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Murphy’s Law: "Whatever can happen, will happen." This quote may never cross your mind when your production is underway. Because for this project, you have planned for everything. You checked the almanac to determine the best days to shoot outside scenes, you have hired a reputable crew to bring your vision to life, and you and your trusted casting director ensured your mains fit the characters that were carefully developed. You thought of everything, but if you have been on this planet over the past year… Coronavirus!
Nothing threw a monkey wrench in production plans like Covid-19. Filmmakers across the globe had to shut down productions, downsize their scope, and setup safety protocols for talent and crew.
But setbacks do not have to come on a pandemic scale to cause a major disruption to your planned project. In this blog, I will offer some tips to overcome setbacks during production based on actual events.
From Script Supervisor to Actor
I was the script supervisor and a producer on a proof-of-concept project. It was going to be a relatively easy two days. Until one of the actors did not show up. The writer/director looked at me. I had stepped in last minute or was cast for minor roles prior to this, but my happy (read comfortable) space is not in front of the camera. I was also dressed very casually with no makeup.
Now what? The show must go on… The writer/director had extra wardrobe for me to select from. And then I was off to hair and makeup! I was familiar with the script as script editor and supervisor. But I had to practice and throw myself into the character I would have to portray in multiple scenes over two days. I used time between other scenes, and producer/script supervisor duties to study. We were able to get it done without losing time.
No matter what your role is in a film, if you have access to the script, read it. It will enhance your experience and understanding of the story. And if there is an opportunity for you to stand in as an extra or as a scripted character, you can volunteer or accept the ask. This is added responsibility so do not slack on your original position.
When multiple groups are brought in to run one production, there are times when opinions differ. I was brought on to script supervise a nine-day film project. The writer was also the director and executive producer. He brought on a 1st and 2nd AD to stay in line with his vision. This was the first time I worked with this directorial team, but it was made clear early on that the director was not for the nonsense.
So, I made it a point to work closely with the AD’s to view each day’s sides and with the actors when they needed help with the script. The days were demanding with the first three averaging about 14 hours. We were about halfway into day 3, when the 1st AD had a medical issue. He said he was having issues with his heart which was related to stress. The DP was also an experienced director, so the day’s progress was not slowed down.
The following morning, I was working with the Unit Production Manager (UPM) assisting with getting sides printed but the printer was not working properly. I was also working with wardrobe to confirm what outfits were needed for the day. The 2nd AD arrived and I caught her up with the morning’s delays. She was not too happy with the delays and perceived lack of communication. She marched back into the production room and declared that she quit. I acknowledged her frustrations and attempted to walk her back. However, her mind was made up. To compound this, the 1st AD also did not return.
Now what? The show must go on… By this time, the director was comfortable with me as I was by his side in the village monitoring scenes. I believe if you can do, do. The DP doubled as AD, and I filled in working with the actors, wardrobe, and being more vocal on how scenes could be carried out. I even co-directed a pre-dawn scene.
I was exhausted at the end of the nine days. However, cast and crew became family, and we got it done. Sometimes people must drop off for you to be in a position to shine. Be a laser beam – bright and focused!
It is not easy to be adept at looking at words on a page and following instructions from a director to bring a character to life. Actors thrust themselves into a role, while masking who they are in real life. We do not know what our actors may be dealing with in their personal lives, but they are expected to show up and show out professionally to fully inhabit their given role.
I accepted the position of script supervisor on a project during the first wave of the Coronavirus pandemic. This project would be shot mostly outdoors, and we had several safety protocols in place.
There was one actor that struggled with his lines. It was whispered to me that he had a substance abuse problem but was given a chance due to a long history with the executive team. I stepped in and carefully reviewed the sides looking for ways to simplify his lines. We practiced and practiced and got the shots we needed. The following shoot day, the actor was back to shoot another scene. We practiced again and got the shots. However, we lost hours in the process and tried to play catchup. We were shooting the final scenes of the day around 11pm when we heard a loud wail.
We were outside in a heavily wooded area, so I thought it was an animal. But the second time I knew it originated from a human. One of the cast members ran from the direction of the screams. The director went to see what was going on. The director told the cast and crew that the actor who struggled with lines was high on an illegal substance - apparently taken on set out of view of others.
Now what? Does the show go on? Absolutely not. We wrapped for the night, and I left relieved that no one was hurt, aware that this could never happen again, and prayerful that the actor could get the help he needed. Sadly, just a few days later, he passed away in a tragic accident. Not only did the script have be adjusted, several cast and crew lost a longtime friend.
We now enforce dry sets to protect cast, crew, and protect film resources. Two things you can never get back when it's gone are time and people. However, sometimes you have to sacrifice time to take care of our people. When I ask, “Are you ok?” I want my cast and crew to feel empowered to speak openly and honestly.
What I know with making independent movies and living life is that something unexpected will always happen. After adversity, and after you scream, curse, cry, and reflect, now what? Now, it is time to regroup, learn the lesson, be grateful, and find the solution! Your setback may set you up for something even greater! Wishing greater for all of us!
If you would like to share your “now what” anecdote, feel free to comment.
Niki Frazier-Curry is Vice President of Kelektiv Media Group LLC (KMG), a minority/woman/veteran-owned company dedicated to producing quality original films that tackle provocative subjects. Niki serves as Producer, Script Editor, Script Supervisor, Writer, and Director. She is a forward-thinker who anticipates needs and implements solutions to ensure film projects are managed effectively. Film credits/projects include: Blade: Existence, winner Best Action Sequence award for the (2018 Urban Action Showcase and Expo), short films Mine This Christmas and Going Home; music videos Neva Had (Ay Rock, featuring Brian Angel), Tamar Braxton’s Love It and Prettiest Girl; features Black Slasher and Thanksgiving Roast, and miniseries pilot The Lyfe Jennings Story (pending release). She was a Semifinalist of Stage 32’s 6th Annual Short Film Contest for her Domestic Violence Film, Deserved (pending release).
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