IT'S HAPPENING! IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING! This was the thought going through my head as we pulled into the near-empty mall parking lot in the wee hours of the morning. I couldn't help but worry a bit about all the factors we would soon face - shooting on location with real shoppers, the ten scenes we needed to cover with the bulk of our cast (seven characters), and just about every little detail that needed to be right. I was a bit anxious the night before - between going over the shot list a few dozen times and double checking all the props and wardrobe as well as checking in with all cast and crew - it was our time to really show what our months of preparation would bring us. After taking it all in and meeting up with the cast and crew I was able to be more at ease. This was such a great and exciting achievement! Relatively, there aren't many short films - or even features - (that I know of) that have mall scenes, despite it being such a big part of teen life! Understandably so as there's so many variables to account for: store owners, tons of noise from all directions including a carousel in our case, customers of all ages and curiosities, and of course the mall itself. Getting to see the cast and crew do their thing was also very rewarding. After Roczane, our MUA, got everyone's early 2000's inspired hair and make up done it was time to start blocking!
Ironically, the first scene we shot that day was the climax of the movie, the second to last scene in the whole film. This scene involved Jessy finding out that her online crush, Stevey had been tricking her. In response to this betrayal the two characters attack each other in the cruel spirit of middle-school kids - by picking on each others' insecurities. We shot from the perspective of a food court employee by taking over an empty food court stall. The cast really did wonderfully and gave it their all. The fight between the kids seemed so realistic many innocent shoppers turned around in concern! One person almost choked on their corndog (luckily the CPR class I took came in handy)!
As with any new crew working together for the first time we had a few kinks to work out. Thankfully we got a running start on crew chemistry by making a point of taking crew referrals of whom they've previously worked with. And by the second scene, we really got the ball rolling! As with any craft, the more exposure and experience you get makes you better at it. Thanks to the months of rehearsal with dedicated actors, I was able to direct the talent with ease on set, and really hone in on the details of the visuals and become one with the monitor. Our blocking rehearsals before each scene were invaluable as Mike and Bradley, our seasoned camera department, made suggestions that added to the realism of the situation.
I'll admit there was some stress in terms of scheduling, and of course those unforeseeable challenges on set that can and will come up during production! Because "oRaNgEdReAmS" is an early 2000's period piece, going into production I thought that our biggest concern would be iPhones, current fashion, and technology that didn't exist in the early 2000s. However, our main issue was with the ever present... minion! Yes, I'm talking about the animated character that spews gibberish from the Despicable Me movies! They have taken over all corners of merchandising! In terms of our involuntary extras, most shoppers were overwhelmingly cooperative, but there were a handful of times we had to reset because of stares into the camera that screamed "Am I on candid camera?". Thankfully, we had a tight-knit team where even the parents' of our talent stepped up and aided us in any way they could!
One of the scenes involved a very "juicy" make out session between the two popular kids, played by Kimberly Cohen and Andrew Lutheran. While Jessy and Felicia looked on and whispered "Oh my God!", not-so-subtly to each other so did the rest of the cast and crew that looked on behind the monitor.
It was also really great to finally get to work with the entire cast together and bond with them. Though we were all working extremely hard for hours on end, I appreciate that we were able to all genuinely enjoy each others' company - and extra curricular talents.
Another funny anecdote was the last scene we shot that 12 hour day. This scene was in front of a Tokyo Lifestyle store, which is a store that sells cute items from Japan (think Hello Kitty). The scene involved Jessy's crush, Stevey (Reilly Jimenez) mistakenly thinking her pastry keychain was real and stuffing it into his mouth! We had prepared a handful of duplicate keychains knowing that this would be a difficult scene to stomach. On the reverse end of things, the rest of the kids would have to burst into uncontrollable laughter! This reaction needed to be natural and I knew we could not over-rehearse it so I had purposefully skipped over it in our rehearsals. To keep the laughter fresh, we showed funny videos on our phones, had Reilly dance, and any thing else we could think of.
Looking back on it, the day was definitely a huge success and one of the most accomplished I've had so far. Many times all the challenges of making a truly independent project like this can be so tough you can't help but question if it's worth it or not. This was one of the few times where what we were creating and the shots / performances were exceeding what I envisioned my head!
*All photos by Kell Riches, our smiling snapper.*