“CHOKE” writer-director, Clark Gregg
It’s very tempting to go for the obvious answer and say money, since most of the elements that one would kill to have 10 percent more of could be had with a little more money. Money would be the universal gift card with which one could purchase delicious items like more shooting days or film stock or editing time. I’m still in post so even thinking of a card that could buy me more mix time or music licensing is getting me a little worked up. But money seems like an easy answer, so I’ll try to think outside the box a little and say maybe I’d take 10 percent more catering value because good food just helps everybody maintain their often tenuous grip on sanity. Or perhaps I’d ask for 10 percent more powerful meds to help me survive the stress of indie preproduction where the financing pops in and out more frequently than the little furry heads in whack-a-mole. Nah. Let me say knowledge. I would take 10 percent more knowledge going in. That may sound kind of ethereal, but I can’t think of a movie I’ve worked on where they didn’t feel they needed at least 10 percent more money in the budget. So whether you’re making a $160-million-dollar tent pole or a little indie in New Jersey like ours, that seems to be a given. Choke was my first film and if that experience was any indication that a lack of money translates into a lack of time and also to the inevitable conversations that begin, “Do you think we could do the Fancy Restaurant Scene in that vacant lot behind the production office?” Or worse, “We’ve got to wrap for the night in 80 minutes. Which of these two scenes do we really need?” For me, the second question forced me into some high pressure improvising done generally with an entire crew and a cabal of sweaty producers all staring at their watches. And what saved me when I found a way out of those tight spots (and what didn’t when I didn’t) came down to knowledge. For example, I came to the party with some knowledge when it came to working with actors, and I also had some knowledge about writing and more specifically working on a script on set under pressure. I would, however, have benefited from some additional knowledge when it came to getting the story on film under the battlefield conditions of an indie film shoot. My brilliant cinematographer, Tim Orr, was always extremely generous and lucid when it came to illuminating our options, even when they seemed (as they often did) painfully limited. We used to joke that when the shoot was over we would lie at home trying to figure out how to get from the couch to the refrigerator in less shots. But no matter how much Tim elucidated our options, at the end of the day I had to decide for myself what I needed to shoot in order to tell the story I wanted to tell. So in retrospect I would have used my 10 per cent of additional knowledge working prior to prep with an editor, or shooting a few test scenes and then cutting them in a number of different ways. That would have allowed me to show up on day one with a deeper command of the visual language I would need to make those decisions.
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Monday, Jan. 21, 8:30 pm — Racquet Club, Park City]