Dirty Deeds…Done Dirt Cheap

I could hear them laughing at me.

I couldn’t blame them.

If I were watching some guy rolling around in the dirt, rubbing soil and dead leaves over his clothes, I would have laughed too.

Welcome to the final day of principal photography for Kaishakunin.

On October 8, most of Kaishakunin’s cast and crew assembled for a final day of filming. We were scheduled to do some green-screen work and extreme close-ups outdoors (things we didn’t want to do during our other day of outdoor filming). Not enough to fill a day, but certainly enough to eat up a morning and most of the afternoon.

On the 8th, some states were facing a hurricane. In Wayne, Pennsylvania, we were facing overcast skies and the threat of rain. Comparatively speaking, I know our problems were petty, but still — rain can ruin an outdoor shoot. You might have to cancel and send everyone home. When it takes weeks — even months — to find a date and time convenient for everyone involved (we all have real jobs and other responsibilities), the wrong weather can be a major setback.

We started the day doing the green-screen scenes (say that five times fast) in what is jokingly (yet lovingly) called the Small Basket Studios Sound Stage. Sounds impressive, but in actuality it’s a garage with a green screen hanging in it.

If you don’t know what all this green-screen talk means, here’s a page about the process on Wikipedia. The short version: Shooting actors against a green screen allows you to composite in other things around them. In big studio blockbusters, that’s how your favorite stars look like they’re standing against some futuristic landscape. For us, the green screen served as a major convenience. Some of the indoor scenes we shot didn’t turn out. Rather than arrange another day of filming at our indoor location (a logistics nightmare), we shot our main characters against the green scene. This will allow us to drop in the indoor location around them. Done correctly, the green-screen moments should flow seamlessly with the indoor scenes, and viewers won’t even notice the difference.

By the time we wrapped the shots with the green screen, a light drizzle had started, so it was a mad dash to the backyard behind the garage where we were going to shoot the aforementioned extreme close-ups. A drizzle doesn’t sound like much, but suspended water adrift in air can wreak havoc on a lens and sensitive electronics.

In addition to the rain, we had another challenge: The scenes required that one of the character’s costumes go from clean and neat to worn and filthy.

In major motion pictures (or those not shot on an indie budget), there would be two costumes: the nice one and the not-so-nice one. But we only had one costume. That meant we had to shoot the portion with the clean version first, then shoot with the dirty one after. There’s a reason for that: It’s way easier to make clean clothes dirty than to clean dirty clothes to fit the one-day schedule of an indie film shoot.

After we got our shots with the clean costume, my job was to mess it up for the next scenes. So I put it on, rolled around on the ground, and smeared the costume with yard detritus. The light rain was a boon in this case, as it gave me mud to play in.

The whole spectacle wasn’t pretty, but it did the trick. And, just like that, we were ready to move on and wrap the final scenes.

Covered in mud and leaves wasn’t exactly how I had hoped to end the shoot. But that didn’t ruin any of the enthusiasm that comes when the director yells “Cut!” one last time. (The director in this case being yours truly.) And once I picked the twigs from my hair, we went out to celebrate the completion of principal photography.

The work isn’t finished, however. There’s still editing, and those green-screen scenes require digital magic. We’ll also need our sound designer/composer to add the appropriate audio elements, and our colorist will change our footage to black and white. (I suppose that makes him an anti-colorist.) Then, on top of that, we’ll likely get the band back together one more time for ADR (automated dialogue replacement — which is a fancy way of saying “dubbing”) so the actors can record any dialogue that didn’t come through clearly.

Oh, and I shouldn’t overlook the title sequence, end credits, and all the other efforts that go into post-production.

Still, we made it through production. And while shooting an indie film may require the occasional (and literal) dirty deed, I think I speak on behalf of everyone involved when I say that we loved the process. Because that’s why we make these films. We don’t expect any sort of wealth or fame. We make films because we want to make films.

And we want you to see them.

I think you’re really going to like this one. And even if it doesn’t launch my film career, I may have a future as a mud wrestler.

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