I’m in the middle of a field surrounded by a dozen or so drunk extras in Day of the Dead face paint. The sun is setting fast. I’ve stood by my choice to have a dolly shot to open the party scene of the music video I’m directing, and we are taking the time to get it. But it means we will get far fewer other shots. Now I’m second guessing myself.
The set is beautiful with a makeshift altar stretching 20 feet up in the air. The band will place a coffin at the foot of it and the lead singer will emerge at a strange party and perform the end of the song.
My shot list is worn around the edges from being folded and unfolded over and over during the day. It is no longer any help as I take it out of my back pocket and stare at it. There are many shots that are not checked off. We are behind, by a lot. Now it’s not so much about getting everything I want, I have to be thinking about getting what I need.
My mind races as to what to do with these dozen people. I herd them into a few different scenarios, having them sing, stare at the camera and dance around; all the while very conscious of the distant setting sun.
It was a difficult balance as there was no proper assistant director—a job I’ve often done—to help wrangle these extras. I find myself raising my voice and at times unable to get their attention. They are mostly friends of the band and cooperating, but it’s boring and we are stopping and starting and their focus naturally fades.
My role as director quickly becomes that of camp counselor. I yell praise and clap after every take. I urge them to keep their energy up by jumping around behind the monitor, until it goes down. Then I’m flying blind and can’t even see what is being shot. We do a few more setups and eventually we wrap.
“How many of you can come back tomorrow?” I ask. A few of them can and we begin making those arrangements. I tell them we will let them know. I’m fairly certain we are going to need to pick up a few things to make it work.
I help the crew clean up and mull the day over in my mind.
“Well,” I think to myself, “I’m going to look at all the stuff we shot today and come up with a new plan. Tomorrow is another day.”
I eat dinner and hang out with the crew. It’s inspiring to have so many talented folks helping me out. Everyone relaxes around a campfire after the long day. The camera assistant asks me if I wanted to download the cards. “Give me a minute,” I say, putting it off for another hour.
Eventually I set up my computer and start watching the footage. The party looks amazing, much better than I had imagined. It’s magic hour and the light is perfect. The slow motion smoke, the crowd dancing, the lit up “Mexico” sign. Somehow it had all come together. A smile slowly creeps across my face, and I breathe a massive sigh of relief.
I cancel the extras coming back and focus on shooting the rest of the video; we still have a big second shoot day.
On Sunday many of the crew leave to get back to the city. I am forced to do things much more simply and be more flexible, which turns out to be a very good thing.
In the edit room a few days later, it is difficult to turn the part of my brain off that is still busy coming up with ideas for the video. Suddenly it is so clear what I should have done with the extras. Suddenly I am shocked at how cluttered my mind had been on set. I should have shot more of this or less of that.
But eventually even these last regrets and hopes fade into the past and I am left with a music video.