I’m still in the midst of being part of the IFP Narrative Labs this year. For those of you who are not familiar with the Labs, it’s an intensive year-long mentorship for first-time filmmakers who are through their rough cut and now onto the business of “finishing.” And they’ve been amazing mentors so far. And they’ve connected my team with so many bright people. But the process has gotten me thinking about how and why I started appreciating films and people who do this and what being a first-timer actually means. So as I’m sitting in color correct this week, I thought about this guy…
This guy is Jay Weisman and we grew up in Michigan together. We lived in identical Pulte homes five houses away. His was brown and mine was tan. And after school, I went to his place a lot because his mom had unlimited Doritos. Jay only watched Star Trek. So I crunched and crunched and I learned to like it. We got closer, I got heavier, and I would sit in his boy cave and he would shout out random shit everyday like, “Do you know that Gene Roddenberry was agnostic?” or “This is the famous Tribbles episode. They are the total precursor to Gremlins.” Sometimes he would just sigh and say something like, “Gorn was so cool,” and then he would throw up some sort of geek gang sign. This went on for years. I was never sure what was going on. Eventually, we moved on to Battlestar Galactica, which I also learned to like.
Okay, so here’s the point. It’s 20 years later and Jay and I are both coincidentally making our first features. His is called Shockwave Darkside. Of course, it’s in 3D. Of course it is OLD SCHOOL, HAND-MADE, SCI-FI in the best way. Mine is Concussion and it’s about a lesbian hooker in a mid-life crisis.
Anyway, Jay wrapped his shoot a few months before I started mine. And I was getting a little um, edgy one day and in a blind panic, I emailed him.
This was me reaching out to him on the last day of prep:
I’ve walked down the aisle. I’ve traveled. I’ve pushed out two kids. I’ve shot commercials with CEOs breathing down my neck. Why is this stupid thing giving me the runs?
And this is why I love him, ’cause after years apart, this is what he wrote back right away:
Yeah – it is pretty friggin’ scary.
You think it’s the dream come true, but when you have to re-write a six-page scene during a 20-minute lunch before you have to shoot it, it can be a wee bit nerve wracking.
But you can totally do it.
Two pieces of advice (if I may):
1. At some point your actors will hate you, your producers will hate you because you will be behind schedule (primarily because of your actors currently hating you), and your crew will think that you’re off your tree because you won’t give up on that close-up of her picking up the glass, which will require yet another setup (that you don’t have time for because, well, let’s face it, your actors and producers are hating you). That scenario is a given. It will happen. And when it does, you’re gonna feel like the worst director in the world. But you shouldn’t. You should remember two things. A) this email (if you can) and B). Page 172 – 187 of this book:
Why you may ask? Why must you drop what you’re doing right-frickin’-now and go to your nearest Barnes and Noble to read fifteen pages of Jay-brained geekitude? Here’s why:
While directing the famous “Han-Solo-Gets-Carbon-Frozen” scene, director Irvin Kershner was miked and recorded. Which means all of his conversations with his actors, ADs and FX guys were recorded. And it was amazingly hilarious. Carrie Fisher was pissed off at Harrison Ford, Boba Fett started stepping on Darth Vader’s cape, C-3PO wouldn’t work right. There was too much steam, there was too little steam, the stormtroopers helmets were fogging…. Now, I had similar problems so I could definitely relate, but what it does say, I think, is that directing is directing. Irvin Kershner had every tool at his disposal, he had actors and technicians at the top of his craft and loads of dough. To me this was very heartening because, It made me think, maybe that’s the job instead of maybe it’s my fault – which is a very subtle, but big distinction.
2. Every filmmaker is convinced at some point that they are making the biggest piece of shit in the history of cinema. I have heard Scorsese, Terry Gilliam, the Coen bros. & Darren Aronofsky say this in interviews. Aronofsky said he takes a bottle of vodka with him when he watches his first assembly (now why didn’t I think of that…?), and I understand why. You will hate your movie, you will hate yourself… and I wish somebody told me that, because those feelings will pass – you will work through all the problems and watch your film take on a life of its own, which is painful, but part of the deal. It’s like writing your script, but more so…
You’ll do great, Stacie. Let’s get drunk at a festival next year. Or at least have some salty snacks and watch HAL 9000 go nuts like we used to.
Okay, full disclosure…so that first day on set I went into the bathroom and cried and threw up.
But after that I felt Jay and Irvin Kershner with me like a force. If you’re shooting your first one or your tenth one soon, hope this helps you too.
By the way, did you know Irvin Kershner directed The Eyes of Laura Mars and Peyton Place? Sigh. He was so cool.
Stacie Passon is an NYC-based filmmaker who participated in the IFP Labs this year with her first film, Concussion.