Ok, so it’s been about a month since the bulk of our filming finished and this virtually-impossible-to-write blog post is getting written today if it kills me. Why “virtually-impossible-to-write,” you ask? Because putting this experience into words is ridiculously hard. Thus far this has been the definition of indescribable, but for my loyal readers, (hi mom!) I will try. Before I really begin, a status update:
The SHOW is not yet done, not nearly done. Yes we have 99% of the show shot. BUT, number one – 99% is not 100% (we still have a couple of inserts and establishing shots left to film in NY), and number two ”principal photography is done” does NOT mean “the show is done.” There’s still all the post-production work to be done – color correcting, scoring, title sequence, ADR, music…oh, and, you know – THE EDITING! And THEN, after it is finished, after it is put together, and the production work and the post production work are done – for real and for true – Terri and I still have to find a network or production company that wants to fork over the money to make the next five episodes (or better yet – the next five years of episodes) and then, when that happens, we need to start the whole production process all over again for episode two. BUT!!! We’ve come this far, and Peeps? This is a pretty far way to come. So here and now, I will attempt to relate this experience – shooting my first TV show…
A quick disclaimer before I go into more specifics: I have a terrible memory. I remember things in snippets and moments but not as whole experiences (for all I know this is how everyone remembers things but it always seems slightly disconcerting to me that I can remember the smell of the ferns in the grove on my wedding day in the exact moment I said “I do,” but can’t remember what I did last Thursday night – like, the entire night is a blank to me, and I wasn’t even drinking, wait was I?) This is why I take so many pictures and why the invention of the smartphone camera was a blessing for me and a frustration for my husband – “put the phone away and experience the moment,” he says. “But I want to be sure I can remember the moment!” I say. Anywho, that memory thing coupled with the fact that I’m a born storyteller – always editing and embellishing the actual experiences of my life so they make a better story – means you’re not going to get accurate reporting from me BUT, you’ll hopefully get a good story. So! Here’s the story (or at least some of the story) of the Farm Story shoot:
There were so many unreal and amazing parts of this experience, so many moments where I couldn’t process at all the immensity of what we were doing. Don’t worry, I know we are just making a television show, not curing cancer or anything, BUT! we are making a television show! I mean, not a little home movie on a camcorder, a real honest-to-god TV show. With a cast of 14 and a crew of 20 and a bunch of locations and a production van and a picture car and 2 kids and a dog and a cat and a rooster named Leroy. And that is huge (not the rooster). In fact, it is so surreal to me that while we were filming I had a moment where it hit me and I stopped, dumbfounded, in the middle of a residential street in Staunton, Virginia. I actually stopped dead as it hit and said out loud, “holy good lord. We’re making a TV show.” (To which cast and crew around me were like, “uh, yeah, where have you been for the past week?”)
But, you see, for the eight months leading up to the shoot, I had been in producer/director mode. For all of Pre-Production, I was in head-down, producer “triage-the-problem” mode. You know, just getting it done. And for the last two weeks of pre-production, and the first week of filming, I was in head-down, “figure out what I want artistically, explain it to the cast and crew, and figure out how to get that filmed” mode. Basically, from January to September, I never had a chance to stop and realize that this was a big deal in my life and so, on that Saturday afternoon, on North Market Street, in the middle of Staunton, Virginia, the realization took hold and physically forced me to stop and observe what was happening – even if it was just for a second. In fact, it was such a strong feeling that I was briefly unable to function (it felt like what I imagine it feels like to be gut punched, but without the pain) as everyone around me did their thing – set up the lights, put the picture cars in place, touched up makeup and hair, held reflectors, prepped microphones, wrangled the kids, and just generally got ready to film the scene. And I looked around and saw all these people and I thought to myself, “holy shit! These people are here because of Terri and me and NO ONE else! WE did this.” And it was overwhelming.
