Day 2 The second day of TEN principal photography was the first shooting day at our primary shoot location, the Beach Mansion in Barrington, RI. We arrived in RI around 3 PM and got to immediately unpacking, building the light kits, setting up props, and preparing the first two rooms for shooting.
Day 2 was the first day of full cast and crew and the scenes for shooting on Day 2 were selected based on cast availability. Leah Principe and UnAmerika’s Sweetheart Karin Webb were both only available for part of the principal shoot due to commitments to perform in The Slutcracker. Two additional points had been on my mind about the first day of ensemble shooting.
First Day Performances
The performances on the first day are always difficult. People have not yet settled in to their characters, to the production style we’ve chosen, or the context of any one moment in the story (keep in mind, we’re shooting out of order). We did try to alleviate some of the issues by holding full readings/rehearsals, but until people are placed in their positions on location with the camera rolling, it’s just not quite real.
I will admit that I learned a lot about the potential pitfalls of filmmaking over the past few months by listening to commentary and watching behind-the-scenes documentaries on every movie I could get my hands on. I concentrated on the work of low-budget filmmakers because they would be facing many of the same problems that I would likely face. On the commentary track on Not of This Earth, Jim Wynorski (one of my favorite B-movie directors), talked with lead Traci Lords (who had limited mainstream acting experience) about how they managed to finish the movie half a day early and went back and reshot all of her first-day scenes because she had improved so much over the course of the ten or eleven day shoot. This stuck with me.
Because Karin had more acting experience than most of the cast, and because we needed to get her scenes taken care of while she was available, we decided to put her seance scene on the first day. It would rely heavily on her performance, but allow everyone else a little more time to settle in to their characters.
Nudity and the Bathtub Scene
One of the hardest decisions about making TEN was deciding how much violence and nudity, staples of the genres kludged into this film, were necessary (or desired). Undoubtedly, the film becomes easier to sell if it is full of both nudity and violence. I don’t like the more modern over-the-top approaches to each, but after much discussion, we decided that we would include some nudity – three scenes to be exact.
It was extremely important that these were written to reinforce the take-home thesis statement of the film (which I won’t spoil yet). None of them would be sexual in nature. All but one felt necessary to the story, the tension, and the discomfort. Ultimately, we removed the nudity from that scene, but it was voluntarily replaced when several cast members requested to alter a scene to contain nudity. The two originally planned scenes that did make the film involved Leah Principe. I viewed them as important tonal scenes because they are moments during which the audience experience should transform. I’ll be completely honest. I wasn’t sure if they would work at all. I was very worried that people would view them as excuses to have someone prance around without any clothes on.
One of the things I had been told over and over and over again whenever anyone involved with film heard that we were shooting nude scenes was that a very high percentage of the time, people back out of the scenes at the last minute. They really think they can do it, but once the lights are on, the room is filled with strangers, and the anxiety hits full throttle, it falls apart. While watching a documentary about the making of Toxic Avenger 4, Lloyd Kaufman said he always shoots major nude scenes before the rest of production begins. That way, if the actor backs out, they can be replaced without having to reshoot the whole movie. Interestingly, in TA4, they shot some nude scenes with the lead the first day and then later, she refused to do other scenes.
In our case, we couldn’t have recast anyway, so it was more the idea that we should get the most critical nude scene over with so that there was no chance for anxiety to build up. The scene was also inherently upsetting and disturbing and had almost no dialogue. I knew that the actions would be convincing because everyone was genuinely afraid about hurting Leah as she went from holding her breath, submerged underwater with an opaque mask to thrown down on the cold bathroom tile, receiving CPR.
She was amazing, dealing with the temperature and discomfort without a complaint and a scene that I feared wouldn’t work, became an immediate celebration of how excited we all were to get this movie made. We did our best to minimize the danger to Leah, only performing one out of tub lift to floor placement (the most dangerous part of the action). I can’t even express how great it was to work with her on this scene and another scene that is probably THE major turning point in the movie (we’ll get to that on a later day).
Karin and Susannah researched CPR recommendations appropriate for 1972 (something I had overlooked) and made sure that everything they did fit the time period. We discussed carefully “performing” CPR without actually pushing on Leah’s chest and everyone played the scene beautifully and quickly. We did very few takes and managed to get it done in just a couple of hours despite having a few tricky shots (a really nice opening jib shot during which I tried to crush Kelly’s fingers) and a blood-spurting effects scene (see the eyeball blood spurt in the screen image above).
My effects designs were admittedly a little unpredictable, but they ultimately worked here. We may have ruined Leah’s contact, staining it red during the blood spurting scene. We also may have sprayed blood across the room just narrowly missing Karin and Susannah’s clothing (which we had no duplicates of), but crisis was magically averted, we got the shot, and blood cleanup in the room went swimmingly.
Long Master Shots and the Seance
The seance scene went pretty smoothly too. One of the recurrent complexities in making this movie is that I am not a fan of modern dialogue cut-editing. I hate how rapidly cuts flip between speakers, cutting 3 times within a sentence to show reactions while showing a speaker. I really wanted this film to be more of an experience of immersion. In this scene for example, I wanted the entire opening section of the seance to be perceived as if the viewer is sitting at the table, participating as the action unfolds. Although we’re obviously still far from an edited final piece, my intention is for this to be a static, two-minute (or so) shot. Participation over observation is one of my major goals with putting this together. I expect that it will be a visual experience that some people will find confusing or disconcerting because it is relatively unusual in film, particularly modern Hollywood affairs. (Article about how cuts affect perception of a film’s story.)
This is all good of course, except that the long master shots that I insisted on for everything required a full, 100% performance for the entire duration of the shot. Watch just about any current film and you’ll notice that dialogue shots last at most a few seconds. This means that someone can be feeding lines of script for each shot and retakes go quickly. We were operating more like a performance at a play, requiring the cast to learn huge sections of dialogue; maybe I loved Rope too much. (Just wait until you get to the 9th day and take a peek at our 8-minute continuous dialogue shot!) One mistake at 7:50 means the whole thing needs to be redone. Sometimes these shots involved camera movement too (yikes!). Let’s just say I didn’t make it easy for anyone.
The seance was also our first real lighting test. We were working in a large, dark room and had to be innovative about placing (and hiding) light sources. The ideal scenario would have been using a generator to run massive light sources placed above the scene (no ceiling on a sound stage, for example) and to the sides (or behind), etc. The important things are power and distance. We had only the power provided by the 200 A (15 A breaker) service at the location.
The first thing Danielle Myers and Catherine Capozzi did upon arrival at the location was to use an outlet breaker tester to label every outlet in the whole house with the breaker number. We then ran 100-foot extension cables all around the house so that for each scene, we could work with 4 or 5 different 15 A circuits.
We had a very limited set of lights:
One three-light tungsten (750W) kit with soft boxes, several 1000W (500W pair) telescoping halogen work lights, five outdoor 500W halogen floodlights (that I wired to plugs to use as ground lights), various LED panel lights (like this one), and a small fluorescent light kit with the bulbs replaced by LED bulbs. Of course, we also had some reflectors, gels, and other associated accessories, but it was just a minimal set of gear.
I declared that we couldn’t push any circuit past 1500W and that we should try to keep everything down to 1250. I honestly expected the electrical situation to be a massive nightmare and cause huge shoot delays. Miraculously, and thanks, in particular, to Danielle‘s work, not only did we never run into a major issue, we didn’t even flip a breaker during the entire shoot (well, until we did the last day of shooting at our house, but that’s a story for another day – Day 10 to be exact).