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Guest Post: Sarah Kalnay-Watson on Short Filmmaking

I met Sarah and Charles at an Adrian Mead course in Edinburgh about two years ago and have been following “Song for the Dead’s” progress via Charles, who’s been messaging me on Facebook. It’s proved such a journey, I thought they had to share it with all Bang2writers too – it’s a real triumph of hope over experience, something I can relate to only too well after the issues we had in making Slash back in October. Enjoy…
I’ve always been told that being a film producer is a labour of love: there is not much thanks in it, which is why you need to love making movies – not just a little, but a whole lot! And my current project, ‘A Song for the Dead’ has been testing my will to make movies right from the start. ‘A Song for the Dead’ was supposed to be our honeymoon. We had decided that instead of spending the money we had saved over the last year from numerous house sitting jobs on a luxurious honeymoon, we would instead make a movie with it. I still ask myself at times why I chose this over going to the Bahamas.

The first incidence was brushed off as a coincidence. In a very early draft of the script, a drinking and driving accident was written in. The day after the scene was written I was hit by a drunk driver and rushed to hospital. I laughed it off with the writer (my husband) and said this was a good sign for the film, as most horror/thriller films that have these occurrences end up being hits.

If only I had kept my big mouth shut. The film gods were ready to throw everything they had at me, and trust me, I’m surprised that I never gave up.

It was the day after my wedding and less then a month to principal photography and my Director had just finished telling me that she was unable to do the shoot due to personal reasons. Anger surged through all of my body because of the situation I had been thrown into.

My next week was full of searching for a new Director that would agree to the shooting schedule already set up and most importantly, someone who shared the same creative vision that my husband and I had. Thank goodness Will Wallace was an executive producer on the project; he knew a few people that he thought might be interested in the gig. They were all very talented, but many had conflicting schedules and would not be available. Unfortunately, we didn’t find a Director quick enough to appease our Director of Photography, who told us the he would be passing on the project. So now we were down two members of the team and there were only two weeks to go until principal photography.

I literally sat there and cried. I was missing the two most important people on my production crew and all I wanted was to get this movie made. I couldn’t afford to change the date. I had already purchased all the plane tickets for my out of town cast and crew. I had already lined up equipment rental and most of all, my in-town crew was really excited about the project and I didn’t want to let them down. One of the things that we had going for us (but at the same time against us, in finding a Director and DOP) was that we were shooting this film at a remote cabin in the North of Canada, on a lake just outside of the city of Yellowknife. Everyone knew it was a logistical nightmare to shoot there – but if we could pull it off, it would be spectacular – something to truly be proud of.

I was finding it very hard, even with the help of our Executive Producer, to get replacements on such short notice. We were literally minutes away from calling the shoot off because of how much it was now going to cost us – as the only people that we could find that could possibly do the shoot were in the United States – and it is not cheap to fly here. Not to mention the added expense of food and accommodation, as there was no way that I was going to get the same deal I had made with my former Director and DOP.

I was really conflicted between letting down my cast and crew, my sanity and my wallet.

I talked it over with my husband. We both were devastated, but we knew we couldn’t do it. We said we would sleep on our decision to cancel the film and see how we felt in the morning.

When we both woke up the next morning, neither of us wanted to call it off. We would dive into our savings and put everything we had into the project, because we wanted so much to make this movie. Macaroni and cheese and hot dogs would now be our staple foods – we could no longer afford anything else.

Luck shined down on us that day as I opened up my inbox. Stephen Savage, who would be wrapping his feature, Legacy, the week before our shoot date, was happy with the terms we set out and most of all he loved the script. He said yes to being our director! Within the next two days, Scott Carrithers agreed to be our new DOP and we were very pleased with him coming up, especially since he had shot in the North of Canada before and would know what to expect. Things were looking up!

Our film was back on schedule and we were ready to get things started, I could not have been happier. Then we got the message back from our shippers that the equipment was going to cost us 11,000 dollars to ship up to Yellowknife! That was not in the budget, in fact it was almost the entire budget! Fortunately, one of our local shipping companies came to my rescue and gave me a price that I could live with. I figured that was the end of my problems. After all, they always say problems come in threes.

Not for this movie.

The night before the shooting was to start I got the news that my make-up artist was quitting. I checked with my back up artist, but she was out of town, so were all the others that the rest of the crew tried to get us in touch with.

There was only one thing left to do – I became the make-up artist too!

I spent next two nights researching make up techniques on the internet, from the basics to black eyes and busted noses. I would get up extra early, do my producing work then make my way to the local drug store and start shopping. I was beginning to get tired, very tired.

Other than being thrown in to make-up for my ‘dead girl’, the first day of shooting seemed to be going perfect – everyone was on time and the weather was working with us – and for a shoot that needs everyone to be taken to a location only accessible by boat – that was great!

I was half way through that first day when my AD came running into the cabin telling me that the boat was sinking.

My first reaction was that this was just a first day prank, but as it turns out, the speed boat being used for the shoot was sinking into the lake. But my crew being the wonderful and enthusiastic team that it was, jumped into the frigid September waters and began to bail the boat out, even Charles (my husband) and I were down on the dock helping get that boat out of the water.

The funny thing was, all that was going through my head as I held the hose, as my actor, Josh Emerson, who was insisting that he could help, was that the continuity would be ruined. Insurance would cover the sunken boat, but it wouldn’t stop continuity problems if Josh got wet!

Day two, three and four brought rain, which meant a re-write for the ending of the film, but we all pulled through and filming wrapped, I figured I was now in the clear.

But I wasn’t.

When the time came for me to send off one of the hard drives with the film footage on it down to Los Angeles for editing, we discovered that the master copy had crashed and wasn’t working. Not a problem, this is why we have back-ups. Too bad for me, the back-up crashed as well. Why couldn’t the odds work in my favour for the lottery instead? That would have saved me a lot of headaches. So, with the scrimping of a few more dollars from our savings – more macaroni and cheese for us – we were just able to afford the recovery. They told us that it was not 100% certain that we would be able to get our film back as there was electrical and mechanical failure on the drives.

The next few days were some of the longest in my life. Would all the troubles I got through be for nothing? Would I still have a film?

The film gods obviously decided that they had thrown enough at us and the data recovery people told us that they saved our movie – all files were recovered!

I have learned that, regardless of what is thrown at me on future projects, as long as I have faith in the script (as I did with this one), have a great and dedicated cast and crew and an unshakeable love for making films, that I can face any challenge.

‘A Song for the Dead’ is now in Post-Production, with a 2010 release… providing no other obstacles are thrown my way.
Thanks Sarah! Join the “Song For The Dead” fan page on Facebook.

Do you have a story that would make a great guest post? So far we’ve had filmmaking mayhem, notes on conferences, courses & seminars, strong-minded opinions on writing and more – even rescuing a duck!! Check out the guest posts and email me on Bang2write”at”aol”dot”com if you would like a moment on here.

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