Don’t get me wrong, the moment passed pretty quickly – within 30 seconds I came back to myself and we got on with the business of making the show but seriously, Guys, it’s been surreal. Well actually surreal and not at all surreal. And here’s the thing, you know how you have those moments where you have two contrasting experiences at the exact same time and you’re not really sure how both can exist at once but they do and you go with it? Well, that was what it felt like to make Farm Story. It was simultaneously new, and exciting, and unbelievable while also being normal, and comfortable, right, and even…kind of mundane (in the most exciting sense of the word.) While we were in it, in the day to day-ness of it, it was just sort of ordinary. It just felt right and comfortable to crawl out of bed at the buttcrack of dawn, stroll downstairs, meet up with Alex (Director of Photography) and Tom (Sound Mixer) and go over the plan for the day. To find Julia, or Logan, or Eric (my lead actors) in hair/makeup and chat about the scene we were about to film. To swing by craft services and grab myself a banana. To basically just move through the set, and the day, as the director. It felt natural, and comfortable, and completely, totally, utterly right.
So, let me set the scene – If you like Farm Story on Facebook or if you follow our blog (which, if you don’t, what’s stopping you? Get on that, People!) you know that the entire shooting process started off with a day of shooting in New York City. In addition to our skeleton crew – Alex, Tom, Kelli, (Script Supervisor), Jen, (temp 1st AD), Molly (Production Coordinator), Noah, Lucy, and Will, (our three New York PA’s who, sadly, weren’t all able to make the trip. Only Noah was able to go to Virginia for the main shooting), a few friends acting as extras, and four principal actors. The shoot was an exciting and crazy day, but, in the world of filmmaking, kind of a short one.
Short or not, though, there is something ridiculously exciting, indescribable even, about shooting on the streets of NYC. The last time I was actually shooting on a main street in Manhattan was way back in my production assistant days on NYPD Blue and Godzilla and US Marshalls (yes, mom, everyone has heard the story about Tommy Lee Jones scolding me) and back in those PA days I promised myself that I would not set foot on another Manhattan movie set unless and until I was either in it or the director. I kept that promise to myself. On Farm Story, we filmed a scene on the subway, yup, the NYC subway system! We filmed a scene in front of Terri’s and my old apartment – a scene with two picture cars, no less! And the most exciting – we actually filmed a walk and talk scene, with two actors crossing 5th Avenue, at 40th Street, on a Saturday afternoon – we were a little clump (two actors and six crew-some walking backwards) crossing a ridiculously busy NY city street – don’t worry, Mom, we crossed with the light. But seriously, I still can’t believe we got the shot!
And then the next day, most of those folks who were on the NY shoot, piled into a 15 passenger van and a 12-year-old Subaru and drove for 7 and a half hours to arrive at our, as-yet-unseen destination – a beautiful 18th century brick farmhouse on 27 acres of land. We arrived, we had some dinner, we went to bed, and the next morning we were up with the sun to do some work.
What followed from there is a blur of filming the likes of which I had never experienced before. 12 hour days at locations all around Staunton, sometimes as easy to get to as the yard of the farm house (because we were, you know, filming in the yard of the farmhouse) and sometimes requiring us to pile back into that trusty 15 pass and head the 20 miles to hit the locations in Staunton proper. Speaking of Staunton proper, while there we filmed in: a diner, and a motel, a bookstore, an office, a beautiful house (see the North Market Street gut-punch above), a downtown apartment, and an impromptu traffic jam. On the farm we filmed in three different bedrooms, two kitchens, a dining room, a library, a living room, a screened in porch, two hallways, a patio, a lawn, and backdoor steps. We filmed in the sunshine and in the rain, on a dusty dirt road and in a dried up corn field. In vehicles and out, at all hours of the day and night. And, although we averaged only 12 hours a day we managed to stay on time and on budget, and I still don’t know how we did it. Our lunches each day were delicious – good, fresh, well prepared food – but our dinners? Our dinners were sublime…
And now I come to the thing. The thing that I talk about ad nauseum, the one thing that everyone who knows me knows about. The point I’m trying to make, the feeling I can’t fully describe, the thing that this blog post is really about: Family is important to me. It’s like the Most Important Thing. It’s what it’s all about. Not only the family you’re born into, but also the one you choose and, if you’re lucky, the one you create. On every project I do, I try, as much as possible, to bring family members I’m actually related to along for the ride but whether the blood family is able to join in or not, I always always always look to build a family on each show. It’s one of the reasons I use the same people over and over. It is, in fact, the reason I do this crazy theater/film thing. It’s why I started a company — so that I could have this whole little family whenever I work on a project. It’s what it’s all about. AND, when Te and I first talked about Farm Story, we talked about building a family that would create this show. A group of people—a cast and crew—who would work together and live together and eat and drink together. We wanted our meals to be family meals – to the extent that Terri and I both wanted the dinners to be prepared by our parents and local “friends of the production”. We wanted home cooked meals. Yes, we wanted it to be, as Tom said, “a professional thing we’re doing here,” but we also wanted the group to bond as family.
