It’s a bright and sunny day as I head off to take part in a film production. I am committed to doing my part, whatever that might be. The Director is a highly driven individual. That’s how they should be, isn’t it? But, how would I know? I know nothing about making a film. I agreed to stay committed to this project for three weeks. 21 days. I was out of work and had nothing happening that could not wait for three weeks. The time was available to me plus it was exciting, and I would not be sitting at a desk, so why not?
I have known the Director for 12 months and discussed filmmaking with him many times. I was surprised when he phoned and asked for my help. He said he needed my skills. He said I would add value to the project. I knew he was playing on my ego, and I loved that. It was not a paid role, but my out-of-pocket expenses would be covered and accommodation and food were provided. Plus my name would appear in the credits of the film for whatever role I ended up doing. Besides, I wanted to prove to myself that I could commit to something. I would be at University soon, which needs commitment. Was this, a mini test for me? Who knows why, but I said “Yes!”
A few weeks before shooting the film, the main actor, who I know personally, phoned me to say he was doing auditions for a popular TV Production; he was on his second round. He was getting worried that if he got offered a role in that show the timing would clash. In short, he would not be able to do what I will call “our” production. We were thrilled for him to have such an opportunity on a big production. For him, it would mean regular income in the industry of his choice. It was a leading role. That’s hugely exciting for him.
Where did this leave “us”? We had about 10 to 12 key people in place to give us their time and effort. It looked likely that our leading man was not going to be available. We had no other option but to cancel, even though we wanted to keep it available. The Director told the other key members and some pulled out right away. Can’t say I blame them. They had other things to do.
So before we even started this venture we had this ball bouncing, a hiccup, to worry about. Will we get the main actor we want or no main actor at all? This was just the first hiccup as I was soon to discover. Once uncertainty becomes a player, some things bounce right out of control. The Director stopped all the planning. He became so focused on whether it would go ahead or not, that nothing else mattered to him.
Being forever the optimist, I was saying that we should just wait and see what happens. Of course, I had no real idea of the work needed in the pre-production stage. I was working full-time right up to the moment of picking the actors up from the Airport. What did I know right?
I couldn’t believe how busy I was already – before my first day! My commitment was to the three weeks on-site. I did not have the time to get involved in it until I got there. I was working in a full-time position and a second job. I told the Director that. But even a driven Director can only do so much by himself. He would phone me and try to upload to me. By “upload”, I mean he wanted me to know things that I needed to do, or do things now which I had no time to do. Then the Director would tell me my only job was to remain “calm”, but it would stress me to know there was so much still to do. That didn’t work for me. For me to be calm, I had to drop all the hot potatoes. So I refused the upload so I could remain calm, so I could continue working two other jobs. I was getting a glimpse that it may take some adjustment on my part to remain calm and be “uploaded” at the same time. I had to ease into this; it was not natural to me to be calm with so much to do. I did not want hot potatoes to juggle, my hands were burning from them, and besides that, it made my head hurt. This should have told me something, shouldn’t it?
From day one, it was clear that I had significant catch up to do. Perhaps I should have taken the “upload” of this weeks, months or even years before now to prepare myself. I should have known that my “upload” was urgently required when I first rejected it.
I suddenly felt enormous compassion for the driven Director. The poor man had such a lot on his plate. Suddenly he had to try to work with people he had largely never met, to create what was rolling around in his head for years, his dream, his film.
Somehow he had managed to find another camera person, another sound person and another lighting person all within a few days. A few of the original crew could come on board for shorter times during the 21 days.
Day two allowed no time for any catch up. I had five people to consider that day with three more expected in a few more days. Not only did I need to remain “calm” and get them to where they needed to be on time, but I also needed to get food and supplies into the house. Then I had to think about what else they and the house needed. I had to check the house, for any pre existing damage. We were responsible for any damage and breakages. I had to consider the owner of the house and consider the emotional needs of five truly individual people, four of which I had only met the day before.
As the information overload uploaded in my brain, I was thrilled I was coping. I was remembering all sorts of things that I thought were impossible without all sorts of lists. I had three people who ate only healthy food, one who ate chocolate and one who provided me with a list of her specific needs as she had allergies, so a lot to think about. I only found out about the allergies when talking to her on the telephone a few days before and I did express concerns then.
This film was not worth the health of any individual, at any level. I was not going to have the luxury of time to care for anyone with specific needs. My commitment was to making a film. While her allergies were a problem, her skills were valued and she definitely brought something to the mix. Could it work? This was one of the first questions I asked myself.
This film was a project for the expression of art. We were all meant to learn something and out of the hot potato ash was the hope that with hard work, we could produce something engaging and enjoyable to watch. Tell a story on a screen. A chance to dance in the light of the some success. On day two, after too many hours filming as the sun was setting, I was asked to get coffee for everyone. I impressed myself by asking who wanted what without a list. When I got to the girl with the allergies and asked if she wanted a coffee she said, “Haven’t you read the list? I cannot have coffee.”
Hmm, no, I had not had time to read the list. Nor did I see when I might find that time either. Tomorrow’s shooting schedule still had to be checked and printed off for everyone. They wanted that too. All of them, including me.
As multi-skilled as all women are, this one (me) could only physically do one thing at a time. I felt my head at one stage that day was going to self-destruct with the “upload” of what it needed to remember. Trying to hold a conversation on that second day was difficult. To listen, I had to stop thinking about all the current “requests”, to hear more “requests”. I wondered, briefly, about remembering my own name, should someone ask me. I felt something was going to fall out of my brain. I saw the Faulty Towers scene run before my eyes where John Cleese pretends to pick up something and then asks “Is this a piece of your brain?”
