Day 1 (Ten Years Ago)

Ten years ago today we started shooting A Picture of You, my first — and so far only — feature film. It’s sobering to realize that an entire decade has gone by since making the movie.

The shoot was the most challenging and intense eighteen days I’ve ever experienced. I was a first-time feature director leading a cast and crew that numbered about a dozen on our busiest days, far more people than I had ever managed up until then. The weather at our eastern Pennsylvania location was hot and humid and the mosquitos were relentless. By the end of the first week, I had more than a dozen bites all over my body, as did many others. Everyone had to regularly check for deer ticks, too.

We thought we’d save money by shooting in rural PA instead of New York, but we didn’t account for the cost and difficulty of housing, feeding, and transporting an NYC-based crew out in the country for three weeks.

The logistics were challenging. I stayed with the owner at the borrowed house where we shot, the cast was in a hotel twenty minutes north, and the crew lived in a rented house thirty minutes south. Most mornings, I’d be the one setting up the breakfast table and greeting the crew as they arrived for setup.

Once they arrived, I could go off and do director-things, but on a microbudget production like ours everyone did a bit of everything including me. One day during the shoot I was the one who picked up lunch for everybody. It was from a local Subway and I still feel guilty to this day about how flavorless the sandwiches were. Fortunately, there was no mutiny over the food.

Pro tip: crews will tolerate low pay and harsh conditions because that’s the dues-paying we all have to endure, but bad craft services is a moral affront to the entire craft of cinema. Fortunately, our amazing production designer was also a terrific cook and she made everyone delicious dinners during the three overnight shoots of our second week. On other days, we ate a variety of sandwiches and pizzas from local markets. It wasn’t fancy but it was usually pretty tasty.

I recall that the first two days of the shoot were very difficult. To save money, we didn’t hire a First Assistant Director who is usually the person who ensures that we keep to the schedule and shoot all the scenes we’d planned to. As a result, we had fallen way behind by Day 2 and realized that we wouldn’t be able to finish the film at that pace.

Fortunately, we were able to quickly find a locally-based First AD. His presence did wonders for our schedule — and morale. The rest of the shoot went as smoothly as an ultra-low show can run. We wrapped on Day 18 with the feeling that we’d gotten some wonderful performances, with only a handful of simple pickup shots to get later.

What you see here are pages from our production log, which recorded information about each scene and take and which camera and sound cards they were recorded to. If you want to see more behind-the-scenes, you can watch Making A Picture of You, our blooper reel, and even an impromptu musical.

This film was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and still one of my proudest, too. I will be forever grateful to the people who worked with me to make a little movie ten years ago in the Pennsylvania woods.