Lacuna Matata Production Diary 1: One in the Can
Sometimes, it's great to be in the can. Occasionally that's after a nice chili dinner. But in Hollywood, that's the lingo for having an entire project shot. It harkens back to the days of yore when things like 'film' were real and when 'cans' were where such knick-knacks were stored.
So a journey of 6 months of prep has taken its first step into production -- 26 hours and two shoot days later, episode 1 of Lacuna Matata is wrapped. A web series I created, wrote, and developed with some of my closest collaborators is finally getting realized on film.
Now only 9 episodes, 6 months, and thousands of dollars left to go. I couldn't be more excited.
There's a lot that people will tell you about doing a film production. The only thing they can declare with certainty is that everything is uncertain. Working with friends? Perhaps a conflict breaks out between two of your principals week-of (happened). A key piece of gear? May break irreparably the day before the shoot begins (happened). Your cat wrangler? Perhaps she has a climbing accident the day before you need a cat on set, rendering her unavailable (happened).
But like all things, it's either give up or push through, and without such a professional team, savvy crew, and patient cat, we would have been up shit creek without a paddle. My advice to you...
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GOOD PEOPLE. THEN FEED THEM.
If you're doing a no-budget production like most upstarts, you've likely enticed folks to work with you through quid pro quo. Your acto wants to bulk up their reel. Your DP is dying to do comedy. Your AC owes you a favor from when you helped out on HER webseries. Point is, there are always going to be folks out there who are willing to help. It's up to you to find the good ones. The best way to get them? Have great material, and be a good person wowrk with yourself.
The best way to keep them? Food!
Goodwill and a hustlers mentality can only go so far. At the end of the day, especially a 12 hour one, you're gonna be hangry as hell unless there's been some quality crafty and lunches provided on set. So for god's sake, don't forget the golden rule. Feed your friends...if you want to keep them!
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
People naturally gravitate towards a leader, and good leaders inspire. They lead from the front, shouting 'follow me' instead of sitting in the war room yelling 'go over there'. If you expect time, energy, and dedication out of others, you gotta put skin in the game. Show up early. Stay late. Eat last. Support your actors. Support your crew. Fill in for whatever position is needed, even if that's just the jester who lifts some flagging spirits. I say all this as a writer whose job gets pretty nebulous when it comes to being on set. Years from now, when I'm well-paid and have beachfront property in Arizona, maybe I'll be able to just sip tea and wait for questions on how to interpret my masterpieces. But for now, I'm in the trenches, schlepping gear, going on runs, and keeping us on schedule. When the clock slowly eeks past that 12-hour mark, there's nothing more inspirational than seeing others still burning hot, bright, and cheery.
Well, except food.
DON'T FORGET TO SAY THANK YOU
The entertainment biz is filled with egos. Leave yours at the door, please. Especially in Hollywood, the town is small. There are horror stories of egotistical assholes climbing to the top, but those are the squeaky wheels who get grease of our attention. More often than not, those who succeed are those who surround themselves with talented people who are, if nothing else, a good hang. I'd rather spend an entire shoot with a nice newbie than a seasoned asshole.
Author's note -- do they sell seasoned asshole at Ralphs?
Point is, other people are looking to be around a good hang too. Be enjoyable and useful and you'll be employed till the day you die. You're welcome on any set of mine. And when you see someone doing a good job? Say thanks, dammit. Lord knows you'd want the same.
BE OPEN TO COLLABORATION
When you're Aaron Sorkin, you can demand exactitude. Stick to the script! This repartee is perfection! But until then, be ready to collaborate. Unless you're The Bard re-incarnate, there's room to improve literally anything you put on the page. Unless a change is catastrophic, give it a shot. Your actors get to do something which you'll never get to, which is truly become these characters. Trust their instincts like you trust yours. The magic you find in the moment can often trump the chemistry you concoted on the page. And don't forget -- good ideas can come from anywhere. A PA, AD, Cat Wrangler, Second Cousin -- you name it. Don't start thinking you're God's gift to filmmaking. At the very least, wait till the box office totals start rolling in. ;)
MORE TO COME
Gee, all these gems of wisdom and we're only one episode deep! I plan on keeping y'all posted on the machinations and revelations of shooting Lacuna Matata, both to chronicle my foray into the web series world as well as leave some breadcrumbs for folks who are interested in doing so themselves.
So, while we prep for episode 2, is there anything in particular you want to hear about? If you need me, I'll be at crafty!