Shoot Diary – MAI PIU

aka: “A field in Italy”

Those familiar with the blog will know I do these Shoot Diaries after every shoot. The idea being that as developing filmmakers, learning new skills, we should always try to learn from our mistakes. And it’s impossible do anything of this kind of production, no matter the budget without someone cocking-up somewhere down the line.

Before you continue, know this – it was only a 3-day film shoot, but I’ve detailed the entire trip; to Rome / Santa Marinella and back, from start to finish. This is to explain what else goes on in the life of a travelling filmmaker…

Santa Marinella

Hopefully it helps me remember, when I later forget the details. Hopefully it helps transport anyone reading this to feel like they shared the crazy journey with us. Hopefully you’ll find it enlightening / entertaining along the way – with a few more valuable lessons that we’ve definitely learned – and what not to do!

MAI PIU / NEVER AGAIN film poster

Please note: this project only happened because Alessandro devoted his time and money to travel to Barcelona and help us shoot LOVELY TO MEET YOU, and we very much wanted to return the favour. So none of this is supposed to be an attack or a criticism, but simply a stream of consciousness of what happened and how it could otherwise be done. If anything, it’s meant as constructive criticism. Alessandro is a friend and I’m mainly trying to be objective about the art of filmmaking and how it should be approached. We all know the dream, but the reality is that there are rough edges on no-budget productions. You shoot with what you have, under the constraints of the time. This is just my take on how I was thinking and feeling at the time. Most people were chill about it all. I’m the only uptight one here.

Our motivations for this shoot were not entirely selfless. Darwin and I also wanted to ease into a new year of production by crewing on Alessandro’s shoot, to get more experience as well as make any valuable new contacts that we can… the fact that we made many new friends and will treasure the experience is also a reward for our efforts. It’s definitely a bonus. And I hope the eventual film is as good as we all collectively set out to make.

Day #1 – the trip out / pre-production mtg

I hadn’t slept much at all, if any. I know I did get a little sleep with actual dreams, maybe half an hour / an hour. Who knows. But I felt like ass – which is as usual before such a trip – and couldn’t get back to sleep after Suss got up for work.

I got up showered, and then got dressed and said goodbye to Suss, then breakfasted and got ready to leave.

I wasn’t in a rush, but I still got to the airport 30 minutes earlier than planned – reading along the way. So I sat and read some more, and waited for Darwin.

Darwin had elected not to bring his mic boom. Mine was too big to go into the case and now he wasn’t bringing his either. We were assured though that they had it covered.

Once Darwin arrived (and completely missed my instructions of where I was so I had to go find him), we checked in – luckily he carried my other hand bag (the camera bag) for me and we didn’t have to pay the extra fee after all, and somehow got through ok and boarded the plain without incident. That saved 80 euros. I had pounded fluids down my neck all the way, to try and stay healthy and rehydrated – despite feeling anything but and not having slept properly – and did so the whole day, knowing how taxing travel can be, especially the heat on the planes. Anything to avoid a migraine and stay fighting fit.

I was pleased that the Munich flight was cool enough. And I liked the free Cheese sandwich and glass of water and Apple juice I got. It was so much better than Norwegian and Ryan Air. The two guys next to me and in fact lots of other guys on the flight, were having beers despite looking like they were on business trips, including Darwin. The two Swedish middle-aged guys next to me had two each and then accidentally poured it all over their table and chair. Fun times. But luckily nothing near my laptop.

I read the script for MAI PIU and more of my book on the way. Wanting to edit, but having zero time.

At Munich, Darwin and I had lunch and two beers, and I did a bit of editing COMFORT HIM and we discussed our projects and had a good meeting. And reassured the team by What’s App that we were on our way.

The flight to Rome was fine apart from the heat being cranked up. And I got my bags ok at the other end and we still hadn’t had to pay for extra hand baggage; but then as Darwin had pointed out, plenty of other people were travelling with more than one item. I didn’t have more beer on the flight. Two large German beers was enough. Darwin apparently fell asleep and missed the free beer and the food.

Once at Rome, we were ushered hurriedly out of the airport by Lorenzo, a friend of Alessandro and Darwins; another filmmaker, but someone I’d only seen in pics from Darwin. We went to meet Alessandro by his car, get a hug and dump the gear in the back and then left the airport to drive to his town San Marinella. On the way he pointed out the house where LA DOLCE VITA was edited. And after dropping us off at the hotel, he had more pre-shoot errands to run.

At the hotel, after a long and slow check-in process – surprisingly and quaintly all on paper – Darwin and I got our rooms and they were huge. Each of them were 3-bed family rooms. After a quick face wash, we were slightly refreshed and downstairs and waiting to meet Lorenzo, met Carlo (the DP) and waited for Alessandro, before going down the street to the Irish Monkey Puzzle Pub for urgent-needed food (there are literally Irish pubs everywhere…), to meet more of the team, and then headed back to the hotel for a pre-shoot production meeting and to meet more of the rest of the team.

