13 Thrilling Days: Breaking Down the Production of My First Feature

13 Thrilling Days: Breaking Down the Production of My First Feature

This is the sixth guest article in a series by filmmaker Brittany Nisco, where she's documenting the entire process of making her first independent feature film, Wandering Off. Here's the synopsis.

Wandering Off deals with family dynamics when faced with a crisis, specifically siblings who are still holding onto decades of tension. Their past continually creeps in while they try to understand not only what has happened to their parents, but who they are now and who they thought they would be. Their parents, on the other hand, are obliviously blissful… and nowhere to be found.

If you want to get caught up on the first five installments in the series, you can find them here:

  1. Starting Down the Road of Making Your First Feature Film

  2. The Super Important Logistics of Pre-Producing Your First Feature

  3. The Keys to Kickstarting Your Indie Film: Preparation, Hustle, & Heart

  4. Running A Kickstarter or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Movie

  5. Getting My First Feature Film from Planning to Production

And you can stay up to date with Brittany and her journey on the film's websitefacebook page, and twitter page.

Monday, August 15th, 2016: 

I sat on my bed wondering how I got here.

How did I get a whole crew together? How did I get the most phenomenal cast together? How did one idea over a year ago come to fruition?

I was feeling so excited, nervous, anxious, happy, and somehow all those feelings ended up with me having a full breakdown. I had kept it completely together for a year, and now, two days before principal photography was starting, I lost it. I needed to.

Then my phone went off; it was our DP, Chris, confirming what time he’d be getting to our main location the next day. I wiped away the last of my tears, got myself up, and got back to business. I had a movie to make in less than 48 hours.

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016: 

I don’t think I slept. Today was the day everyone was coming in from different states. Today was the day the crew was all meeting, the leads were meeting, and we were finishing setting up our main location at the house. I was running around my house that day packing things up for myself and for the set. I was staying at our main house location for almost the entirety of the shoot.

One of our amazing interns, Renee, was running errands with me that day, which first started with meeting up with our Chris, and our sound guy, Jeremy, at our house location.

The owners of the house, who will now be referred to as the greatest people ever, had their door open to the crew in and out of the house all day. While people they had never met before were loading in, Renee and I were out, and meeting up with our two female leads at the hotel to do wardrobe with them.

Within the first minute of meeting them I knew we were going to have an amazing shoot.

That night we had a dinner for all people involved in principal photography at Aunt Cathy’s house. (The best part of working with a small cast and crew is that you become a family. And my Aunt Cathy became everyone’s Aunt Cathy, and was only called that for the entirety).

We had our cast, crew, parents, hair, and makeup all there to meet each other before we hopped onto set the next day. When you’re working on a limited budget, and therefore limited time, you have no time for rehearsals or even a table read. But we all broke some bread, drank some wine, and started to feel comfortable with our set family.

The best part of working with a small cast and crew is that you become a family. And my Aunt Cathy became everyone’s Aunt Cathy, and was only called that for the entirety.

After the party I drove to the set house, where I was calling home for the next couple weeks. I drove in silence the 40 minutes there. This was it: 11am was our crew call and we were rolling a couple hours after that. 

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016: 

A day I’ll never forget as long as I live.

I was so nervous from when I woke up to when the first time I called action. The crew rolled in ahead of call time bearing Starbucks. We had a morning meeting and I went over rules for the entirety of being on set, things that need to be done in accordance with unions we were working with, and what each scene was looking like for that day. We were in it.

We started almost an hour late on our first scene of the day mainly due to the fact it was the first day and everyone was working the kinks out.

I called action for the first time, and I was immediately relieved. There were no more nerves. It looked amazing, sounded amazing, and things were running smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that despite starting late, we were ahead of schedule for lunch.

With it being the Olympics, we decided to hold our own race walking event with our extra time.

We wrapped five scenes our first day. The crew left except for Chris and our equipment manager and producer, Travis. We looked at dailies while they were uploading and talked about what we were shooting the next day.

Thursday, August 18th, 2016: 

The entire day was spent in the kitchen. We had another intern, Peter, on a timer for the fridge, since we were turning it off for sound when we were rolling, and didn’t want to forget about turning it back on. We started our first shot about a half hour late, but again, ended up ahead of schedule. We did another five (some very long) scenes.

The trick about this day was getting the kitchen to look different in every shot. Sure, we could have done a standard MS on all 3 leads and clean cutaways, but the last thing I wanted to be called was a lazy director. Each scene, although in the same space, has a different way the camera was moved/placed.

Friday, August 19th, 2016: 

This was the crew’s longest day of the whole shoot at 13 hours.

We were on the third day and moving through scenes (seven of them) like a well-oiled machine. It felt as if we had all worked together for years. We were actually too ahead of schedule, a good problem we ran into almost everyday moving forward, and had to wait for the sun to go down to finish our night exterior scenes.

Saturday, August 20th, 2016:

Our 8 scene day. Sounds crazy. But we were moving along. The over-preparation on shots, walking the space with Chris, and planning out where lights were going to go the week before filming was paying off.

Of course it didn’t all stay the same, but we felt comfortable, making that many scenes in 12 hours seem like a cakewalk. 

We couldn’t fly through these scenes if it weren’t for the caliber of talent that our actors possessed. I keep saying it, but I couldn’t have imagined a better cast. Since the cast was so great and bringing these characters to life better than imagined, that made me think of extra scenes to add in.

