Have you ever sat through the credits after a movie and watched thousands of names roll across the screen? I used to think there couldn’t be that many people in the country, let alone on a set. There are millions of titles I don’t even know the meaning of — key grip, best boy, script supervisor — all coming together to make one 90-minute feature.
Film production is an inherently collaborative discipline, which is both a blessing and a curse. People worry about actors, but without a proper crew, you’re dead before you can shout “roll camera.” Your favorite director is nothing without a director of photography, a sound mixer and an art department.
The thing about film production is that it brings together a large group of strong personalities, puts them in a cramped space and gives them a high-stress activity to complete together. I’ve seen people walk off film sets. I’ve had a huge argument with one of my closest friends about how much head space to include in the frame. Working on a set with your friends — or with strangers — can be one of the happiest times of your life, as well as one of the most frustrating.
This past week, I’ve been on eight such film sets. My class section at Prague Film School was assigned four hours each to shoot various short films. The roles switched every shoot — you would direct your own project, then be director of photography for someone else, then boom operator, then gaffer and so on. Tensions ran high. On one shoot, the director and assistant director had a massive fight. I argued with the sound guy about boom placement on another, and on the last shoot, an actor got drunk after mistakenly consuming real alcohol. That night, my friends and I met up at a bar and washed the week away with tequila shots, toasting to the end of the project.
But there were so many wonderful moments. On my friend Jordão’s Sunday shoot we had to wait 15 minutes between takes for church bells to stop ringing (an extremely high-stress situation when you only have four hours). He could have complained or rushed people, but instead, we started singing “Country Roads” (1971) by John Denver. As the only American, I sang the verses, and everyone joined in for the chorus. We clapped and stomped our feet to the beat. After, we sang “Beautiful Girls” (2007), and one of the actors got up and danced.
Working on a film with someone is like speedrunning a friendship — or even a marriage. You have to place all your trust in them. You have to be there for them at their best and at their worst. Everyone has to do their best, and everyone has to support each other — the production simply won’t work if they don’t. And sometimes, you have to let go of your frustration and sing “Country Roads” a cappella until you can go back to working in harmony.