Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Floating: A Swim in the Woods: Come, Feel the Noise

"Silence is the universal refuge, the sequel to all dull discourses and all foolish acts, a balm to our every chagrin, as welcome after satiety as after disappointment"
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

We were shooting just miles from Walden Pond, on another pond, and the image above, and Thoreau's commentary on it, are what comes to people's mind when they think of that part of the woods.

Nature. Beauty. Listen closely, and what will you hear?

A distant bird's chirp? The crack of a branch as some small critter crosses it?  A breeze rippling along a pond? Maybe.

An airplane flying overhead? Dogs howling? Construction? Music blaring from a neighbors party? More likely on our shoot.

We were about 10 miles from Hanscom Air Force Base. Most residents owned at least one, if not more, dogs. It was Fall, and most of the local residents were doing repairs and additions to their homes before Winter took over, and also getting in their last chance to hold parties in their backyards.

Added together, we had about as much chance of getting a quiet take as one would in Times Square.

I particularly remember one touching scene between Van (Norman) and his father (Will). Their relationship was contentious, but this was that special moment when they really connected, when they felt each others' pain, when they put the past behind them and moved forward.

It's not a scene you want to do twenty times; there are only so many "special moments" in them. Sure, we could get coverage, but we wanted one. nice, beautiful master shot, which meant we would need quiet for at least 3 and a half minutes.

By that point, we had a rather complex system in place of PAs stationed by folks homes, where they would bring in their dogs during takes as well as hold on use of construction equipment while we shot. For the most part, they were very polite, friendly and accommodating.

The Air Force, needless to say, was not about to work around our shooting schedule, nor were they about to give us a timetable of flights.

We were about 45 seconds into a take when I heard a dog barking. Was it loud enough to ruin our take? Could we fix it in post? All of my senses were alive, my "spidey-senses" kicked in, as I watched the take and listened to this dog, wondering if this was a good one.

When the director called cut, I immediately sought out the sound mixer, who was not in my line of sight during the take, a take that was absolutely perfect and heart-wrenching.

"Was the dog a problem in that shot?" I anxiously inquired of our sound mixer.

"No, the dog wasn't a problem," he said in the calmest of voices. "The plane drowned him out."

We had been dealing with these sound issues all along, and our mixer had long ago come to accept that this was just the way it was going to be.  Meanwhile, I was so fixated on the dog barking that I had completely missed, well, the airplane. "Spidey-senses," indeed!

Yes, we had to shoot it again. It worked out great in the final scene (which I don't want to show here, as it will be lost when you see the movie - and you should see the movie).

What it does remind me of is this, from Living in Oblivion, the Tom DiCillo film that inspired the title for this blog. Somehow, on that one perfect take, something affects the shot....

Sound was not our only struggle, and in the next post, too much time in the water, and a scene too close too home.

1 comment:

Mary Feuer said...

JB, thanks for your kind words, about the film and about me. "Floating" remains one of the highlights of my production days, both because it's a pretty good movie and because it was its own particular brand of challenging. I think we all met the challenge spectacularly in our own head-butting ways.

I left production to become a writer, lived the dream for a while, decided it wasn't so dreamy, and am now living another dream running a little vintage shop in sunny Torrance, CA. It's nice to see you're still braving the production world. Good to run into you here!