February 28, 2015
Day 25 of 70
Today we shot the conclusion of a scene we covered the middle of on Day 3 (the beginning of it will be shot next week). The first two hours on set were spent waiting for the most glorious fog to dissipate in the morning light - it would have looked stunning on camera, but there's no way we could have matched it for the rest of the day. As it was, we started the day shooting in one direction with two actors, and then brought them back in the evening to get the reverse coverage, spinning them around from take to take to escape the rapidly advancing shadows. Geography on location runs fast and loose.
In addition to what we shot, the best thing about today was the practical joke we played on my wife, who suffers from a serious case of ophidiophobia and has thus been thrilled to traipse about a country that is entirely snake free - until she got to set today and was given a mandatory safety briefing by the on-set medic that casually included warnings of the rare species of poisonous serpent that had been discovered at this particular location. It was a flawless prank.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:35 PM
February 27, 2015
Day 24 of 70
Today we took a break from our remote location to shoot at an even more remote location, this one distant and treacherous enough that the equipment had to be helicoptered in. I've remarked in the past about how making this film doesn't feel all that different from the micro-budget indie movies we've made in the past - this, however, was an exception. Standing with your teammates on a rock in the middle of a river, watching a chopper lower a crate full of lighting gear, is a unique bonding experience and a pretty great way to kick off a day.
Photo credit belongs to Jade Healy.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:25 AM
February 26, 2015
Day 23 of 70
Grip truck at dawn.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:09 AM
February 25, 2015
Day 22 of 70
This hour-long drive home from location would be a really great time to delve into the pluses and minuses of choosing remote locations. It's all bold and adventurous when you're scouting, all early mornings and worn out evenings when you're actually shooting. Yesterday I fell asleep as soon as I got back to my hotel, woke up at 1:30 this morning, got out of bed at 3, was on the road by 4, at location a little after five, shooting around 6:45 and now I'm headed home a little more than twelve hours after starting. I think I might just look at the scenery.
Incidentally, today is six years since we wrapped St. Nick.
Posted by David Lowery at 11:59 PM
February 24, 2015
Day 21 of 70
Too tired too tired.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:19 AM
February 23, 2015
We've said our goodbyes to the Seatoun and Wellington and Stone Street Studios. Today was an official travel day, but almost everyone relocated up North over the weekend. Rotorua is a lovely city on the edge of a volcanic lake, where wisps of sulfuric steam waft from the earth and the air is redolent with the smell of rotten eggs (you grow to depend on it, I've found). I arrived last night. There was a notice in my hotel to make sure I closed all the windows, lest my room be overtaken by lake flies. I somehow missed the bathroom window, and so awoke this morning to find the floor and counter black with flies who'd come to roost. They were all dead.
I watched In The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness, Mami Sunada's documentary about Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. Bryce recommended it the other day. There was a Ghibli retrospective going on when I first got to Wellington back in November, and although I only caught two movies (the astonishing The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya and the classic My Neighbor Totoro), it was the perfect mindset in which to begin pre-production. That seems like ages ago now.
Today, under gray skies and gentle rain, we scouted our locations for the week ahead. We'll be shooting deep in logging territory, down roads we've explored many times since our first scout last July. It's strange to be there now, seeing the production signs and orange cones and trucks full of gear that were just on the lot in Wellington on Friday, now parked out in the middle of the woods. Construction on the [reacted] is coming along beautifully. If only the weather stays inclement through Thursday, only for the sun to finally break at dawn on Friday, we'll be in wonderful shape.
This evening we had a Maori blessing, to kick off our month of shooting here. We had one in Wellington too, and it's a beautiful ritual, a welcome acknowledgement of the culture we're participating in down here and, inadvertent or not, a reminder that we're all trying to make something really special.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:44 AM
February 20, 2015
Day 20 of 70
There's a particular mood on set when the end of a production is nigh which reaches its apex on the last day of the shoot, where a sense of fun and celebration seeps in between set-ups. Each shot brings you closer to wrapping, and spirits rise a little bit more with the end of each take. All around, trucks are being packed up, sets are being torn down. A sense of completion is everywhere.