It was then that I realised that Alessandro was playing the lead role – yes, as well as directing and producing a tricky short film, with up to 5 cameras at least. Very ambitious – or risky? To me it was madness, but it didn’t matter how I felt, we were there to help get it all done. And we wanted the best for him. Let’s do it!

I was tired and it was hard to follow all of the Italian, and sometimes multiple conversations, but bless Lorenzo for translating much of it for us. We learned that we were being divided into teams. Darwin would be with Alessandro and I would be with Lorenzo the following day – like the 2nd Unit. There was some discussion about what I would be shooting in the team with Lorenzo the following day, perhaps using a gymbal / stabiliser for the first time? And was I doing that? But I half-wondered if they thought I’d brought a stabiliser with me??? and again wished I brought the GH5 as backup… but mainly was realising that there may be some mis-communication going on; and I still hadn’t seen any lights. And would there be power? I’d asked and was told that there would be, so I really hoped so…. but I got the feeling that my question was not actually understood. Everyone clearly wanted to help, but it’s hard to see into one’s brain and be sure you’re both talking about the same things…

After the meeting, I sent a quick message to wish Suss goodnight, drank more fluids to stay hydrated and crashed, meditating with the huge ceiling fan on in the room. And my head spinning with all the sensory stimulation of the day and thoughts of the impending shoot.

Shoot Day #1 – some trees and a hut

Amazingly, I slept last night. Awesome! It was much appreciated due to the long exhausting day of travel etc. It wasn’t so restful. But I was already expecting as much.

But I think that although I had meditated, it was the fact that I had the huge ceiling fan on, and had aired my room out to make it cool – despite the tropically-hot radiator burning all night, and the blinds really blocked out the light outside the window and the t-shirt over my head blocked the light from the hallway and emergency lighting, so hopefully all that counted. But still, it could have just been sheer exhaustion. I didn’t appreciate the slamming doors and noises that woke us all up far too early.

But I felt pretty good, although in need of more bed rest, before I got up to stretch, shower, dress and prep for the day ahead. Don’t underestimate the need to stretch before a shoot.

We learned that we were going to have breakfast at the beach today. It was at a placed called GIGIs, and it was a lovely sunny day and we enjoyed taking shots of the beach before eventually everyone arrived. But Darwin and I were kind of surprised that there was no real food for breakfast in Italy. We had a pastry and a tea, but this was not food. We ate it to fit in, but wondered what the deal was with no actual food to fuel the day ahead? – “an army marches on its stomach” and all that. We really appreciate that our producer was picking up the tab, but we both craved food… Also… why were we burning so much day light chatting? Scenes could be prepped and blocked out in advance, rehearsals could be performed… but this was all just valuable man hours and glorious daylight to shoot in that was being wasted. We did get to glimpse the storyboards, but mostly saw pics of trees. Not enough to get a sense of the context of how it all fit together to edit.

We went to the location, after grabbing the gear from the hotel, and were driven by Alessandro. We got there I think for 12. Although Alessandro’s car did not like carrying me and Darwin and the gear, so we got out and walked the last bit to save the undercarriage of the car. Even a good tractor or 4×4 would find it a bumpy ride. We then helped Alessandro to put the Gazebo together. Gathered some chairs and a table to try and make a basecamp. Then I prepped and assembled the camera rig, trying to do it on a rickety wooden table, on a tilt, overlooking a hill and the lovely coastline. Not my smoothest first introduction to the set. But cooler than the sweltering bar and lack of space on LTMY.

There were cakes. Nice for the sugar lovers. But would there be food?

We met Leo the sound guy and he proceeded to take a rickety fishing pole and tape it together to form a boom pole and tape the mic mount onto the end of it… and there was no blimp or dead cat for the mic here after all… oh well. A bit low-fi / ropey a solution. But it was all we had. Let’s hope it worked – when everyone later checks the files.

There was a lot of waiting. I don’t mean to go on, but Darwin and I are unused to a lot of hanging around. I know we burned time on LTMY, but that was because of the lack of pre-production / advance time to prep the set. And we’d learned from it. But what was it with this 2pm start??? I really questioned this when I found out that there was no power on set and soon it would be dark… There was a generator that eventually arrived in a pickup, although no one provided any cabling for us to use to hook the camera up to, to run the power-hungry BMPCC4K off mains and save batteries for the wood shots. There wasn’t enough extensions either. And a generator meant sound and that usually ruined audio takes, so then it had to be repeatedly shut off. And all of this was stressful when thinking about how many batteries would I need – luckily I had enough. Just; if I was frugal each day and shut the camera off frequently, and charged all every night, it would get me through.

Also, where were the tripods we’d requested with fluid heads? There were no tripods. WTF?! None except the ones everyone brought for themselves and all mostly unusable for anything but static shots or photography. I used my own smaller travel tripod that I’d brought, as my main tripod was too big to bring with me without incurring special baggage fees. Good thing I brought mine, as I would have been screwed without it. It had a ropey fluid head, but better than nothing.