And you know what? It totally worked. All of it. The filming, the living, the eating and drinking together. The parents making a few dinners and the local friends making the rest. The late night storytelling, the early morning coffee dash. The massive breakfast prepared by cast, crew, mom, and dad on the day we didn’t start until 2pm, the scary-clown-movie nights that found everyone watching, shouting at the screen, the birthday party on set at 1AM. And the meals – while we were in Virginia, at the end of every shooting day, we gathered on the screened-in porch of the main house and we ate together. We got to know each other, we processed the day, we played cards, we razzed on the PA’s. We laughed, we cried, we worked, and we even got a chance to play a little, but most of all, we became a family.
Hopefully that family will continue. Like I said above, now comes the hard work of editing and getting the show out there so you can all see what we did. Now comes the hard work of selling the show so that we can do this all again with these wonderful people (most of whom I. Did. Not. Know. A year ago!) Now comes the hard work of making a living at day jobs because Terri and I both put that whole “I need money to live” thing aside while we did Farm Story (thank you John and Rob for that).
So the next step is to get it out there and the first step towards that is Austin. Again, as you may have seen on Facebook, the Farm Story script got accepted to the second round at The Austin Film Festival, entitling Terri and me to participate in special panels and workshops. And we’ve put together a trailer on the off chance that the acquisitions person from AMC or Netflix says, “oh, I LOVED your script. Do you have a trailer of what you’ve made?” So, tomorrow afternoon Terri and I are off to Austin. We’ll attend our first film festival. We’ll network and shmooze. We’ll hopefully set up some meetings and hopefully move the project forward. But whether something major happens there or not, we will now focus all of our energy on finding a way to get cameras rolling on episode two. And, until the day comes when cameras do roll again, I will hold in my memory twelve glorious days and nights in the Shenandoah Mountains and…
The hot cramped rooms, particularly the Brooklyn bake
Hearing walkie talkie “chatter” on my set thanks to the Zello app
Bonding with my tribe
Homemade biscuits and gravy
A chinese fire drill
A soy field at dawn
Red elfin ears
An unplugged phone ringing
Wagon Wheel on the radio
A downright freaky doll
Mountain mist in the morning
Dinners on the porch
A broken down Subaru 2 hours from our destination
Tiny rooms with too many people
“Terri, you gotta hold my movie”
Star-filled nights with too much wine
and long busy days with not enough sleep
And I will forever be humbled by and never fully able to express what it means to me that friends and family far and wide (and a few strangers) ponied up forty-five thousand dollars so we could make this show; that local crew jumped on board for very little money and absolutely no glamour; that actors, both local and not, found their way to Staunton (by car and train) to sleep on a rented bed and do their work, sometimes for as little as a few hours; that Terri’s parents and my parents each traveled more than 500 miles to stay respectively in a guest room and a two star hotel room (that they got kicked out of for a day of filming), AND to cook a few dinners for 30 people; that sisters and nieces and nephews gamely participated in this insanity; and, last but not least, that Tom, Alex, Molly, Noah, Julia, Logan, Eric, and Sulekha all got in the motherfucking van not for the promise of riches or luxury or fame; they got in the van with virtual strangers, for a 7 hour drive because they trusted this script and they trusted my ability to get this done; because they trusted me, a person they didn’t know well (and in some cases didn’t know at all). They all enthusiastically just said, “yup, I’m in!” They became a family and they forever changed my life in the process. Thanks, guys. You’re the best!