I asked our other Producer and script supervisor, Christian, to write up some of the scene ideas I had. We had extra time in the next week to film more, and I’d rather have more than less.

Sunday, August 21st, 2016:

This was the only day while filming that we ever had to worry about the weather. We needed to film a scene in a car in a parking lot. The rain was coming down heavy that morning and during the crew call that morning we figured out a different option, which ended up working out really well.

This was the day we also had to make it night inside the house. While Chris, Jeremy, Connor (our other cam op/AC) and myself went to film the first scene, the rest of the crew was left at the house under Grant’s (our 1st AD) to make it look like night inside the house.

Of course once we got to the other rain location, it stopped raining. We got back to the house, and it looked like 11pm instead of 11am. Going outside for meals was a weird transition and we all were a little off from the lack of sunlight. It started raining heavily again that night and so we were forced to move our last scene to another day since it was all outside.

Now we had 2 days to recharge.

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016:

The oner. A very long oner. Planned the whole day for it. Took an hour of rehearsal with just the crew, hour of rehearsal with the cast, and 8 takes to get. We wrapped very early that day and hung out on set. All cast and crew brought their A+ game that day. 

Thursday, August 25th, 2016:

Just a two scene day. They were decent sized scenes that we thought were going to take longer to film, but didn’t again. These were the only scenes that had 5 actors at once. It was really great having two cameras for these scenes because it definitely cut our time down immensely.

Friday, August 26th, 2016:

We got to sleep in, which was welcomed and deserved. There was a lot going on, in that we were in five different locations, interior and exterior, throughout the house. Me, Grant, and John (our line producer) made sure to keep our eye on the time because we had a very short turnaround for crew for the next morning. Luckily we wrapped early so we loaded the cars for the morning.

Two of the actors had just found out this was the first project that Chris and I had worked on together. They thought we had worked together for awhile, which I was glad it appeared and felt that way. As a director, it’s very nice to have a DP that you jive with right away.

Saturday, August 27th, 2016:

We had our first and only forced crew call at 7:45am at a bar. We ran into a bit of an issue getting in right away, and while almost 40 extras showed up, we had our interns, Renee and Camryn, have them sign waivers and give instructions about what they would be doing for the scene.

It was frustrating that we couldn’t get into the bar at the time we agreed on, but Grant, Chris, Connor, and I planned out exactly how things were going to go once it was opened. We had a hard out time and had to make things move quicker than we ever had.

We also ran into an issue with their compressor, music, TV, and air conditioner all being on and no one having the key to unlock the box that has all the controls. This is the issue when filming in a place for free: you don’t always have control over all the elements. Jeremy, being the sound wizard he is, managed to make it work.

We had some other long and emotionally charged scenes that day when we got back to the house. The crew was really quick at loading and unloading cars at various locations in under 10 minutes, which is great with a hard out of a location and a quick load in at the next. This came in handy a couple days later.

Sunday, August 28th, 2016:

Our last day with the kids. The three main actors were with us every day since the shoot started and this was their last day on set with us. The crew was pretty bummed and it was a weird day. Definitely felt like the ending of the movie, even though we still had a few days left to film. Strange changing casts completely.

We had a late start to the day since all of our remaining scenes were late afternoon or at night. I took some time that day to talk to everyone, even if just for a couple minutes, and see how they were doing. There was a weird funk hanging in the air like it was actually coming to an end. The scenes we were filming that day were less emotionally draining, which made for a nice end to these actors on set. 

We took a bunch of pictures of the cast and crew, of which I haven’t even looked through completely yet. After all three actors left, the crew all looked at each other a bit sad. We had a short night meeting about what was happening the next 3 days since we were on the road and in various locations the entire time. We packed the cars and got ready for our new cast.

Monday, August 29th, 2016:

We loaded into my favorite Italian restaurant to shoot the first scene with our new cast of actors. As soon as the cameras started rolling it was like magic. These two had never acted together yet it seemed like they have for years. I remember looking around at the other crew members and we all were psyched.

Quick load out and onto two more locations, including them driving around for a scene and going to a farm with a ton of bees that I wasn’t getting near. It was a very hot day, but a very quick day. Crew was wrapped after only 8 hours.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016:

We were back at the house we were in for the first two weeks for the first part of the day. It felt like coming back home.

We were ahead of schedule again and had to wait around for the sun to start setting, and then we were rushing. When you only have those good 5-10 minutes for a sunset, you have to get it.

The crew was running and the cast were hitting their marks immediately. We filmed a couple more scenes that night and all couldn’t believe we only had one more day left.

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016:

Only two scenes left and they were both at night. That whole day the crew hung out and packed things up. We ate and talked and sat by the pool. It felt like the end of summer camp and we were trying to get that thought out of our minds.

We filmed our last two scenes on the side of the road. The last take of the last scene I didn’t want to yell cut because I knew that was it. We all gathered around on that last take and you could feel the heaviness of everyone.

After saying bye to the cast, the crew finished packing up and started their goodbyes. One by one everyone started leaving. There was just me, Grant, and Travis left and we all just sat in silence. It was done. 

I sat alone in my room that night completely overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve never felt the struggle between happy and sad so strongly in my entire life. The project I’ve worked on for over a year was in the can. The crew I was with everyday for weeks was gone. And I was back where I started: thinking, hopeful, and excited.

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