There were no lights really to speak of and yes we were filming in a field, with no practical lighting on set / worklights or anything – so surely we’d not be doing any night shoots? right? – There were just two large and heavy lights with us, that Alessandro brought along, that didn’t convincingly throw off enough light, although they had an impressively long battery life. But they did throw a constant flicker… My two tiny portable lights threw off more light. I am not joking and were flicker free. I used my lights to prove a point – and mine at least were adjustable in both the amount of light and colour of the output, although sadly only carry an hour of light without a power source. If i’d known I could have brought more light with me. Again I should have listened to my instincts. But I think these lights were actually more for working on set and not to actually light a set with. There were no film quality LED lights, fresnels with barn doors or Kinos, C-stands etc. And people needed light at the base camp and around the location – luckily everyone had phones to light their way with and car headlights!

Eventually people arrived, after we had prepped the site – pulling down fences and fence posts to give us the look we needed, and after being divided into two units, we all then walked the locations and discussed the shots – including scouting out the woods with Carlo and Lorenzo.

We were eventually ready to shoot. We had some actors – I got to meet Aurora the heroine of the film and some Nazis, including Andrea and Michele. The uniforms looked amazing and so did the guns, which were provided by the two armourers. I later found out that it was their availability that restricted us to shooting after 2pm. But this was crazy to allow that to hold the shoot back. Surely replanning to deal with it or getting them to provide cover would work?

I think we, Lorenzo’s team, finally got our first shots in the woods, with Carlo the DOP helping us, and Leo on a time-clock, after we had created some smoke and much explanation and rehearsal was conducted to brief Aurora on what was needed. Why wasn’t this done before 2pm on this day? In the morning or another day prior??? Nevertheless, with Lorenzo’s guidance I think we did get some good shots and I used the old 70-200 vintage lens I’d picked up from my local second-hand store, for that vintage look. We even shot it handheld, with me being physically guided across the uneven ground and past trees by Lorenzo, for safety, to get some cool looking shots. But I didn’t get to use the 100-300… would I?

We’d been facing some pressure there. We had to try and create the smoke using an old iron bucket. There was some barbecue coal in it, but no fire lighters, only a lighter. We tried repeatedly and it wasn’t until Monica came along to show us better how it was done, were we able to get some smoke going. Meanwhile I’m standing over the thing waving my hand to create smoke and move it around, and breathing too much in. Alessia stepped in to take over. What a star! Luckily it killed time while Lorenzo briefed and planned the shot. But my lungs were ruined for the next few days afterwards.

….My memory of the rest of the shoot day was a bit hazy. I don’t really feel that I got that many good shots over all. But it was more that maybe I was too self-conscious of all of the limitations and burning time changing lenses, but also not having the right lenses – seeing that the hut was too small and that a 50mm was not going to cut it – and yet that was what I’d been told to bring…. but Claudio saved the day with a 28mm.

I think we then shot the scenes of Alessandro’s Partisan arrival at the hut, with him shooting at Nazis and also another scene where a girl partisan is shot. Before later shooting the interior of the hut. With the great lowlight capability of the BMPCC4K we obviously could film there with the meagre lights we had, supplemented by my portable lights, but it wasn’t ideal. It was a bit flat. And it was cramped, with three cameras going at some points.

Then the day was over. Somehow, I’d not had any food or drink since the cakes and breakfast. I’d had a sandwich waved at me by Alessia, but we were in the midst of shooting and I didn’t get anything else to eat until after the shoot. I never did see that sandwich again. And I’d been too busy to drink enough water, so by the time we were done I was hungry, thirsty, had a pounding head and was at a bit of a low ebb. I was going all lizard brain and just thinking of comfort at that point.

I think Alessandro drove us back, after we put the hut back as it was and packed up the gear etc. It was not fun trying to tear down the rig in the hut with little light to work with and dust everywhere. – by this I mean I was nervous about getting dust in the camera / on the sensor etc. And it was all a bit fiddly and clumsy.

Back in San Marinella, Alessandro dropped us off, so it was upstairs to pee, drink water, wash up and then we headed for food. And back to the Monkey pub again. Ok. This time I wanted two burgers and a huge beer stat. I got it, and was happy. And hunger-rage averted.

There, Alessandro went to back up all of the footage, before handing over the reins to Leticia and Sara. It was at this point, that an excellent day of getting to know everyone better and bonding through adversity on a tough shoot, went awry. I normally do all the backing up on our films. My stuff is all Mac formatted. Alessandro had an old Windows laptop. At the point where I handed the SSD drive over to him and he connected it, suddenly we’d lost all of the footage. The drive was empty… ok!?! WTF!?!?

I knew I had an SD card in the camera too and so maybe the footage was recorded onto that, although I doubted it. But I went back to the room after the pub to check. Darwin and Lorenzo came in. They kept me from jumping out the window when I realised what had happened. – There were a few takes on the SD card, but loads of shots were missing. These were shots that I had taken and shown to others. They had existed somewhere. How had this all disappeared? – we’d reviewed a lot of the takes after shooting each shot! They had been there before!

