Make a No Budget Movie: Chapter Ten

Losing Steam
August 29th, 2011

After shooting the majority of the marching scenes, plus the main battle and pursuit scenes, all of the little bits of the movie that I still had to do suddenly seemed insignificant, almost a hassle. And this was when some of my concerns and worried predictions about what might happen if filming went on for too long began to come true.

Not quite on target.

I’d started filming this movie the first week of August. It was now mid September, six weeks later. The project had just peaked, and now was losing momentum. The fun part seemed to be over, the year was waning, the guys were getting into other things, and I had a ton of stuff left to do. I didn’t even have someone to play Le Renard yet. Gabe had tried, but just couldn’t find the time. Nevertheless, I pushed on. I was more than halfway through and I couldn’t stop now. But the going became tough.

That week I shot bits and pieces that, like the blockhouse scene, had to be cobbled together later. One series of scenes involved Colin, Rob and Jonathan. They all took place in camp at Fort Edward. I decided to shoot the scenes at the Citadel after hours, but I could never get all three of my actors together at the same time. For example, there is a scene in which they meet in Captain Noble’s command tent. On the evening I planned to do the scene, only Rob was available. Not to be deterred, I shot all of his parts. On another evening I shot a bunch of Colin’s bits, and on another day I shot Jonathan’s. I then cut the clips together in an attempt to make it look like they were interacting.

One lucky day I got both Colin and Rob together and managed two more short scenes, but they were rushed and the dialogue barely made sense. Several takes would have helped, but I didn’t have that luxury. I was running out of time. A few days later, which was Friday, I managed to convince Jonathan to come in and bring his historic clothes and his musket, resigned to having to film all of his parts separately. I was just filling in cracks, at this point, just getting the job done.

A scene from this period that I’m still unhappy with is the “target shooting” scene. I had high hopes for this one. It was a chance to introduce some history and build my characters at the same time, wrapped in the exciting scenario of a shooting contest. I’d wanted to set it in a meadow beneath the Fort Edward blockhouse, and feature a party of Rangers all hootin’ and hollerin’ as Noble and Tom Saxon competed for who could be the best shot in the unit. Their targets were to be bottles set on a plank twenty yards away. That was how I had written the scene. But now I knew there was never going to be time for all that. So instead of Fort Edward, I shot the scene at the Citadel. Rob, Colin, and Jonathan again all did their parts separately, on separate days. For targets I used reproduction 18th century playing cards. This was a nice touch, a bit of texture, but I couldn’t really shoot them. Instead I used a simple camera trick. Setting the camera on a tripod, I let the tape roll, then poked holes in the target cards with a tent peg. Later I removed a few frames of video in the editor, creating the illusion of the holes just appearing. It actually looks convincing and most people think I shot holes in my cards. But I didn’t.

By the end of the week I had a bunch of jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit together. After a lot of work with the editor, I managed to make it all work, but everything I did in this period resulted in the weakest scenes in the film. The camera work is too static, and the acting was stiffer than in other parts of the film, probably because the guys were unable to play off of each other. And there was a lot of noise on the audio, everything from wind to vehicle noises to kids playing in the background. I ended up re-recording the audio track for every one of those stitched together scenes, most of it done indoors, with the guys reading their lines into a microphone and trying to match their earlier delivery.

The truth is, the project was now a mess, and I was feeling discouraged. There were huge gaps to fill and it seemed that it was getting harder and harder to care. I didn’t have any scenes with Renard’s partisans. I didn’t have the ending. I didn’t have the beginning.
I still didn’t even have a Renard.