Ji Strangeway with Lisa Leonard (Coach Marceau), Jessica Lauren (Briana) and Kevin Grady (Wayne Woodcock) on the set of NUNE.

The Long Short

I’ve been thinking about a beach in Mexico. I don’t know which beach it is, but I want to be there.

The pre-production for NUNE went on for way too long. When I first started casting for it in April of 2014, I expected the film to be completed by June. But things didn’t go as planned.

After four weeks of rehearsal, I had to fire both of my lead actresses. This was before I found Jessica and Brianna. Recasting for these unique and demanding roles while heading into production was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. Well, I’ve been going through harder things since. I can say that I’ve experienced in six months almost everything a producer goes through in 30 years. I got my boot camp on.

We just wrapped the NUNE production this past weekend, and I haven’t been normal. I went on an email detox where I shut off the world for a good week. I still don’t know who’s been trying to reach me.

I heard that Napoleon said that most of his problems were solved just by waiting. He’d go away to war and someone would have an urgent message. When he’d return home, whatever was in the letters sent to him would be solved. I kinda feel that way right now.

A friend of time told me a story about a team of documentarians that filmed at a prison. After they wrapped, some of the prisoners told the crew that filmmaking looks so difficult and that they would rather “stick to crime, it’s much easier.” I laughed when I heard this. I’m also thinking of that beach in Mexico.

Filmmaking is one of the hardest things a human can do. It should be ranked right up there with neurologist, chemist, engineer and rocket scientist.

Because filmmaking doesn’t fit into the lofty prototypes of academia, science or medical science and because it is a form of entertainment or art—it is overlooked as a highly intelligent field of practice; yet to make a film, requires genius equivalent to the strategic likes of Genghis Kahn.

Imagine creating a story and building an architecture of words. Then after many rewrites, you fracture the story and assemble it out-of-sequence to accommodate a systematic shooting schedule that breaks up cohesion of story.

If you can work with fractured pieces while seeing the greater whole: that’s like taking the brain apart and having it function while separated in compartments.

After you break the story apart, there are departments that handle each unit of the film production. It’s like looking up at a skyscraper being built from the ground up and being mystified by how the guy lifting the beam knows his part of something monumental.

Filmmaking transcends math and physics, and is harder than being an engineer. Although a rocket scientist may study the field of science beyond the rocket ship: he doesn’t have to recreate the universe. And in film, we create the ship and the universe.

Filmmaking doesn’t happen sequentially like the plotting and planning of a building, but happens all at once as one big orchestration of many departments. To be able to orchestrate everything, you brain has operate at a very high level; requiring a quality of being nearly omnipotent. And that is why people complain about certain productions as being “unorganized.” Not everyone can be like God. But we try.

The first day of our film set at the high school was rough. The crew had set up the scene in a location that we didn’t get permission to use. They thought that just because they have all this heavy equipment set up, that we were guaranteed to move forward. But once I arrived on set, I was not afraid to take it apart.

I told them we had to move the set to another location. I didn’t care. I promised the school that we’d play by the rules. So everyone had to break all the equipment down and move it.

When we got into my car to move to the next location, Jessica was in the back seat. She said, “It’s really attractive to see you take charge.” LOL.

I learned something big: I don’t ever want to produce and direct at the same time. It’s like oil and water. It doesn’t go together. There are constant conflicts of interest. The job of maintaining relationships between the production and location shouldn’t be the job of the director. Also, the director should NEVER be in a position of negotiation with talent or crew.

My energy was severely taxed by acting as both producer/director. The funny part is I never planned to become a producer. I would have handed it over to someone—had I known that I needed one. But I didn’t because I came from the old school of DYI filmmaking, and I just got everything done by myself. Now I learned that film school taught me wrong.

Even today, a lot of kids don’t know what a producer does and I have no idea why it’s kept in a shroud of mystery. I think it’s because even film professors don’t know what producers do and the job description is void of the real things that go on between producer and director.

I don’t like embarrassing people on set where I’m correcting all kinds of things that the other department heads should do. It confuses people because they see me as a director and forget that I’m also doing producing tasks. Yet if I don’t oversee things and correct situations—the production gets sloppy. I have no idea why I have to tell PAs to bring directors chairs to let the MUA and cast sit down or to bring additional crafty to be brought on set. And if I didn’t do these things, no one else would. No one, not even the ADs stepped up or observed these things. It soon dawned on me that I don’t like to work with power trippers that have no concern for others.

