double as a roadside outside of Connor Creek, a spooky cabin, and miscellaneous forest scenes. Even though this was looking to be a late night, Canyon Ranch was, luckily, our most comfortable exterior location yet. We had access to a larger barn with plenty of room for costumes, make-up, crafty, and general holding, tons of parking, and all of our shooting locations would be within 200 yards of each other. Plus, we only had 3 cast members to wrangle (4, if you count Nick Lang who came out for a fun part we can’t talk about here). Sure, there was a large hill to walk up every time you needed to get back to the barn, but that was a MINOR inconvenience for our team at this point in production.
This was all TOO good to be true, right? RIGHT. Well…almost. Around the beginning of December, many areas of Southern California were hit with terrible wildfires. Areas in Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita, and even close to many of our homes in Encino/Sherman Oaks were devastated by fast-moving flames that left many in danger. Paige, our costume designer, was forced to evacuate her family’s home during our Dead Canary days. As this disaster raged on (due to strong winds throughout the state), it became clear to us that Canyon Ranch, though not in danger of fire reaching it, was potentially going to be hit with serious drafts of smoke from the north/south, making the air quality unsafe for our completely exterior shoot day. Thankfully, this is a scenario that did not play out, but could do nothing but cross our fingers during the days leading up.
CHALLENGE OF THE DAY: MAKE IT SPOOKY!
As we mentioned before when describing our Pine Mountain days, lighting a vast exterior space at night is difficult. Canyon Ranch didn’t come with any standard lighting to make the space shootable so we needed to start from scratch. And to cover the space we would be filming, we needed something powerful. Enter what was, perhaps, our most expensive and coolest piece of equipment: the Condor. This large cherry-picker-esque crane required its own operator, separate generator, and some SUPER bright lights, but DAMN was it cool. Staring up at this imposing machinery truly locked in the feeling that we were making a “real Hollywood movie”. Finally! On the last day!! The Condor could essentially mimic moonlight, if the moon were much closer to the earth and positioned perfectly to light our scene. Coupled with an industrial strength hazer, this delightful movie ranch-by-day was looking creepy AF at night. The biggest problem was manipulating these two elements efficiently and quickly. We’d pump a bunch of haze but by the time we could tweak the lights to hide everything and make it look good, the wind had blown it all away. This process was necessary, but tedious, and by the time we were ready to move from our clearing up to the cabin exterior, we had exhausted our evening’s supply of hazer juice. Luckily, the remaining shots didn’t require haze, but the minor oversight of only grabbing ONE container of hazer juice was on par for our production.
But now, some nice thoughts:
Despite the few goofs (and honestly, NO production is free of them), our final day on Wayward Guide was really special. The sequence of our shooting schedule made it so that Joanna was our first to wrap in the day, Steve was next, with the final scene entirely Mary Kate. We didn’t plan for this journey to end in such beautiful and poetic way akin to watching the few hobbits return to the Shire with Frodo leaving for the Grey Havens forever. But it did! From top to bottom, every member of this crew busted their ass for 14 days to help bring this show to life. Many of them didn’t have a good reason to (other than the minimal pay they were getting) and could have easily walked away from our crazy production. But they stayed. They showed up day after day, put their amazing talents on display, and worked together to create something that none of them had a creative investment in the way myself, Brian, and Corey do. That level of dedication and teamwork was alive and well on our independent film set, and it warmed my heart.
In the end, some champagne was popped, a few tears were shed, and an endless amount of “Thank You’s” were expressed as we hugged and packed up and disbanded this temporary fellowship forever. As different as theater and film are, a set isn’t unlike the process of putting up a show. For a short period of time, you work closely and intensely with a small group of people towards a common goal of creating this unique piece of art and uniting under a singular vision. And just like that, after the closing performance or a final shot, it’s over. It’s insanely cathartic (and potentially emotionally unhealthy???) to go through something like that. And like the Lord of the Rings (Yes, I WILL continue to draw this comparison), it changes you forever.
….HOWEVER. In true Wayward Guide fashion, the evening wasn’t over yet. Around 1 AM, most of the crew was finishing wrapping at the location and we all got into our vehicles to leave Canyon Ranch. Our caravan of cars began with the art department van, which left about 5 minutes before most of us. I was riding with Corey and we breathed an enormous sigh of relief as we drove down the windy rode out of Canyon Ranch to the highway that would take us home.
Suddenly, as we rounded a dark bend, we noticed our art department van pulled over to the side of the rode. My mind raced to, “Oh shit! Did they pop a tire?” That thought was instantly dispelled as we continued around the curve and the true reason was revealed: a car, about 50 yards ahead, in the middle of this one-lane road, COMPLETELY ENGULFED IN FLAMES. Yup. You heard it right. One of the PA’s from another stopped car filled us in: First and foremost, this wasn’t any of OUR team, nor was anyone in the car currently. Another couple had hit this “accident” mere SECONDS before the art van and were stopped up ahead also. According to them, a rogue “boulder” had rolled down the mountainside, hit this car, set it aflame, and the owner got out and ran away. Huh. By this point, several more of our cars were backed up behind this “accident”. I keep putting accident in quotes because it was very clear that this probably wasn't an accident at all. Namely, there was no boulder to be seen. Also, the driver just ran out. into. the. WOODS. Whether they were drunk, a felon on the lam, or committing insurance fraud, something sketchy was going on.
And because the road was SO narrow, none of us were going to risk driving by this vehicle that could explode at any minute (based on our knowledge this happening from movies). So we stood outside, waiting for the fire trucks to come deal with this and clear a path. The wider roads coming off of a suburban intersection were FEET beyond this car. We could almost taste the freedom.
To make matters MORE inconvenient, when the fire department finally arrived, put out the car, and used the jaws-of-life to break it down, they informed us that it would be at least 2 HOURS until we could pass because this “accident” was now considered a crime scene. Since the driver had run away, they have to consider it arson and needed to wait for the police to investigate. Our only option was taking a 45 minute detour BACK into the canyon to pop us out on another highway entrance. We had lost ALL of our fighting spirit. Back into the mountains (…of Moria?? See! The LOTR references are uncanny!) it was.
Well past our bedtime, winding through the Santa Monica mountains, at the end of some of the toughest months in our lives, we had no choice but to chuckle to ourselves: How apropos that this entire production was quite literally ending in flames.
We’re smack dab in the middle of post-production as I type this so have much less to report at the present moment! Stay tuned in a few weeks for an update on what our (very) chill post-production process has been like for Wayward Guide!