For part 1 of this indie horror journal that looks at the making of Child Eater, click here.
Week one of Child Eater is officially complete. We shot six very full days, drank pots and pots of coffee, saw the sun rise four times, and added three new vehicles to our fleet, but we did it and did it quite well at that.
Every stitch of footage is all that we hoped for and more, but there’s no denying that there was quite a bit of troubleshooting to set the bar that high and then keep it there. I could probably write a book about what I’ve learned about making a feature based on these first six days alone, but for the sake of brevity, I’ve isolated four pivotal lessons and experiences that are vital for any filmmaker to know.
Lesson 1: Lodging
As a producer, keeping my cast and crew comfortable has always been of the utmost importance, but, when you’re shooting a short film on a six-day schedule for very little money, it can seem reasonable to cut corners and say, “You know, for such a short stretch of time, so and so can suck it up and sleep on a couch” or, “Maybe it’s no big deal to have all of these people share a bathroom for the week.” Not on a feature film though.
And it’s not that we ever even intended to cut corners on this production. We rented what we thought was a beautiful home in Hunter, New York, a house with a spacious kitchen, two livings rooms, and loads of beds and bathrooms, too. But where does the camera go? And how about hair, make-up and wardrobe? And where is the art department going to store set dressing and other items? The people and things added up so much, we had no choice but to rent a second house. Sure, it cut into our budget quite a bit, but our team is immensely more comfortable for it and that makes the expense necessary and justified.
Lesson 2: Don’t Skimp on PAs
This might be one of the most detrimental mistakes we made during week one. When we first began pre-production on Child Eater, we intended to do it on a limited budget with as small a crew as possible, perhaps even just a skeleton crew. Well, turns out, when you’ve got big dreams and an ambitious first feature, you’re going to need lots of hands to actually make it happen, and make it happen fast enough, too.
Shortly before beginning principal photography, we intended on going into this without a property master, script supervisor, 2nd 2nd assistant director and having just two production assistants. Fortunately, we came to realize that having the props master, script supervisor and 2nd 2nd were vital before arriving in Catskill for the shoot, but that wasn’t the case with the PAs.
You know what happens when you’re short on PAs? The producers wind up doing the gas runs, managing craft service and transporting cast, and that means, you can’t do the stuff you’re technically supposed to be doing, like, let’s say, putting together expense reports or preparing things for the next day. Since kicking off the shoot with two PAs, we’ve brought on two more full time and a handful of others who’ve agreed to come up to Catskill for shorter stints.We’re always hesitant to hire more hands because that means yet another salary and we only have so much money to spend, but we were also forced to recognize that without those extra hands, we can’t maintain a proper pace on set, and without that, we run the risk of not completing the film in 20 days. Unless you want to be working 24/7 (literally), get yourself enough PAs.
Lesson 3: Make-up & Wardrobe Gore Collaboration
We always knew our costume designer, Annie Simon, and make-up artist, Fiona Tyson, were top-notch, but they pulled off some truly astounding work this week.At one point, a character in Child Eater is stabbed. On such a low budget, you can only have so many copies of a particular costume so that creates an immense pressure to get something like this done right in just a few takes. This character is stabbed and then bleeds in a single shot, so that left Fiona with the challenge of creating a realistic blood flow and Annie with the responsibility of keeping the wardrobe clean enough to do this more than one time. There was no comprising here. Both had to achieve their goals and, by coming together and developing an apparatus in tandem, they did. After considering the physics of blood flow, they decided a sponge would do the trick. Fill a sponge with fake blood, squeeze it and there you go. Now, in order to keep the costume in good shape, they stuck this blood-soaked sponge in a Ziploc bag with a slight tear in it, taped that bag around the actor’s waist and then, after pretending to get stabbed, it’d be as simple as putting pressure on the wound to release the blood as necessary.
Lesson 4: Sleep
I love relaxing as much as anyone, but when I’m working, I do have the tendency to want to do everything myself. Trouble is, when you’re working on such an extensive project for so many long, long days, you’ve just got to come to terms with the fact that that’s just not possible.
It was one thing when we began our week with a 6am to 6pm schedule, but when things switched to 6pm to 6am, all office hours were lost. For the first two days of week one, we shot during the day. While filming was underway, we could hang out in our makeshift production office, call rental houses for more equipment, run around to local businesses to try to lock additional locations, handle paperwork and more. That all changed on Wednesday when we started shooting at night. Even though technically you’re free from 6am to 6pm when shooting a 6pm to 6am schedule, you absolutely cannot forgo sleep to make use of the regular workday. First off, it’s dangerous, especially when you’re doing quite a bit of driving, and second, when you’re utterly exhausted, you’re not doing your best work anyway.
This brings us back to the PA situation, and crew in general. I’m tireless and will fight to no end to accomplish everything, but making a movie requires an adequate energy level and the only way to maintain that energy level is to delegate appropriately so that everyone ends up with enough time to rest. Stress and exhaustion are inevitable, but you absolutely must keep them in check and the only way you can do that is by surrounding yourself with smart, talented and dedicated people, and I’m endlessly grateful to have that. Child Eater wouldn’t be possible without it.