24 days. That's what we had, no more, no less. David came to us from a big budget set and would leave us for another 24 days later. It had rained torrentially the last 2 weeks of June. But July rolled in hot, and humid, with the creeks running. Always a good sign. It seems to me that things get stuck when the creeks run dry.
Those production days blurred by in a frenzy of questions and emotions ... everyone looking to me to set the tone. Now, I'm good in a crisis. I'll freak out after it's passed, sometimes, but normally I figure if you can breathe your way through labor and shove a 9 pound plus basketball out of your body and still smile when it wants to suck on you for a couple of years and ... well, you get the picture ... how hard could it be? Breathe. It's not war, nobody's gonna die.
People rushed at me with frenzied questions
"This color?!" "How much of the room do we see?" "Blood?" "What day is this in Sadie days?' "Are we in "Henry"?"
"This is directing?" I'd asked myself, having read several books on directing for single camera and being a staunch lover of those drawing room dramas and comedies that the Europeans do so well. If this answering questions and telling people what I like, but not being crazy in love with window dressing that's gonna cost too much and which does nothing to advance plot or deepen character, if this is directing, well, I can do that.
So I answered their questions as they set out to inflate the ideas I'd scratched on the page into a life-like make believe. I've always liked pretending and make believe. I have an assortment of accents and characters I regularly draw out to hide away the parts of myself who take it all too sensitively and seriously. I discovered as a child of color raised in a white finishing school world, that sometimes it's easier for people to comprehend me, and my lack of relation to general stereotyping, if I seem ... not American. It's that, and being adopted, where my history and antecedents are virtual unknowns, which for me meant I could be anything, no finites or absolutes of what is or was, but only what could be, that has allowed me the greatest creative freedom. It is a well excercised muscle.
But back to production and all of those incredible people who were helping me make Cedarsville and its quirky inhabitants come to life.
We shot the past first. That is the way we're taught that it happens. Okay, so I'm a quantum mechanics nut. Stephen Hawking has such a fuckable brain! Okay, that's what gets my engine running, abstract thought, conceptual, out of the box ... Anyway, the past came first for many reasons, not the least of which was facial hair. David had let Melanie (makeup) know that his beard took a bit of time to grow in, so if we were gonna need hair in the past we'd better start there. And we did.
Shooting the past first also served to establish the emotional stakes upon which the present day conflict hinged. We didn't plan that part, that was just another serendipity of the way this project came together.
We shot the love scenes the first days, and the Civil War battle and period garden party the first weekend. The love scenes are intentionally without nudity. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed by the visual on screen I miss the emotional stakes, and this is a story about emotions that travel through time, so I wanted to make sure we knew they mattered.
Anyway, I remember the first day, that period vanity scene with Anna in Edmund's lap. It was a small room, Sophia and Jason's guest room which they alllowed us to trash, and for which I am forever grateful. I was asked earlier if it was going to be a closed set for the love scene. I thought for a second,
"No. It's not that kind of scene. It's female erotica."
To which Stepehn (dp), who'd been passing in the hall quipped
"Which means boring."
"Really?" I'd replied, "Is that what you think?"
Stephen chuckled, "Sometimes."
By the time we had arrived in the tiny little room with our actors and mostly young-male-close-to-camera-crew a demon had possessed me. It's a benign impish demon who knows me well and knows exactly when to crawl inside me and take control.
"Listen up..." I said taking focus. "...82% of those women surveyed agreed that nipple stimulation leads to greater frequency and duration of oragasm. So if you like your women wet, pay attention." I had read the statistic in a waiting room somewhere just a few days before, and clearly it had made an impact.
But back to the small set-room. There was a silence and an excitement. Suddenly the energy was very sexy. Just talking about sex makes it sexy. Most women I know know this. At any rate, shooting the scene was fun. Maybe five takes, the room was hot, but no one left. And when we finished that scene I heard one of the PAs saying to another,
"That was hot." and he wasn't talking about the temperature.
Melissa and David broke a table during their first love scene together. It was several takes in and quite steamy and intense, not hard to believe years of longing lost in a marriage to another ... and that period table he leans her over collapsed to the floor!
Laughter alerted us to the lack of injury and Scott (a.d.) and a screw gun made the table stronger than it had ever been and ...Melissa and David were back at it without hesitation, great actors, brilliant renderings of these characters who had lived in my head for so long, to become who they are without me, beyond me, stretched whole. Such magic.
The Civil War skirmish was a pivotal scene in the story. It's the event that changes everyone. In the script it was always a skirmish, small, a rag-tag group of soldiers on their way north through a meadow when they encounter a band of Confederates headed south across the same meadow. There's a moment when it could all be changed and they could pass on without engaging, and then one man charges and they must all engage in this new habit grown old.
They say it's expensive to do period, but I'd been watching Ken Burns Civil War series and the credits included reenactors as did the credis of the film "Glory".
So I traveled around to Civil War reenactments, steeping myself in authenticity, and looking for folks with their own uniforms and period clothing who might want to be extras while I also familiarized myself with a camera. I have a file with hundreds of releases from these expeditions and many hours of footage, and I learned that this is some of the best improvizational theater being done in our country. These people are steeped in their worlds, and it was an honor to learn from them, and also to pass muster in the accuracy of the time period we were trying to recreate.
When the time came to ask folks to come and play we luckily found folks who were not previously committed to any of the big encampments and who lived locally. Except for the CAMPTOWN SHAKERS. I met Renny, Dave, and King in a tent on the commercial strip of the Reenactment of the Battle at Neshimany. It was a huge event. Thousands of soldiers on foot, on horseback, with canons. Choreographed and authentic and performed with such gusto. I time travelled and taped many hours of folks living in this alternate reality, this other time.
But the Camptown Shakers I heard heading toward my car, camera and releases packed away with the prospect of a 4 hour drive ahead. But I heard the music and knew that no one was using electricity there, so the music had to be live. I followed the fiddle and the percussion, and the banjo strains to a small flapped tent where the three men played their beautiful music.
We had always planned to include the Camptown Shakers and in our original budget had made provision for their travel and lodging and ... when the money went away we alerted them to our situation and apologized. That's when they offered to come and camp out on my land. Which they did for 2 days. It was delightful! We ate Chinese food and laughed. They added so much to the feel of the film and the mood of the set. The Camptown shakers would just sit and play. Awesome!
Reenactors came from across the river to attend our garden party. Lovely women in such authentic hand sewn clothing. Costumes we could never have afforded given our circumstances. Amazing.
There was one gentleman who came and participated in the battle and also at the garden party playing 2 distinctly different characters. When he came to the screening at Rosendale, he found me afterward with an incredulous look on his face.
"Cedar Creek?! I didn't know it was Cedar Creek ...!"
I nodded knowing there was more he wanted to get out.
The character I played that day, the day of the battle...?"
He stares at me as if I should know the punchline, but I don't, though I suspect it will be more Racing Daylight WOO-WOO.
"..."I never read your script ... I didn't know it was Cedar Creek. But the character I played, that soldier died at Cedar Creek!"
I had only discovered myself when looking through the local history collections, thanks again Stone Ridge Library, for photographs to use in the credits, that there were indeed troops from the area who died at Cedar Creek. It was not intentional, but again ... serendipity.
We shared our excitement at this new link to the past Racing Daylight had brought together. But Cedar Creek would come into play again ... much later on...