What I’ve Learned Shooting The Music of Jo Hyeja, Day 4

Well, there technically wasn’t a “Day 4” as this was a three-day shoot, but we worked about fifteen hours on our last day, actually finishing at close to 4:00am on Tuesday morning. I think it’s pretty easy to imagine why I didn’t have a lot of insights to post (or energy to post them) at the end of shooting last night.

But thinking over yesterday, there are a few insights I have:

  • Wrapping up shooting feels good no matter how bloody tired you are by the end of it. We sent our star home in a cab at close to 4am, and as we trudged back the way we’d come, loaded down with gear, bellies grumbling, shivering from the cold, and ready to drop. I got the most sleep last night of anyone — I didn’t have to stay up and back up files and run through everything checking whether reshooting would be necessary — but I’m a wreck. Then again, I’m the oldest person involved in the film. I think I got a litttle grouchy on day three, but mostly because our house, which had been nice and neat and tidy at the start, was once again a complete bloody mess by the end, as well as because I was tired and hungry and, well, in pain. Holding a boom mic is very hard work.
  • Amibitious scheduling, even when necessitated by budget, is something to be very careful with. If I could do it again, I think we would have worked an extra hour on the first day, and two-and-a-half more hours on the second; it would have been tiring, but also would have made the third day a more laid-back shooting day. My sense is that the kind of tiredness that develops in shooting can mostly wash away in the night, but not completely; so the tiredness you feel three-quarters of the way through the second day is just a little harsher-edged than the tiredness on day one, and it keeps going that way. If you can’t help but cram schedules, then it’s best, when scheduling, to put toward the end of the shoot those scenes where the characters are tired, burned out, exhausted, or screwed up.
  • Acting is not hard work despite all the waiting it involves; rather, it’s hard work (in part) because of all the waiting. Or at least, I think that’s part of what makes it hard work. Sometimes, you’re needed on set even though you’re not going to be doing anything for the next hour. Sometimes, you need to act even if you’re not going to be more than a shoulder and silhouetted hair outline in the corner of the screen, over which the camersa views someone else doing something. This is tiring, all of it.
  • It’s best to reserve your energies for when they’re needed. I constantly was carefully positioning the boom mike perfectly, and then waiting several minutes for a shot to be approved and slightly adjusted and reframed. Finally, I realized I should only hoist the boom up once things were actually ready to go. Actor in position; lights & camera; then boom mike. It saves energy. Even better would be a boom mike stand, though I can see some situations where it’d be very hard to use one effectively. That’s what you want to save your energy for. (Sort of like with a camera.)
  • Lighting is complex, but simple. The effect you have in mind might be achievable with lights on set, but better achieved in post-production. Without a lot of experience in both, it’s hard to know which is which. But some lightning effects can only be achieved while shooting. It is very important to know which ones those are — or to have someone around who does.  So, if you’re asked to do lighting, one very important thing is: set things up to stay still, or hold the light still, until you’re asked to do otherwise.
  • If you let budget worries slow you down, they will eat into your schedule and time, so accept certain annoying expenses at the outset, even when you’re working with a small budget. (In fact, accepting this expense is probably especially important when you’re on a small budget, as it lets you more wisely focus your energies in terms of resources and time, as my friend Chris who came and helped us pointed out to me.) For example, some foley work is probably inescapable. Foley is when you dub in the everyday sounds that ought to be audible in order to make the images on the screen feel real — the swishing of clothes, the crunch of gravel underfoot. When we were shooting, I tried to get a lot of sounds and I tried to sample a lot when we weren’t shooting, but at some point it became evident that Foley was just going to be inevitable. After all — until you see the film, it’s impossible to predict what other sounds are going to be necessary; and, as we experienced with one case, it’s just really, really hard to get certain audio during shooting. (Synching up a phone conversation that is one-sided on video, but two-sided in audio, is very hard. Especially one that is going to be cut up from a few different angles is impossible, though we tried our best to record it well enough not to have to call back the actor.)The good news is that it should be possible to make a list of all the sounds, and then get the recorder, record everything in a short span of time (like 24 hours), and minimize expenses. Because we were trying to do the film so that a minimum of foley work would be necessary, we ended up wasting a lot of time discussing things like how to get the audio for a shot, and getting foley sounds we could probably have gotten much more easily (and less tiringly) later. Next time we plan a shoot, I’m going to simply convince Miss Jiwaku to assume we’ll be doing foley oin post-production, and save our precious time for the shooting.
  • An important part of collaboration is openness about the process of creation, which I guess is both obvious, and a variation of a theme in these posts. But it was something that did not come easily to me, given that this was my first script; I learned that this kind of writing is different from fiction writing in a lot of ways; the stuff that gets cut might be what would be the last thing you’d cut from a fiction narrative; it might be cut for logistical reasons; it might be cut because time is running short; it might be cut because something else is being used in its place, or it’s simply found unnecessary to the story. Even though I knew it would be difficult to accept this, and understood why those bits and pieces had to be cut, I was sad to see it actually happen. But that ego stuff needs to be put aside: if a shot is not practicable, then it’s not practicable, and unless you have oodles of special gear and time and money, lots of things you can imagine will not be practicable. When you hit such a situation, you have to put aside your vision of how things were “supposed” to be, and look at what is possible and help figure out how to make it the best possible shot it can be. The final image I wrote for the film was basically impossible without some kind of crane, and that’s just life. But I was able to contribute to making the alternative that was thought up as effective as possible, and the same goes for another scene that was, for the purposes of flow, necessary but too long. At other times, when one of my darling scenes or lines was being cut, it was important to just shut up and let it go. Let it all go… like in that Mountain Goats song, “Cotton”:

