• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Title

Branching Out

A learning experience.

July 12, 2015
 

I have wanted to produce and direct a film for some time now. I don't aspire to actually be a producer or director, but I am curious about aspects of filmmaking that I don't have experience with, and I am a hands-on learner.

The idea had been in the back of my mind, but had never attached itself to a particular project until two months ago. A teammate from my musical improv house team and I discovered a shared love of Star Trek, and we started experimenting with Star Trek-themed musical improv. We have found that we really love it, and audiences do, too. In fact, we have just signed to do a weekly show at a comedy club in Manhattan.

My partner is great at publicity; she contacts news outlets and sometimes succeeds in getting coverage for our tiny show. I wanted to help promote it as well, in a way that was more creative than just inviting people on Facebook. I decided we should make a promotional video. Initially I just wanted to find someone to film some of our shows and put together a highlights reel.

Then, one afternoon, Ben and I were watching and goofing on a Star Trek episode. I told him about a silly thought I'd had about one of the alien species on the show, and we started joking about ways my team, Redshirts, could use this silliness. Then Ben said something that flipped a switch in my brain, and an entire (very short) screenplay popped into my head, whole.

I wrote it out and sent it to actor friends, and to my great gratification (especially since I can't afford to pay anyone) it was fully cast by the next day. A wonderful improviser who also does cinematography agreed to film it for me, and it went without saying that Ben would be my sound engineer. A wonderful director I have worked with signed on as assistant director/producer, and we were off.

That, of course, was when the real work started. We had scheduling issues—all of the actors have day (or night) jobs, and several, like me, are on teams that practice and perform weekly, so finding a date everyone could commit eight hours to proved impossible. I had to recast several parts. I was lucky enough to get equally great people, but it was difficult to let the initial actors go. We finally settled on two dates, the first of which is coming up this weekend—about eight weeks after I initially cast the video. Which turned out to be a good thing, as there was so much to do in the meantime.

Our cinematographer needed to work with a professional shooting script, so this technophobe downloaded a script formatting program and learned how to use it.

Fortunately, I didn't have to find a location; our living room actually looks something like a ready room on the USS Enterprise. But transforming our home into a spaceship has been a challenge, involving rearranging furniture (including emptying and moving a china cabinet), covering windows with "night sky" paper, and replacing family photos with pictures of heroes from previous series. I have had to locate strange props, including Vulcan ears and a Cardassian mask. And every time I turn around I realize that there is something  else I forgot to do or buy.

So far, this has been a wonderful learning experience, though not necessarily one I want to repeat. I have a much better appreciation for what it takes to make a "real" film (as opposed to a 10-minute short). I understand better the importance of replying to every message from a director, of showing up on time for rehearsals, and of being proactive about any problems that may arise. This weekend I'm sure I will develop an enhanced appreciation of the utility of knowing one's lines and taking direction gracefully.

But I'm also realizing that when directors and producers express appreciation to actors for their participation, it isn't just empty, polite chat, or a pep talk designed to smooth things on the set or motivate everyone to work harder. The gratitude I feel toward every person who has given their time and energy to make this vision real is almost overwhelming.

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