(with titles from Pat Benatar)
After we wrapped WELCOME TO PINE HILL I was pretty shell-shocked. When people asked me about it I held back a tic and smiled. “It was great.” I’d met other directors who were battered by a tough shoot. I just never thought I would be one of them. But making it wasn’t without its lessons.
Hit me with your best shot (just not too many shots)
The first day was supposed to be an easy eight-hour shoot. I’d written the script. I’d done my research. Worked with the cast and crew. Everyone was on time. The PA’s mom dropped her off on time. Easy day. Nothing could go wrong. We wrapped 16 hours later.
A no-budget shoot needs to cram a lot in each day. But you also have to be realistic: good shots take time, performances need moments of calm, and everyone needs to be focused. Even after we went back for another full day a few months later, we didn’t get all the shots on that first list. Some movies supposedly do a page a day. We were working with what would have been 5- 15 a day. That’s possible, but probably not a good idea.
PINE HILL was shot in a way that required intense coordination, sensitivity and clarity. We shot with three cameras in long, improvised takes of up to 45 minutes, with a very fluid sense of what was happening with the cameras and in front of them. My hope was to have everything feel real, from the way we shot it to the performances to the final product. I worked hard in pre-production conversations to explain what I was going for. It all seemed clear to me, but it just wasn’t to everyone. That was my fault. Everyone who worked on PINE HILL was amazing. Really. I trusted them. They were all doing great and I could see it. But every time I felt something off and didn’t say something, I saw it later in the edit and couldn’t work around it. The deep respect, trust, and admiration I have for my friends shouldn’t get in the way of challenging them. If it’s not the best it can be, fight for it and make sure it is.
If you think you know how to love me (you also need to know when to shut up)
Even though I should have fought for what I wanted, you should also trust the people around you and shut up when you need to.
Shooting a scene in the backyard of a house in Jamaica, Queens, a resident of the house named Willie wandered in front of our cameras and delivered an amazing unscripted and unplanned monologue that moved our lead Shannon so much he began to cry. As it happened I was too focused on Willie to notice Shannon. Shannon’s a pretty tough guy -a 6’4”, 300 pound 22 year-old who makes his living as a bouncer, both in PINE HILL and in real life. I tip-toed over to Lily Henderson, one of the three DPs, and whispered, “Get Willie!” She basically told me to shut up. She was right. Seeing him cry was intense, beautiful, and real.
Love Is A Battlefield (so is a set)
We could have used about ten more people each day. DPs had to dump footage on the computer when they should have been resting or setting up another shot. Our AC was the only one who could drive a stick so he was picking people up instead of assisting the DPs. We worked with what we had. But that’s why the movie ended up the way it did. The toughness of Shannon’s performance was mirrored by everyone on the set. There were some casualties, but every shot was fought for with love and passion, and that’s the quality I wanted in the movie.
You’re the right kind of sinner, to release my inner fantasy
The invincible winner, and you know that you were born to be… a heartbreaker
A year and a half later, I’m pretty sure that even with all the planning I can do for the next film, all the lessons learned, I’ll end up with the same amount of problems and challenges, I just guess they’ll be different. Watch Lost in La Mancha and Hearts of Darkness. If it happened to Terry Gilliam and Francis Coppola, it could happen to any of us. And I can’t wait to do it again. Does that mean I’m Out-a-touch?
If you want to learn more about WELCOME TO PINE HILL take a look here: kickstarter
Or go to our website.