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Contributor Survival Stories from the Creative Battlefield

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In any creative process, there’s never a piece that fits quite right. You have to shave it. You have to use glue and tape. You have to accept some flaws, and take criticism with a smile. What would you do if you didn’t have a gaffer? A tripod? Or maybe only one lens? No lights? Would you not shoot a scene?

No, you figure it out. You shoot with a flashlight and pick your shots based on available focal length. You build silly contraptions that don’t work very well, then figure out how they might work better. I once built a steadicam out of PVC pipes, wood and screws. It worked, but not that well.

Ultimately, you find people who want to be around movies. Who are willing to set up stands, screw screws, build walls and hold lights. Who will stand for hours in the cold, all in the name of a vision. You find these like-minded individuals, and together you learn to become better story tellers, better filmmakers, better artists.

Pond5 artists know all this better than most, with many struggling to achieve the perfect scene, or the perfect shot. For a glimpse behind the scenes, below are some “survival stories” from selected contributors.

Vincent Moya, Ernest Films
Vincent Moya

Vincent Moya, Ernest Films
Paris, France
pond5.com/artist/ernestf

As a Paris-based video-production company, we work on all kinds of projects, for all types of clients. One of our most extreme shoots happened a couple years ago, when we were contracted to line-produce a horror film in the center of France.

At that point, working on a feature film was a step up, and a completely new battlefield. The conditions were exceptionally tough: less than 10 days of pre-production and 14 days of shooting on a micro budget, with a director who had no experience.

Filming on the Streets of Paris
Filming in Paris

While most professionals would see that kind of set up as a recipe for disaster, we decided to take it as a challenge. Those three weeks were among the most intense that I’ve been through. Managing a team of 25, plus actors and extras. We were re-writing, planning, scouting, and working on set during the day, then shooting through the night.

Although we’d put together a very courageous team, after a week of rain, cold, and sleeping only four hours a day in tents, morale inevitably started to drop. We had people wanting to quit; some were fighting; it felt like being in a tribe from Lord of the Flies that was about to implode. The feeling was something surreal.

Just before things got completely out of hand, we took a step back and gathered the team. Slowly we worked together to resolve frustrations and overcome our limitations, as a team. By the end of the production, we ended up becoming a tight-knit crew, and everyone rallied to finish the project. I don’t think that kind of camaraderie is common in other industries. But the idea of working for a film, for “the bigger picture,” kept us together and helped us work through to overcome our challenges.

Rodin Hamidi, DP/Cinematographer
Rodin Hamidi

Rodin Hamidi, Cinematographer/DP
New York, NY
pond5.com/artist/rodinhamidi

The energy of the team is the key element in the filmmaking process. A few years back, we were shooting a short film in the backyard of an old mansion in Montauk, New York. It was an unbelievably cold day, and my key grip was stuck setting up a track for the dolly on uneven, frozen ground.

Since the production was part of New York City’s Winter Fashion Week, a large group of models was on set waiting to be filmed. As we struggled to get the dolly set up, the models began to get cold and frustrated. We had to set up a heated tent to keep them warm while we struggled with the dolly. I believed if we could get this one shot, it would be the best shot of the whole film, so we kept pushing.

Rodin Hamidi on Set
Rodin Hamidi on Set

Despite the difficulties, my key grip remained positive, motivated, and excited. After nearly two hours, he finally had the track ready to go. We put the PW Dolly on the track, mounted the camera, and brought out the models.

When I finally hit record, my heart sank. The camera was not recording. This was perhaps one of the most stressful moments I have faced as a filmmaker. A group of faces stared back at me, waiting for me to capture the shot, but the camera wasn’t working. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with the camera manufacturer, trying to solve the problem. In the end, there was no solution, and the whole production was about to stop.

Suddenly my gaffer ran up with his own DSLR camera, and said, “Let’s shoot it with this.” With no other solution, I mounted his camera and we ended up getting a shot that everyone was happy with. This resolution was only possible thanks to my team, who saved me on the spot, and backed me up with other tools and with their positive energy. Now I always carry a backup camera on set, just to make sure we don’t lose a day.

Gabe Gerzon, Video Producer
Gabe Gerzon

Gabe Gerzon, Matter Communications
Boston, MA
pond5.com/artist/gabegerzon

One of the more challenging scenes I’ve filmed was an outdoor car chase along the beach in the National Seashore of Cape Cod, MA. First, we had to mount cameras to the car exteriors using large suction cups, which was nerve-wracking to say the least. What if the camera came lose mid-scene?

The scene began with a man pulling over at an outdoor, roadside coffee stand, where a woman sold him a cup of coffee. The script called for a heavy fog to shroud the scene in mystery. Unfortunately, there was no fog, and the temperature that day was 5 degrees Fahrenheit, along with a 20 mph wind, resulting in sub-zero wind-chill conditions. Every time we ran the industrial-strength fog machines, a gust of wind would come up and blow it all away.

Gabe Gerzon Outdoor Film Set
Gabe Gerzon on the Outdoor Film Set

To make matters worse, the generator kept blowing a fuse whenever we turned on the large outdoor heaters that were on set in order to keep the actors warm. So the cast ended up having to wait inside two parked cars between each take. There were two PA’s assigned to rubbing the actors’ hands, and a MUA (makeup artist) doing touch-ups in the rear view mirror.

Unfortunately, the crew didn’t have the luxury of warming up between takes, so our fingers were turning white, and operating equipment became extremely difficult. Adding to the stress, we had a set amount of time to capture the shots we needed. The National Parks Department had road blocks on either side of our shoot area, closing two miles of road for us, but the budget only allowed four hours of road closure.

Eventually, a drizzling sleet began to fall, making the roads dangerously slick and threatening the camera equipment and lights. At that point, we decided to wrap early and call it a night.

Back at the studio, we built a small-scale model of the road (including a tiny replica of the car that we found on eBay) which allowed us to get some missing wider establishing and aerial shots. Finally, we added the fog during post-production, and the scene ultimately came together as originally written.

Do you have a survival story of your own? Share it in the comments below, we’d love to hear it!

Top image: Director of Photography on Set by Kinemaya