As early as 2005 and as late as 2012 or 2013, there were many shots, and sometimes entire scenes that I filmed alone. I guess it is times like these that the filmmaker most resembles the sculptor, the writer, or the composer. It is just you and what you hope to create.
By myself, I recorded a lot of landscape scenery. Not only did I use this during the opening title and end credits, but also, it was handy to have in case of what is called B roll--other shots not of the main action that one can cut to. I also recorded actions and activities around me--the sunrise, planes landing and taking off, a lunar eclipse, cars driving by, etc.
I can think of at least two scenes (many I decided to cut) in the final film that involved me setting up the camera with a best guess for lighting, sound, framing and performing in front of the camera. In one scene, I simply played the one character in static shots. For another scene, I played two characters (one had a bag over his head), and then combined the two performances while editing.
It was probably when filming alone that I felt like an independent filmmaker with a capital "I". Everything in each frame was completely controlled by me. The passage of time also seemed most noticeable when I was alone. Although I filmed alone quite a bit while making SLIM, I do prefer to interact with other people and make better products because of that interaction.
The day of filming I talk about today was covered in the Bangor Daily News. See the article here.
With all other scenes having been completed to my satisfaction, there was one more set of shots that I felt my zero budget movie needed--crowd shots. I will not fall to the assumption that a big movie and large casts require a massive budget. I used technology and every resource available to me to gather a crowd.
I looked at the calendar and decided that Labor Day was the day to pick. Many people have work off on Labor Day, but families usually do not travel on that date. Maybe this is true, maybe it is not, but it worked for me.
I went on Facebook and created a public event. I posted the casting call to every free events site that served my area. I went to the websites of local television and radio stations, and posted on their community calendars. I went to the Bangor Daily News website and shared my filming date on their list of events. It was because of this last step that a Bangor Daily News reporter and a photographer came to the filming to cover it.
I was thrilled when about 20 people came for filming that day. The instructions (for crowds of nuns) was to wear all black. Only a few of the people that came were already my friends. Many were people that had seen the casting call for extras on one of the events platforms and wanted to be in a movie.
We used a large field in a public park for all of the scenes. Luckily, I had scouted the area and charted out all crowd movements beforehand. Despite all the people involved, everything went smoothly, and I believe those involved had fun.
Next time, I will write about the parts of the film that I filmed alone.
This day's filming involved only two of us behind the camera and in front of it. The funny thing is both of us are named Mike.
Filming a scene with only two people presents many challenges. If both are in front of the camera, there is no one behind the camera to monitor the sound, position in the frame, light changes, etc. However, having only two people involved also saves the filmmaker from stress as well. Scheduling becomes easier, and there are only two people that can forget lines.
For this particular scene, we began by filming all of Mike's lines from a closeup angle, while I monitored behind the camera. Next we did the same with me in front of the camera. The final step was a two shot with no one behind the camera. It was not until I reviewed the footage again months later that I noticed, as the sun had set behind the camera, the shadow of the camera and tripod slowly appeared on my leg from shot to shot. Luckily, I was able to crop it out without any important information missing from the shot.
We filmed the scenes that are the final two in terms of the film's runtime around the middle of the summer of 2007. Did this mean we were done with filming? No!!
The final dialogue scene involved Craig and me. We used the same office we did earlier for Tubba's interview scene. Once again, Craig gave a phenomenal performance, with just the right balance of comic timing and sentiment. It was just the two of us present for the filming. We would set up the cameras for one angle, perform the scene, move the cameras for another angle and repeat the scene. In all, we performed the scene about three times.
The final scene (which was not the last scene filmed) involved only me in front of the camera. There was no dialogue, so not many takes needed. After these scenes were finished, I still had another month of summer in order to film more scenes.
No, I did not make another Airport sequel while filming Slim. I did have two scenes that I filmed featuring an "airport". With TSA regulations the way they are, I decided not to bother asking any actual airport if my no budget movie could film there. Like any no budget filmmaker, I had to improvise. I knew that all I really needed was a nondescript background and a counter for tickets and luggage. A freestanding clothing rack became the metal detector. Sound effects would need to complete the illusion. Physically, the set didn't change much between the two airports, except one had brighter, more direct lighting.
Alissa was not available for filming that day, so instead of rescheduling everybody for another day, you guessed it--we improvised. One of my friends had a gigantic suitcase--so for these scenes, Snarion was traveling inside the suitcase.
The guest star of the day was my friend Katie as the ticket clerk. For the South American airport, she wore a normal business outfit. For the European airport, she simply modified her outfit a little.
Would anyone be able to tell that both airports were the same set? Of course! Does it matter? Of course not!
Why have a soundstage, when you can have a space with easy access to the outdoors as well? Over the years, my garage (without cars in it) has become a multipurpose filming location. The existing lighting is even, and can be enhanced by opening the garage doors and letting in natural lighting. If all the junk is cleared out, you have your choice of blank walls. If the scene requires a more industrialized setting, the metal doors themselves can be the background.
For the interior of a prison camp, a combination of these backgrounds was perfect. Blank walls puts the focus on the performers while closed garage doors show the possibility of escape. Of the scenes filmed here, I ended up cutting most of them, but it was an enjoyable experience for all of us involved.
