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Confessions of a Working Director - 11/23/2009

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I'm back in St. Louis after working on Jim Mickle's Stake Land in New York for two weeks.  Welcoming me home was a huge pile of work that I am now struggling to catch up on before I take a much needed and much deserved couple o' days off.  With everything Wicked Pixel Cinema has going on right now, I won't be able to dive back into Ratline full-force until December 1st, except that I am making some advances here and there with the music that will be in the movie.

Despite delays on Ratline, and the sanity-eroding workload now resting right on top of me, I don't regret a second of working on Stake Land.  The director, the producers, and the crew made me feel very welcome on that set.  When Stake Land started shooting this past summer in Pennsylvania, I was definitely the "new kid" on the team, and I admit that I didn't feel like I was contributing much to the making of the movie.  I felt like I was more on the sidelines than on the field progressing things forward with everybody else. 

This shoot in New York was a completely different experience.  I was contributing much more to the production, and I no longer felt like an outsider.  Everyone seemed to genuinely appreciate my participation in the project, especially producers Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle, and Adam Folk.  I finally felt like part of the family.

One of the best aspects of being on this shoot was the area we were shooting in.  The beautiful mountain scenery that surrounded us certainly made for a pleasing working environment.  And it seemed that everywhere we went, there was a picturesque stream gurgling its way down to lower elevation.  Despite the long work hours and occasional cold nights, the beauty surrounding us made the shoot rather relaxing.  To cap it all off, the production was able to make a deal with a mountain-top golf resort (because it was the off season) to house the cast and crew.  So our accommodations were certainly better than most get while shooting on location for an independent film.  The resort also provided the catering, so most of our meals were by candlelight in a fancy dining lodge where we were waited on by staff wearing tuxedoes.  Not too shabby, eh?

On one day of shooting, when the weather was especially gorgeous and the scenery surrounding us was exceptionally spectacular, I saw a handful of the crew taking a moment to admire our environs.  Staring out at the mist-shrouded mountain tops, the best boy grip said "This is where we work."  The others nodded, genuinely appreciative, and almost amazed, that this comprised our day at the office.

I turned another year older while on the Stake Land shoot in NY.  At the end of the night of shooting, during dinner, I was surprised when the resort staff brought out a cake, and the cast and crew started singing Happy Birthday.  This was so unexpected that I didn't really know how to react.  But now I can officially brag that Kelly McGillis of Top Gun sang to me on my birthday!

I had to leave the shoot before the movie wrapped.  My last day on the schedule was a split, meaning we started working just before noon and we wrapped just after midnight.  When our day ended, 1st assistant director Aaron Crozier called a wrap on the day, then announced to everyone "And that's a picture wrap for Eric Stanze!"  The actors and crew clapped, people started shaking my hand and patting me on the back, and director Jim Mickle gave me a big hug.  Remember how I felt like an outsider at the start of the shoot last summer?  I definitely did not feel like that by the end of the shoot.

So how could this very positive experience get any better?  Well, it gets better because I'm quite sure all the time, effort, and money poured into Stake Land ain't gonna go to waste.  I was working with good people, at a great location, on a movie that I have tremendous confidence in.  Yes, Stake Land is a horror film, and though I'm a huge horror fan, I'll admit, half or more of all horror films made are terrible.  I do not think Stake Land will fall into that category.  In fact, as each day of shooting came to pass, I became more excited about the movie I was working on.  Everyone - the actors, the crew, the producers, and especially director Jim Mickle - was in top form and collaborating as a team to make an excellent movie.  I can't wait to see this flick.  I'm pretty sure it's gonna be awesome.

Throughout this whole experience, starting in the sweltering heat in Pennsylvania and ending on a chilly night in the mountains of upstate New York, one Stake Land character has been ever-present: "Mister" played by Nick Damici.  Stake Land is, primarily, Mister's story.  Damici's character of Mister (clad in battered brown leather, ragged vest, western-flaired fedora-styled hat, and always smoking a cigarette) is the icon of this movie.  His dirty, sun-browned face and gruff "let's kill some fuckin' vampires" demeanor has been a constant from day one of the shoot, all the way through to my last day on set.

The morning of my departure, I drove through the resort parking lot, leaving behind a crew that was just waking up to start another day of shooting.  The morning sun was still low in the sky and the mountains surrounding me were still thickly shrouded in mist.  As I aimed my car for the steep, winding driveway that would lead my vehicle down to the main road, I caught a glimpse of Nick Damici in my rearview mirror.  I slowed, looked back over my shoulder, and saw him standing alone, already in his dusty and tattered Mister wardrobe, surrounded by the amazing scenery, backlit by the golden rising sun.  He paced a bit, perhaps getting into character, as he smoked his first cigarette of the morning.  This is the final image I saw as I left my Stake Land experience behind.

Perfect.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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