Balls of Steel™: Unexpected Emotion

When you produce your first film, everyone says, “Expect the unexpected.” As the writer, I thought I was prepared for anything… until the cameras started rolling.
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This past weekend, I became not only a producer, but also a produced writer with the short film, Impasse. When you produce your first film, everyone says, “Expect the unexpected.” I thought I was prepared for anything… until the cameras started rolling.

Sure, we had sound issues and some miscommunications in pre-production, but for the most part, our shoot went surprisingly well. In future posts, I’ll go into detail on some of my mistakes and suggestions on how to avoid them. But today, I simply want to speak from the heart about the most unexpected of happenings…

The emotional roller coaster of watching your words come to life.

Expect the unexpected. How true that statement is.

I had been so busy producing the film, running around getting props, food for the cast and crew, and doing damage control, that when the director, Michael Bekemeyer, called “action” on the first scene, I was unprepared for what was about to hit me.

Jennifer Fontaine and John T. Woods photo courtesy of Juliana Bellini

Jennifer Fontaine and John T. Woods photo courtesy of Juliana Bellini

As Jennifer Fontaine and John T. Woods breathed life into Alice and Robert, interpreting them in a way only they could, and took them from the page to three-dimensional, breathing, thinking, feeling people, I sat in awe.

By the end of the first take, I was crying. Smiling and crying. I had done it. We had done it. We took a simple idea born from a voyeurism moment at a coffeehouse, and gathered an incredible cast and crew to bring that vision to life. Every single one of us, touching it, owning it, and shaping it into a beautiful piece of art.

To say I am humbled these talented people came together to help me is an understatement. As they applauded me after the first take, I knew my words were safe in their hands. I took a deep breath, and released the fear.

What was even more remarkable was the cast and crew’s respect of me as the writer on set. I had heard all the tales of writers not being allowed to talk with the actors, and being pushed aside by the director. But that was not my experience. No question, the shunning of writers isn’t as prevalent in the indie world, but this experience was a writer’s dream.

Bekemeyer, being a writer himself, knew how deeply personal this story was for me. If I was near the monitor, he always looked to me to give him a nod of approval on a take he liked before moving onto the next scene.

When we were shooting the pivotal coffeehouse argument between the young couple, Bekemeyer knew I had witnessed it in real life. Wanting to be sure the actors were evoking the same emotion from our audience as the real-life couple did for me on that cold day in February, he called me over to speak with the actors Andrea Jordan and Jose Miguel Vasquez.

Jose Miguel Vasquez and Andrea Jordon - photo courtesy of Juliana Bellini

Jose Miguel Vasquez and Andrea Jordon - photo courtesy of Juliana Bellini

They listened intently as I recounted what moved me as I watched the real-life argument. I spoke purely of emotion, not directing them in their actions. They soaked in every word and worked tirelessly to bring a full range of emotions to their characters, from love, to angst, anger and sadness. Real tears fell for both of them, as they became Rose and Eli.

Despite, Bekemeyer’s generosity, I was mindful to give him distance. During one take, I chose not to watch the monitor and only listen from another room. As I heard this one line of dialogue, I knew it wasn’t right. A few takes later, it was gnawing at me. Then I heard the scene was wrapped, and raced over to Bekemeyer, telling him I wanted to change John’s line. It was too expository. Not natural.

Since Robert was John's and no longer mine, I pulled him aside to ask his opinion. John, ever so professionally, agreed to reshoot it.

The choice was to take a long expository line of dialogue and change it simply to, “Really?”

He nailed it. That one change made the entire scene more natural.

I have no problem admitting when I have made a bad choice as a writer. That line was a bad choice. The new one met my ears like bourbon touching my lips after a long day. Perfect.

The last take of the first day was the intensely, emotional opening scene of the film, which also happened to be a sex scene, making it ever more difficult on the actors. This one I watched on the monitors. As I saw a tear trickle down Jennifer’s face, a matching one was gliding down my own. She embodied everything Alice was feeling and everything I had intended to convey as a writer.

As we wrapped for the day, Bekemeyer and I took a private moment and stepped outside, where we both cried. He took my hands and thanked me for writing a scene that had the emotions he had always wanted to direct. I will never forget that moment and the choice I made putting that scene into the script. It wasn’t originally there on the first draft. It was one of those scenes, when I first told Bekemeyer I was writing it, that made a director say, “Are you sure?” I was sure. It was a tough one, but it would show the audience instantly where Alice’s head and heart were.

John T. Woods and Jennifer Fontaine as shot by Director of Photography Nathan Blair

John T. Woods and Jennifer Fontaine as shot by Director of Photography Nathan Blair

By the final day of shooting, so much talent had painted on the script that was our canvas. After watching Jennifer Fontaine’s inspiring interpretation of Alice, and Nathan Blair’s gorgeous, artful cinematography, capturing every emotional detail, I knew the ending had to change. Impasse was no longer the original script I had written. The sculpture had morphed during the two-day shoot.

I pulled Bekemeyer aside, describing the new ending. He beamed, saying he totally agreed, as did Jennifer. We all felt so strongly, we didn’t even shoot the original ending. Through Jennifer’s stellar acting, she showed me who Alice was, and what she needed to do to fully evolve. I am deeply grateful for them respecting my need to change the script at the last minute.

I hadn’t expected those two days to be so full of raw emotion for so many of us. I’m sure if I had written a comedy, laughter would have been my goal, but this is no comedy.

It’s difficult to summarize how I feel during and after the process of being produced for the first time. All I can say is, I hope you all have this kind of an experience… and I do mean “kind.” For the cast and crew were so kind to me, kind to my words, kind to my characters, and kind to my vision.

My baby was born with tenderness, professionalism, talent, and love. No epidural needed. I am one lucky writer.

For more behind-the-scenes photos, check out Impasse's Facebook page.