SHOOTING WITH A DISABILITY
Chicago-based filmmaker Jack Marchetti currently has a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for 4 of a Kind, his debut feature. Below he writes about the uniquely pressing situation that he is facing with this production.
The actors perform. The camera operator frames the shot. You focus on the monitor. The boom operator steadies the mic. You watch as your work, your writing, comes to life. You smile. You yell “Cut!” and doubt creeps in. Was that good enough? Did we get it? This isn’t simple indecision, it’s something you’ve dealt with most of your life. This isn’t a lack of confidence in the work, it’s the inability to trust one of the most basic senses most of us take for granted. Vision.
When I was six years old, I couldn’t see the chalk board.
That’s a lie. I could see it fine, but the kid behind me couldn’t and he had these awesome things on his face. Glasses. I wanted them. I asked how he got them. He said he told his Mom he couldn’t see the chalk board.
Sitting at the doctor’s office, he notices something wrong when he checks the back of my eye. The eye is pretty remarkable. It’s the only part of the nervous system visible without surgery. He recommends I see a specialist.
I was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy. It’s similar to Retinitis Pigmentosa. One in 100,000 people have it. In the DNA lottery, I lose.
Night blindness proceeds tunnel vision by years, sometimes decades. Color vision also takes a hit. Glare? Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem too. Adjustment from light to dark and dark to light? Check. Ironically, my visual acuity is pretty sharp. 20/30 with contact lenses. So the parts of the world I can see, I see well. Relatively well.
My brother? Yeah, he has it too. His vision was always better than mine until a few years ago. He now walks with a cane, goes to a school for the blind and is on disability. Watching his rapid vision loss was like looking into the future. If that is going to be me, hopefully not, but who knows at this point, but if that’s going to be me…well it was the proverbial kick in the ass.
However, when you can’t trust your own eyes, how do you make a movie?
If you can’t distinguish color very well, how do you know if you’re setting the right tone with your color choices in a scene?
If you can’t see in the dark, due to lack of light perception amongst your non-functioning rod photoreceptors, how do you make a dark and gritty crime drama?
Tripping over cables, placing your hand on the d.p.’s shoulder to guide you through the set, or having someone walk you to the bathroom in a dark bar you’re shooting in doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence in your cast and crew.
Welcome to the world of filmmaking with a visual impairment.
Now it’s not all that bad. Assuming the actual scene/set will be well lit, I’ll be able to see the setup just fine. It’s the subtle details I’m worried about. The nitpicky stuff that drives some moviegoers nuts. I’ll have my face firmly pressed against a monitor trying to devour everything in the shot. I’ll do my best not to miss anything, but the deck is somewhat stacked against me there.
During pre-production I’ll spend the vast majority of time pre-visualizing the film. Before we ever step foot on a set, I hope to have every shot planned out. I know some are against this, and I’m assuming we’ll stray off script from time to time, but with a visual impairment it’s probably best to get everything on paper or in a computer prior to yelling “Action!”
One of the tricky parts of having a visual impairment that isn’t so severe that it requires a cane is that there’s no clue to someone that something is wrong. I don’t wear glasses. I wear contacts. I see so much better with contacts in. The problem though is that there’s no indicator. So when someone waves and I don’t acknowledge or someone attempts to shake my hand and I might not see it at first or when you bump into someone crossing in front of you — you just seem like a jerk to them. You can say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” but they often don’t believe you.
Everyone I end up working with on this movie will obviously know about my impairment but hardly any of them will understand it, or understand how I see the world. On a business trip to New Jersey with some co-workers, my project manager Cristina said, “I wish I could see how you see.” I wish I could see how you all see if we’re in the wishing business. There’s so much that is still very sharp and clear and yet so much that isn’t. “Scanning” helps tremendously. My good friend who was a sniper in the Marine Corps mentioned it. It’s where you form figure 8’s with your eyes constantly. It helps. A lot. It’s how I easily navigate Union Station during rush hour.
A lot of people have talked about the courage this takes, or how inspired they are by someone with this disability going forward with their dreams. I don’t find it courageous. I’m not storming Omaha Beach here. And, in all honesty, I’m more concerned about being competent on set than worrying about my eyesight. It’s the thing that will keep me up at night. I suppose when you’ve lived with the threat of blindness your whole life, you learn to appreciate what you have and focus on things you can control — like writing the best script possible and being outgoing enough to command a set of talented filmmakers who have more experience than you do.
All that being said, my handicap doesn’t matter to a movie audience. Or, to put it more bluntly, a paying audience doesn’t give a shit about my problem. They want to watch a good movie. I’m not just making this movie because I want to know what it’s like to make a film based off something I wrote before I can’t. If I wanted to do that I could’ve tried to raise $5,000 and shot a short. In fact, I’ve had several people e-mail me through Kickstarter to lecture me on why raising $100,000 is a bad idea and how I should’ve made a series of shorts and not a feature. I have no interest in making a short. A short is a way of slowly building. Baby steps. Start off small and work your way up.
I don’t have that kind of time.
I want to make a fucking kick-ass movie. I want to make a movie that people quote from. I want to make a movie people watch and then say, “That’s something I want to do!” That’s what happened to me when I watched Reservoir Dogs. I saw that movie and while I never had a thought in my mind ever about writing or being creative, that movie alone planted the seed which made me download Movie Magic Screenwriter years later and type FADE IN for the first time.
So what am I getting at here?
Get over it.
Get over the fact that you may have been dealt a shitty hand. Get over the fact that you might trip over a cable or knock something down. Just don’t break the camera. Get over the fact that you might miss something on the monitor or you might not get the right shot or whatever. People with 20/20 vision fuck up enough as it is; you’re no different. By you I mean me.
I’m kind of going off on a rant here to myself.
If the Kickstarter succeeds, and if it all lines up and we make the movie and I’m happy with it and If luck is on my side, my vision will hold up long enough to go back to Cristina, my project manager, and tell her if she wanted to see how I see, to watch the movie I made before I lost my sight, not my vision.