After using a Data recovery tool to scan the SSD, Darwin saw that there had indeed been many files on the drive that had been wiped. We don’t know how. I know it wasn’t me. But why hadn’t I backed-up first??? it was out of character for me. Too trusting by half. But was it possible to recover them?… maybe… although the scan was still running on Darwin’s machine… and for a price? We didn’t know – but it looked like it was going to cost us (EDIT: it did).

Finally, although freaked out, I begin to calm down, around midnight, thinking it might be sorted. Until Darwin messaged me to say that his computer had died, as he didn’t bring a power adapter for the plugs in Italy, and the scan had been aborted – hopefully it hadn’t fucked the data on the disc further… and wouldn’t take too long to redo…

This was a terrible dark night. My brain was racing…

Shoot Day #2 – multi-cam chaos and more trees

I slept. Not great. But enough. – I relate this only for its surreal almost Hollywood Dream Sequence qualities… – but weirdly I’d dreamed a totally unerotic dream of a beautiful woman on horse back, naked save for hold-up stockings, riding through the set past the Partisans and the Nazis and ruining the takes by blocking the camera. “get this f*cking horse off the set!” I shouted at her, in my dream and woke up – wondering WTF!?! Where did that come from? – maybe just strange filmmaking stress dream… maybe…

I got up and did a stretch workout. Yes I’m old lol. I unkinked my back and shoulders from filming and lugging gear around and foam rolled my feet, to get rid of yesterday’s ache. But a hot shower helped some more and then, I prepped the gear and packed it (after charging over night) for more filming fun.

However, all was not rosy at first. I was angered by Darwin’s message to the group that morning, changing the time we’d agreed to meet earlier for breakfast, and demanding we meet him much earlier, until I realised he was messing with us. He was up to his old tricks of winding up Lorenzo and Alessandro. And I was too quick to judge.

We did go and meet everyone to have breakfast. I didn’t bring a jacket and welcomed the chill after the heat of my room. And this time I had an actual sandwich. It was something better than a cake to start the day. However, after a lot more of sitting around, although enjoying listening to them chat and loving the sound of happy Italian chatter, I was wishing I was being more productive. And I soon regretted forgetting my jacket upon feeling the first rain of the day begin, just as we got in the car to go there.

We got to the location, by the same bone-breaking bumpy dirt roads, and undercarriage scrapes of the cars and saw that after a night of wind and rain, the gazebo had been trashed and we now had to put it back together. Anything that had been left inside was wet.

I started setting up, at first raring to go and start shooting already, and Darwin was also eager too – after yesterday’s delays and we did what we could to gee everyone up and we really weren’t trying to cause stress – but then we still had to wait for hours for the guns and actors to arrive. So it was all for nought.

The difference today was that there was great food from the catering team, and people kept forcing me to go for drinks to make sure I was hydrated. Thank you! All of you. You saved the rest of the team from an angry ginger who needs fluids and food. And it was real food and it was great. I wolfed it down like I stole it and didn’t worry about how I looked while scarfing it down, but just focussed on getting something inside me between takes – and I was chased-off to go and shoot more each time, as I’d suspected, when daylight started fading and tempers were fraying. But then Alessia lent me her jacket to borrow and I looked suitably ridiculous. 🙂

We shot the scenes with the Partisan rescuing, and then in the hut tending to, the injured Aurora. And we got to do the shootout with the three nazis outside the hut. However, although it was dramatic, it wasn’t without issues. The guns were jamming constantly when Alessandro was trying to do the second shot of the shootout. We could easily have done the scene without the extra gunshot, just shouting bang… But also at one point, with 5 manned cameras, there were too many camera angles. We had to sacrifice some, because it was impossible to do the master shot at the same time without catching them in the shot – so it was either don’t do a master or do it later or bin another angle. Such discussions wasted a bit of time also and inevitably only showing someone the frame, that of a prior practice take, would get the message across so a decision could be made. When planning the shot, someone should really have tested angles with people standing in position, to see where angles got crossed.

Then, when freed up, Lorenzo and I went with Aurora and her boyfriend into the woods to grab one shot we missed with her the previous day – the infamous ‘long take’, sadly with rapidly fading light and again having to do it all handheld. Even though I hate handheld and it was on a long lens, at 70mm, we got the shots. – The weird thing is that I can do handheld, but it doesn’t feel natural to me and feels too risky, in case I cock the frame up. Darwin is more comfortable that way. But it is an issue with the weight of a rig and the bigger heavier lenses. Perhaps an Easy Rig is the only way I can get better, without screwing my back up, in the near future?

Then there was more packing up in crazy circumstances – poor light and such.

