First day of school … Set to base camp … Where’s all the backslapping … Everything Chris says is 25 percent bullshit … The actors are scared of me
The first day of shooting a film is nearly identical to the first day of school. Everyone’s nervous, but no one wants to show it. They wonder if they’ll get along, if the next several weeks will be a complete drag or the best time of their lives, if there are any hot girls/guys, if they’ll hook up with any of them, et cetera.
Or so I’m told. I’d never been on a movie set until this morning, when my wife dropped me off at the first day of shooting—or what they call in the film industry, Day 1 of Principal Photography—at 9 a.m.
Day one took place in Park Ridge, boyhood home of the movie’s screenwriter, Chris Storer, the director, Billy Federighi, and me, the blogger. Today, they shot the interior and exterior of Suzie’s home; Suzie is the female lead in Sin Bin. By most accounts it was an easy day, which is exactly what the director wanted.
The first thing they teach you at directing school is how to turn on the camera—zing!—the second thing is to start a movie shoot nice and easy. Easy breezy. Build up everyone’s confidence. Kind of like why the first levels of all video games are such a cinch. Don’t want to scare anyone off early.
By sheer coincidence, Suzie’s house is across the street from the screenwriter’s boyhood home. A location scout found the house. So, obviously this was a bit surreal for him.
“I haven’t been on this street in 15 years,” Chris told me through a plume of smoke. (Chris smokes a lot.) “Looking at the house I grew up in is bizarre.”
Billy, the director, grew up about a mile away from the shoot. He was too busy today to talk. But he was dressed in a suit—everyone else, beside the actors, was dressed in basically jeans and t-shirts—which is a trademark of his.
Although this is an independent movie, everything is very official. The crew members have walkie-talkies, which allow them to communicate constantly. Through the crackle of the walk talkies you hear conversations start with, “Set to base camp.” It feels like they’re climbing a mountain, and, in a way, everyone is.
Today base camp is actually a church in Park Ridge, one block away from the set, which is where the crew and talent—that’s the actors—assemble. White vans drive them to the set. When the actors arrive on set, the walkie talkies crackle, “Talent on set.” Like I said, it’s all very official.
On a movie set, a number of people are working very hard—hauling equipment, figuring out the lighting, fine-tuning the sound—while other people stand around and wait. There’s lots of waiting on a movie set until the director yells action. And when the director yelled action for the first time on Sin Bin—around 10:30 a.m.—the actress playing Suzie (Emily Meade) ran through the shot and climbed through a window. Once she was in the window, Billy, the director, yelled cut. It lasted about 30 seconds.
They shot this part three times. Each take looked good to me. After the third one, someone yelled, “It’s a wrap,” or something like that, and they moved on to the next shot. No one applauded. There was very little backslapping. In fact, I might have been the only one doing the backslapping. I thought there would be applause—and lots of backslapping. Then, for a while longer some people worked very hard, while several others stood around and waited for Billy to yell “action” again.
At 3:30, the cast and crew broke for lunch. It was delicious. I imagined lunch as boiled potatoes and cold cuts. This is an independent movie, after all. Instead, the spread included chicken, pork, stuffed red peppers, potato wedges, and a full salad bar. I made myself a plate and sat with Chris, Billy, and the actors, Meade and the film’s lead actor, Michael Seater, who are kids—like in their late teens or early 20s. I’m not sure—no one’s sure, really. I mean, someone knows, but I only asked a few people—the screenwriter, the director of photography, the Kraft services guy—and they all shrugged and said: “I dunno, 20 or 21.” I suppose I could have asked Seater and Meade, but that’s kind of rude, isn’t it?
What I did ask them is what the first day of shooting is like and they both agreed that it’s like the first day of school.
Then Chris told a story. When he was done, I informed the actors—who seemed quite taken by Chris—that about 40 percent of what he says is bullshit. Chris disagreed, and we debated this number for a minute or two until he made me agree that just 25 percent of what he says is bullshit.
Then Chris told the actors for the first time that I was a journalist—and they turned white. (I suppose they’re not used to being around one; journalists are awfully scarce these days.) Michael Seater was worried that he said something to me that might make him look bad. Which isn’t to say Michael is paranoid or overly concerned about his image—he’s a real nice kid, actually—it’s just that he’s afraid I’m going to portray him unfairly.
As for Chris, well, that 25 percent is still debatable.