  • Encouraging people is like magic… almost. People have limits, of course, but limits can be pushed. People can do things they don’t imagine they can. While this is also something every teacher should know, the thing is that when people get together on a project, they really have an incentive to push past their own limits. I’ve actually written before about how projects can be used to help students push past their own limits and do stuff they never thought they could do; people can work 15 hours straight, and not get bitchy and sour; people can somehow summon up energy to do just one more take, even though they’re dead on their feet. One way that you can help them do this, if they want to, is encouragement. Also, reassurance: if a shot is messed up by, say, a passing car, it can be really important to tell the actor that they did well, and that the shot’s being done again for reasons other than their acting.
  • Nobody loves your kids the way you do; but some people are way more prone to being bitten by the bug than others. A wide variety of people — mostly friends of Miss Jiwaku’s — came to the set to help us out. They were all generous in their offer to help, but some were far more interested in getting their hands dirty, in carefully paying close attention and catching little problems, being on hand, and so on… and I think that propensity probably connects well to how interested they were experiencing in the process of filmmaking itself, as opposed to pitching in and “helping a friend.” (Which is a nice sentiment, but may not coincide with the interest necessary to actually help very effectively in shooting-type stuff.) I’m not criticizing anyone; without asking for anything in return, a bunch of people contributed in all kinds of ways, all of which are appreciated. But it was lucky for us that almost the whole time, there was at least one person around who was of the sort to be interested in participating/assisting intensively. Had it not been for that, I’m not sure we’d have gotten everything done.
  • Food is important on a set in a variety of ways that you must not underestimate. When shot after shot is goofed because the audio is necessary, but marred by different people’s bellies growling and grumbling, it’s time to break for dinner. (The loudest belly, by the way, was mine, though I didn’t know it: when you’ve wearing a headset, you can’t tell where sounds come from, and I didn’t feel the gurgle that everyone else in the room heard as clear as day, and which sounded (through the mic) like a ghostly whining to me.)
  • Working audio on a production like this is an altered state of being that you slide into. Suddenly, everything becomes about the aural soundscape, and I’ve spent the first half of today fighting to ignore the ambient noises — endless hallway chatter, doors banging, coughing, etc. —  that, just yesterday, would have prompted me to shout “cut” and press stop on the audio recorder. It’s an interesting state in which to be, though. I’m more sensitive to the sounds that surround me than I have been in years. In the light of that, I think urban Korea is a very hard place to shoot films and do audio without access to (expensive) studio time: it’s so noisy here, where my sense is that it wouldn’t be so hard to find a quiet, empty street or a very quiet room in, say, my hometown.

I think that’s it for now. I’m not sure when Miss Jiwaku will begin the editing process, but I expect it to take the next couple of weeks. Once we have an edit of the main film, we’ll have to do some audio recording (foley, some voice synching, and most importantly, we need to find a haegum player we can hire to record a few pieces of music for us). Prior to that, I need to compose some music for the haegum player, as well, and find or make some music for other parts of the film. I think I can probably put something together, if I have a little time and access to a little musical gear. (An electronic keyboard, mainly, though I may bust out my flute, maybe a saxophone, and my old vocal effects processor unit, and mess with some musique concrète techniques — I like the chunkiness of that kind of sound better than the cheesiness of synthesized music soundtracks, and we can get some really interesting, creepy sounding music that way.)

Meanwhile, Miss Jiwaku will have to make the opening and closing credits, and I’m not sure what images we’ll be using for the background of those shots. It was supposed to be footage of Yeokgok, but I don’t think they had time to get any before going into Seoul and dropping off the equipment. I guess we’ll see.

But the hardest part, I think, is done. And I’m pretty impressed with how much we managed to get done in just three days.

I’ll make sure to update with news on this project as it continues…

Series Navigation<< What I’ve Learned Shooting <em>The Music of Jo Hyeja</em>, Day 3The Music of Jo Hyeja: An Update (AKA My Work Begins) >>

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