Orange. This will never match, I thought.
The sky stared back at me with this rusty hue. I knew we were in a shitload of trouble. We had just finished our first week of shooting. Just to add a little perspective - our budgeted schedule only allowed us to shoot for two weeks. TWO. That’s it. We couldn’t afford for shit to go wrong, let alone have the forest catch on fire. It happened overnight. 60mph winds kicked up the fires and it spread so quickly.
Shooting a feature film already comes with this its fair share of “what the fuck am I doing?!” moments. We had already been through the ringer. Everything leading up to this moment amounted to a big fucking deal. We had been working on this movie for literally years I’m embarrassed to say. It’s typical for many movies to be years in the making, from conception to delivery. This, however, felt like an entirely different beast. As I type this, I’m attempting to reflect on when this all started. I think about this as I’m watching the smoke rolling in through the trees.
Ah yes. I had this crazy thought that I wanted to be a director. It’s 2013 or somewhere around there. I’m in the middle of film school. The journey here is another story all on its own that I’ll save for another time. Part of your first year in film school is they make you spit out a few short films. One in particular I had been working on was the catalyst that made me realize I really wanted to be a thriller director. And more specifically, I wanted to explore gay thrillers. There aren’t a lot of them out there, gay thrillers that is. But the ones that are out there that I’ve seen have been pretty damn good.
Before You Get Home was the name of the short film I was working on. It’s basically a gay revenge story. I had somehow managed to convince some really great actors to work with me on it (Peter Stickles, David Pevsner, and Dean Howell). It was one of the first times that I became acutely aware that I wanted to direct. After finishing this short, I knew I wanted to take the concept of this idea I had for a gay thriller and develop it into a feature film. It would revolve around two characters and take place entirely in the woods.
ENTIRELY in the woods. What a dumb fucking idea, I’m thinking (five years later) as it’s becoming abundantly clear that we’re not gonna be able to shoot on schedule for the day. This part is laughable. That I actually thought our biggest problem was that we wouldn’t get started on time that day. HA! We got back to basecamp after driving out to the middle of fucking nowhere where we were shooting and some of the crew were already packing up. Meanwhile, I was ready to go down with the sinking ship.
It didn’t take long to realize it was time to concede and go home. This was soul crushing. I kept telling everyone that we would be back up and finish the movie soon. Secretly I really wasn’t sure that this would even be possible. First of all, the fires that had spread through Santa Rosa were spreading like - well, like wildfire. Businesses, homes, and even lives were lost due to the devastation from these fires. It was a mess.
Driving home, I just kept wondering how we were going to get through this. I was pissed off. We had sunk so much of our own money into production as it was. Now it was highly likely that this was gonna end up costing us a hell of a lot more. I drove and drove. The drive was longer than normal because we had to take the coastline highway. The main highway had been shut down because of the fire had crossed it. It was like the end of the world driving down that coastal road. A steady line of vehicles, all trying to get the hell out of dodge, hoping that they all remembered to get anything of any value. The smoke rolled into the Pacific like a grey blanket. I wondered if I’d ever be making this drive back up again. Or would this be how the story ends? I’d been rejected before, but never by mother nature.
When I finally got home, I’d remembered something that my cinematographer, Stephen Tringali, had said to me in the chaos of everyone packing up their belongings before rushing out. “There’s a silver lining in all of this,” he started. “You have an opportunity that not many directors have. To go back over the footage you’ve shot.” At the time, I didn’t wanna hear it. “BUT MY MOVIE!” was all I could really focus on. But as I sat at home and let the whole of it all start to sink in, I realized he was right. This was an opportunity. I could either slink away and chalk the whole thing up to experience and blah blah blah. Or I could use this as much to my advantage as possible. So I did. I started assembling the footage. I became obsessed with it. Working from sunrise to sunset and later. I toiled away. Eventually I had half a movie. And I knew I had to figure out how to finish it. I went through the footage and discovered some minor transitional moments that I hadn’t got. And also an entire scene that I realized needed to be completely re-shot. I wouldn’t have discovered these things until after the fact if our production hadn’t been interrupted by the fires.
I guess what I’m saying is that maybe there’s a silver lining in everything. Maybe it’s about making the choice to see that silver lining, which can be terrifying at times. I’m glad I made myself stop and look at this fire from a different perspective. First of all, it made a difference in our actually finishing the movie. But more importantly I found that sometimes struggle is where you discover your biggest strengths. I know I did.