Written by John Montana

Making a short film, or any film for that matter can be a lot of amazing fun even if it comes with some stressful moments. I recently made a short film called HUNGRY. The idea came to me a couple of years ago and winded up being a wicked, humorous, little piece on the greed that is rampant during Christmas time. I wanted to share with you some of the major issues that came up while shooting the film and what I learned from the experience I will carry with me for my next shoot.

Location, Location, Location
Location needs to be one of your first considerations when shooting your film. You want to make the world of these characters as real as you possibly can. My film took place in a used clothing store, and I wanted the store to give the impression it had been there for several hundred years. It’s a horror film. So I went location scouting, because I knew beforehand that my budget was very small. So I set out to find the perfect shop. It took me about a week of driving around L.A. and looking at close to 15 shops. There were 2 that I thought “might do”…but nothing that reached pout and grabbed me. Until I happened upon the shop I ultimately shot in. It is an amazing place, one that I knew immediately was “The One!” So take your time and really look for the location that you want. Don’t settle for less, unless you absolutely have to.

So this is where my shoot became a nightmare, and ironically, I didn’t know it until I got into editing. There were some shots that I wanted to film that my D.P. felt that a RONIN would be perfect for. For those of you who don’t know what a Ronin is, it is a smaller, lighter version of a Steadicam. The problem was two-fold here. Unfortunately my D.P. was not experienced with this piece of equipment and because there was no way to hook it up to a monitor, there was no way for me to catch any mistakes that may have been in the frame. And almost 25% of the shots were severely compromised because there were lights, and stands and all sorts of equipment that made it into the frame. And no matter what I tried to do in editing, I just could not clean up the footage. I had to do a reshoot on the floor of my garage to get the shots I couldn’t get on location, because there was so much time that was lost due to the Ronin.
So the moral of the story is: Always make sure that your crew knows what they are doing with the equipment on your set. And the second moral is to always have a second set of eyes looking at the shot from a monitor. Don’t rely on just one person to make sure it’s right. Otherwise, it will bite you hard in the ass.

The other major thing that happened that messed me up mentally was that I did not communicate with my hair/makeup artist beforehand to let him know exactly what I had envisioned my leading lady to look like. So after I was done setting up the first shot on the first day, I went in to the dressing room and saw my leading lady in make-up and a style that was from Glamorous Hollywood of the 40’s. This was clearly not what I had envisioned, as I had wanted her to look like she could have been around for 300-400 years. I felt as if I had been sucker-punched. So instead of panicking, I just left them finish and went out and calmed down. I tried to think of a way out of this. So I added another scene in the film that showed her removing the hair and make-up on purpose. As if it was a ruse from the beginning. And it totally worked…if you see the film, you will know what I mean. And I have to say, that this was “the magic” that occurred on this shoot. I don’t mean to sound silly or superstitious, but there has been a little magic that has happened on every single on of my 14 film shoots. So now, I actually look forward to seeing what will come my way in each new film.

So, after all is said and done, there were some major things that really messed with my head on this shoot. But I have to say, that by trying to relax and not go berserk in the face of these challenges, I was able to get through the shoot. And it ultimately really worked out, because even though it took me almost 4 months to edit HUNGRY with all of the bad shots, I was able to create something that I really am proud of and love. And the best part of it all is that it has now been accepted into 24 film festivals around the world and has won two of them. Not bad huh?

In conclusion, if you are in preparation for a film shoot, nothing will totally prepare you for the challenges that arise on every single set. But with patience and staying calm, you can come up with a solution to these problems when they come up. And most of the time, the solution will be so much better that your initial idea. Just trust in the magic that always comes to those who create.