Home/Coming Up For Air

Coming Up For Air

Haven’t been around here much lately – but I’ve had two very good reasons. First, the High Holidays rolled in the first week of September. Then, my son started a new school, and transitions always take a bit more parental energy (though my wife shouldered most of that particular burden). But most time-consuming was a new project I embarked upon: I directed a short film that I wrote. We just wrapped at the end of last week, and for the two weeks prior I pretty much lived, breathed, slept and dreamed the film and nothing much else. Which means this blog went by the wayside.

It was an extraordinary experience in every way – exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Exhilarating for all the obvious reasons – seeing the pictures in your head come to life before you, fundamentally true to and yet fascinatingly different from what you saw beforehand, well, it’s a pretty heady experience. And I also just loved working with my actors – that’s one thing I was pretty sure would be the case going in, and I only wish I could have done more of it.

Terrifying because, well, I don’t know that I’m a directorial personality at bottom. I’m not somebody with a naturally commanding personality – I am rarely shy about expressing my opinion (with vehemence, even), but I’m much less comfortable assuming the mantle of authority. And so I exhibit the complementary destructive tendencies of someone uncomfortable with his own authority, veering between obsessive micro-management (because if anything goes wrong it’s ultimately my fault, since I’m in charge) and a need to seek confirmation of the rightness of my own decisions from consensus (because otherwise if anything goes wrong it’s my fault). Quite apart from any personal frictions that result, both tendencies slow down the shoot, which makes your assistant director (who’s in charge of keeping the shoot on schedule) increasingly anxious.

Some of that is my being a first-time director. I spent a bunch of time with my director of photography prior to the shoot going over each scene and the shots therein, but the level of detail that was actually required to communicate what I wanted went so far beyond what I delivered during that prep period that there were still dozens of choices that needed to be made just as we were getting ready to shoot, and, frankly, half the time I didn’t understand what the decisions really meant. (What do you mean, we crossed the line when the boat drifted, and now the second half of the scene won’t cut?) I guess that’s why people go to film school.

And some of that is the ambition of the project I chose for my maiden directorial effort. The film takes place almost entirely on water (it’s about a guy fishing), and depends upon creating a variety of different looks for different scenes. So, in effect, we weren’t shooting one short film but a whole series of micro-films. And all on water. Who did I think I was, Steven Spielberg?

But some of it is just me. In any event, I’m very grateful that my DP and the whole crew were so patient with me, and that my actors were so extraordinarily talented and game that within one or two takes I knew I was getting the performances I needed to make the film I wanted, if only we got them on film.

We’re not done, of course. There’s editing, color correction, sound, music – lots and lots still to do. And I’m still dreaming the film (or, more precisely, waking up in the middle of the night shouting, “damn it – scene 23 won’t cut!”). But the post-production phase will (I hope) be less frantic and compressed than the production phase was. So I should be around a bit more than I have been of late.

about the author

Noah Millman, senior editor, is an opinion journalist, critic, screenwriter, and filmmaker who joined The American Conservative in 2012. Prior to joining TAC, he was a regular blogger at The American Scene. Millman’s work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Week, Politico, First Things, Commentary, and on The Economist’s online blogs. He lives in Brooklyn.

leave a comment

Latest Articles