Last night was our first nighttime shoot as well as our first with the lead actress, Monique Dupree in the role of Jennifer. Monique and director John Johnson arrived on set sometime in the 9 p.m. hour after a long, stressful drive down from Baltimore. Again, we took over Marty Moore’s house to shoot further scenes in “Rob’s” bedroom, bathroom, and living room.
A few things stand out in my mind about last night other than my subconscious mutterings to the effect of, Holy crap, dude. Are you gonna be able to stay awake for the drive back home from Charlottesville? The baby still wakes up at dawn, you know.
The first was my admiration for Mikiah Umbertis’s (playing Rob) and Monique’s ability to step right into a scene, in the middle of the story, and to pull it off so well. It was the first time these actors had ever met, and they were being expected to portray the main characters on a mildly intimate date. Acting for film is so different from the stage: its close-up, dramatic scenes are all about subtlety and delivering your lines in a believable, natural way, whereas stage acting requires you to amplify everything a bit so that the people in the 40th row can still follow what’s happening. Mikiah especially did a great job with the moment when he was required to laugh at something “Jennifer” said — all five or six times he was required to do it for the various takes. He performed it without sounding fake or like a braying idiot, as I no doubt would have done in his shoes.
My second major observation consisted of a salute to the director. In between taking time out to very patiently explain to me why he was doing this or that in the way he was doing it, he made a great suggestion for a script change. There’s this scene where Rob arrives home after having just met Jennifer for the first time. He sits down on the edge of his bed, excited about his forthcoming first date with her, four days hence. But he’s also impatient for the day to arrive. He looks at his alarm clock, purses his lips, and then decides to engage in a bit of time travel.
Set aside for the moment that Mikiah has to communicate all of this to the camera without the benefit of a single line of dialogue. John came up with the idea that one of the “insert” shots should be of a picture on Rob’s bureau that shows Rob and his father together. As we learned in previous scenes, this photograph is one of Rob’s touchstones along with the alarm clock. They signify to him how one’s life consists of a series of “good parts” as well as insignificant, mundane events. How nice it would be to just skip to the good parts of one’s life — which is the central theme of the story. Anyway, it was John’s idea to include the photo in this scene, and I remarked how I wished I had thought of it. That one simple shot was a brilliant touch of characterization as well as an efficient way to communicate Rob’s thoughts.
I’m probably giving the impression that working on these film shoots is all serious, cerebral work, but the truth is far from that. Most of the time, everybody was goofy as hell. Folks were exchanging jokes and talking about stuff like which colored M&Ms supposedly can make you amorous right up until the moment when John pulled the camera trigger. The atmosphere on set is an entertaining mixture of fun and professionalism, which makes for a relaxing atmosphere and therefore better performances from the actors.
Tomorrow, we head out to a location that John has lined up to be our mental hospital. I’m looking forward to shuffling in the background as a patient!