Headlights, Camera, Action!

Recently, I was directing my latest horror flick in the back woods of West Virginia when an assistant tripped over a cable and broke our main light.  Any film buff will tell you that horror films hinge on lighting- the mood, the suspense, the mystery.  One of the assistant’s flipped on his headlights, which provided us with an adequate amount of light and realistically creepy effect.

I’m currently on a plane that is bringing me home to my luxurious mansion nestled in the Hollywood Hills.  Well, actually my studio in the valley is “cozy” and I’m pretty sure my neighbors aren’t celebrities; unless you take into consideration appearances on Cops or America’s Most Wanted.  I haven’t made it yet, but my day will come soon enough.  I’m just glad this plane is distancing me from West Virginia as much as possible; 3,000 miles of pure Middle America should suffice.

Why West Virginia you might ask?  I just got done asking myself the same question. Let me preface the story with a brief background.  During my childhood I developed a love for movies.  I would go to the theater every weekend with my dad and we’d watch everything from cartoons to comedies to Chuck Norris.  The movies were an escape; a time where we could relax for two hours and immerse ourselves in something besides our normal lives.  Fast forward.  I went to film school, interned in Hollywood, worked my way up (through years of degrading tasks and coffee runs) and finally got to direct my own movie.  It’s not going to be a summer blockbuster, but hey, at least I’m not counting pages at the copy machine.  I didn’t have the budget that most big production companies throw around, so we needed to cut corners where we could.  Every state offers different incentives to filmmakers—whether it is tax breaks, cheap labor, or cash grants—and it came down to the fact that West Virginia gave us the best deal; and now I know why.

I can’t tell you about the film because I’m under contract, but it is a horror film based on a certain killer and a certain holiday.  We can shoot most scenes in our studio, but we needed a good night scene in the woods.  Los Angeles offers beautiful landscapes, but lacks the dense, green forests of the east coast—West Virgina enter stage left.  After traveling for hours, making layovers, and dealing with getting our gear through airport security we finally made it to the quaint town of Eleanor, WV.  There was nothing there.  There couldn’t be more than 1,000 people in the whole town, which is weird for me because more people than that attend premier events.  I told myself we were only going to be there for a four days.  I grew up in Massachusetts so I thought I could take four days roughing it.  The first two days of the shoot went a lot slower than I thought.  We had a few locals helping us out—showing us the area, moving our gear, operating some equipment.  At the risk of sounding like a pompous jerk, I must say that they were complete amateurs.  Scenes that normally would have taken an hour, took three hours.  So we were already pressed for time when on the third night, one guy trips over a light cable, sending it crashing to the ground. I was seeing red.  This was my first big film and it was going to fail because some inbreed local couldn’t pick up his feet.  I let my anger get the best of me and I let him have it, which I felt bad about after.  I could tell he felt horrible.  He offered to drive his truck into the woods so we could use his headlights.  If you have ever tried making a film, you know the importance of improvisation.  So he ran to his truck, drove into the woods, and blasted us with his headlights.  Wow.  Angels are singing.  His headlights created an amazing effect that our lights didn’t even come close to imitating.  The guy made up for his mistake, which turned out to be better than the original, so I offered him a permanent position as my assistant.  Hopefully the movie looks good after post production.

It just goes to show you how important it is to be creative.  Who would have thought some assistant’s Headlights would save the day?  Hopefully this tip can help some of you independent filmmakers out there.  I think the guy said his truck had KC Lights if you’re ever looking to get a cool lighting effect.

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