Once we started shooting my routine became an incomprehensible blur of work punctuated by crashing out briefly followed by more work. We worked every day except Sundays and I would basically sleep Sunday to catch up. The schedule was possibly the hardest I’ve ever followed:
1) We get up around 6 am - although sometimes as early as 4 am.
2) We stuff ourselves with the (fabulous) buffet breakfast in the hotel.
3) Jump into vans and drive one hour to MediaPro - or closer if the set is in the city.
4) Dress the sets with our technology and rehearse.
5) Do the shoots for the day over and over until we get them right.
6) Grab lunch at the horrible on site restaurant - often consisting of meat, cabbage and gruel
7) Usually by 6 or 7 pm we wrap up and drive back to the hotel.
8) We’d grab dinner at the nicest restaurant we could find.
9) Then we’d discuss our plans and then write software for the next days shoot.
Usually a shot would begin with Nicola and Terry huddling together to decide how they wanted to do the shot - and they’d play-act out the camera motions. The primary actors would be shooed off to their respective trailers for a break and stand-in actors take the role of the main actors and they’d act out the scenes together.
David Ticotin was the first assistant director. From what I understand this seemed to mean yelling a lot. He was constantly pushing people to get them to get ready for the shot and getting everything ready for Nicola Pecorini who would run the camera.
David would yell “QUIET!” and instantly you’d hear a resounding “MOTOR!” as several leads on the set echoed his words in Romanian. Everybody else would also simultaneously go "ssssshhhhhhhh".. Then he'd say "BACKGROUND!" and then "ROLL!". The background actors would start doing things, walking, talking, and film would start rolling. But the most important word was "ACTION!". At that moment everybody who was not actually acting on set would freeze in place, stopping in mid-step, or mid-sip of a cup of coffee. We'd all stand there frozen. And we'd hear the main actors doing their parts. Sometimes over and over. When he said "STOP!" film would stop. Leads would yell “STOP!” - to each other, into walkie-talkies - out of doors to crew that were off the sound stage. We’d all come alive again. Footsteps, chatter, sipping coffee and urgent errands would resume. Makeup would poke and pull at the actors hair, costume would adjust costume. Software guys (well just Jonah and I) would fiddle with the digital puppets. When David said "check the gate" they'd actually literally check the actual gate mechanism on the actual physical camera to make sure there were no hairs or dust that might ruin the next shot. A runner would then physically grab the last batch of film and run it off to Kodak to be digitized in high resolution.
When you watch a movie the footage shows just the actor, or perhaps two actors. Judging by the footage you’d imagine they are in an empty room. But what you don't see in the finished product is that right behind the camera there are at least 50 people hiding, all just out of view. There is makeup, and props, and animal wranglers, and hangers on, and family, and friends and friends of the actor, and foley, and then us computer geeks and the feral puppy that the set adopted last week.
One of simply most amazing opportunities for me in this movie was to simply be a part of the history of film. This movie was shot on film rather than being shot digitally. There are a whole set of practices surrounding film that I was lucky to glimpse. If I go work on a film set again it is unlikely I’ll see somebody yell “check the gate!” or rush out the door with the film reel to go have it digitized (In fact I hear that the lab where we had our film digitized is itself now shutting down).
There is a specific quality to film; the 24 frames per second rate of update, the specific blurriness of camera motion - many subtle qualities that you can google. Each of us has seen hundreds and hundreds of movies. The gestures, the affect, the elicitation of emotional states is imprinted subconsciously on our minds not just by the content but by the presentation. Yet it is a medium that is going away. If you've seen Lord of the Rings in 3D at 60 FPS you'll know what I mean - it has a quality of being like a soap opera. The language within which it is told is different and it triggers a different emotional response.
Yet because everything was quasi-analog - there were all kinds of strange hiccups. Things I just never conceived of being a digital era kid. For example everybody including Terry would often want to watch the rushes on their laptops back at the hotel - to review the scenes and see what they captured. This was fairly easy to do because Kodak made them available online and anybody who knew the FTP site could look and see how things had gone that day. But one frustrating issue for Terry was that he would want to mark out specific cut points and he wouldn’t have a timecode to reference. The lab had to make a second copy of the digital video with the timecode printed on the screen - and this was quite expensive. When Jonah heard about this we quickly found a free movie player online that would show the timecode on screen. So it was an interesting example of how these two domains intersected.