From the end of May through the end of June, I was directing 2nd Unit on a feature horror film in upstate New York. I’m sure in the very near future I’ll be able to discuss openly details I’ve been asked to keep hush-hush for now. Little points you might be interested in – like the director, the cast, and the title of the movie – will all be divulged soon.
The film made good use of 2nd Unit, putting me and my crew to work a dozen or more days of the 25 day shoot. We shot a wide variety of material for the film – montage sequences, transition shots, blue screen plates, close ups to be used in scenes that Main Unit did the wide shots for, bits and pieces of flood water and flood-destruction aftermath, and even a few small scenes with the lead actors in them. I definitely earned my keep.
While 2nd Unit shots covered a wide spectrum, “soaked” probably best sums up my experiences directing 2nd Unit for this film. Rain, flooding, and flood aftermath form a visual and narrative thread that runs throughout the movie. Heavy duty hoses, water pumps, and rain towers were a common sight on set for both Main Unit and 2nd Unit.
I recall one particular day of 2nd Unit that exemplifies my typical work day on this shoot. We set out to shoot flood destruction aftermath and two other sequences. Six hours of work had been scheduled for that afternoon, but on the day, we were only given three hours to get our shots. I was determined to still get every shot on my list, so we were working extra-fast. I have a “fond” memory of standing crotch-deep in the water, looking up at the sky and worrying about how much light I still had in my day. The feeling in my gut was a mix of panic (Is that sun setting faster than it usually does?) and fierce determination to come home with every shot on my list, despite the fact that time, crew, and resources seemed to be taken away from 2nd Unit as often as shots were added. This isn’t due to any ineptitude on our director’s part – it’s just a result of us trying to shoot a pretty damn big movie on an extremely short schedule. Instead of adding days to the shoot, they added shots to 2nd Unit – which was fine by me. I was there to work my ass off, and I appreciate a challenge, dammit. Bring it on.
That moment, standing in the water, surrounded by flood debris, was a reflection of my typical circumstances and state of mind on 2nd Unit. I was wet, rushed, worried about time… oh, yeah, and still trying to actually do my job as a director and bring home sequences that looked as awesome as possible.
After this flood debris montage sequence was in the can, we still had two more sequences to shoot (and two time-consuming company moves to slow us down) before the sun set. We had to be wrapped by the time lunch (at 9pm) was called. There would be no more daylight after lunch, and my crew had to fold back into Main Unit after the meal break.
We raced to our second location to shoot the next sequence of our day. Oddly, there was no standing water or rain in this scene, so it went a bit more quickly.
The sun was starting to set as we raced to our third and final location scheduled that day. This location was also being used by Main Unit, and for our final shot before lunch, we had to have fake rain pouring down.
The generators pushing the H2O through the hoses that ran to the rain towers on our set made a lot of noise. We were shooting MOS, but Main Unit was shooting sound takes inside a house only twenty or so yards away. So, every time Main Unit rolled camera, my crew had to shut off our rain, and we had to patiently wait to resume getting our final shot of the day. (This was a common frustration – 2nd Unit shooting “rain shots” and having to stop and wait if Main Unit was shooting nearby and could hear our generators.)
The sun was almost set and we had precious few moments left before the light was gone. The dolly move had been rehearsed, the rain towers had been adjusted perfectly - we were entirely set up to get our last shot. Production assistants surrounding the house yelled out for Main Unit: “Picture’s up!” Then: “Rolling! Quiet all around!” So we waited, our rain pumps quiet. A very long time seemed to go by. The sky was nearly dark and I knew the meal break was going to be announced at anytime – which would represent the plug being pulled on my 2nd Unit day.
The PAs then yelled out: “That’s a cut!” …meaning Main Unit had finally stopped camera and we could be noisy again. My rain wrangler immediately fired up the generator, the rain began to pour down, and my camera operator, focus puller, and dolly grip quickly executed the shot. After a few rapid takes without cutting, I was sure what we’d shot would be too dark and unusable. I asked for playback to scrutinize the last two takes. Both looked excellent. I gave my DP the thumbs up. We had successfully completed every shot on my list. Seconds later, the PAs yelled out, announcing the meal break: “That’s lunch!”
It was one more successful day of 2nd Unit action, completed just in time, and resulting in our getting every shot (and usually some bonus shots) assigned to me. It’s nice to have a job that is never dull.
Thanks for reading.