FILM WEATHER

Unless I’m on a beach wading in perfectly clear seawater, the ideal temperature for me to exist in is 65 degrees F (that’s 18C for everyone else on the planet except the USA).  I keep interior temps at 65F all year long.  I sleep better, think better, and create better.  But, there are times when I can’t control the climate.  So before scheduling a movie shoot, it’s always best to consider where you’re going to shoot and what the temperature will be.

Dennis Hopper once told me it’s better to shoot in sweltering heat than it is to shoot in bitterly cold.  He was right.  It wasn’t until my first winter shoot that I realized how debilitating it is to shoot a movie in cold weather.

When the temps get cold enough, and the wind chill kicks in, it can be beyond miserable.  In addition it can be dangerous.  Frostbite is a concern.  It’s really hard to operate cameras and things with huge padded gloves.  Imagine being an actor, trying to compose yourself and stay in character when your body starts involuntarily shaking.  Or what about the blood draining from your face and leaving your nose bright red and cheeks pale?  These are problems that one must deal with when shooting in the cold.

There are some dangers when shooting a movie in the heat.  People are at risk for heat stroke and the sort.  But, tolerating the temperature impact on your body is manageable.  It’s easier to provide water to people, make sure everyone stays in the shade whenever possible, and avoid heat exhaustion.  Sometimes it happens, of course, and usually when the heat index is higher than normal (this is like a wind chill but reverse).

I’ve filmed many movies in warm temps.  My first film PEP SQUAD was produced in the humid Kansas July and August.  It was disgusting.  Actors make-up sliding down faces, and several people on the crew just smelled bad.

STUCK! was even worse.  Filmed during early summer in Macon, Georgia, where the humidity is so thick you can cut it and put it on a piece of toast.  The place we filmed the jail cells was on the second floor of a building with no air conditioning.  The owners refused to open the windows at night to cool it down for us.  So we had to work in miserable conditions.  Visually it looked great: everyone a little shiny with sweat and the contrast in B&W worked out in our favor.

During CASSEROLE CLUB we filmed in Palm Springs, and I made sure the air conditioning ran throughout the shoot.  Some people have the belief you should shut all the appliances off, or turn off the AC when you shoot.  That makes no sense to me, because you’ll just add room noise back in later.  It’s super easy to match the frequency of the room noise and air nowadays.  Maybe back in the day this was harder.  Anyway, I’ve never worried about shutting off the AC or Heat.  Or unplugging the fridge.

Likewise, think about other factors such as: is it hurricane season?  Tornado season?  Rainy season?  Dry season?  Allergy season?  How many hours of daylight versus night will you have?  In real life, it would always be ideal to live and work in an environment steady at 65F.  So think about that when you get ready to shoot your next movie.

DIRECTING SEX SCENES

Some people say there’s nothing sexy about doing a sex scene.  I’d like to say that’s true, but the truth is, sometimes they can be incredibly sexy.  Perhaps they aren’t doing it right.  Anyway, one of the tricks to filming a sex scene is almost exactly the same trick as filming a scene with gruesome violence.  Basically, anything that is supposed to be graphic should always follow this rule: less is more.

Give the audience something to feel and they will feel it.  If you show it to them, they will not feel it.  Instead, they will look at it.  The more they see, the less they feel.  Whereas, if you limit the graphic shots, you will give the audience a visceral reaction to what you’re showing them.

In my film WATCH OUT there’s a scene in the end where the actor playing Jonathan Barrows cuts the toes off a Britney Spears type popstar played brilliantly by Jillian Lauren.  The only reason this scene works is because the graphic visuals are kept to a strict minimum.  I think there are three times we see something graphic in that scene, and each shot is less than a second.  The narration and sound effects create something so gross and violent that the audience doesn’t really know that they are, in fact, not really seeing anything.

The best sex scenes are done in the same way.  The more you hear breathing, see shots of skin in the shadows, and careful camera angles to avoid seeing anything explicit, the more erotic it will be.

In my film CASSEROLE CLUB, the sex scenes are primarily raw and gritty, not really all that sexy, but rather, off putting.  The story is about the destruction of relationships, so the sex in the film needed to be treated in a gritty way that is more realistic than most slickly shot sex scenes.

