How do artists face set backs? By creating, using their imagination and desire to create. I think that’s the nature of an artist anyhow regardless of whether or not the she is sailing a calm sea with the sails full and the prow pointing closer and closer to her destination; or ferocious winds and choppy waves threaten to sink her ship of dreams – the artist will prevail until she has exhausted all possibilities .
A film maker, I know, is working on his third short film. It is his biggest project to date and he has poured all of his energy and talent into realizing his dream. I helped out on the first day of filming, and I recognized the auspiciousness of the event, because he had shared with me the setbacks he had faced on his ongoing journey. He was financing the whole thing, and there had been multiple delays and each one was adding more cost to the production.
The first setback was a fraud by a contractor he hired to build the set. Dave paid a down payment with a check. A few days before the beginning of the first day of shooting the man called Dave and asked for another check. He explained that the first check Dave wrote was post dated, neither men had not noticed the mistake. Dave gave the man another check, unaware that the first check had already been deposited and the bank had cleared it – despite the post date. The contractor was now paid in full, but a set had not yet been built. With the close proximity of the first day of the shoot, Dave had to cancel everything, and file a small claims court to get his money back.
A week later Dave told me he had reworked his plan. He got a loan from the bank, found a new location, a new crew to build the set, created a new schedule. He looked hopeful and happy; and I was excited for him. I got in touch with his producer to find out how I can chip in with the purpose of learning and contributing to the process. My first contribution was to bring coffee for the crew of 16 people. Friday night, at the figurative “11th hour” there was a phone call from the main lead actor, the night before the first day of the shoot. The lead actor told Dave that he’s pulling out of the movie, because he got a better offer for a bigger part for another opportunity. What makes it more bizarre is he called at 11 o’clock at night so it was literally the “11th hour”. Do people really do that? I wondered, then upon further thought I decided that this sort of thing DOES happen. People have been stood up at the altar while guests and family wonder when the ceremony is going to start.
I told Dave that it seems when we’re on the right path the gods have this funny way of testing us to see if he was worthy of the hero’s journey. They had thrown obstacles in his way to test his will, his resourcefulness, his faith. Whether or not those words helped him pick himself up and step further into unknown, and probably treacherous territory.
Within days another actor was hired; further adjustments were made to the schedule, and finally, yes finally we were on the set. It was well designed for the film noir genre set in the 40’s. The space is a renovated warehouse in the San Pedro district. The makeup artist and the costume designer had set up a make shift office in one of the restrooms. The other restroom had to be shared by both men and women. We didn’t care. We were happy to just be present and to play and create. Everyone was chipping in to make it happen. I discovered I have the mechanical skill to adjust the chain links of an old fashioned wristwatch. “Technical” and “mechanical” tasks had always daunted me, because I’m like a bull in a china shop when it comes to those things but I was fearless this time. I tacked the task and was able to fit the fake gold watch on the leading actor’s fine-boned wrist.
The set was ready, the makeup was flawless and the hair was coiffed. The actors were taped up with the mikes and then Dave let everyone know that he doesn’t use the word “action”. He doesn’t like the word, because… he never did explain; but just said he’ll say ‘go’.
‘Go’ it went. After a few rehearsals the camera rolled. I observed Dave’s style as he communicated clearly without hesitation the what and the how of the scenes to everyone. It was as if he had played the situation in his head a million times over and he can detect the minute differences between his vision and what he saw played out. He made adjustments quickly then moved on.
Later in the evening I got home from a walk with the dog; there was a voicemail from Dave. He said, ‘don’t know if you heard, but we got shut down today. The production has been stopped because the Fire Marshal said the building is not up to code.” Questions fired in my head, but I held them in check as I listened to Dave lament the situation. How can he go on? What more can be thrown into this pyre of drama? While he talked I wondered what consolation can I offer Dave and to encourage him to go on. Even I was at a loss, and dumbfounded with his news.
Though he was willing to buy the fire permit (a cost of $700) it would be moot, because the building is on a fire watch. The other alternative to continue filming in the same location is to pay the city $65 per hour to have a Fire Marshall present during the entire production. He couldn’t afford it.
I could only advice him not to make any decisions without giving himself a chance to rest. Sleep on it I told him. We drew out the conversation between regaling the previous setbacks and this new one. As we hashed out the events I began to hear him speak of new ideas, though woven in and out of the hope were some voices of doubt, fear and fatigue. Before we hung up he had spoken powerful words: “I know I can do this.” “There were some amazing footages I can use.” “Did you see the amazing footages?” “It’s a great feeling to see everyone pour themselves into this.” I know that those words has been planted in his subconscious which will help him go on.
His journey in itself is the worthy of a good drama full of surreal images like a strange dream. Where did all these people come from and what does it mean? Who invited these ghosts, monsters, angels and fairies? The gods have a way of insinuating a fuller drama into the situation by putting the hero into more peril than he had ever imagined. It’s perhaps their way of bringing out the best creation from the artist.