My brain was consumed this week by shooting a short film, so I thought I’d reflect on how it feels to be the other side of that.
Films are real hard.
We spent four days last week shooting a short film that I was directing. It was gruelling and it twisted my stomach into knots. I barely slept and sometimes thought I was going to vomit (what a sook). At one point we had to evacuate due to a fire alarm and I thought the world was collapsing in on itself like a dying star and my right index finger started to twitch weirdly.
At the same time, it was elating and hilarious and more fun than I’ve ever had. Every morning I’d take the cast out into the quiet, grassy nook outside of the café we were shooting in, and get them to improvise squabbling fights between the two old friends they were playing. Once, they argued vehemently for five minutes about the merits of a band neither of them had seen, all the while feeling more and more like real people. I could have sat there and watched that kind of shit for hours. But then the movie would have been really fucked.
I used to get really stressed in pre-production when making a film. So much to do, seemingly not enough time. What if it doesn’t all happen? What if we can’t find the location or the props or the crew or the equipment? Then, I’d get to set, and it’d all be there. And so I’d just go go go, become consumed by speed and urgency, and the shoot would fly by and I would emerge the other side a grateful mess, stress purged by fire.
This time around, pre-production didn’t stress me. I’ve worked on enough films now that I know it always comes together in those last few days. It’s not my job to worry about it, so I didn’t worry about it. That was nice – a step in the right direction for the rest of my life, I think.
But then I got to set. Day one was a tough one, and suddenly it all closed in around me – the scale, the weight, the potential that had to be bottled – and I had to fight every day to keep my head in check. Clinging onto a kickboard in the middle of an ocean.
Maybe I just felt more pressure to get this one right. Maybe this one meant more to me. Maybe I felt I owed it to my friends who were helping me get it made to do my job well. Maybe because I hadn’t stressed previously, that anxiety had been slinking around the back of my brain, ready to pounce and dig in its claws at the most inopportune moment.
Maybe this one was just harder.
Filmmaking is both the best and worst part of my life. This I have slowly come to terms with. Sometimes, it seems like a terrible, terrible idea.
But for every time it seems like nothing more than a self-imposed hard labour sentence, something happens which makes you wonder: how? How am I doing this? How did I get to here? How can this be real? And then it’s all worth it. Every sleepless night and clump of beard hair twisted into erratic knots by overthinking is a cheap price to pay for magic.
There’s a significant point of action in the film (#nospoilers) that I’ve had sitting in my head in some sort of form for over two years. When we were on set, and there it was, happening in front of me, I swore a lot. In a good way. Like, ‘holy fuck. There it is.’ And damn, if that isn’t a good feeling. WHAT THE FUCK. THERE IT IS.
Then we got to the end, and this time the stress wasn’t purged by fire – or the heavy drinking or the partying or the dancing to pop-punk in the producer’s back room at 5am. It lingered around. I woke up from very little sleep and lay in bed and posted an overly emotional, rambling thankyou to social media (of which I meant every word), and then my brain tumbled over and over for days. Flitting images of things that could have gone wrong, things that could still go wrong, mistakes I knew I’d made, mistakes I hoped I hadn’t made. Losing grip on my kickboard.
So I shaved my beard. Haven’t done that for over six months. I shaved it off, and looked a younger man. To be honest, I’d been meaning to do it for weeks but hadn’t gotten around to it, what with all the making films and what not. I didn’t do it for some kind of transition, or to mark some kind of end point. I haven’t emerged a new being. But there it is. No beard. When I spill cereal now the milk just runs down my chin.
I just really want it to be good. And there’s nothing I can do about it now, except relax and sleep and go into the edit suite with a brain full of ideas. And some positive vibes, cause that’s a small room, and there’s only two of us in it.
The cinematographer sent me a couple of photos from set this morning, and I remembered that feeling again. What the fuck. There it is.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright Sam King.