We got back to the hotel, thanks to Carlo giving us a lift, after again packing up for the day and bouncing along the dirt tracks and past the barking farmyard dogs that always looked creepy in the headlight beams that sliced through the darkness. Sorry to Carlo, if we were too tired to make good conversation at that point. Once back, Darwin and I waited for the rest of the team. Then when they arrived, we stowed the gear, set things to charge and then I backed up my footage from the day; this was around the same time as Darwin managed to confirm that the data recovery of Day #1’s footage might work – but the catch was that the Software manufacturers wanted 100 euros for the privilege of recovering it! So we had to discuss what to do about it… it would be ironic if that was the case and it cancelled out the 80 euros we’d saved… (EDIT: it was ironic. I bought it. But at least I have this tool for the future now) …and then once I’d backed up, we went down and let Sara back-up the SSD for Alessandro and this time no footage went missing! She’s a star.

We discussed the shoot on the last day and Alessandro’s vision for the inevitable release / premiere. He had a bold, brave vision. In a way it is inspirational to be around him and see how he thinks, seemingly without the inner critique and doubts that plague me. And then, once he’d said his peace and we were all keen to go, like a true gent, Alessandro swept the hotel floor – after we’d all accidentally tramped farm yard mud through the lobby. How many directors would do that? Certainly this one for sure. Very admirable.

Afterwards, we went to the Irish Monkey pub again. This time I had pizza and salad and another huge beer. I was too tired to want to go elsewhere and it was a nice place. And I think a meme as born – the excitable double-clap of joy at seeing my huge beer…. Andrea, the Nazi soldier, tried to guilt me for Swedish crimes agains pizza (for my fellow Swedes treatment of their sacred dish). I think this was some stirring that Darwin had been doing – and it was all in good jest. And really helped for form a tighter team. Shared humour is essential.

We had a good laugh when I then got stuck in the pub toilet. The previous day it had been nice and fully functional. Today there was no light and no door handle on the inside. No matter what I tried, short of kicking the door to pieces, I was trapped. There was nothing for it, but either I waited for someone else to need the loo, damage the door further, or I had to call Darwin to rescue me…. I did the latter and then heard the assembled crew laughing around the dinner table as he told them where I was. Nice lol. Smooth. Would I live it down?

Back at the hotel room, rehydrated and desperate to sleep, I packed the gear (especially all the recharged batteries) for the last day shoot and tried to still my racing brain, meditate and relax… find some sleep… anything!

Shoot day #3 – the final push

I had managed to get some sleep. Not bad. Not great, due to being woken up by a weird repetitive sound around 5am. Like a blind man tapping along the walls in the hallway. Some more Valerian helped me get back to sleep, but then I paid the price by feeling out of it / slightly drugged some three hours later. So when Darwin messaged that we should all meet at 9am, I instantly assumed he was messing with us, and thought “eff-off”. But he was actually serious this time lol.

So after I had stretched, showered and quickly jotted down some bullet notes of my memories of the shoot, I raced off to meet everyone for breakfast. Soon, we were sitting outside, as the town / beach filled up with visitors / tourists, and we had breakfast, and then took a group photo on the beach. I had a tuna sandwich again. It was something.

Darwin and Lorenzo were both suffering. Both had bad stomachs in the night and Lorenzo was like a shadow of himself that morning. But some tea, his first on the trip, possibly ever, revived him a bit. Have I made a convert? The group energy was the usual third day jaded shadows of themselves, but this local crew were very much still up for it, despite fading a little. It was awesome to be around them and really helped buoy our fading spirits.

Darwin and I popped back to the hotel and then Leticia drove us back over those bumpy roads. And we apologised over each deep drop, as the car bottom hit the odd ridge – with the weight of Darwin and I and all the gear in the back. Apologies Leticia for the damage to your car…. We got there around midday I think.

After putting the gazebo back together, but this time facing the other way – up the hill, with it’s back to the sea, in the direction of the shots we’d do in that field – we discussed the shots of the day and the plan, and then I began the task of assembling the rig and kitting / prepping the BMPCC4K for the shoot. This time in a rickety lawn chair, as it was all I had to hand.

First we shot some scenes up the hill – and bear in mind after dicking around waiting for guns, all the cast, and the electricity / generator and smoke machine to work – we burned through the first 45 mins / hour of the schedule and so didn’t really take the first shot until 2.45? I think. Despite Lorenzo and Darwin’s best efforts to try and magic us into action much sooner. I think it was causing a lot of stress. Especially as it was the last day for Darwin and I. We had to get it done!

It was so bright at this point, by the way and hot enough that I needed Alex to help hold the reflector over my head, both so that I could see the shots I was taking as well as get a respite from the beating sun / stave off any sun stroke. It may sound like an over dramatisation, but I really do not suffer the sun light that well and can easily get affected by the weather… The day was fun though, despite the pounding headache I had. I was talking with Aurora and Alex about various subjects. And ironically, when we were ready to get the shot, I guessed correctly, that instead of the requested long lens, 70 and above, a 50mm was the perfect choice for the specific framing that I guessed Alessandro would want. It’s nice to know your gear enough to know what might be best. Definitely more practice is always required, but it really does help. I thoroughly recommend all Directors learn this to better communicate with their DOPs / cinematographers etc when time and budget is limited on your sets.

