THOUGHTS

Adventures in Filmmaking

My first short film The Waves was a spontaneous impulse. I had joined film groups and worked on several short films as a production designer but they were not my sensibilities. I wrote The Wave and fell in love with it. It was an undertaking. I didn’t know what I was doing but I did. I met an aspiring producer/director who made me believe it was doable and beautiful and I dove into the work of making it. Casting actors, hiring a choreographer, finding a DP for the most part on my own and loving and stressing the process. Our first rehearsal I realized I miscast my lead and changed roles. It was mean to tell an actress I was going in another direction. My choreographer was amazing and I wasn’t truly fair to her in terms of providing footage for her portfolio later in post. My first day on set was fraught with anxiety and a lack of protocol. I picked a location with too much light and planned too little time for the shots I needed. My first DP did have a RED camera but not the experience or sensibilities I needed but somehow I got shots with some semblance of what was in my head and on my shot list. My deficit producer and champion for the film was sullen and listening to music with earbuds sitting in a corner, a heavy jealous presence. My water shot caused a massive clean up and time flew. The saving grace were my amazing performers, choreographer and PA Stacy. She was my rock and so together. Production Day One wrapped and I was devastated and happy. My now associate producer, the sullen one was critical in an ugly way and my DP fired. Shooting was a wonderful nightmare.

I found a new DP for my Beach Day Two and so love that I met John Painz. The weather postponed shooting many Saturdays but then it was a perfect day. We shot. I asked my friend Kim to come take picture but more for her love and support. The blue bikini, the pink blanket, the shots I wanted captured except my overhead crane shot and this was the true lesson of the day. I wanted a shot like Sexy Beast, full overhead beaming down shot but I didn’t have a permit or a producer to procure one, I thought I could cheat it but the rangers said no. My DP John tried to chat them up while my associate producer wandered around in a neon sweatshirt looking glum and criticizing me. I was thinking, thinking and then I saw the Jungle Gym. A fig rig over the side could approximate my shot right, right and in that moment I became a director.

Just like that. Shit will go wrong and crew may suck and actors may be miscast and the weather foul and the law not amenable but you find a way to get your shot, well the best facsimile until you have the budget to insist on perfection. Then you learn and edit and make an imperfect/perfect film that will get some shine and love at festivals. You see it and smile and love it. It is not the script you wrote verbatim because the script does not have real people and locations and liveness attached. It is your first film with painful lessons and great pride.

Lessons

A person may support your vision but not necessarily be good for you creatively.

Great equipment does not beget great artistry.

Casting is key.

It will be it’s own thing reminiscent to the visions in your head.

It will have an audience.

It will be lauded.

It will be criticized.

Produce and Edit yourself for the invaluable experience.

Don’t be daunted by the bigness of it.

Do it again.

Venise Stephenson

Director/Editor 101

I shot LEAVE in April and I still don’t have a final cut. A simple exercise, a psychological study has become a short film that can be interpreted in many ways. I fought to edit myself for four months but it was like a Rubik’s Cube.  I made the finally wise decision to get an editor. After a series of responses I choose Katie based on feature doc trailer she cut that I found interesting. Totally not an experimental fiction connection but she created a mood. When we met at my house and she watched my footage cold she understood and could see a cut. It resonated and the ideas between us made sense. Frankly I was done and ready for another interpretation. I’m creating my own little film school so this for me is director/editor collaboration 101 and its working. I’m learning. I got a rough cut that didn’t make me scream in horror but believe in the strange goodness of the film. I workshopped the cut with my film collective and got some really good notes to include with my reactions, suggestions and must haves. Now I wait for the changes and my editors eye on the next cut. The process continues.

I feel I should have shot a thousand films by now but maybe it’s not about quality or quantity but the minutia of the process, the conception of your story, the collaboration, exchange of ideas, the ambivalence in all phases and then the completion. Sounds like bullshit but really it’s true..

Venise Stephenson