Filmmaker and editor Dean Pollack’s work has appeared everywhere from Bravo and Hulu to Adult Swim. He just completed his second directorial effort, the feature film Audrey, which traces a single hour in a woman’s day. He discusses the advantages and disadvantages encountered shooting a film set in real time on a single location.
Not only is my feature Audrey shot almost entirely in one location, but it also takes place in “real time,” over the course of an hour in a young woman’s life. As the director and co-writer with 20/20 hindsight, I can say shooting with these conceits requires… great planning.
We ended up embracing the choice because of what it added to the film creatively, but we initially chose to set the film in one location for budgetary and scheduling reasons. From a set-up and page count perspective, shooting in one location is far more efficient and cost-effective than shooting at multiple locations. When you shoot in one location, there are no company moves, which can be a huge benefit in terms of scheduling and budget. Moves take a lot of time – dozens of people and truckloads of equipment must be coordinated, loaded, moved and unloaded again. During these line hours, you won’t get a single shot in the can.
Because we spent two solid weeks of our three-week Audrey shoot camped out at our restaurant location, on a sound stage, we got our first shot 15 to 20 minutes after crew call. And we were able to shoot right up to wrap, at which point we turned off the lights, threw a sound blanket over the camera and went home.
By maximizing actual shooting time, we got about 35 set-ups a day. For comparison, when we did our multiple location and exterior work, we didn’t get our first shot of the day until several hours later. Shooting had to stop at least an hour before wrap to make sure everything could be packed before overtime penalties kicked in. During those days, we often shot less than half the set ups and page count than when we were happily ensconced at a single location.
One location can sometimes serve many production needs. Often a location appropriate for shooting an entire movie may have other assets as well: facilities for private cast rooms (often required by SAG), space for production offices, make-up/hair, wardrobe, art dept etc. All these resources, or even some of them, can greatly reduce the need for trailers, honey wagons and trucks. Once you’re established at the location, trucks can be returned and cast and crew start feeling like they’re at home. This “home” environment increased productivity and creativity, since each department had their own dedicated space. We were also able to keep our very large stable of extras for the restaurant (40+ per day) happy and comfortable.
However, there are challenges to shooting in one location as well. Keeping one location visually compelling for the full length of a feature can be a daunting task. Switching locations creates new visual impact, so being tied to one setting forces you to think out each shot of the film in far greater depth and detail.
Audrey mainly takes place in one restaurant (predominately at one table) so my DP Gigi Malavasi and I had to find ways to keep an otherwise static image — a girl in a chair—visually interesting. How Audrey feels and interacts with the restaurant are constantly changing factors that arch towards the film’s climax. We interpret each phase of Audrey’s journey by adjusting the lens, the amount of coverage, switching from stationary to moving, paying attention to how the camera moves – dolly, steadicam, or handheld.
The challenge of telling a real-time story also lies in the script, which is essentially one long scene and doesn’t have the breaking points of more traditional films. Characters come and go in the same space with little or nothing to demarcate a new scene. At times the scene numbering on Audrey became arbitrary, since moments could go on for many pages, one scene seamlessly flowing into the next. We had to be creative with numbering to find the most logical place to start and end, though “ending” often just meant moving on the next beat. Some things we considered to delineate a new scene were: a new character entrance, a character exit or a shift to a different area of the restaurant.
Continuity takes on a whole new meaning in a real-time film. And by continuity, I’m not only speaking of the common definition — keeping the placement of objects and character movement in a scene matching from shot to shot—but also the “emotional continuity” of the actors from shoot day to shoot day. Sometimes scenes are broken over several days of shooting. In one scene, Audrey exits the bathroom in a particularly heightened emotional state, takes a pause and then heads over to her table and sits down. We shot the scene several days later, at which point, not only did the background actors and props have to be reset to match the earlier shoot day, but Sybil Darrow, our lead actress, had to “match back” to her previous emotional state.
With regards to traditional continuity on this film, it’s essential to access playback on previously filmed scenes. All the notes in the world won’t tell you where an extra was sitting on the 25th line of the scene you started shooting three days earlier. On Audrey we constantly played back unfinished scenes and made sure the leading scene was loaded onto the AD’s iPhone so he could match the background and blocking.
It’s difficult to control daylight over the course of a “movie hour” when you’re shooting for 12 hours. You have to keep the light, or lack thereof, consistent every day. You have to understand the nature of your setting (is it a house with windows?) as well as its locations (a studio set or a practical location?). Audrey takes place over the course of a brunch hour, at a restaurant with many windows and an outdoor patio. To manage this, we built our restaurant inside a soundstage. This gave us many advantages over a practical location when it came to controlling daylight. We hung a translight (a large photograph of an exterior scene) outside the patio and streamed lights into curtained windows. Thus, we maintained noontime light consistently for 11 days.
These are just some of the benefits and challenges of sing a single location to shoot a “real-time” movie. We overcame the physical, financial and logistical obstacles, and I was able to push myself as a director to explore the minute-to-minute working of a woman’s mind. This resulted in a unique story telling form, well worth the pre-planning and careful consideration necessary to make to make it a success. MM
Audrey opens in theaters in Los Angeles on July 11 and on VOD July 15.
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