Today Leticia was an actress and part of the partisan group and not an assistant. So Alessia was in charge. I think they both enjoyed the break / change. Sara was put on smoke-making duty, among others. And as always the three of them were super happy and energetic, despite things like stinking like a chimney after fanning smoke and feeding a small fire for hours, only for it then not to be used.

It was great to finally meet the rest of the cast – and I’m sorry if I didn’t catch everyone’s names at the time. I was a little distracted as the sun brought on a pretty impressive headache. But there was now a sizeable amount of actors on set, and also surprisingly a lot more young actors than I’d envisaged when I’d read the script. I’d imagined a much more bedraggled, and diverse mix of partisans.

It was windy today, despite the sun, but also changeable every few seconds. When a normal bucket of burning material didn’t work to provide smoke and kept getting carried away in the wrong direction; the smoke machine also refused to heat up / get powered, so we actually solved the shot by having two people Michele (one of the soldiers) and Roberta (wardrobe and catering) vaping for their lives and their lungs beneath and to the side of the camera to provide the smoke we needed. It worked. That’s what counts. Although it would have been lovely to realise the shot that was designed. Then we finally got that shot of the group of Jewish refugees / Partisans cresting the hill and coming down towards the camera – just with strawberry scented fumes and smiles.

Later, we shot the group photo scene, for the climax of the WWII part of the film. Now, as the sun was relentless, I really needed that Variable ND I brought, as I had the BMPCC4K at the lowest ISO possible and the ND on the highest setting, to get any kind of clarity / see anything – but I’m sure that focus or skin tones might still have been an issue in some shots. But what was really bothering me was that the frame was so square, so flat and also and lacked depth. I was also sure that in the original script very few of the Partisans wanted to be in the picture or were a bit more reluctant; and that Aurora and Alessandro’s characters were in the pic and that is how we can easily know who the two characters are, as old people. Now it is confusing if more people are in the shot and they’re all happy… right? Maybe I’m just being too literal. Hopefully the edit would really sell that plot point / message.

Then we were shooting outside the hut, shooting shots of them arriving past the Germans and one of them being shot, before being rescued and taken into the hut. I think one actress, Giarda maybe, almost did her ankle in. And she wasn’t the only one. Those stones were treacherous and they really got into the action and ran quickly across them – almost hitting the tripod a few times. Here, at one point, due to long delays between calling “rolling!” and actually shooting, I had turned off the camera, only to have to turn it on suddenly as Alessandro demanded that we all suddenly spring into action – not understanding that with a BMPCC4K you can’t just piss away battery power, without a more substantial power solution. So I then turned on the camera and pressed the record button, and shouted “Rolling, for real this time” and although it was amusing to others, in fact it was not rolling…. doh! I’m am idiot! Alex nicely pointed this ‘lack of rolling’ out to me, as I had been so enjoying the action through the lens that I hadn’t noticed my mistake. I caught the last seconds of the scene. Dammit. But after two more takes we got it. I figured they’d end up using the more exciting angles anyway, but it sill burned / made me blush to cock it up like that.

Lots of kneeling, lots of lens changing, and a kind soul brought me a towel to kneel on, until eventually the rest of the shoot was primarily on the 28mm I borrowed from Claudio (thanks man!) and when I could easily have brought my own wide lenses, if properly scouted the locations beforehand. Thank you to Alex for providing me with ample shade to work with, so I could see what I was shooting.

Eventually the light was fading and it went fast. Darwin, Lorenzo and I were all so very aware of this. And it was time for the small portable Aputure lights I brought to come into use. We shot inside the hut and then outside the hut, as the partisans discussed what to do about the last Nazi. For the inside shots Carlo held the two lights up for me to provide the light on the faces (a pitiful excuse for day light – but much appreciated that he did that for us) for the faces of the heroine and her friend at the window. And we had more of the same annoying flicker from the other two cumbersome battery powered lights, that no amount of camera adjustment would fix. I think we got some nice shots, despite the flicker, until we filmed outside at night time and I had to put it on ISO 8000! for the final take. That shot was washed out and dark as hell and lacked any moonlight. I really hoped that some amazing colour grading might save it and that they could deflicker the other shots, or at least explain away the flickering as coming from the lantern. But my doubts were that it would be doomed. Fingers crossed…

One funny moment with those lights, was that shortly after handing them to Carlo he pointed out that one was missing the front magnetic piece. Much searching by torchlight etc and then I noticed that both of them were stuck on the front of the other light… oh how we laughed. 🙂

I packed the lenses away, knowing at that point that I never got to use the 100-300mm lens at all, and that lens took up enough room for 3 normal lenses or the Sigma 18-38 – lenses that I could have used throughout the film to good effect. Ho hum. It is what it is.

Then, after a brief group clap and cheer, it was quite surreal, derigging the camera and having to miss out on the post shoot chatter… and packing up and then clearing the location, and tearing down the base camp / Gazebo, picking up all the litter and all by portable or hand held phone / lights, while standing in a pitch black field in Italy. Thanks to Carlo for his help with the hand held torch.

