5 Life Lessons I Learned Working On My First Feature Film

5 Lessons I LearnedWorking On My First Short Film

This past November I had the good fortune of working on my first feature film.

I snagged this mind-blowing gig after only being in Houston for three days. I served as the Script Supervisor and after two days on the film was asked to be the 1st Assistant Director.

As an emerging photographer, I had been dying to also become a filmmaker too, particularly a cinematographer.

I honestly had almost given up hope. I had left life get in the way. Allowed relationships to supersede my ambition.

Felt that I was too old.

But…

This film reignited my passion for filmmaking. I know that I can still do it.

After all I did originally major in media production in undergrad and pursue my MFA in Screenwriting. I am a total film nerd. I always study in OMG detail the cinematography of every web series/TVshow/movie I watch. Mother God has totally prepared me for this.

Giving myself permission to be a fledgling filmmaker was the first grateful lesson that I learned while working on this film.

And once that “aha” moment hit me, a slew of others did too.

But there were five pressing lessons that just SCREAMED share these that stand out to me.

So here goes:

Be Prepared for the Unprepared

One of the most critical elements of making a film is a concept called, continuity. In essence, it is the art and science of making sure that every scene has consistent prop placement.

Have you ever watched a movie and noticed that when the camera went in another angle, the coat that was on the couch seconds before from the last angle is no longer there but technically the film is still in the same scene?

Well, that means they had a continuity problem, no ummm major oversight, is more like it.

In life you have to stay consistent and prepared for the unprepared.

We almost had a major kerfuffle a few times when in one scene the day before we had lemons on the kitchen counter and the next day when we needed to film more scenes in the kitchen, our Production Assistant bought limes instead that morning (because the lemons had started to go bad).

This caused a major issue on set. We wasted time. Production was halted.

I had to go and buy lemons because our production assistant was not there that day. Even the size of the lemons was important. We had to get it right.

Continuity was not going to kick us in the derriere and embarrass the heck out of us. Film reviewers notice EVERYTHING.

Life is like that too.

Your haters AND fans notice EVERYTHING too.

So be prepared, to hush the naysayers and make your cheerleaders say “damn skippy” I think she’s dope because she’s got her sh** together.

Scheduling makes all the difference

Life doesn’t always flow. The sequence of events gets mixed up sometimes.

BUT that doesn’t mean that you can’t schedule as tightly as possible, especially when you’re diving into a major “this is going to put me on the map of all maps” magnitude of a project.

While filming, a solid director will have a daily call sheet sent to cast and crew the night before that provides the crew/cast call times for the next day (often at the crack of dawn) and the scenes that will be filmed that day.

As time went on during filming the director got more and more detailed with providing me the details of the scenes that needed to be shot that day.

He even included key beats and shots that were needed for each scene to me separately as his script supervisor and 1st assistant director.

This helped tremendously in my opinion with getting things done.

Films are not shot/filmed in chronological order of the story line of how the movie was written and surely not what the audience sees in the finished product, and this movie was no exception.

When you are tackling tall orders and the flow is coming each and every way but straight, the best thing you can do is schedule the heck out of all possible tasks that need to be checked off your list.

That way you will still feel like you are being productive, even if it looks like chaos on the surface. At least it will be organized chaos.

Use Your Voice

On film sets: scenes are debated, actors want to get adequate camera coverage, dialogue is sometimes just not stacking up and the list goes on.

These moments are prime time to add your two cents.

Yes, you may be a green script supervisor that has only written 9 and a 1/2 film scripts and have only worked on a couple of music videos, that’s no reason for you not to still SPEAK UP when problems need to be solved.

About 68% of me is an introvert, so speaking up is something that I have struggled with in my 36 years.

Often times I zap up solutions in my head when problems arise, but I have had a long history of keeping them to myself.

And where was that getting me in many situations when I could have been the winning quarterback?

Nowhere.

This film really pushed me to at least add to the conversation.

You don’t have to be the long-streak winning champ, Ken Jennings from Jeopardy, providing all of the right answers but you do need to in certain situations share your ideas, solutions, anecdotes, and logic.

Don’t stand mute, keeping your brilliance to yourself. That’s selfish actually. It screams, not “team player hungry enough” in work situations.

So words to the wise, SPEAK UP. Do so and watch your confidence soar and your status as a valuable member on a film set shoot through the roof.

There Really Is A Difference Between Acting & Reality

Actors perform. And when you really think about it, everyone is an actor.

When we are on jobs and even in relationships, we are acting.

Putting our best selves forward. Trying to win the hearts and minds of bosses, CEO’s, girlfriends, fiancés, your rich Uncle.

We think that by acting our way into their good graces we will be awarded all kinds of goodies. Like five figure bank balances, an engagement ring from Jared’s, free yoga for a lifetime, a seat at the cool table, a BMW, higher self-satisfaction, righteous cockiness, an inflated Instagram following.

But in real, real life, that’s not reality. We spend so much time acting and avoiding our real selves. So much so that you can find yourself questioning that fine line between what’s/who’s real and what and who is not, yourself included.

Towards the tail end of filming, one of the co-stars was growing to be quite frustrated with the interruptions that were happening on set during his scene (door bells, phones not being silenced, shit like that) and he kind of had a “moment” when his frustration blurred the lines between acting and how he really was feeling while holding a knife in his hand (it was a prop in the scene) and telling us he wasn’t afraid to use it if things didn’t start ironing out, and quickly at that.

Before I knew it though, he seemingly snapped out of that funk and went right back into the scene. He did later apologize for the outburst.

It was that moment that got me thinking about just how much we “act out” in life and neglect to keep it real. Even though in this case, I think he was keeping it real, he’s just a classically trained actor so he knows how to get away with such antics with finesse.

The rest of us however, are acting our way through real life and often times not succeeding. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Take a closer look at your life. Imagine a life where you can totally be you, the aspiring filmmaker with an endless supply of good ideas and the work ethic to back it up. Remember her always and live the life you envision.

You Have To Keep Going Until You Get It Right

On our third to last day of filming there was one shot that took us all the way to U in the alphabet.

Films are filmed like this:

Scene: # (the chronological number from the script)

Shot: A (shots always starts with A and go to Z or AA if you go beyond Z and so forth)

Take: 1 (takes always starts with 1 for obvious reasons)

This particular shot began to require so many camera angles (every time you move the camera to film a scene you go up the alphabet) that before we knew it we were on U. That’s 21 shots, not including takes.

That’s a ton of angles folks. But, we refused to settle until there were enough strong camera angles in the can. Granted, we had some good ones peppered in, shot U was by far the most solid shot.

Life deals us decks of cards like that. You may be in the thick of something and really want to call it a wrap, but you just simply can’t that easily.

You push. You go beyond the level that just an average person will go.

You become determined to keep going until you get it RIGHT.

That means that you scrap your entire Wix website right before hitting publish and decide to go with WordPress because it finally dawns on you that doing so will make your life that much easier in the end.

Or you may rewrite the first sentence in your novel 316 times but you do so until you get it right because you know that a weak first sentence will make a reader put your book in between their Farmer’s almanac and their high school year book on their book shelf, never to be pulled out again.

Let life push you.

Keep going.

Get it right.

My foray into official filmmaking was not just a crash course in feature films, it was a needed crash course in living life on my terms right now.

What do you think of my five? Do any of them fire you up or serve as a much needed reminder to get cracking on a building a career as a filmmaker? 

 

CJ Childress is the proud co-founder of Creative Outsiders and is currently obsessing over the cinematography of the hit WGN show, Underground while mapping out her next photography project. You can follow her on Instagram.