Some might say that watching a movie get made is like watching a ballet, where everyone has their specialties and each is doing their own intricate part in to bringing some words on a page life. At first it seems like ordered chaos, but looking past the movements and choreography of each performer doing their job, from sound to craft services, from the PA to the actors in front of the camera, there’s a level of complexity that often may go unnoticed.
As an EP (executive producer) and de-factor PA (production assistant) on I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker, I realized after the first few days of actually shooting the movie that it’s more like a chess game. Where the Director and Editor, Clayton Cogswell, is the chess master, visualizing all of his moves in order to get all of the shots he needs in order to attain the ‘win’ of having the film he visualized when he first read the script. There’s only so much that can be done during pre-production and storyboarding. You can plan nearly everything before the first roll of film is shot, but the director and all of his supporting cast, must be able to improvise when the actual shoot begins. As was the case when filming House Harker. We never planned for there to be snow in the movie, but within a few days of filming, we were hit with massive polar vortexes which dropped feets of snow. If you pay attention to the movie (available on amazon), you can see some of the continuity issues we experienced.
Like a chess master, when hit with the unexpected, Clayton went through his bag of tricks and devised a new strategy to overcome these new obstacles. Tasking the team of writers and producers on set to rewrite parts of the film to include the new avalanche of snow. And due to the time and budget constraints, quickly came up with new shots in his head to make the final product work. The final product actually looks like it was written to be in filmed after a snow storm! To get this result, during many of these snow-filled shots, he would make sure to get the storyboarded version of the shot, but would see something that the rest of the production team couldn’t see. Much to our chagrin and freezing butts, he would want to take a different angle. This seemed impractical, and as an EP, time was money, but I along with the rest of the crew, trusted Clayton knew what he was doing. He never just took a shot at a different angle for the sake of it, watching him view setups with the Director of Photography, Max Margolin, you could see Clay envisioning the final product. How it would be cut into other scenes. What the flow of each scene would be. Like a chess master, calculating 20 moves ahead after each move, in order to assure the victory. It was like watching A Beautiful Mind.
Move after move, shot after shot, the feeling of not only victory, but that of something special was being made was palatable.
Check out what this chess master made and on the repeat watches look for some of the snow riddled scenes that seem to come and go. Even the greatest directors need to be able to improvise and work within their budget.