Carlo drove us home, with a short stop via his house. It was thankfully the last time to ride the bone-shaking roads and see the farm yard dogs peering at us in the night. Once at his nice family home, he very warmly invited us inside to enjoy some spicy snacks and Prosecco. And showed us his studio. Very impressive. The guy is a real gentleman and an artist. I just wish I’d known some Italian to chat more and find out about what must have been an interesting career to date.

After that, he drove us back to dump the gear – back-up the footage – and then head to the Pub for a drink, while Lorenzo got ready for the wrap party.

Carlo drove us to the wrap party location, in the hills and we entered a large community hall where Alessandro was slaving over a hot stove, barbecuing for us and Roberta preparing more lovely food for us. She had not only provided great costumes, but also really looked after us on set. Amazing value to the production.

The cast and crew were all excitable and chatty and there was talk of visiting “The Red House”, a local haunted murder site, which sounded great – but sadly we never got to do it. It would have been a good memory to explore. But it was amazing being surrounded by such a young team that was so full of life though.

We ate well, thanks to our amazing host and drank ourselves merry. Andrea was suitably horrified by the way I eat pasta, not just for my fellow countrymen’s alleged crimes against Pizza (Kiwi or Kebab on pizza!). And afterwards, there were speeches and selfies and exchanging contacts etc. We even got to see pics of Leo’s amazing studio and music videos – and another good reminder to us that most people on set have many other talents than what you’ve requested in a casting / crew posting and getting to know your crew will open your eyes to their potential.

It was a late finish. I was glad to try and spend as much time with them as possible, but the late hour and the alcohol worked its magic and soon I was craving bed and oblivion. I was getting quite restive, but still glad of the company. Just poor at keep up my end of the conversation.

Darwin was intent on staying up all night and heading off to the airport to get his flight. I was sad to see my partner-in-film-crimes go and lose my travel buddy. But so glad I opted for Carlo to drop us off, say farewell to Darwin and then Lorenzo and I crashed.

But immediately on leaving that venue, I was missing everyone already, sad that it was ending and that we’d only have some contact online with this great team. At least until perhaps a future project or two. It would be good to see them again – any and all of them. Even the ones I didn’t get to talk much with.

It was about 1.30… or maybe 2 when I finally crashed and tried to rehydrate and meditate myself into oblivion for a few hours. Fearing the worst as the room was like a sauna, even after the window being open all day long. Or was it me?

Day 5 – the trip home

Despite my doubts, as we got to bed so late and I was over stimulated, both from booze and the shoot, I managed to get some sleep. Not great rest but enough to function.

I was up at 7am, well before my alarm, and used the time to message Suss and then to get myself ready to get on my way home. After a shower, and packing the last items, I was done and then ready for action.

I waited for Lorenzo downstairs, after first checking out and double-checking if I needed to pay or not. I didn’t. Alessandro had picked up the tab. What a gent. It was unexpected and most appreciated. As was him picking up the tab for most breakfasts etc. We were there for him, but still he looked after us. Many thanks!

Soon Lorenzo and I were buying our tickets for the train, from a small store-cum-cafe and then waiting for the train. We had a good chance to chat and enjoy the amusing messages in the WhatsApp group chat. We then had a good chat on the train and in between, with Lorenzo relayed various voice messages from Alessandro – thanking me for the shoot – in a croaky voice as he had lost his voice (from all the smoking, shouting and drinking).

I parted ways with Lorenzo, after the train guard helped me find which platform to get, and then I made it to Fiurocimo airport to get checked-in. Check-in was fine and so was boarding (re extra luggage). Nice. Once past security, I had time to eat a nice Mozarella salad, have some water, do a little editing on my test shoot footage, and then went to the gate. But lugging that gear around wasn’t fun through such a large airport.

The Munich flight left on time, with me sitting next to a large musician, who’d booked an extra seat for his instrument, I think a large horn, which was strapped in like a baby. And he was spilling over his seat as he slept, cramping my space due to his size – so every person knocked in to my shoulders as they passed in the aisle. Lovely. Luckily no spilled drinks on my laptop.

At Munich, barely had we landed before I had to race to catch a train to another terminal and to get to my gate in time, only to then wait for them to board us last. Luckily after racing, I managed to cool down and buy a water to drink. But my left ankle / achilles tendon was borked from lugging such a weight around.

The flight from Munich to Stockholm was ok. Packed, but again I got on the flight without having to organise more baggage / pay more for bringing the camera gear with me. On that flight, it was hot – or at least I felt really hot. I sat and read more, in between the cheese sandwiches, the free drinks and furiously trying to write in my journal to update the shoot diary you’re reading – something that is much easier said than done with all of the interruptions and distractions and short flights.

