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ROZEMARIJN STOKKEL

FOCUSPULLERATWORK

1st AC 

THE TEMPORARY NORMAL

It has been 95 days since I closed my pink Peli Case and put the remote to bed.

Whilst going through what seemed like a rollercoaster ride of emotions, ranging from sad to depressed and bored, I still maintained an intense passion to fight for my industry and to get back on set. To just make it work.


We’ve researched and planned ahead on how we can shoot, and in theory we are ready.

In practice, it is a challenge. I would like share with you, this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The Uncertain Efficiency of a Corona Protocol:

Rising Stress Levels

July 13th 2020

 

Last week was wrap day. Production has come to an end.

As filmmakers, you can almost certainly recognize the simultaneous bittersweet feelings of being happy and sad on this day. Though this time if felt even stranger. This is my final recap.

Working on a set comes with it’s own stress, and you tend to become an expert at working under accumulating high stress levels. The pressure of the day, company moves, the one-chance shot at full wide open on an 85mm, or just the regular logistics of that week. Add to that, a Covid-protocol, where no mistakes are permitted and you have yourself a weird scenario.

Not that I’m complaining, but adding a corona protocol makes the stress level rise faster and even higher. That’s how shooting the remaining 14 days of this feature felt. And perhaps that’s a subconscious side effect of the corona protocol that we have not specifically prepared for. Stress is a production’s silent ninja/Trojan horse that should always be addressed, or at least, never ignored.

In hindsight, being with less people on a set automatically imposes less distraction around you, less people looking over your shoulder, and I have to say, that is something I did relish. I enjoyed being granted the concentration to preform, taking time to set marks to make the shooting day as useful as possible. 

As previously mentioned in this blog, optimism and creative adjustments are needed to make it work. Perhaps we should add Creatively and Optimistically Adjust to our motto: Eat. Sleep. Focus. Repeat. (But Perhaps: Eat. Sleep. Focus. Creatively and Optimistically Adjust. Repeat – is too long of a motto).

Ironically, the one thing that did raise my stress level was the distance. Not being close to my DOP for a silent conversation about the scene. Unable to be a fly on the wall and whisper to the actress on how she is going to move. Prevented from a quick chat, in between takes, with the 1st AD about the rest of the day.  All this created a certain stress that I certainly did not like. Being pushed out of my comfort zone and demanded to act in a different way made me less (mentally) focussed in general.

Note: obviously a good 1st AC is lost without a superb 2nd AC. Many thanks to Keith Tedesco, who helped me write and edit the blog.

Corona Catch 22

June 28th 2020

 

An optimist thinks of a dilemma as a situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more undesirable alternatives. A pessimist thinks of it as a Catch 22. The question is, am I a pessimist or an optimist?

As filmmakers on set, we find ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place more often than not. Following a protocol gives the word dilemma a new dimension. Being a perfectionist,  I found myself torn between 2 thoughts this week; health and safety versus a functional camera department.

We have diluted the set to represent a theatre piece with an unbiased lens, rather than an active, living and breathing artistic expression caught through the eye of an influenced lens.

What scares me the most is the looming question of whether or not we are leaning more towards health and safety over art. Don’t get me wrong, I always think of health and safety first, but in this case, heath and safety impedes more than elevates the product.

Filmmaking is a wonderful piece of production wherein many departments come together to create something through collaboration. This is something that I absolutely love about the discipline. Communication and collaboration are the key words in this case. We also have to remember that the waters we are now testing have since been an unchartered territory, thus protocols must be subject to change rather than a rule of law. You can see it as “bending the rules”, but if something doesn’t work than rules can be changed to accommodate for the better of the group, don’t you think? Adapt or die. In my case, adapt we did for the betterment of the film… and health.

As a responsible human being I am committed to following every rule in the covid-19 filmset protocol, though on the other hand, I’m committed to being the very best 1st AC I can possible be. These two unfortunately do not go hand-in-hand. At least in my opinion… and with that statement, the balance has tipped towards pessimism.

This dilemma presented itself to us throughout the last 5 shooting days on the same location in the same house. Imagine a scene with 6 actors and a rule that dictates not more than 6 people allowed on set.

The slate cannot come in, I can’t experience the scene in a present manner – only at a great distance, the sound mixer rigging microphones on set rather than booming, car shots where social distancing seems more important than safety during the drive. I assure you, flying off a flat bed will kill me much faster than Corona.

I’ve learned that during these times everyone is open for evolution and adapts a can-do attitude. The ideal situation is that I’m back next to my DP… which I am sometimes allowed to do when situation demands it. When possible, we bring in the slate, which means that the 2nd AC is ready behind the door and runs in when sound shouts out “speed”. The covid-19 protocol is work in progress. Just like crews working on a filmset. On that note, I think I’ve answered my opening question, and that pessimism is never the answer during these demanding learning curves.

A GOOD PREP IS HALF THE JOB....

June 21th 2020

 

We all know this. A good prep is half the job. Know it all. Be prepared for anything.

But what if there is this one thing you can’t control? Where your best is normally good enough, but  now  it’s all about making it work together, communicating and reorganising. Your best suddenly needs a software update.

Filmmakers are known for their adaptability, for colouring outside the lines, for bending and breaking the rules. Suddenly, we are faced with a situation where you are required to colour within the lines in order to create a safe workspace. Your best is, at this moment, not good enough anymore if it means your actions can put the health status of the set in jeopardy.

During the rehearsal day we discovered a few things, the one-way-walking routes were challenging for some departments such as the grip when moving a dolly. Since there are only a max of 6 persons allowed inside the main set building at all times, a queue had to be formed where we were obliged to wait for each other to enter and exit. This required a top up of a much-requested virtue: patience.

 

The actual shooting day, starts with a pre-call to go to the set nurse. An added 5 minutes to our usual routine. The nurse takes note of your temperature and oxygen levels. If all is found to be good and dandy, then you’ve got a green light to go to set… alone, in your own car.


This first day of shooting went smooth, protcol wise. To me, it felt like I could almost do my job. I do miss being next to the camera and seeing actors and DOP move during a scene. Focus pulling also involves the art of feeling a scene. When you're forced to be outside the room, you cannot feel the dynamics between the camera and actors anymore and rely heavily on instincts and experience.

The upcoming week will be interesting. A 6 actor-scene.


And because a good prep is half the job, my request for a platform to be installed besides the house has been approved. I can now see the scene through the one-story window and really pull it off.

Check the site on Thursday to read a follow up on shooting during corona times

On the 16th of June, whilst resuming prep for a feature which almost 4 months ago had been rudely interrupted by the pandemic, I underwent a Covid19 test as requested by production. This requirement is not necessary for most productions, but a well suited addition to the protocol which provides a ‘clean slate’ and ease of mind for all on set.

Results were a gleeful negative, which meant I could attend to set 2 days later. 

 

Since a good prep is half the job, we initiated a Covid 19 rehearsal day. 

This meant that as a crew we could see the location, get acquainted with the covid manager and set-nurse, and discuss the covid protocol plans to see if they made any sense in context.

On set we have a max amount of 30 people,  as previously mentioned 6 inside the house, INCLUDING actors. In order to see the blocking we put a 20mm on the main camera which is a Mini LF. This acts as our witness to the scene. The entire crew can log into an app where they could follow (with sound) the blocking on his/her phone.

 

If you haven’t thought of this by now, I’ll lay it out for you. Six people is not a lot.

Think about it. The DOP, 1st ac, grip, 1st AD, Boom opp, director. That’s 6… without actors.

We coloured inside the lines but that doesn’t mean we restricted ourselves from creating creative solutions together.