At this very moment, I’m surrounded by a comforting, slow-rolling breeze amidst the quiet air of the small historic town of Jefferson, TX. The birds are singing and I’m overlooking an overgrown backyard garden upon a second floor balcony at the Alley-McKay House Bed & Breakfast Inn. Attempting to clear my head, I’m mentally preparing myself for a chaotic nine day shoot for Eric Steele’s first feature length film, UNCERTAIN, TX. That much more intense, given we just wrapped on Clay Liford’s WUSS (previously MINOR IN POSSESSION) only a few days ago.
To be shot entirely on location in Jefferson, Marshall, and Uncertain, TX, news of the film shoot has already spread like wildfire in this small, tight knit community. While much of pre-production such as casting, preliminary crew hires and location securement, was initiated prior to principle photography on WUSS, logistics regarding photography, lodging, scheduling and general production were all tackled over the course of two fifteen hour days. In other words: we’re nuts!
But even in this brief, peaceful moment, I can’t help but reflect upon the absolute insanity that was WUSS. By and large the shoot went smoothly, albeit with ultra long hours. The actors really nailed it take after take and the entire crew was on point. Like all productions, however, the set of WUSS was not without its problems, culminating on the very last shooting day. Utilizing a “poor man’s” process trailer (i.e., a Uhaul trailer) we were filming all of the driving scenes. Down to the very last scene with two shots left, our trailer carrying the picture car carrying our actors was pulled over by Dallas PD. Fumbling to find something illegal with what we were doing, the stop ended up merely being an inconvenient delay―no tickets were issued and everybody went home.
Even more interesting and relevant, considering I recently joined the Kemah Volunteer Fire Department, was a small fire on set from the extremely hot exhaust of a generator. The fire started on the grass just behind the generator and ended up catching a furniture pad covering the generator to muffle the sound. Naturally, the location we were on did not have an accessible fire extinguisher; so we had to grab one out of the grip truck, parked in front. The fire department was called, as I put out the fire. Apparently, it was more amusing than shocking, given the fire was so small compared to the intense blast of the dry chemical in the extinguisher. All of this was caught on tape but then recorded over with footage of Tony Hale―probably a good idea.
Speaking of which, for those of you who are “Arrested Development” fans, Tony Hale is an absolute riot and a constant performer. There wasn’t a straight face behind the scenes during his time on set. Luckily, no one busted a take! Endearing, sweet and genuinely happy to participate, Hale was a welcomed addition to our cast.
Ultimately, even with some minor setbacks, a multitude of locations and complicated scenes with a lot of actors, we managed to pull off a great shoot. The wrap party took place at the historic Texas Theatre, where we showed a blooper reel and a rough edited assembly of about ten minutes to the cast and crew. All that behind us, we’re taking a break from WUSS in order to shoot UNCERTAIN, TX, where the small town vibe has created an interesting juxtaposition to hectic city life of Dallas.
It’s now 12:30 a.m. and call time is six and a half hours later. The house is silent, save for me, clicking away on my computer. Tomorrow we begin a brand new endeavor and my exhaustion is overcome by my anxiousness. I’m certain most of the crew is feeling the same way, having also just worked on Liford’s film. I’ll say it again: we’re nuts; utterly nuts.
Thankfully, we’ve got an amazingly talented group of individuals taking on this task. I’m once again partnered with my right hand man, Daniel Laabs―my production coordinator and friend. My wrap present to him after WUSS was a crumpled up one sheet for the film, TRASH HUMPERS, I found in the garbage at the Texas Theatre. While this seems odd to most of you, I’m sure―it meant a great deal to Daniel. Although I’m super happy with this serendipitous find (seriously, watch the movie and you might begin to understand why it’s so great), this time I might need to spring for a bottle of Jim Beam.
As silly as this will sound, I’m uncertain about where this film is going to go; although I’m quite certain it will be something great. Having a smaller cast and crew and a shorter shooting schedule in an intimate location will surely create an entirely different vibe. But that’s what movie making is all about. If it’s the same old thing every day, we wouldn’t be so driven to do it. This raw intensity is my passion and what fuels me―I can never stop making movies.
Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – August 2010