Back in Stockholm Arlanda and keen to get home already, I was not impressed when firstly the bags took ages to be released and with rude people pushing past to get their bags. And then when the Arlanda trains were also delayed – the message to us was that there was “someone on the tracks” but it was unclear where or if they were alive or dead etc. But essentially lots of impatient travellers trying to push on the train when it arrived – just as they’d been impatient and rude for their baggage. So by the time I got in to T-centrallen and went to get on the last subway train out of the main Stockholm central station, to get to my stop, I also wasn’t impressed at everyone pushing and squeezing on like sardines when it wasn’t rush hour! It was just that all the other trains had been stopped, possibly also for the same reasons – luckily I’d caught the last one leaving the city centre. But I was doing a lot of standing, on already sore feet, after much standing and walking during the day. And I feared for someone’s clumsiness crushing any of the gear. It wasn’t the best welcome home.

Back near home, it was chilly and windy, so I donned gloves for the first time since last Thursday and then trudged home, carrying the camera bag on me and dragging and pushing my case and the small backpack along, fighting with the stones on the paths and roads that tried to jam the wheels on the case and struggling with the gradients and the weight of the gear.

It was great to be home, to unpack a bit and shower and eat. While I ate, I took Suss through the photos of the shoot and tried to explain who people were and how it went. It was hard to focus. And hard to keep my eyes open.

Back in the living room after, I had a drink while she watched GULDBAGGE, the Swedish TV and film awards ceremony that ignored Roy Andersson for some predictable safe crap. I then tried to catch up on all the messages that I’d missed, and felt exhausted and broken. I ached everywhere but especially my feet and left ankle.

Soon I was too tired to watch anything else, even though GRÄNS was on TV. So I foam rolled my back and neck and then went to crash. Feeling a familiar itch in my throat and sinuses… Was I ill again?!?! (EDIT – yes I was).

Good collaboration vibes

Lessons learned / observations / areas for improvement

  1. Guns on set require refilling, if gas powered / more ammunition. They’re also loud – yet no one received any warning about the sound or ear protection. Having one fired near your ear isn’t fun.
  2. If filming in a field, you need power – or ample power solutions to provide everything you need. A generator is helpful, but only if it can be placed far enough away not to affect the sound recording and works 100% of the time.
  3. Two battery powered lights is not enough lighting, if they are underpowered lights / poor throw and you cannot adjust the temperature or have no barn doors to shape the light. Do a recce. Know your gear and plan your lighting.
  4. You cannot use 5x manned cameras on set to record an action scene if ample cover is not provided for the operators. They will screw each other’s shots and someone will be wasting their and your time.
  5. You cannot shoot a film starting at 2 o’clock in the day, if you have an ambitious shoot and have not provided adequate power or lighting and the sunset is around 5pm. It is madness and folly and will wreak havoc with lighting continuity, unless you’re only grabbing a few quick shots. Everything takes longer to get started – so start earlier.
  6. Block all scenes out with the cast and rehearse before the shoot – if you intend to have very short shoot days and fear losing day light and have multiple ambitious action scenes / setups.
  7. You cannot dictate what lenses to use if you haven’t adequately recce’d – ie. measured the locations, storyboarded or tested said lenses (if you’re eye / experience isn’t good enough to gauge what lens you need depending on the frame you desire. And you can’t gauge the frame without blocking the scene. And you can’t judge lighting if you haven’t visited the location at night for a detailed recce.
  8. You must storyboard. Pictures of some trees and a bush is not good enough. Your crew need to see a sense of the composition of the frame and have an idea about movement and enough frames to convey the entire film – if shooting under limited time / tough constraints.
  9. If someone tells you what lenses they need you to bring and they are not an experienced camera operator / DP and haven’t measured the locations / provided plans of the shoot and a storyboard that is good enough to convey the frame, tell them to sod off, and bring what you think you will need. They will inevitably be wrong. And one of those three lenses I was told to bring took up the room of three other lenses that I could have used. When space is at a premium, work out what will bring the biggest bang to your buck.
  10. If someone tells you they have enough light, but do not explain what lights they have and they simply tell you ‘yes,’ you will most likely have bugger all light to use on location / set and any chance of a great frame at night will be unachievable. Colour graders aren’t magicians, unless you already give them a source of magic.
  11. Get a lighting technician / DOP that can light a set and get them to decide what is needed on said recce and to handle any technical queries if you don’t know.
  12. You need a production manager, to manage all of the different elements, when you are going out on location etc, to make sure you have what you need when you need it.
  13. You can’t act, produce, write and direct at this level of production, when you are the main actor and you have no production manager. Either scale it down or provide a team that can help you achieve what is needed.

Again, none of this is meant in any other way than as being constructive. Hopefully it was helpful. I know I learned a lot on the shoot and I am grateful that we could be there. And even if it was chaotic at times, overall it was good.

Watch NEVER AGAIN on YouTube

Thanks again to Alessandro for inviting us on this crazy filmmaking journey. So glad we got to work with him again. And to Lorenzo and the entire cast and crew and everyone we met, thank you. It was an awesome trip / experience. I can’t wait to see the finished film!