Vania Smrkovski on SAFTA’s First Film (Part 5/6 “The Shoot”)

Part of the problem with no-budget, time-limited film competitions is you have to find actors, props, locations, crew and equipment, and you have to have it all and impose on people you actually like, and then force them to endure what is generally a big inconvenience.

 And in no area of filmmaking is this more true than with locations.

 A couple of years ago, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition chose Knoxville as the area for their final episode of the series. I happened to have a condo right off the street. I was excited. I was proud. Everyone else I knew was really, really fucking irritated.

 Traffic was a nightmare. Local homeowners had to deal with terrible traffic jams and tell people “no, I really live here, I need to fucking get home!”

 In spite of the fact that SAFTA is made up of people that not only respect each other, but also kind of think everyone else is pretty cool and fun company, the fact is, making a movie is a disruption on the lives of people that, at best, find what you’re doing kind of cool, but aren’t prepared for what is actually being asked of them.

 Put simply, we needed a home and a doctor’s office for our shoot. We had people willing to provide them.

 Tensions were high.

 Yep. You read that right. People were willing to help. Tensions were high.


 A seven minute movie. Get that into your head, for starters. And within that, a scene in a home that will last — okay, let’s think now — less than 7 minutes. In fact something along the lines of 2 or maybe three minutes. Or two doctor’s office scenes, that will, in total, make up a matter of a minute and a half in the final film.

Should be a matter of an hour or two tops, right?

Cue massive, insanely maniacal laughter rolling on and on and on and on and….

I mean, this is an aspect of filmmaking that never ceases to fascinate me.

You can put it all on paper — everything that is required for a shoot. You can itemize that a single scene will:

  • end up lasting maybe a minute in the final product,
  • any single shot, which in itself may represent a few seconds, will require something on the order of ten or twenty different shots from different angles, with different lighting, different acting interpretations
  • each shot will potentially require the moving, checking, retesting, relocating, retesting and relocating (please recurse the previous clauses a few more times) of lighting until the particular 1 second segment of film is something that will be potentially useful for a shot
  • each shot will have a microphone that, when done well, is sensitive enough to hear a firefly fart in the neighbor’s yard, and thus requires silence. Absolute silence. Silence of the very people who are excited that they are taking part in a terrific movie project, and want to celebrate with a gin and tonic, in the company of their friends, while they pass the time, whispering, or maybe not whispering, or maybe laughing hysterically at some joke — or the very people who are running an active medical practice and need to maintain a professional veneer among their clients, and therefore run a business, and therefore…
  • not only does a film shoot require the unloading and loading of lighting equipment, cameras, tripods, boxes of props and costumes, the arrival of actors that think a one o’clock start time is a good indication of when it’s time to take a shower and get dressed, but that each individual shoot will, by microcosmic extension, require most of the props, costume elements, lighting, cameras, microphones, cables and actors — actors in the bathroom, actors taking a smoke break while the lighting was set up, actors lost in the yard going over the lines or taking a phone call, take several minutes on average just getting set up, in spite of the fifteen seconds that will actually be filmed
  • each shot is on a set of an imaginary character that will likely not have your grandmother’s urn on the mantel, or the prized bible on your shelf, or a bed next to the window with the sun shining through that is making the camera useless because the shot is impossible to take, or be as orderly and clean as you had it because — of course — you wanted to make the place look good for guests oh my god what have you done with my are you going to pick up there are dirty dishes on the fucking floor is that red fake blood going to wash out okay that was my favorite childhood blankie for christ’s sake get the hell out of my house and never speak to me again!!!



You could itemize all of this to your happily willing victims who are contributing their homes, and yet when it all actually happens, there simply is no preparation for the fact that even the most “easy, in and out, quick, no problem” shoot could easily stretch into several hours and well into the evening.

So, yes.

Tensions were high.

Our own SAFTA chair loves her home. Loves entertaining, having parties, feeding, sharing alcohol, entertaining at the wonderful home she and her boyfriend have. But they love their home because it’s their domain.

And a film crew, god love us all, is going to uproot you for a while and ask you to love every minute even as you grit your teeth and say “No problem. No problem at all.”

Which is exactly what happened at their home. And at the vet clinic we used the next day in lieu of an actual human-doctor’s office. And at the local university office space we used for a shoot that didn’t even end up in our final submission.

And I love them for every bit they endured.


We did our shoots. We tried our best to minimize the pain we inflicted on the friends who were so generous with their space and time. We tried our best to put Grandma’s urn back in place, then move the bed where we found it, to feed people, to thank people, and to get out of their hair as quickly as we could possibly manage.

And after a very respectable three days of shooting, we had everything that we were going to have. A follow-up conversation with local musician Laith Keilaney to make arrangements for our soundtrack, and now it was up to Rob Simpson, our cinematographer and film editor, to see if we provided him enough grist to make something good.


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