The first scene that I remember filming (it has been 10 years so I will not swear on the chronological accuracy of everything recorded here) in the summer of 2007 was a scene titled "INT. SAD BAR". As I was only about 17, I had never been to a bar. I still do not know what would make a bar sad, but I guess it got the somber mood across.
As the day's filming began, there was a thunderstorm. It didn't change our plans, as we were only filming inside. I thought it would add to the atmosphere to have thunder rumbling in the background and raindrops hitting the roof, and it did. What we did not expect was for the power to go out right as we began filming.
When you are making a movie with no budget and using amateur performers, scheduling is not easy. So there was no way I was going to reschedule the day's filming. Instead, we lit the scene using candles and flashlights. Thank goodness it was a sad bar and not a bright, happy bar. It also meant that we had a limited number of takes since the camera batteries would not last forever.
The master performance of the day came from my friend Ross, who played the sad bartender. As I had written his lines, they were very bland and provided exposition to lead our main characters to the next scene. Ross did an extraordinary job injecting his own take on the character, which is exactly what I wanted. His sad bartender character is hilarious. He turned a minor character into a memorable one with just one scene.
This day's filming included a scene from the very beginning of the film and another from much later in the film both involving my friend Craig and in the setting of my Dad's office. Since we used my Dad's own office for Slim's office set, we used my Dad's associate's office for Dr. Colossal. It required virtually no set decoration since it already looked like someone's personal office.
For the interview scene, we had two cameras. Because of the size of the office, there was no way to get Tubba and Dr. Colossal in the same shot, so we used a reverse shot instead, as if each shot was what the opposite character would be seeing. We then moved the two cameras and got close ups on Greg, who was a second interviewer and a shot of Craig and Greg together so they could exchange looks.
The next scene we filmed was a single shot of Craig speaking on the phone to Slim (a scene that was filmed early in the same summer). I would read Slim's lines from off camera so Craig had something to respond to on the phone. He did a great job reacting to a phone conversation that really wasn't happening.
As far as I can remember, this day of filming marked the last for the summer of 2006 as school started up again.
I'm actually leaving some days of filming out when sharing these stories become some entire days ended up in footage that I eventually decided to cut. Once again, complete the script before you begin filming!
This exciting day of filming began early in the morning. It had to because we were allowed to film at a local Wendy's, but it had to be before they opened around 10AM. I believe this was a Sunday morning. I was so thrilled--we were filming in a real Wendy's. A family friend is the manager and he gave us permission to use the space.
The scene began with Slim entering the restaurant and ordering some food. The menu has changed in over 10 years of course, but at the time they only had options 1-9, so the joke was that Slim could not order a number 10. Today he could probably go up to number 20! I was planning on one of my friends to play the cashier, but when she became unavailable, I asked any of the Wendy's employees if they would like to be featured in Slim. One woman was eager to do it and she was fabulous. The service she gave to Slim's character would make Wendy's Corporation proud. Once she completed her scene, everyone present gave her a standing ovation.
The second part of the scene was to have Slim meet with Captain Sudden. However, Matt forgot about our filming date and was unable to be there. Creativity thrives on the unexpected. We solved our dilemma with having another actor in a Nunzie costume with his back to the camera and for Slim to finish the conversation on the phone.
With three costume changes, my Mom actually played three roles in the same scene. She can be glimpsed as a driver dropping Slim off at Wendy's. She causes Slim to wait in line while placing her order. Finally, she is a spy sitting behind Slim and listening in on his conversation.
A few years after filming these scenes at Wendy's, the particular franchise was awarded a complete renovation. The restaurant was closed for about 3 months. They demolished the entire building and built a brand new one in the same location. Because of this scene, I will always remember this Wendy's the way it was.
Filming on this day was very mixed up. We began by filming a scene from Part II of Slim, then filmed a scene that takes place right after the very first scene filmed the previous year, and then finished with scenes that take place after the first scene filmed that day. If this doesn't make sense to you, don't worry, it doesn't make much sense to me either.
The first scene takes place at a prison camp where Tubba is forced to clean a pool. We were at my friend Mike's house for the full day and filmed on the deck of his pool. It was raining so none of us wanted to swim for fun.
The next scene moved to Mike's backyard, but at a different angle than the Excavation Site scenes filmed there the previous summer. As I mentioned in a previous post, even though this scene was a follow up to the tractor chase, my Dad had sold the original tractor. So we used Mike's Dad's completely different looking tractor instead. This is what you do when you have no budget. I was very picky with this scene. First take, I didn't like the lighting. Second take, I didn't like the angle. Third take, I didn't like the amount of camera movement. The fourth take was just right, or else I just gave up.
For the rest of the scenes on this day, we relocated to a field beyond Mike's back woods. Apparently, someone else owned the land but didn't care if anyone else used it, or so I was told. What I liked about the field was that it had some hills so characters could be together all on one level or be staggered, depending on what was called for.
We didn't have a generator like big time film crews, so for lighting, we had to rely on one of those battery operated spotlights that you would use on your car in an emergency. The camera had to operate on battery, so this gave a limit to the amount of time we could spend filming. When you have a time limit like this, first takes often seem to be better than usual.