I arrived at the New Jersey Film School a little after ten in the morning.
This was it.
All the rewrites, planning, and casting would come down to the next ten hours to create a four minute short worthy enough to submit to festivals, and to use as a calling card, and to show off with pride.
I sighed. Not because I didn’t trust Chris Messineo, his student crew, the actresses and the special effects makeup artist, I just wanted to get to the finish line. When writing, I can work at my own frenetic pace, or I can meet someone else’s deadline with relative ease. But filmmaking is a different animal. Collaboration, out of necessity due to specialty, meant mistakes could happen and delays could loom large. Plus, I know that every time I watch a movie, even a piece of garbage, I am witnessing a miracle. To make a movie takes time, money, and the passion and commitment of many people – sometimes hundreds. And that’s why I really sighed, because I knew we were all going to pull off a small miracle of our own – and that was one amazing feeling.
Chris and company were already there, and after some quick hellos we got to work on building the set.
Soon after, Paul J. Mason, the special effects make-up artist, came on set. Built like a tight-end, and all in black with a long white ponytail trailing behind him, the man was kind and as patient as a sage. You can find his work in such horrors as THE ASCENSION (2011), PLAGUE TOWN (2008) and THE SICKNESS (2008), as well as in the original “The Walking Dead” trailer. Additionally, his renowned prosthetics work appears in “30 Rock”, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and the comedy BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN (2009). Paul established his station outside the set, played music, and painted Shannon Kelly to the point where she looked like she had been dragged behind my car, while Ella West took on the appearance of a surreal creature we’d ultimately hate to face in a dark alley.
Shannon is something special. During auditions, she read the part of Marissa as if we had discussed the character well in advance. As she continued to read, Shannon embraced the role to the point where she had lost herself. Ella did the same for Claudia, bringing a level of confidence I had hoped for to the character, as well as a sultry element that sold the role in ways I had not imagined. Her voice alone is enough to bring chills to demon and angel alike. We also knew from auditions that both actresses would be a pleasure to work with, which they proved the moment they entered the building. They both got right into character and created an excellent chemistry on film that only enhanced the story. Fervent professionals and models of proficiency, they moved forward, hour after hour, compressing full blown energy into their roles even some eights hours into shooting. As for all those hours of makeup, they sat like statues. If they were tired, they never showed it. Yes, they had told me they had fun, as we all did, but their spirit and drive helped keep the rest of us going from the tumult and emotion they brought to their characters right to the very end.
While the actresses seemed happy and comfortable, we were all on our toes and the yawns we sometimes squelched may have been from stress. Not wanting to “screw up” can be such a driving force. Ella and Shannon were so damn exceptional, and Paul’s artistry so brilliant, we all wanted to deliver on the promise of creating a quality based short. Then again, Chris and crewmembers would come up and ask me if I liked how things were going. Of course I did. Chris Messineo had brought together an excellent crew of young professionals who all wanted to shine. Rolando’s lighting and camera assistance was spot-on, script supervisor Keisha paid attention to detail for continuities sake, Kelly played assistant director with a calm subtlety, demure Ganesh worked sound like a stealthy ninja, and Randy hauled the camera about with a keen eye. Additionally, Mark weaved himself in an around the production for his behind the scenes reel like a secret operative. I did my best to capture candids, along with the atmosphere that enveloped the story – as well as a few fun stills.
At one point, we were a bit over two-hours behind our shooting schedule, but delays are inevitable for one reason or another. Chris and company made up the time with crafty schedule changes or the obliteration of particular shots deemed superfluous. Again, thanks to the diligent and perfectionist work of Ella, Shannon and Paul, we made up the time in short order.
But what of director Bill Shimp? I had told my girlfriend that he must be a chess player because of the way he thinks about every move – and he is a chess player, though he admitted that he takes too long when it comes to competitive play. No problem. He can be your next master detective to solve even the most seemingly perfect crime. Bill worked with actresses and crew in the most unobtrusive manner, clearly respecting their skills, abilities and knowledge. Thanks to his calm demeanor, everyone worked together like the well-oiled machine you hear about but never see. Bill, ever the humble and thoughtful man, came up to me and said, “So, what do you think of your movie?” My response was simple: “It’s our movie now,” meaning every participant, and Bill’s smile confirmed the almost egalitarian essence of the project. As for the movie, I loved what I saw on the monitor with every take.
Trivia: The biggest problem of the day? Blood. Theatrical blood that continued to drip like a perpetual flow of red magma. And if that was our biggest dilemma, we were surely blessed.
We wrapped at 10:30 PM. Then we broke down the set and broke for home.
I had an hour’s drive, but knew I could travel for days due to the adrenaline that kept on pumping. After all, that miracle of a movie was finally coming together. Once editing is complete, along with the addition of music, color and sound effects, we hope to have something solid to send out to festivals. And I certainly hope others will feel proud enough to use this as their calling card for other ventures.
As I finished my shower and hit the sheets, I was grateful for the experience, and certainly hoped to work with that crew in the future.
We’ll see where this little miracle takes us…