2001: A Space Odyssey was the first film I can ever remember seeing. Not watching. Seeing. As a whole. As a piece. I happened upon it when I was very young at around 5am when everyone else in my house was sleeping. From the first frame I was hypnotized. The long takes. The colors. The wide shots. The use of music. The non use of music. It was all so much to take in and I loved every second. From that point onward I sought out cinema that challenged me. I devoured the French New Wave like it was food. I studied every frame of Woody Allen's Manhattan. I fell in love with every woman Truffaut and Goddard put in front of their lens.
My time had finally come to step into filmmaking with the idea for The Weekend.
I had a camera, a lens, and a story based on events that actually happened to me. I had a treatment and some sparse dialogue. But mostly I had a vision. After pitching the idea to Danielle Guldin (who portrays Chloe in the film) I had my lead actress. Eventually she led me to the perfect leading man, Taso Mikroulis (Christian). It all seemed to come together quite easily. I even raked up enough money to pay for a soundman. Dates were set, the weather looked like it was going to be perfectly overcast and I had all my ducks in a row.
Then my soundman cancelled the first day of shooting due to a scheduling mishap. Calmly, I met up with him and had him to teach me how to run the sound. Thankfully he would only miss one day of shooting out of the three. So I had a crash course and rigged it so I could run the camera and the sound at the same time. Crisis somewhat averted. At least I had my perfect shooting weather in a location that was beautifully abandoned and sparsely occupied.
Sunlight is usually a welcome friend. It warms us on the chilly days and provides much needed vitamin D. But as a professional photographer I learned that overcast skies are the most wonderful conditions to shoot in. Nature's Softbox, I call it. I even scheduled all three days because the weather outlook called for clouds. The day of the first shoot I opened my curtains and saw nary a cloud in the sky. Just one bright light beaming endlessly in a sea of blue atmosphere. My forehead met the glass of the window several times before I said to myself "OK. You are running sound and camera. You don't have the lighting you want. You have a 3 day shooting deadline. Get it done."
And we did. The first day went great, minus the challenge that my sparse location was now filled with screaming children playing soccer. Yet, the dailies looked phenomenal. The takes were beautiful and the next day I would have a soundman again. Before bed I started dumping footage and editing. I was like a man possessed. I went to sleep that night feeling accomplished.
We rolled through the rest of the shoot beautifully. Danielle and Taso were such a joy to direct, such a wonder to capture on camera, it was almost like directing brush strokes. I learned so much about placing faith in your actors, letting them be free to play, and redirecting only when absolutely necessary. Their performances are beautiful to watch. I never get sick of the movie no matter how many screenings we attend.
After we wrapped I began editing on a two day coffee fueled marathon. I did everything. Color correction, sound mixing, editing, you name it I did it. There was no such thing as stopping. I took a huge risk editing and pacing the film the way I did. It held on the actors rather than cutting. It had breath rather than a stutter. I threw away basically EVERYTHING I learned about editing and the way modern cinema is made. It was frightening to put it out there but I believed in it. I honestly didn't care if we even got into film festivals. Hell, I MADE A MOVIE!!! That was an award in itself!!
I was reticent to enter us into festivals. I thought they would hate the film. It didn't have the cinematography associated with the current trends. The story was a bit sad. I found every excuse not to submit but my cast and crew pushed me to do so. After I did, the first few festivals I entered us into rejected us. I was heartbroken. I thought I made an ugly baby. But everyone involved with the film and those few who saw it loved it and told me to keep submitting. Surely some judge on a festival board out there would like my baby.
30 official selections, 14 awards, and 28 nominations later I have my answer.
The Weekend is far from perfect. The sound could be better. The camera work could have benefitted from a professional operating it. But you know what? It's mine. I know I can look back on it years from now and still be proud of it. Right now I'm thrilled at what it's been achieving. This little $800 movie has gone places I never knew it would and my tuxedo has finally come out of hibernation.
What I learned from making the film is truly invaluable. I learned that although it was fun and challenging doing everything myself I can't wait to have a crew and another eye to edit my films. I learned that having faith in your actors begins with casting and finding the right chemistry. I learned almost every aspect of editing and can see what a wonderful talent it is and what to look for in an editor. I learned it's better to stand by your vision and not compromise it.
But beyond all those lessons I learned never to give up. Things will go wrong. Sometimes they all go wrong at once. But there's always a way.
You just have to believe.
The Weekend - official trailer
Written by Dennis Cahlo, director of The Weekend.
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