You wake up at 6:30 am to the phone ringing. It is not your alarm set on your cell phone. It is someone in your cast, crew, or in this case, someone from turtle time, calling you with a new problem. You haven’t even had your coffee yet. You haven’t even shaken off your dream yet, and you are greeting the morning with a problem. The good news is that most likely, the dream you were having is about having a new problem anyway so at least you are already in that zone. But still, five weeks is a long time to wake up in a panic each day.
You are not just exhausted; you are in another zone exhausted. You haven’t slept for more than 3 hours a night in the past 6 days. Every week has been like this. Once a week you have a day off where everyone gets to “sleep in” which means you sleep for at least 5 hours and you live for those. You still usually wake up to a problem, but at least there is sunlight streaming through the windows of this deluxe king size bed that you have had little time to enjoy.
Your boyfriend rolls over. You do not say “Good morning baby, how was your sleep?” You do not kiss. You do not cuddle. Instead you say, “Hey wake up our credit card was declined at the bank.” or “Wake up, there are supposed to be thunderstorms by noon, our exteriors are f****d.”
Your boyfriend does not appreciate waking up to stress either. He is usually a chill sweetheart but not these days. You are usually a sweet little hippie girl, but not these days. These days he responds to stress by finding a way to blame the problem on you. Somehow regardless of the problem, even if it is an impending Hurricane, somehow, if only you had listened to him things would have been different. This is not a solution, but somehow it comforts him to realize that, at the very least, things aren’t this f****d up because of something he did. This is not the entire reality however; your warped perspective has colored everything. This is your warped perspective where everything cruel is coming from him. You are, in your own way, busy blaming everything on him. You have both lost the ability to treat each other with care and respect. You are stressing out and he is stressing out about the same thing and you are only making each other feel worse.
This is a normal psychological reaction within a group of people in extreme circumstances. You think “It can’t be my fault if this all falls apart.” So you pick someone else, because if it is their fault, it isn’t yours. Doug and I were boyfriend and girlfriend at the time we were in production, as well as owners of the company producing Still Green, so clearly the obvious choice was to blame each other. No one would go down as hard and as painfully as we would if Still Green fell apart during production. And those moments we were alone were probably the cruelest two people could possibly be to each other.
The truth is we were all scared the floor is going to slip under us. Any second something could go wrong that we could not solve. We could be left with wasted investors dollars and a lot of embarrassment here and in Hollywood if we could not get through production. We had slaved for years to be in a position where the kinds of money we had raised could be raised. If we failed this publicly and this intensely now, we may never get to this place again.
There was never a time where getting through production was a given. New problems that threatened to shut us down hit on a seemingly hourly basis. We did not have the time or the money to waste even one day. We did not at any point have quite enough money to finish the movie, or even the week. We were shooting in Hurricane season. We could not shoot on the beach at night but we had to find a way. We were forced to fire actors with no idea how to replace them. We were dealing with lightning storms, red tide, and every other imaginable environmental hazard known to man. We were under slept, overworked, sweating our a***s off in the grueling Florida heat. We hadn’t the time to enjoy ourselves or bask in the fact that we were actually making a movie yet, as everyday was a battle to get through the newest batch of problems.
Although welcome, the press was all over us all of the time. These actors were watching us and judging whether we were a legitimate company to take seriously. We had to hide how hard this was from everyone except our most inner circle. So we’d swallow that fear and all that resentment and put on our happy faces in public. But when it was just me, Doug, Jon, Andrea, Evil, and Paul alone, all hell would break loose.
This is the reality of independent film production. It will push you to your physical, mental and emotional extreme. It will bring out the ugliest sides of you, sides you never even knew you had. I am not trying to suggest that we all turned into monsters. But when I watch these webisodes and see that bitchy stressed out version of Georgia Menides, I barely recognize her.
Although nothing could have prepared us for the hell that was those five weeks in Florida, at least the production of the last movie we worked on, Freedom Park, had given Jon, Andrea, Doug, Evil and I some idea of the kind of experience we were about to have.
Paul Mc Kinney, who at that time was our fourth producer, came into this mania without any experience behind the scenes. He was an actor. He had one of the leading roles in Freedom Park. He was extremely cool, fun, good natured, passionate about the industry, good at problem solving, generally cool under pressure, and a tireless work horse. Doug and I had relied on him heavily during development so when it came time to shoot, we offered to bring him to Florida as a producer. He was thrilled.
But Paul’s experience on Freedom Park had been polar from ours; not that hadn’t worked his a*s off, not that he hasn’t endured some long shoots, stress, and absurdly cold weather. But when his scenes were wrapped, he could leave.
He didn’t leave. He always stayed to help. He cleaned, he made props, he held the boom into all hours of the night for us, he cooked, he drove people, he moved heavy equipment, he was awesome. Generally, whenever we needed a helping hand during Freedom Park, Paul was there before we even needed to ask him.
But he had never worked on a film where the buck stopped with him before. In the past, I may have given him a list of press contacts to call and he would happily call them . But whether or not they lead to articles in papers were not his problem. I may have given him a list of sponsors to call and he would happily call them. But whether or not money was actually raised was not his problem. He had never, on a film set, been given him a list of tasks and said “it is up to you to make this happen” He had no experience in the pressure that comes with this responsibility.
Paul was in far over his head. And no one had the time to help him. I could see he was slipping, between the stress, the degradation, the lack of sleep, the heat, and the constant need to deal with problems but we had other things to worry about.
We all have our unpleasant sides. And sometimes we don’t even know they are there until we are put into extreme circumstances. As you watch this drama unfold from the comfort of your bedroom’s computer screen, I just ask that you take it all in with some perspective. We all are capable, given the right mix of circumstance, of doing things completely out of character, things we will always regret.
Wow, I can totally relate to this. My wife and I will never make another low-budget film together because the last one almost ruined our marriage. Hell, we made our film 3 years ago, and I’m still burned out.