Week six ended at 5 o’clock on a Saturday morning, and with it went all the usual stress of a film production in full swing. We still had a little bit more to go, but that little bit would fit into just two days, with a travel day in between. It felt like we were basically done.
And basically done we were! Monday was a long split with lots of shots in tight quarters (a motel room, which we realized halfway through is the one set which there’s no excuse to never build on a stage) and a higher page count than any previous day of production, but it was unburdened by the usual subconscious consideration of the days and weeks ahead. We wrapped at four in the morning, marking the official completion of production in Ohio. I went home and watched a rough assembly of a scene we’d shot a few weeks prior, and lo and behold it mostly worked and so the spirits I fell to sleep in were good, and remained so the next day when we drove up to Michigan, and were good still the morning after that, for that final wake-up, the last morning meditation, the one remaining drive to set. We got to prison at 7:30, got our first shot off by 9 and then just kept shooting. We shot, and shot and shot, for almost eighteen hours. Seven scenes, seven locations. By the end of it we all got a little loopy. I lost confidence in one scene and thought about scrapping it, but Joe Anderson figured out how to make it work. Everyone was a trooper.
It was almost 1am before we arrived at our martini. The set-up looked just like this, but with Robert Redford in place of Dutch, our beloved 1st AD.
We rolled the first take. It wasn’t great. We did a second. It was good. We went for a third, and the mechanism that made the prison cell doors open broke. A few minutes were spent trying to fix it before I decided that take two was fine and asked to check the gate. The gate was good, and the movie was wrapped. Anticlimax has never been so satisfying.
I’m doing best not to romanticize the end of things because it wasn’t really over – we’ll be getting together later this summer to get some pre-ordained pickups and anything else I decide we need between now and then. But for now it’s done, and it was great, and if this really is Redford’s final movie in front of the camera, we did our best to send him off well. I’ve made two movies with him now and am a luckier person and better storyteller for it.
A few of the things I learned on this film are:
- A little bit more about how to work with actors – a never-ending study that always reveals new dimensions, partially within the process but mostly in myself.
- How to let go a little bit more and not shoulder everyone else’s burdens. Everyone has creative challenges on movies, but I chose the people I chose because I trust them to handle them well.
- How to move on after take two. And sometimes takes one! But almost always by take three. If you get a good take and don’t know how to make it better, don’t ask for another one just because. But if you do, which you probably will, and it doesn’t get better, don’t do another one after that. Swap a lens or move on!
- How to watch the take unfolding before me with a clear focus and no presuppositions. This is a lot harder for me than it should be.
- That if you are going to be working with rain towers or in potentially inclement weather, invest in a good pair of waterproof pants (water proof, not water resistant). Worth their weight in rainwater that would otherwise be soaking through your jeans.
- That you should always and only work with a gang of folks who will leave you sincerely quoting Royal Tenenbaum: “I’m loving every minute with this damn crew.” I knew this already but it’s always good to be reminded of it
I drove home last Friday, down through the bluffs of Kentucky, across the Mississippi, under the Ozarks. As I crossed the state line back into Texas, I did a previously scheduled interview with American Cinematographer about A Ghost Story, which was just about as fitting a transition as I could have asked for. This past Monday, after unpacking, I watched the final DCP of that film at the Texas Theatre. It was the first time seeing the film since before Sundance – and I loved it! It was exactly what it should be. It looked and sounded better than ever.The only three things that bothered me:
- The credits, which used to be really short, are now really long – a last minute change due to various union stipulations and such. We all love our unions so no arguments there, but sorry to anyone who’s sitting through them. Hopefully they’re calm and meditative in lieu of being expeditious or aesthetically inventive.
- The accidental glimpse of a Nietzche book on a bookshelf. People are going to read way too much into that, but it was purely accidental, just one of many prop books gleaned from a second hand store, and its presence means nothing. When we were shooting that bookshelf scene, what I was really worried we’d see too much of a Garcia Marquez book, which is far more apropos – but it’s practically invisible.
- The whole movie felt too short!
Lastly: I saw Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion last night. It was phenomenal. The tintype time-lapse is already the best VFX sequence of the year. And there was one line I repeated to myself over and over after it was uttered so I wouldn’t forget it, because it has a whole lot to do with A Ghost Story.