This is the first time I've been on a movie where that feeling comes well before the production ends. It was there all day today, as we finished up our Wellington leg of the shoot. I can't believe we're all done here. After we wrapped, I packed up my desk, shredding old schedules and sketches and costume designs (I kept all my badly drawn storyboards for posterity's sake). Toby took down all the Morrissey posters that have thus far decorated the production offices of every movie we've made. This weekend we become mobile, decamping for the deeper forest in the upper regions of the North Island. We'll be on location for the next month, at which point I presume that culminative feeling will surface once more, to give us one last gust of wind in our sails before we head South for the final wintry weeks of production.
I need to look over the schedule and take stock of what's ahead of us. We shot so much in the past few weeks - and this past week especially - that I halfway feel like we've got most of the movie in the can already. I also need to take stock of some extra rations of oregano oil and echinacea and garlic pills, because we definitely don't have most of the movie in the can and I'm feeling intense and sudden pressure (from myself) to stay healthy. I'm trying to drink less coffee and more tea. Thus far this has meant drinking as much coffee as normal plus tea, but I might get the ratio right at some point.
Posted by David Lowery at 6:27 PM
February 19, 2015
Day 19 of 70
After four days on a stage filled with atmosphere, everyone's nostrils turn black and your mouth starts to feel fuzzy.
Last week I had a dream about a new piece of a scene and today we filmed it. First time any dream of mine's ever really paid off. At least in a tangible way. Although I did have a dream about a new script a few months ago which, should it ever emerge into anything more than a series of notes scrawled upon waking, might take the cake.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:02 AM
February 18, 2015
Day 18 of 70
I remember well from our last film walking onto these exquisite sets that Jade Healy and her team had built and realizing with dismay that we would only be shooting on them for a day or two at most. So many amazing details, so much love and care - surely we needed to spend more time in them! It seemed a terrible and unfair thing, until that day or two of shooting passed and it became clear that even if we'd had more time there wasn't much more we could do in those spaces. In two days, you can shoot in every direction and cover a set pretty thoroughly. We'd used them about as well as a movie could.
I felt that same old feeling on Monday as I walked onto the sets that had been going up around us for the past few months. They were things of beauty; Jade started laying the groundwork for them way back in September, and now we had a week to shoot them out. The disparity between what had gone into them and what we'd use them for seemed massive. But now it's Wednesday. We've been there for three days and those three days feel like three weeks. The first of those sets will start getting dismantled tomorrow, and though I'd happily have spent another fortnight shooting on it, it's not because I could do it any greater justice than we already did. The same will go for the one tomorrow, same with what we shoot on Friday. They'll all be in the dumpster in a month's time, having done what they were designed to do.
On the bookshelves on one of those sets, coincidentally, I found a copy of Of Human Bondage. I'm going to keep it as a souvenir, with a strip of wallpaper for a bookmark.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:16 AM
February 17, 2015
Day 17 of 70
Another telltale sign of being in production is when pasty wads of old sides show up in the lint drawer every time you do laundry.
I think we shot about 5 pages today, some of it hastily written on the back of scrap paper, as per my style. We ended the day with an amazing giggle fit. It was awesome for so many reasons.
Posted by David Lowery at 4:18 AM
February 16, 2015
Day 16B of 70
Last night I had a near recurrence of hypnagogic sleep disorder. I used to suffer from this quite regularly (and genuinely believed it to be supernatural until I learned what it was) but it's tapered off in the past ten years. Last night's phenomena wasn't full sleep paralysis, but the throbbing mantle of psychic sound which used to accompany such waking nightmares rose to deafening levels over and over, waking me but not quite waking me. I eventually shook it all off at 5:26, two minutes before my alarm went off. It left me with a residual crick in my neck.
Today was split between location and stage. Everything was great, but in particular the last scene of the evening was a true joy - a quiet, intimate scene that gave us a chance to use space and blocking in a way we haven't had much opportunity to just yet. It all comes down to taking a scene that at its heart is about two people talking in a room and gracefully making it feel like its not just two people talking in a room without going so out of your way that the audience catches you trying to make two people talking in a room talking feel like something more than it actually is. I think we did pretty good today.
Posted by David Lowery at 3:36 AM
February 15, 2015
Day 16A of 70
It's technically the weekend, but today was a second unit day that sort of became a first unit day. We were back at our location from Day 2, where we picked up a few inserts we’d run out of time for originally. Then we moved on to a bunch of other scenes that, though brief, were awesome and all pretty hilarious (including an homage to a moment from Inherent Vice that’s not actually in the final cut of that film). I will not describe any of then, but I will say that it was a luxury and a pleasure to focus on little things, to fine tune the details and make them really sing before we return to big scenes tomorrow. It was also interesting to be back in a world of rigid geometry and artificial light. An aesthetic rejuvenation before we go back to pointing into bushes first thing tomorrow morning!
