Regarde la mer

I called this movie Matkot. It was the moment after the pre-production journey had ended and the production journey had begun. The fact that Matkot, the sport of cooperation rather than competition, is frequently nominated as Israel’s unofficial national sport may relate back to the cooperative spirit of the Zinonist pioneers. The pioneers of the Zionist enterprise (dating back to the early 1880s) were true believers in cooperation, rather than competition, as evidenced in the Kibbutz movement. It is likely that in that spirit, a game where enjoyment was derived from cooperation and all parties performing well would have been favoured over a game based around competition and the defeat of an opponent. I was a first-time director directing my own script and in over my head — a position I was getting used to. Though I had already cast the entire film when on my own, it was time to recast with more experienced actors. Firing the old cast was very hard on me, though harder on them; even though I had warned them this could happen. So, we hired a casting director. The difference in the submissions was immediately mind-boggling. Actors came in to read that I had seen in film and television. The others were just head and shoulders more talented than what I had found on the Internet and on the beach.

But casting was tough because we cast as we were shooting. Within two weeks of this company coming on board we began filming, mainly because I insisted, mainly because I was scared of a delay causing second thoughts and losing the film all-together.

So, we cast as we needed, sometimes the night before. Often we’d rearrange the shooting schedule to wait and hear back from an actor we had made an offer to. More often than not, the actor said “yes,” and then only had a day or so to get ready. It was kind of crazy, kind of frustrating, but also rather exhilarating.

Being easily star-struck, it took a while to be able to just hang out with these folks. Our first meeting often went like first dates. But over time I got more and more used to it until a friendly working relationship developed that in many cases continues even now.

When writing the script I never had any actors in mind for the roles, except one. And we got him. And he was magnificent. I also worked with some actors I had admired for years. I even worked with a guy who starred in one of my favorite television shows. When I heard he was interested I was watching the DVD collection of the show. That was very cool, until our first meeting where I kept fanboying over the show, only to find out later he hated it, felt it had ruined his career, and never talked about it. I was mortified and never mentioned it again. But we had a great time working together and still email now and again.

Most gratifying was when the script went out to every agent and manager in town and after reading it submitted some fairly famous clients. Our lead actress was starring in a television series, as were some of our supporting actors. They did it because they liked the script, trusted our fantastic producer, and could do the film because we were working weekends.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. We don’t have any “big” stars in the film. Just a lot of respected fairly well-known actors. And they were all wonderful to work with and gave outstanding performances.

This was still a very low budget film, so the crew was assembled by our tireless production manager from a group of people looking for a break and willing to work on a deferred basis. In other words: They would only get paid if the movie made money. But they were wonderful: Talented, friendly, and dedicated. We shot 35 days over 5 months — weekends only — and most came everyday and worked their butts off. The most delightful group of people you’d ever want to meet. It was an honor to have them on the film and if anything good comes from this and I’m ever in a position to hire, these folks will be first on the list.

Day one: We had the before-party. All the actors were there; the crew; the producers. There was champagne and hugs and good wishes. I really felt like a director. Driving home that night watching the Azrieli Towers, I couldn’t believe my luck; I was in the movies. It felt so real. I was looking forward to the next day even more. I had a full day to play director; go over the script, tweak my storyboards… Yup, I was really playing the part… And then it happened.

I was awoken by a phone call. The location we were going to shoot the following two days changed their mind. We would not be allowed to shoot there. We had three stars ready to go, twenty crew people ready to go, and no place to shoot. What about the beach, the Producer said.

This is how you can lose a movie. When your first impression to these folks is a major league catastrophe, it causes a ripple effect you may never recover from. Suddenly my leisurely director day had become a living nightmare.

I called my producer and he was adamant we not cancel and compromise by shooting at his place if necessary — even though it would’ve never worked — because he knew canceling was death. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do; I picked up the phone, hit the road, begged, charmed, kept my cool, and found another place. For free. A better place. But a place that would take till 2 in the morning to get ready.

But the next morning at 6 am we gathered and shot. Production had begun!

And this was how it would be for the next 6 months. Even with the tireless help of the producers and production crew, it was always an exhausting 5 days getting ready for those weekend shoots. With a cast of 25 and nearly as many locations, the logistics for scheduling was a never less than a migraine-inducing crap shoot. And because we weren’t fully cast until nearly the end of the shoot, that made things even harder. Locations always needed to be found and dressed. No weekend shoot ever felt like it had been easy to prepare. Most felt like it had taken an miracle.
But things always managed to work out. Even looking back on it, I have no idea how, but they did. It all cobbled itself together and we got everything on film we wanted and made all but one of our days. Because we were using a camera that had just come on the market, we had no way to screen dailies; no way to see what we were shooting looked like. It looked great on the monitor but I was having nightmares that all the tapes would be blank. It wasn’t until we had shot twenty days that we were finally able to jimmy-rig something and screen footage. So, we grabbed the tapes from our first weekend, popped some popcorn, put ’em, and discovered that…

I could’ve died. And wanted to. I called our DP and said, “Please tell me you did something different the 18 days since!!!” He hadn’t. And it would be two days before we could access the remaining tapes. The tapes that represented 2/3rds of the movie. The tapes that were the end product of my every hope and dream, most of my savings, and all my time over the last year. It was two days of Hell. Two days where I was sure there had to be a glitch in the camera that had destroyed the whole film.

Well, we still have no idea what happened, but the rest of the footage looks absolutely FANTASTIC! It’s all in focus. It looks like  a real movie. The DP made miracles with the minimum of equipment. Yes, we’ll be doing some reshooting for a day — but I’ve looked at every scene and shot a few times now and it looks better than I had even hoped. Don’t get me wrong, if the movie fails I’m still gonna kill myself. But as the exhaust fills the garage and my life passes before my eyes, at least the last year will be pleasant to watch. Ladies and Gentlemen! Regarde la mer and just try the Reißschwenk!

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