Meetings with the LA department heads for Sweet, Sweet Country have started. First up, was a catch up and productive meeting with our Assistant Director (AD), Judy. The idea of making a movie on the other side of the country is daunting, especially as a student filmmaker. Having an AD you trust and respect is important. Judy was the TA our first quarter, in the first year. She was, hands down the best TA we had that year.
Judy produced the first shoot I worked on. She schooled me on set etiquette, responsibilities, the power of the weak link or shitty personality on set and what it means to support another filmmaker’s vision. I learned on that shoot that there’s gonna be a person who empties the trash for your film (perhaps even have to pick that same trash up off the streets of LA because the bag ripped open), pick up food at 2am for 30+ people, haul around tables and chairs, so you and your crew can sit and eat a hot meal and walk around in the rain and mud for 18 hours, making sure people have hot drinks and stay dry. I’ve been that person and I was thanked for my work and made to feel that while I wasn’t directing or behind the camera, my work was important. Of all the lessons I’ve learned in film school, those conversations on set with Judy and watching her crew, rank high on the list of the important things you should know.
The AD has a stressful job and in my mind the most important on set. The AD is the logistical and organizational goddess who makes sure that a director has everything they need to make their film. I’ve been on shoots where there was no AD and things imploded rather quickly, days aren’t made (meaning the list of shots planned for the day don’t happen, ergo you’re now behind), fights break out, people don’t get fed and so much more. They say the director sets the tone of a shoot, the attitude and personality of the director is important, but the AD can either be a Coach Tyler who lives by the mantra, “Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t Lose.”
Or your AD can be a Blake who yells, bullies and abuses your crew with his mantra, “You can’t close shit, you are shit.”
In my mind the Coach Tyler AD is the one that takes on the burden of all the potential stressful situations, supports the risks involved in filmmaking and gives you those needed pep talks, allowing you to be a filmmaker- a storyteller. She gives you the opportunity and room to focus, to collaborate and to create. It’s a beautiful thing.
The Joys of being an AD
The second half of the day was spent in a meeting with our Director of Photography (DP), Ragland. Sweet, Sweet Country is set in a small southern town. Rags, as we all call him, is a Texan. The fact that he’s a Southerner helped a little in my choosing him to shoot my film, but there are a number of reasons why a Director would choose a specific DP.
The fact that Rags and I had a very spirited conversation about where Sweet, Sweet Country is as a story sums it up. As a Director you want your crew to feel as passionate about your story as you do and want to serve the story to the best of their abilities. We discussed how the small Southern town where the story takes place is another character in the story and explored how we go about giving that character voice.
We watched a number of clips from various films that have the tone and feel I’m hoping we achieve in Sweet, Sweet Country. Next up, watching a few films and discussing what we like and don’t like. We take what we like and marry it our own developing styles. Who doesn’t love watching and dissecting movies?
I’ve always enjoyed preproduction. It’s during this time that you’re challenged by the ideas of your collaborators, you have to defend your choices or concede that there’s another way, a better way to achieve the desired result. It’s filmmaking and it’s a beautiful thing.