‘Dakota Skye’ Behind-the-Scenes Pic-of-the-Week #9
This is the last post in this series, at least for now.
Seven years and 5 days ago we wrapped principal photography on Dakota Skye. The picture above was taken about a week before that, the night we shot the concert scene. It is most, but not all, of the cast and crew. All I can think of when I look at it is:
Where did it all go?
It’s been said a million times, but it is a truth that bears repeating: a film set is unlike any other place of employment you are likely to come across.
The hours are long. The effort requires commitment, focus, and willpower by the people making it. It is insular; all you do with your day is work and sleep. There is no such thing as ‘free time’ or a ‘social life’.
Especially when you’re on location. Out of town, away from your friends and family, stuck in a hotel in God-knows-where.
A film crew, at worst, becomes a community. At best, a family. And over the course of the shoot, be it a big-budget nine-month marathon or a little sixteen-day sprint like Dakota Skye, things evolve. Friendships are formed. As are rivalries, romances, and hatreds. A million inside jokes are created. You eat every meal together. People love each other, care about each other, help each other, fight with each other, fuck each other (yes, that does happen), forgive each other, lean on each other, and bond with each other in this quest to make art.
This is especially true with low-budget indie films like ours because you really have to want to be there. The pay is lousy (if you’re getting paid; most people on Dakota weren’t). The hours, terrible. You have no idea if the film is ever going to get seen by anyone; it’s very likely that you’re wasting your time. You have to rally around something: the director, the screenplay, the actors. You have to get to a place where you need to do your job well as to not let down the friends working beside you, whether you’ve known them for ten years or ten days (on Dakota, I had both of those).
It doesn’t take a happy crew to make a good film. It doesn’t take a shitty crew to make a shitty movie. No one knows what the product is going to be like. Most independent films amount to nothing. The only way to get through a film shoot is to enjoy the process and not worry so much about the product.
Luckily, I very much enjoy the process. I love love love being on set. Even the days that I hate, I love. Even the days that beat me to shit, make me feel like a talentless hack, make me feel like everyone around me knows I’m a fraud, that this movie is going to suck and that I’ve made a horrible decision in choosing this as a career, even those days, I love.
Making movies is hard work. Making movies is exhausting work.
But making movies is also fun.
So you form this community, this family, and they’re all you know of the world. On Dakota we all lived in the same motel, so even when we weren’t shooting, we were together. We would wrap for the day and then head back for the hotel. Then John, Shaun, Chuck, and I would meet in John & Shaun’s room to talk about what went right that day, what went wrong, and what we need to do to make the next day better. To hammer out logistics. Anticipate problems. Make plans that will inevitably fall apart.
When we were done with that (although, in our heads, we were never-ever off the clock. it’s one of the burdens of being ‘above-the-line’), we would usually meet up with the cast and various members of the crew and go get dinner and beers. Nearly every night. You bullshit, you let off steam. Every once in a while someone’s room becomes a party, with music and booze and laughter. Then you go to bed, get up, and do it all over again.
Then, one day, you put the last shot to tape. That last piece of footage that you think you need to finish the film. There is champagne. There are hugs. There are tears. There are smiles.
And then it all goes away.
The transient nature of these film families is what makes the experience so unique. For many people working nine-to-five jobs, they go through many of the same things at their workplace. Romances, rivalries, friendships. But they keep going as long as they’re at that place. For a film crew, it all just vanishes in an instant.
It’s hard to take.
The next few weeks after finishing Dakota, despite being back in Los Angeles with my wife and my dogs and my bed, I was in such a funk. It was over. Everyone was gone. Poof. The community that had become my world for a month was no more.
You eventually pull out of it. On this film I was lucky because I made it with several of my best friends, so coming back home didn’t mean losing them, although it did take some time for some of the wounds we created during filming to heal; some of them still haven’t.
I wish I could say I have kept in touch with everyone in that photo, but it would be a lie. You always say you will; you never do. You may see them at the cast and crew screening. They may show up for a few festivals. But they go on to other jobs, other phases of their life. Dakota Skye was defining for me and a few others, but not for everyone. For them it was a gig.
But I did make some strong new friends during that month in Arizona, most notably Ian Nelson and Bay Dariz, and have been in touch with several others. But that family is gone, as it should be, as it always will be. Entertainers started off as gypsies; we still are.
So this picture, while not taken at the end of production, does remind me of that very end. There are people up there I have worked with since, some I want to work with again, some I’d love to grab a drink with, and some I’ll probably never see again. But they will always be family, every single one. And I thank them for helping bringing my silly little love story to life in the best way we possibly could.
I’ve been doing these posts for two months now and it’s time to take a break. I wanted to get this one out by the end of October, and here it is, on Halloween. I have so much more work to do, I just can’t keep doing these and keep up with the other stuff. Please follow my blog at Tessera, the creative collective I am part of, as well as here, because I’m not done forcing my thoughts upon you, just done with this particular series of posts.
But the main thing I have to get doing now is writing Dakota Skye: The Novel. I have promised it will come out Spring of next year, but please remember that, technically, Spring lasts until June 21st. With a new baby at home, time to write is scarce, but I will do everything in my power to get the book done and in your hands as soon as possible. I think most of you will dig it.
Also, keep an eye out for a special Dakota Skye related little thing that I’ll be releasing sometime in the near future. It’s no big deal; I’m not announcing a sequel or TV show. It’s just a little thank you for fans that I think you’ll dig.
Just follow me on Twitter and you won’t miss it.
Anyway. Hope the handful of you reading these have enjoyed my thoughts about making what currently stands as the only feature film on my resume. I really hope it’s not the last, but you never know. If you take anything away from these posts, I want it to be how much I loved making this movie and how much I love the people I made it with and how much I love the people who love the finished product. I wouldn’t be talking about it this many years later if I didn’t see new fans discovering it every day: tweeting about it, posting pics on Tumblr, reaching out to me, Shaun, and Ian, about how much they love the movie (and in Ian’s case, him).
Anyway. I’m not so sure this was a great piece to go out on, but it’s all I got.
All the best
October 31, 2013