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The Little Black Tape

When I was deciding what to write for this month's editorial, I was sure that I was going to write about all the great greenscreen stuff we're doing this issue. However, as is so often the case with these editorials, I was prompted to write a completely different theme than I had originally thought of due to an issue in my own filmmaking life.

This summer we’ve had a promising young film enthusiast named Richie stay with us for six weeks, learning various elements of filmmaking, with the final element of the summer to be capped off when he shoots and edits his own short film.

Before I allow Richie shoot his own film (a suspense-thriller about a priest and a demon called McNaire Manor), I decided we would have him help us with a number of magazine related shoots this month, to get him familiarized with being on set. (As I promised him earlier this year, this summer we would thrust him so completely into all elements of filmmaking that he would either decide that he loved it or that he loathed it. Either way, he would be far ahead of many other high school sophomores! Better to find out if you hate filmmaking at 16, rather than after you spend $100 K at some fancy film school!) We started these shoot days with an introductory green screen shoot MFM did at the beginning of July. As with any green screen shoot that doesn't take place in a dedicated green screen studio, the entire day was an arduous experience in assembling green screens, key lighting, primary lighting, and positioning, all for about 20 minutes of actual footage.

As I explained to Richie as we drove the last load of equipment back to our storage area at about midnight that night, "Filmmaking is exhausting. But you know you're a filmmaker when all the hard work is worth it if you get one of these." I then held up the little black DV tape that we had shot in our DVX100. "It's like all the sweat and backbreaking work has been crystallized into this little black tape."

Later this month, we had another shoot day to get better green screen footage, since the earlier shoot had been designed to just shoot a rough setup. I decided to allow Richie to create the demonic character of McNaire in his film via green screen, rather than doing separate plates in the haunted mansion it's supposed to occur in. I figured it would give him more control over his character if he did that, and allow some pretty creative effects if he so chose. I made sure he had his shooting script prepped, that he had learned to apply the makeup that his main actor would wear, and that he had picked out the wardrobe his demon would wear. The saturday of the shoot, I ended up getting only 4 and a half hours of sleep, but I had a new greenscreen to try out, our laptop loaded with both OnLocation and Ultra CS3 for live monitoring, printouts for all our camera focus charts, and, for once, we were completely on time. Everything was in place to have a really killer shoot day!

30 seconds before we pulled into the parking lot of the shoot location, I get a call from my gaffer, Jessica, saying that she was in a serious car crash and, if we wouldn't mind, could we come pick her up? Now, you have to realize that Jessica is a seasoned production veteran who could easily be in a vehicle that's completely collapsed around her and, if she can get one hand free to pick up her cell phone, she'll call any shoot she's supposed to be at to tell them she might be "a bit late." As such, I took her call very seriously and told her I would be there as soon as possible. As I only had one vehicle with me, I got our talent to help us quickly unload my truck into the shoot building and we rushed over to the wreck site just as they were putting Jessica onto an ambulance gurney.

After having to park a good distance away, running up a grassy knoll, and dodging speeding traffic to get to the wreck site, we ended up arriving just in time to answer a few questions from the EMT before they took her off to the hospital. We ran back to our vehicle and trailed the ambulance to the hospital, where we did our best to keep Jessica entertained as she spent most of her time waiting first to get checked out and then to find out if she had any permanent damage to her neck. After a thorough checkup and a three and a half hour wait, it turned out that Jessica had no permanent injuries, just some extensive body bruising and burns sustained from her airbag deployment. Because she was so sore, we took her out to eat so she wouldn't have to cook that day, then took her home, and went to get groceries for her. At the end of the day, we drove back to the shoot location and reloaded my truck. As I and Richie drove back to our storage facility, I realized that we had spent just as many exhausting hours with the wreck, hospital, and the rest of the stuff as we had planned to spend on the shoot itself. The “only” difference was that there was no little black tape at the end of the day to show for it.

The little black tapes may be the pieces we use to create the puzzle of our film, but they are not the true measure of a filmmaker. We’re all filmmakers because we want to impact people’s lives. Sometimes we impact people’s lives by creating stories that touch those that see them, but, even more often, we impact (and are impacted by) the lives of those who help us create our stories. The times we impact one another the most may not be those days that we get a little black tape for our efforts, but they are often the most important.

Besides, days that don’t generate a little black tape often generate stories and memories that will inspire entire films in years to come.

God Bless,

Jeremy Hanke
Microfilmmaker Magazine

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