And by first thing I really mean first thing. I decided to save two hours of commuting - home tonight and back to set tomorrow - and get a hotel ten minutes from location. The hotel is actually a motor lodge on an unlit road in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It is lovely and quaint and gives me major Motel Hell vibes in the coziest manner possible.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:53 AM
February 13, 2015
Day 15 of 70
A clear sign of professional maturity: when you're no longer overcome with the spontaneous urge to giggle during the 30 seconds of room tone at the end of the day.
Posted by David Lowery at 8:39 AM
February 12, 2015
Day 14 of 70
Yesterday I could see my own breath in the air and wore two coats to ward of the cold. Today was so hot - in a flat bright completely still sort of way that seemed more brutal than even the Texas summer - that I thought I might pass out on the spot. I angrily drank as much fluid as I could, took an Advil in anticipation of a sunshine-related headache, and figured out ways to stage the day's work in the shade. Summer's on its way out here in New Zealand; we'll be dealing with snow before we wrap.
Posted by David Lowery at 5:10 AM
February 11, 2015
Day 13 of 70
We have more or less spent the past two weeks in the company of one kid, sometimes two. Today a bunch of grown-ups crashed the party, and framing a shot where over ten or so different adults needed to have something to do in the same shot at the same time threw me for a temporary loop. I wish I could direct a shot one third of the frame at a time. Maybe it's possible? You might cover up the frame incrementally and just focus on exactly one portion of the composition at a time and once finished look at the whole thing at once and adjust accordingly. This might be a terrible idea. I will never have time to find out.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:42 AM
February 10, 2015
Day 12 of 70
I am covered in the bites of a thousand gad flies, but I am happy.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:37 AM
February 9, 2015
Day 11 of 70
Our partner in crime James M. Johnston flew in from Texas to visit the set; unfortunately, he landed on Wiatangi Day, which is the Kiwi equivalent of the 4th of July, and so there was no set to visit. We had ourselves a three day weekend, which in retrospect I think I mostly spent in bed. I watched four movies. I'm really trying to watch things this time around; maybe it's not a good idea, but who knows. On the last one, I think I saw like three movies the entire shoot, and it was just distressing. I try to stick to things that are completely different from what we're doing; there are little bits of inspiration everywhere (which is how we found touchstones in everything from Enter The Void to Antichrist to Ivan's Childhood - they're all in there somewhere).
One movie I watched this weekend was Norman Jewison's Moonstruck. I'd seen it three times before, all on a single night, when I was sixteen and had checked the movie out of the library. I loved it so much that I rewound it and watched it twice more in one sitting - and then I never saw it again until now. I loved it still, though differently. I wish there had been some intermediate viewing to bridge that ever widening gulf between then and now, but alas, there was no getting around the fact that I'd last seen it a literal lifetime ago. I felt very old heading to set this morning.
Today we were back in the woods at Battle Hill, shooting a sequence that I'd planned out very carefully last summer and had no interest in altering. It was two shots, with a very precise cut point, and a camera move that required counting out loud to get the timing right. We got it exactly as I'd intended. I cut it together there on set and it worked fine and so we we moved on to the next shot, which I'd also planned out somewhat extensively. It was designed to be a long, long shot, and we'd given ourselves the rest of the day to nail it.
Two takes in and it was clear that nailing it wasn't really an option - that one shot needed to be two, and by the end of the day it became four, and those four when cut together will work far better and with far more grace than whatever strained result the original plan might have yielded. I made quick work of letting go; basically, the movie called me out for trying to get too fancy.
Now for your enjoyment: some nondescript images.
Posted by David Lowery at 2:34 AM
February 5, 2015
Day 10 of 70
Today was awesome, full of exuberant childhood adventure. Calvin and Hobbes stuff, with a touch of The Black Stallion. We were back in the woods, which lifted everyone's already indomitable spirits after three days on the backlot. The light was beautiful, there were ancient trees wafting in the breeze and everything worked just right.
