Production Day 1: Friday the 13th

Super Roommates began filming on Friday the 13th of March. It was amidst a snowstorm, and there was an accident on Deerfoot, so I arrived on set after pretty much all my cast & crew, but our location still wasn’t available to us until fifteen minutes after our call time so it wasn’t bad. Yet.

If you want to catch up, try reading Pitching A Web Series or Producing A Web Series.

Everyone knew what to do and where to be, and I was approached every so often when there was a decision that needed to be made. I ended up being in hair and makeup for much longer than anyone expected, and the costume also took longer to put on than expected. While the hair & makeup person was working on me, I was trying to find an indoor location for our biggest scene for Day 3, which was supposed to be outside but the weather was going to be in the negative twenties and some of the actors, myself included, were going to be wearing spandex suits. I had a few maybes as options and figured I could rewrite what I had to for whatever new location I managed to get, although I’d sunken over $400 for a permit for the Day 3 outdoor shoot already. But there was no way I could ask my cast and crew to be out in that cold for hours for that scene.

By the time we started filming, we were over an hour behind, but once we were rolling we got the scenes done pretty quickly, I think. We changed locations to one that was half an hour away and had lunch there, then filmed the few scenes we could while waiting for an actor to show up for the day’s biggest scene…and waited…and waited.

She wasn’t answering calls or texts and I was going through stages. At first it wasn’t much of a concern to me, I figured our shots weren’t taking that long and we had time. After more time had passed, I got annoyed. We still had to do a costume change and film another two scenes after the big scene we were waiting on, and we’d have to rush a bit to make our day. More time passed and I went into problem solving mode. I even had our craft services person in costume and hair and makeup ready to replace her, practicing the lines and everything, but ultimately decided I’d just cut the scene entirely if I had to. After even more time passed, hours now after we were expecting her, we were all getting worried. We were going ahead with the costume change and filming the last scenes of the day, no longer expecting our actor to show up but still wondering what had happened, because she hadn’t given any indication that she’d been anything but excited to play the part on this project.

At some point, I checked my email to see if the actor had sent a message I’d missed and instead saw an email from an actor scheduled for the morning of Day 2, asking whether we were still filming the next day. My first reaction was, why wouldn’t we be? I checked my other email and saw that some of the other Storyhive projects were shutting down production due to COVID-19. One person had posted in the chat the letter they’d sent to their cast and crew, including the actor who had emailed me. The same actor told me he wasn’t comfortable showing up the next day. Then I saw what STORYHIVE had written to all of us project leaders on the topic. Storyhive, in case you aren’t keeping up, is where we got our funding and without them, none of our projects would be happening.. They were recommending we postponed all productions.

Well. Suddenly finding a new location for -20 weather and an actor not showing up weren’t my biggest worries. I had not thought the situation with COVID-19 would reach this point at all in Alberta, much less this quickly, which only speaks to the gravity of the situation. I also knew that I did not have the money or resources to cancel or delay any of the production, and if I stopped production, it might never start again. Insurance had been very careful to say they would not cover any cancellations as a result of COVID-19.

This thing I’ve been working on since November, this huge opportunity that I’ve never had before and that so many people have put so much of their time and effort into already, might amount to nothing. And yet, although I had to talk it out with my Assistant Director first, I realized shutting down was the only option. This was bigger than my project, and the safety of my cast and crew more important. I also knew at least one person was immunocompromised and I don’t know how large a part that played in my decision, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t.

My fingers were crossed that Storyhive might help get us started again when it was over, but I was prepared for the worst case scenario that I might be on the hook for twenty thousand dollars, give or take. And I mean, it was shitty, but also one of the easier decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve had a harder time deciding on what flavour bubble tea to get to be honest, and I think because of that, I didn’t feel bad about it.

With that in mind, I went ahead and filmed the remaining scenes, plus some improv and finished the day. Oh my god, the shots were beautiful, the deliveries hilarious, the cast and crew all got along and collaborated so well, it was such a great set to be on with fun vibes. I was so happy at how well it all worked out. And when I called it and Day 1 was wrapped, I gathered my amazing cast and crew and told them we wouldn’t be back the next day. I laid it all out, told them what was up, and dismissed them. No one moved.

Oh, and at some point we finally got ahold of the missing actor. She’d gotten lost, her car got stuck in a snowbank, she didn’t have cell service, was stuck for hours in the freezing cold and needed to be rescued by RCMP. So she was having a bad day, too. I couldn’t talk to her when I first found out—I had too much going on in my head, trying to direct and remember my lines and be in character in front of the camera in addition to everything on the producer side—but I spoke with her that evening and she’s okay now.

So I told everyone, and said that was it, they could pack up and go home, but no one moved. I can’t really explain the looks on their faces, but it made me realize this wasn’t just a job to them. They cared about this project too, or at least cared about me which is arguably better. And after I answered a few questions, people slowly began to disperse and start packing things up. Over the course of wrapping up, they’d find me, one at a time, stopping me when I was walking past or finding me in the back room where I hid with my laptop, trying to put together the email to notify everyone who wasn’t there. They gave me advice for who to say what to in hopes of getting some money back, or reassured me that I was doing the right thing and we’d be back at it in no time. One person gave me the tape with my name from where it had said ‘Director’ on the slate. Another came up to me and dumped a pile of dead batteries next to me, explaining that they usually passed out dead batteries to department heads for good luck but figured I needed all of them. Even though a lot of other productions had been cancelled and, for film workers who already have precarious incomes, the lack of income from this could be disaster to my cast and crew, everyone was understanding. There were no complaints, no bitterness, nothing negative.

When I was alone in my car driving home after, it wasn’t the fact that Super Roommates might be dead that brought me to tears. As I said, it was an easy decision considering the risks, and I therefore couldn’t feel bad about it. But my cast and crew had been absolutely amazing. We’d had a rough day, but at every bump, whether it was finding a new location for Sunday, or running hours behind schedule, or having an actor not show up without notice, or having the whole thing cancelled altogether, rather than creating any friction or animosity, everyone stuck together, worked together, and figured it all out together. My heart was so full from their work and actions and words. They deserved better than this.

There are good things that have come out of this. For one, we didn’t have to wake up super early the next day to go film in -20c weather. I think that was my biggest relief. We did manage to get some equipment rentals refunded as well as some catering and the permit, which is great. I also have time to memorize my lines better, which I sort of ran out of time for. We got some amazing stuff on day one, and we’ll be back for more! So things aren’t all bad. In fact, I’d even say they’re pretty good. This is a massive societal effort to keep each other safe and that’s inspiring. Just like it was on set, these difficulties will bring our communities closer together and we’ll all be stronger for it. So wash your hands, check in with your friends and neighbours, and don’t panic-buy toilet paper.

Stay safe.

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