One Year Later
Posted on September 9th, 2015 in Uncategorized with 2 Comments
365 days ago today, I began shooting my first feature film, Gold Star. In remembering the 17 shooting days between September and October 2014, I am overwhelmed, grateful, and still in a state of disbelief that the Gold Star team pulled off such an incredible accomplishment.
I’m a lucky person because my family has grown. Yes, without my biological family, I wouldn’t have been able to make a feature film. It would have been impossible. My mother and brother allowed me to invade their space, taking over the house, rearranging furniture and essentially living on a live set for three weeks. My mom cooked breakfast for the crew when Anastasio’s Restaurant wasn’t generously catering for us. My nights were spent mostly cat napping and obsessing. My grandmother shuttled actors back and forth when she wasn’t also performing a role in the film. My cousins and friends appeared as extras on a work night in a bar. My sister and boyfriend came in from New York City to work on set for multiple days. It was a family team effort, for sure.
And yet, when you spend three weeks side by side with a cast and crew that lives with you, laughs with you and is in the trenches by your side, your family grows. There were delirious nights adjusting shots for the next day with my cinematographer Saro, him standing by the tea kettle, barely awake, yet still dedicated to locking in a fantastic plan for the next day, watching “Naked and Afraid” late one night while we all unwound, showing Robert Vaughn pictures of my father, needing my bra literally safety pinned together by our rock star production designer Layla, trips to fro yo and Starbucks and Chipotle, and the nights of ghost stories like we were at camp, first, with my producers Effie and Katie the night before we arranged the house for the shoot, and lastly, with a few of my crew members Saro, Tom, Carlos and Zach, the night before our last day of shooting. These are just a few of the memories I will cherish forever.
When the film wrapped in October, it was as though an unseen imaginary enemy raised his white flag as my team celebrated an exhausting and emotional journey. I drank enough vodka to justify years of work and deliriously enjoyed a personal victory. When the last few crew people left my house in the wee hours of the morning and I was left wandering the suddenly eerily quiet, still halls of my house, I was alone with the “ghosts” of the shoot—the catering trays of rice and beans still on the table, some walkies left behind in the piano room, my shot list sprawled out on the dining room table, the curtainless windows from props removed, and most distinctly, the still very lucid memories of my father.
Gold Star was a cathartic shoot. The first morning immediately before filming in my house in Connecticut, in between chugs of a protein shake that became my morning routine, I asked the crew to be respectful of the memory of my dad, as the film was personal and we were dealing with very real props loaded with meaning. Medical equipment I hadn’t seen since before my dad passed away was used in the film for authenticity (and to save money)—my dad’s breathing pumps, his feeding tubes, his gauze, cleaning supplies, his hospital bed, and the wheelchair that will always remind me of his absence. It was an emotional and probably unhealthy challenge to use these real things for my film. Before a particularly difficult caretaking scene between myself and Robert Vaughn, my emotions were playing ping pong with each other, remembering the exact moment with my dad, and having to re-live it. I struggled to keep it together between takes. Afterwards while the cast and crew were eating lunch, I spent some time alone outside, gathering myself once the scene wrapped. We shot in the rehab facility, Gaylord Hospital, where my father spent many months. Hospital equipment echoed down the hall that I hadn’t heard in two years, reminding me of my father hooked up to tubes, struggling to stay with us.
It’s beautiful for me on a personal note that my memories in saying goodbye to my dad are tightly intertwined with this film. I lost one of the people I cherished the most on the planet. The hole his absence left in my life shape-shifts itself every day into something new, whether it’s a feeling of being completely alone, surrounded by his love and encouraged by it, or the surreal doubts that he ever existed in the first place. Truthfully, your mind does weird things when processing death. In losing my father, I felt free to go after the thing that scared me the most, to direct and act in Gold Star, and I’ve done it. I’m a new person.
In the year that has transpired since production wrapped, I have entered the long tunnel that is post production. I’ve poured over the hours and hours of footage. I can tell you what day we shot which scene and how many angles we have. I can perform a one woman show of the film, every line and utterance. I completely understand why filmmakers are tired of their own film by the time it premieres, and enter just in time for the Q&A as screenings go on and on. The number of sleepless nights I’ve experienced, obsessing over whether to cut this two second moment or move a part of the film is a battle for me. I have opened my film up to feedback from peers and audiences in test screenings, and squirm less and less as my life in all its faults and triumphs is fully on display. I continue to mature and grow confidence in myself and my work, and to remind myself it’s important to stay relaxed and focused.
I can only imagine what the next year has in store for me and the Gold Star family. In 2016, the film will premiere somewhere and the most honest, raw moments of my life, heightened at times, will be screened for many to see, and yet, I am terrified. Every day as post production’s tunnel is shortened and the light at the end becomes much clearer, I fear that I will never create something as personally meaningful that others can connect with. The amount of work that went into this film was daunting. For example, most days I wake up early, do something for the film, work my day job and then work well into the evening on other things for the film or my career. It’s nonstop. I’m afraid of burning out. I’m afraid of losing inspiration or not having the borderline stubborn passion and fearlessness that my father’s death sparked deep within me.
I’m afraid nothing will come close to Gold Star, but I’m forging ahead. I have a small and strong army of people by my side emotionally and physically to see this film through to the end, and I am determined to continue marching forward toward another film. I long for the experience of shooting Gold Star again, the feeling of coming together as a tight knit family to solve problems together on set, making art that we all believe in. If I did it once, I can do it again.
Gold Star is almost there and I can’t wait to share it with all of you, while still holding the experience of making it close to my heart.