“Can you find my thumb?” Nancy MacLaren asked me.
Nancy — one of the actors in a short film called The New Big Shot being shot in Portland, Oregon — was referring to the red, stick-on fingernail she’d dropped in the dark.
The international competition invites filmmakers to create the best four-minute film they can in 24 hours. The winners take home some money and camera equipment but I was there for another reason — to get outside my writer box. I wanted to find out how cinematographers, directors, and actors work.
During the film shoot I functioned as an associate producer because I chipped in the grand sum of $13 as part of the contest entry free. It was the first film shoot I’d taken part in. In addition to me, the crew included:
- Aaron Nelson (cinematographer, editor)
- Rosalind Malin (producer/writer/director)
- Mark Lysgaard (writer/director/actor)
- Audi Bixel (assistant director)
- John Gamboa (actor)
- Colin Keating (actor)
- Peter Field (actor)
- Diane Kay (actor)
- Mitch Rofsky (actor)
- Nancy MacLaren (actor)
- CT Pantugo (art department)
- Margo Logan (associate producer)
- Alarie Lopez (boom boy)
Earlier that evening, before Nancy lost her thumbnail, she and I and the rest of the crew spent two hours deciding what script to use. The contest rules required that we include three elements: a prop (egg), theme (time travel) and action (crumpling of paper). We considered several scripts. One included a chicken in a cage. Another required two boats. We settled on a story about two thugs-in-training who take part in a reality show.
We then met at the Island Café where the filming was to take place. Sean McMurray, the owner of the restaurant, hung around to watch the shoot.
On the way to the Island Café, I got lost. What can I say? It was a dark and rainy night and I was alone and had never been to the location before. Fortunately, Margo had given me her phone number so I could call for directions. When I arrived on site, the restaurant staff was closing up for the night. They were nice enough to set some coffee out for us and make sandwiches for some of the crew. Then, for a couple of hours, nothing appeared to be happening.
“This is typical,” Roz told me.
Later I learned that Aaron and Audi were using that time to go over the script and determine each shot. Meanwhile, the actors practiced their lines and CT applied makeup. I gathered signatures on contracts, helped Diane remove glue from her hair, moved lights, and located electrical outlets.
At 11 p.m., the shooting began.
“Lights, camera, action!” Mark shouted.
“Bring attitude!” Roz insisted.
The actors impressed me with their ability to instantly be in character, over and over again. At one point Aaron briefly halted the shooting while Sean figured out how to turn off the smoothie machine, which had started creating a lot of noise. More than once I was politely asked to “get out of the shot.”
“Make sure you’re standing under the boom before you say your line,” Aaron told Diane, who played a waitress and good humouredly accepted her new names of Doll Face and Toots.
Eventually, I did find Nancy’s red stick-on nail. It had somehow ended up on top of the bar. The hours passed. It wasn’t until 4 a.m. that the shoot wrapped up. By then I was getting a bit dingy. As a result of my low blood sugar and the fact that my bedtime had come and gone, I called at least one person by the wrong name and, when asked to carry some supplies back to a car, said I would and then left the bags on the floor.
Blearily driving home in the dark, I felt fortunate that it was Aaron who would be editing the film. I could sleep in the next day and reflect on the experience.
Shooting a film, even a short film I had learned, requires a lot more than a script. It also requires stick-on fingernails, baby wipes (for cleaning make-up brushes), hair spray, fake blood, fake guns, long hours, teamwork, and patience.
View The New Big Shot here.