The luxury to give any one thing my full attention was gone. I needed to do so much to get up to speed. I was starting to go to the happy place of being numb and being numb right now would not help, nor was it an option the Director had allowed.
On day three having received the morning upload, I was a long way from the requisite calm. The girl with the allergies then yelled at me because I was talking too much. She recognized that I was not “calm” so she yelled at me to “SHUT UP!” Sadly for both of us, she was driving a car and I was a passenger that morning. She stopped the car to give her full attention to yelling at me … right in the middle of the main road. God helps us all! I needed to be calm. So much so that I was ready to jump out of my own skin and run for 20 kilometres … in any direction, as long as it was away.
Making it back to the house it was time to collect the two actors whilst doing my best to remain calm. I said to the two actors, “Okay let’s go, then we have to be at rehearsals.” We needed to shoot a non-speaking part in a dinghy that afternoon, with rehearsals for another shoot before the dinghy was scheduled. It was midday by now. The two main actors had the morning off to sleep in, to look good and to do what actors do. It should have been an easy day, after the preceding two long ones. The young actors took one look at me and asked, “Are you alright?” I answered, “Yeah. Come on, let’s get in the car.” They said, “No.”
They wanted to talk. The main actor was not happy. He demanded a meeting; immediately. So much for shooting any film that day. Apparently they all wanted something better. Oh my God, so did I! But at my age I knew this was just what I had to work with. My magic hat had been tossed away somewhere in my forties. This was the beginning of my lesson on what it takes to stay committed to getting a result. Yes, some things had to change and yes, we had organised a meeting in the day. It was part of my morning upload; we knew we needed to talk to everyone. Some people had to go, some people wanted to change their roles. The Director and I also needed to deliver more than the last few days had allowed for. We knew all this. We just had to take it in our stride, keep “calm” and keep going.
The Director and I knew we had to do some serious ‘wriggle and shake work’ to stay on plan and make a film. Before any of the ‘wriggle and shake work’ could be done we needed the answer to one question.
The question would be answered by their actions. It was, “Do we have a group of committed people here to work with?” That was the only question we needed the answer to.
When you pass the age of forty you know that many people will “say” what they think you want to hear. You understand that the actions of people tell you more than they might be saying.
The answer out of the chaos eventually. The answer was No, we did not have the commitment needed from this group of people. That was nobody’s fault either. Each person travels his or her own journey. By their actions, the actors chose not to continue.
Before I made my commitment, I asked myself if I could do this. My health is my first commitment to myself. I am committed to staying well both physically and physiologically. Although not in tip-top shape myself, I knew I could work a long day, skip a meal and or get wet if it rained.
Emotionally I am at an age where I roll with the punches. I’ve had plenty of experience in not taking myself too seriously. I know stuff happens which sometimes has nothing to do with me, but it happens to affect me anyway. I believe I have learnt to be emotionally strong. I try to practice that. I do the best I can and that was all that was being asked of me here. Time. I had totally cleared the deck to do this for three weeks; thus I made the commitment. I couldn’t be anymore committed to this project. This was not going to do me any harm. I knew that. I know myself. So my decision to free myself for these three weeks to be committed to this project was easy. I had freed my time and was emotionally available to comply with the driven Director. I was happy to do anything that he asked me to do. That was ‘my role’ in helping him make this film. He was running the show, not me. He was funding it, as agreed. He had the vision. He knew what he wanted, he asked for my help , and that was my commitment to him.
The Director knew he was asking a lot of everyone and that he did need more people, more time and more money to pull this off. I think he wanted to break a record or something – his intention was noble. I heard the Director when he said, “We are here to make a film.” I understood that right now my feelings didn’t matter. I could put them on hold or even ignore them. I was here, right now and committed to making this work for the benefit of each of us, because together, collectively, we could do this.
But hell, that is easy to say and so hard to do. To let go of your feelings and for a moment put yourself in the shoes of another. To see that this is the best today has to offer. To allow someone some slack to understand I am not perfect, nor are you, and we need to do better than we are doing here, all of us.
The Director and I are staying committed to making this film and other films. We will find a team and learn from mistakes. We will do this. It’s a project, and the filming is one milestone to get to and to overcome. There are many more milestones to be mastered in this industry. We knew it was never going to be easy and that it would take a lot of hard work for a substantial amount of time. Therefore, we view our recent experience as an exercise in pre-production.
The actors and crew went home. I stayed to do the work required to undo the work already done in planning a three-week shoot. This was the tidy up, the fall out, the hard work behind the scenes stuff. When I got home, I was reading my daily calendar pages of “Insight from the Dalai Lama”. On the critical day, when the plug was pulled, this is what he had to say to me, “The very root of failure in our lives is to think, ‘Oh, how useless and powerless I am!’ It is important to have a strong force of mind, thinking, ‘I can do it’, this not being mixed with pride or any other afflictive emotion.”
For me, each member was as valuable as the other. I know that I stayed committed to what I said I would do. I dug my heels in and said, “I can do this. I can look past all the things that are not as good as they could be and I can change the things that I am able, one at a time, with consideration and thought.” This brings me to my favourite quote of all time going back to my childhood where it hung on my wall. My father had painted it as a poster for me:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I have lived this brilliant quote, many times and in many ways. On this occasion I realised how difficult it is to be wise. I have satisfied myself that I can be committed to staying with a plan and I am learning all about being calm in a crazy world.
Copyright © Mary Willetts 2012