The scene we were shooting involved the dragon - cast member # 20 on the call sheet - who at this point in principal photography is still something of a learning curve. We might set up a shot and think it looks amazing but then realize that we're not leaving room for the creature that will be running through the other side. We have a big head on a stick, and we have a life size inflatable dragon for reference, but nine times out of ten it's that old trick of accommodating for something that's not there. Our Weta team is on set helping us figure things out, and I always keep in mind something David Fincher said in regards to Benjamin Button, about how as soon as you treat your special effect like it costs sixty grand per shot, it stops being special and starts calling attention to itself. The way to make it work is to bury it in the frame and let it go out of focus. It still costs the same, but it ceases to be precious and therefore feels more real.
It's sometimes hard to bury something this gigantic in the frame, but luckily this movie takes place in a pretty big backyard.
We finished the day by shooting a surreal little scene in a red tent. I must have eaten something disagreeable and thought I was going to throw up the entire time. In an attempt to mask my discomfort, I think I had us shoot more takes than were actually necessary.
Upon wrapping, I checked my phone and saw that I'd received the following e-mail from a concerned moviegoer:
While I appreciate the friendly pointers, I regret to inform this viewer that not only is my mustache long gone and likely never to return, but that I wish I'd cut out of even more interesting moments in the movie than I already did. It's not boring enough!
Posted by David Lowery at 4:53 PM
February 4, 2015
Day 9 of 70
Today, a paean to two invaluable assets on our set.
First: to those crew folk who have somehow risen above the need to pee, I offer a warm salute. Be you the cameramen wedged into tight spaces for entire scenes or the ADs who never take leave of their set or the grips stationed atop a crane for half a day, I am deeply impressed by and forever grateful for the strength and fortitude of your bladders.
Second: to the actors who perform opposite the four-year-olds I consistently cast in my films, thank you for co-directing the scenes with me. At the end of the day, no one's ever going to get the performance out of these little tykes quite so well whoever is holding court opposite them. Will Oldham proved this when we made Pioneer, as did Rooney Mara on Ain't Them Bodies Saints. Today, two fantastic actors did the lion's share of the work in creating a scene with the best little boy you could ever open a movie with. My hat's off to them both.
Speaking of four-year-olds and Ain't Them Bodies Saints, here is Cake Jail, out favorite outtake from that film. I think we shot Pete's Dragon's equivalent today. It will be called Hunting For Alligators.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:10 AM
February 3, 2015
Day 8 of 70
You write all these scenes and each one builds upon the next in a very specific way. Then you start to conceive of how you'll shoot them and figure out how individual shots will highlight that crescendo and visually underline the emotions you put on the page. And then one day you're on set, an hour away from lunch and you're about to shoot one of those shots - a very specific one which will be the culmination of 90 minutes of emotion you have absolutely not filmed yet. Your head spins and you feel like you don't have a grasp on what it is you're doing, and so you think about the shot, and break it down into mechanics - the camera starts out here, for starters, and winds up there, and maybe if you shoot at 33 frames per second it will give you a little bit more of that feeling you're looking for, and if you move a second fan over here you'll get the wind to move that lock of hair just so as the camera passes betwixt its marks. You create this very mathematical context and then you throw an actor into it and all they have to do is turn their head just so and think the right thoughts and you roll the camera and an entire imagined history suddenly reaches its apex right there in front of you. And from that point forward, you're working backwards just as much as you are forwards.
Sometimes it works that way.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:55 AM
February 2, 2015
Day 7 of 70
The old adage about how the hardest part of directing is getting out of the car in the morning is never truer than on a Monday, when a weekend's worth of anticipation that you didn't even know was building settles like a rock in your stomach as you make your way to set. Then you point a camera at something and it eases away into nothing, and before you know it another day is down.
Gray skies and heavy winds this morning as we set up shop for three days on our greenscreen backlot. We plunged ahead with our scheduled shooting in spite of the threat of rain. We had to take cover twice, which lead to a pleasant, lallygagging sense of togetherness as everyone huddled under tents and oversized raincoats and made their way to and fro through the horizontal downpour.
In the rearview mirror: this past weekend I saw two movies, both from various Ain't Them Bodies Saints brethren. First was Selma, which was that rare film whose importance reaches far beyond its estimable cinematic qualities - that rare film which literally everyone should see. Then I saw The Witch, which just premiered at Sundance and deservedly won the Best Director prize. It's a flawless horror film, and proved an inspiring jolt to the system. I will carry it with me into this week's shooting, especially once we get back to the woods.
I also shaved my legs, so that my wife and I could see who's skin was paler. I won. Then we jumped off the wharf as a storm rolled in.
Posted by David Lowery at 1:45 AM