LET’S JUST IMPROV IT
Movie Shoot – Day 6
Some people may wonder – why a Baby Shaman? Aren’t you misappropriating Native American culture? I don’t have a super PC answer, other than I’m half Hispanic, which is partly Native American. Maybe Quadroon or Octoroon native blood in there. And I wrote what fired up my imagination. It was fired up by a haunted-looking Mexican American boy with dark skin and green eyes that looked into other worlds; I met him on another project. He, of course, was not misappropriating anything, as he was obviously part Native American somewhere. And he was going to be my Baby Shaman.
Then over the year and a half that it took me to prepare my movie for production, I saw him change. The innocent quintessential Baby Shaman with green luminous eyes devolved into… a strung out boy-man with a patchy half beard who looked like he might be battling a meth addiction. He was Baby Shaman no more. I frantically searched for a replacement that had the essence of Baby Shaman-hood. And I found Baby S Girl, with the innocent quality of the green-eyed boy before he got strung out. She is now the quintessential Baby Shaman. Who’s to say what race you must be to be a Baby Shaman? She is more a symbolic metaphor for an innocent healing spirit rather than a real Shaman anyway. So Baby S Girl it is.
* * *
…This morning Baby S Girl woke up, wonderfully healed. The movie gods have heard and I am happy. But today will be just as cold as yesterday and definitely much longer.
My DP and I do some quick re-calibrating in the lull after breakfast, trying to cram in today’s scenes and those we missed yesterday. We scratch out one night scene, shorten a couple more, blend two others. We are ready to go.
The motto for today is go Zen. High-speed Zen. The scenes roll out one after the other. The mind meld is forward moving. No slowpoking around. Wish I could make that serendipity happen every time.
On to another scene, this one with no location yet. Time to yet again pull one out from the seat of our pants. And then we find it. The tree for the hanging necklace scene rises up out of nowhere on the edge of the rock mountain, its bare wintry branches spanning out like crooked fingers. A perfect bare gnarled little stunted tree. On the edge of nowhere with a dropoff behind it. Just as I had envisioned it when I first wrote my screenplay.
Lunch is delicious juicy lamb burgers. I am happy with how things are going, and that makes me hungry. It makes me, a mostly questionable, white-meat-but-other-than-that-non-meat eater, ravage my lamb burger, enjoy every juicy meat morsel. Mountain Lady’s dishes can do that. The guys emit little sounds as they gobble and lick fingers – like porpoises having orgasms. Well, it’s how I imagine porpoises having orgasms might sound. Baby S Girl and her mom, true vegetarians, opt out and go for a walk or eat their own Subway vegetarian sandwiches or something. If they tried this, they’d also go cannibal. The guys pounce on the extra burgers. I think this is their most orgasmic meal yet.
My DP and I take a walk, location hunting for another spot we must pull out from the seat of our pants. I had wanted to use some death defying rocks at the edge of Desert Earth Man’s property. The DP shakes her head. “It’s too far and we don’t have time to set up camp at a second location if we want to get all of this done today. We’ll find something here.”
OK, I pout. I had really wanted my death-defying rocks. We find some so-so rocks and boulders a good cardio workout of a trudge up a rock mountain. Not as perfectly death-defying as my rocks would have been. But workable with the right camera angles.
“OK?” she asks.
“”I guess.” I’m still moping over my death-defying rocks.
I am supposed to dangle from here with imminent death upon me while Baby S Girl helps me climb back up the rock. The giant boulders are treacherous and steeply pitched. There are only small level spots in between here and there where one can stand and hang out. So right now, there’s a lot of people and a lot of gear and cameras crunched into one small space. The DP mutters a complaint. She must tilt the camera at an extreme angle to get the shot, but it’s so cramped here, her camera keeps hitting a rock as she tilts and adjusts. She’ll figure it out. I pick a giant boulder to dangle from where I am only about a foot off the ground. You can’t tell from the camera’s angle. Still, some of the crew laugh. “That won’t look real.” The DP and I persist until we get something that looks kind of real. We think. In editing, it will look real. We think.
Late afternoon – Baby S Girl and I are rushing to learn our lines. This is one scene both of us forgot and didn’t learn. When you’re making your own movie, it’s easy to forget you haven’t learned some of the many scenes from an actor perspective. Just because you know them as a writer and director doesn’t mean you know them as an actor. And that’s what’s happening. Not only are we learning our lines and our motivations on the spot, we are running out of daylight. The DP says the whole thing has to be condensed, and we won’t get any cutaways or closeups. Just one straight shot as we walk down the mountain, with no uh’s or mistakes. Yeah…
Baby S Girl looks downright nervous. Right about now is the time for the Zen thing – just accept what you got and how you feel and what you know and what you don’t. And mostly, we don’t know this scene at all. So I say, “let’s just improv it”, which seems to increase Baby S Girl’s anxiety. “It’ll be fine,” I reassure her. “We know the beats. Just work off each other.” Well, there is no other choice. So we improv. We do leave out a couple of important chunks of dialogue, but in the long run, they turn out not to be so important. In Indie world, you make do and do it the best you can. OK, the DP says, you only get a couple of takes of this. The mountain light fades and goes into shadow. And she’s right. We get no closeups or cutaways. We have lost our light. And what we got will have to do.
A couple of short sunset scenes, then someone goes to get dinner so Mountain lady doesn’t freak out over her cold cuisine. It takes forever to light the night scene with the huge monolithic rocks in the background. The trusty generator keeps put-putting away, hammering out the mega wattage we need. The result is lovely for Baby S Girl’s yogi tree scene. I add different-colored sparklers to the tree, courtesy of the 99-Cent Store. It adds some pizzazz. But I don’t place them quite right, and none of them come out in the closeups. But I don’t know that yet. I won’t know that until later. I’m too cold to even look in the camera to check.
All right, let’s get this done quick. It’s sub-freezing out here. But quick we are not. The lighting’s not quite right and has to be adjusted. The lens aren’t right and have to be changed. That gel isn’t right and another one must be gotten from the car way up the hill. Wait, adjust that light again. No, move it over. Wait, move it back. To the left just a tad. Nah. Just put it back where it was. Meanwhile, my three parkas just aren’t cutting it. The wind whistles through them like they’re gossamer negligees.
Forget Siberia. We are in the North Pole. Baby S Girl is being a trooper. Not one complaint as she sits there shivering, not long recovered from her bout of sickness. We put a parka on her whenever we stop.
Her mother and the dog wait in their car with the heat turned up full blast, watching from a distance. In between setups, Baby S Girl goes in the car to warm up.
Finally, on the ten hour stroke of the clock, I let Baby S Girl go. I honor the ten hour rule as she is only 17. We finish her closeups and wrap her. She and her mother zoom off in their heat blasting car, while the rest of us hammer out my last few closeups, wondering if hell might really be a frozen windy tundra instead of a fire pit of flames under the earth. Wait, I don’t even believe in that stuff. I can’t be responsible for that I think right now. I’m hypothermic and close to hallucinating…