Filming those scenes with actors can sometimes be difficult but they don’t have to be.  One of the tricks is to get the actors together and ask them what parts of their bodies are they comfortable with, and what parts of their bodies are they uncomfortable with.  Most people know their own bodies well enough to tell you from what angle certain shapes or features are accentuated, and which angles to avoid.

If you can bring your actors into the creation of the sex scene (or a graphically violent scene), they will be more comfortable in the process of filming it.  It’s also a good idea to keep them as relaxed as possible or else it will show on screen.  Unless the intent is to show nervousness, in which case, I might avoid getting them involved in order to accent their nervousness.

If you’re doing a sex scene with a woman who loves her breasts but hates the way her butt looks, or a guy who loves his ass but doesn’t think his abs are good enough, it can be really fun to use these obstacles as fuel.  Don’t think about them as obstacles, but rather, an exciting experiment in creation.  How can you storyboard a list of shots that gives the actors what they want, and also the audience what they want, without compromising either side?  I love challenges like those.

It’s also a good idea to have a closed set when doing any kind of graphic scene.  There’s no reason for every person to be present.  In reality, you only need the DP, the director and the sound guy.  Gaffers and grips, Assistants and the like, can easily step outside for the take and return immediately after the shot.  The less people present, the more comfortable the actors and the better the scene will be.

IS FILM A COLLABORATIVE … ART?

Filmmaking is NOT a collaborative art.  It is a collaborative PROCESS.  Those are two totally different things.  If you’re hearing this for the first time, it might seem shocking, but let me explain.

This goes across the board with any artistic endeavor, be it music, painting, or design.  Let’s use painting as the example.  One person can stretch the canvas, another person can mix the paint, but when it comes time, only one person can hold the brush—or it will look like it.  If more than one person holds the brush the painting will lack unity and the perspective will be off.  Then, of course, you can have another person sell to painting to a gallery, and yet another person at that gallery selling it to the consumer.

Sure, filmmaking by committee exists, and I have no problem with filmmaking by committee.  But people might confuse filmmaking by committee as a collaborate art—it isn’t.  It’s a collaborative process.  There always needs to be one person in charge—the head honcho—whether the director, a producer, or a studio executive.  If you have too many people making decisions, the end result will be chaotic and lack any kind of unity or focus.  Which sometimes happens, and we’ve all seen examples of the outcome.

When you’re about to make a film it’s very important to define who is the leader.  If you are merely a director who is translating what the producer tells you to do, you need to have a clear understanding of what that means.  And so does the producer.  You don’t want to wait until half way into your shoot and realize you’ve done it all wrong, that he’s in charge and you aren’t.

Once I was working with a make-up person who wouldn’t create the “faces” and looks I wanted, but rather, wanted to do it his way.  He said, “but this is my art.”  I replied, “No it isn’t.  This is about PROCESS.  It is your job to use your abilities to translate what I want, because this is my vision, my perspective.”  If we had our actors wear the make-up he wanted them to wear, the movie would’ve looked like a cartoon.  He had been hired based on his technical skill, not his taste.

On the flip-side, there are artists I’ve worked with that have an absolutely keen eye.  When we filmed THE CASSEROLE CLUB, I asked Jane Wiedlin to be my second set of eyes.  I value her opinion as an artist, and in this case, we had reached an aesthetic understanding of what we were creating, so I knew that if she had any ideas, they would be worth considering.  And they were.  Still, she knew I was in charge, but I gave her the freedom to speak up if she had an idea that could make the scene brighter, or point out something that didn’t seem right, or props that weren’t historically accurate.

As a director, if you can define your vision and share those definitions with people, chances are that when you set them free inside that spectrum, they will create something you love.  I usually like to make a list of rules that apply to every aspect of the process.  I make a “look book” that illustrates what we’re going for.  If you tell someone to make it “exotic” or “gothic” and not much else, they could come back with something appropriate for a Tim Burton movie, or at the other end of the spectrum, a look suitable for Twilight.  Neither of which may be what you want.  But, it isn’t their fault.  It’s yours.  Because you didn’t communicate effectively.  Remember: the meaning of communication is what the other person hears—not what you say.

It’s very important to illustrate verbally, visually, and in great detail, what it is you’re creating so that everyone’s on the same page.  Then, the collaborative process can be an enjoyable one.  But, remember, there must always be one person in charge and it’s important to define who that is right at the start.