It’s hard to believe it, but we just finished up week two of principal photography on Child Eater. I’d be lying if I said everything went swimmingly, but there was loads of successful troubleshooting and problem solving and, in the end, we managed to walk away with exactly what we needed.
Lesson 1: The RV that Changed Everything
For the majority of this week, we shot in a two-story house that also has a two-story barn on the property. Initially, we thought there’d be more than enough space for our grip truck, art department storage, catering, craft service, holding, hair, makeup, wardrobe and, of course, our set, and there was, but we didn’t factor in the production office appropriately. For the first day of shooting in the house, myself, Luke (producer), Alvaro (UPM) and Katie Valovcin (2nd AD) crammed into a bedroom to set up shop. We managed, but weren’t as efficient as we could have been had we had a quieter space, all on our own. We had to sit with laptops on our laps, couldn’t print anything while rolling and constantly had people walking in and out of the room grabbing equipment and other items left there for storage. We made it work, but it was far from ideal. However, an RV changed it all.
The fine folks at TransAtlantic Automobile in Peeskill, New York graciously prepped a vehicle for us at a moment’s notice and now, not only do we have a legitimate, private production office, but it’s mobile, too! After almost a full week at the house, we’re about to move back out to the old zoo location and it’s as simple as driving it over, parking it and getting back to work. The privacy and distance from set has allotted us more than enough time to pre-plan each day of shooting, a safe space for our DIT station and also the added fluidity that comes from everyone knowing where the production team is at all times.
Lesson 2: Working with a Child Actor
It’s tough enough to find a solid child actor, but on top of that, you’ve got to find good parents to work with too and we were fortunate enough to get the complete package. If you haven’t caught Colin Critchley in Waiting for Godot, just wait. This kid is going to hit it big. Mark my words. Honestly, I don’t think he’s had a bad take this entire film. He’s incredibly professional yet still a kind, fun-loving kid at heart and has a family that has a practical and extremely encouraging approach to his work.
Those are all invaluable factors, but it still leaves one challenge we’ve got to handle all on our own and that’s working around a child actor’s hours. On school nights, Colin cannot work past 10pm and on the weekends, he cannot work past midnight. It may still seem like he’s available for a good deal of time, but when you’ve got a movie with a significant amount of nighttime exteriors, it’s tough to make that work. At this point, the rest of our shooting schedule is structured around these rules, but it certainly would have been beneficial to have made them a top priority from day one so that we didn’t need to rearrange so much in the middle of the shoot.
Lesson 3: OT
The phrase, “There aren’t enough hours in the day,” is truer than ever on a film set. Literally every single day, we are pressed for time for one reason or another. You can plan all you want, but unexpected things will come up no matter what. Equipment could malfunction, a generator could run out of gas, a stunt could take a little more time to block than expected, there could be some miscommunication – the list really could go on and on, and sometimes, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Friday night marked our last night at the house location. By the end of that day, everything set there had to be shot and, sure enough, we wound up with one pivotal scene that was not complete upon wrap time. Admittedly, we had gone over other days during the week and I quickly learned that having crew work overtime comes down to two simple things – asking first and saying thank you.
Towards the tail end of the day on Friday, I must have been visibly uneasy because a few crewmembers approached me to insist on continuing to shoot because it was a particularly strong scene and a necessary component to the story. Of course, I was thrilled that they were willing to work later so we’d cover the material, but it was more so the fact that they took the initiative to come up to me and insist that meant the most. Movies at this budget level simply cannot be made without such dedication and passion for the project, so I’m endlessly grateful to have so many people on set that feel that way.
Lesson 4: You Can’t Make Everyone Happy
I’m a people pleaser. If someone is unhappy, I need to fix it – on set, at home, anywhere. The trouble is, when you’re managing a company of roughly 40 people, it’s just impossible to give everyone what they want, and sometimes need. I’m constantly insisting that if someone is having an issue that they come tell me immediately so I can fix it. Between Luke, myself and some other support, we’ve been able to solve the large majority of problems ranging from food preferences, swapping bedrooms, miscommunication, working long hours etc., but every once in a while, you simply can’t.
We’re all professionals, but we’re all human beings, too, and personal preferences will conflict. It’s inevitable. It truly eats away at me, but sometimes there’s just no choice, but to tell someone they cannot have A because it will jeopardize B and B is the priority. It’s a never-ending attempt at balancing individual expectations and needs. The effort can go a long way for some, but sometimes you’ve got to bite the bullet, say no and suffer the consequences. Personally, that’s something I know I’m going to need to work on for future shoots.