Having a producer would have helped things go smoothly—yet having the wrong one can make things worse…and I learned that too!

My production was to be run by people who were supposed to help the director’s vision. Instead, they were working against it. The cast and I were all well-prepared, on point and able to do perfect takes—requiring no more than 3 takes per shot.

There are directors that do a ridiculous amount of takes. I like to nail it on the first. That is why I’m a big fan of rehearsals.

The retakes we had to do were based on technical issues that were not relevant to directing or acting. The technical setups cost me by putting strain on the actors’ performance and putting me over budget. After doing several takes in hot direct sunlight, the performance suffered whereas if things were technically perfect: we would have had a perfect take.

I borrow my attitude of “perfect takes” from martial arts. The self-discipline and boot camp of “wax on and wax off” is supposed to lead to mastership—not sloth. I see no excuse for doing more than three takes and even that’s too much.

In this way my directing style is every producer’s wet dream. Doing perfect takes benefits actors by reserving their creative energy for the long haul as well as reducing production costs. This was underappreciated and I believe—taken for granted. What I would change for next time is to hire a technically tighter crew; a well-greased machine.

There were many things that I would have changed: stupid decisions that worked in favor of technical crew instead of artistic sensitivity of cast and director to deliver the highest impact on film. Here again, a good producer would have settled that. No director should have to fight for her own vision while paying for the entire production. Yet that was I had to do.

I am proud of the cast and I want to hold them like children and tell them, “You were good gibborims” (true heroes). They were able to pull off working under strenuous and ridiculous conditions that compromised their focus. In the future, I never want actors to go through that again. Yet I felt that this time around, they got a real boot camp on acting under a production style that compromised creative integrity.

For my next film, I would do many things differently. One of the things I would do is to make sure everyone acts in the favor of my vision and budget; and to be prepared to get rid of those who don’t.

You often wonder why big companies always fire the CEO when their stocks plummet. I can now understand why the attitude of zero tolerance is necessary. It calls for accountability for the greater interest of a production or company. It makes people reflect on the choices they make that they don’t have to pay for—that creates loss and unnecessary sacrifice and compromise to something bigger and beyond their paycheck. Very few people get that until they own up to choices that don’t serve their bosses well or in the case of film, the director’s vision.

I now see clearly that the Vision stands before all else, from pre-production to the “cutting room floor.” Some people stand in the light and block that vision—due to blind ambition. It is the director’s job to move all these obstacles out of the way and fight to bring the vision to its fullest completion.

In this way, filmmaking is like war, and you should never relax. You should never feel that everything is smooth sailing—all the way to how the film gets sold or distributed. It is constant battle to preserve the integrity of the vision.

Film is a battle zone; and what you want is the least casualties and greatest victory. After each battle, you learn how to plan for the best—for success. When a film goes over budget or when artistic compromises are made due to unnecessary departmental errors: it is like losing a few good men in war—or killing the innocent. Unfortunately, the pain and loss has to hit home—for change to happen for the better.

Most of the film productions I’ve formed have been harmonious. I love working on a high level of creativity because it puts me in a state of grace. Yet the second unit of production was my first experience of so many things going wrong because of a few negative people.

When people are programmed for failure or chaos—they become a deficit to your production. They drag everyone down and infect the team like a rotten apple in a barrel.

People who are trying to break into the film biz often wonder why it’s a close-knit community. The reason this is because this keeps out the “crazies.” Now, I didn’t want to believe in that because I don’t like the clan-mentality and stagnation that come with being too comfortable with people you work with—and turning a blind eye to bad habits. The realm of “favors” don’t always get you the best talent. People always need to earn their worth with you.

I started this production with a philosophy of giving everyone a chance and to give people a crack at doing something new. When someone told me they came in “pairs” I would pair them with people they’ve never worked with before. I did this because I believe this is higher model for learning. It may appear to be inefficient but the principle is correct: You cannot grow if you surround yourself entirely with referrals. You have to always open doors to something new. When you do, you’ll hear crew whine about how they have to start from scratch by getting to know a whole new team member. Well, have you noticed that when you go to a party, you never meet new people or expand your network if you talk to only people you know?

The “industry circle” thing is a huge snore and who wants to sit in a festering vat of dying artists? When I feel myself excluded from any circle, I know that those people are not operating on the highest level of existence. They are being animal like a rat that likes to grow fat in a dark cell.

I don’t agree with that paradigm and wherever I go, I create discomfort among people—because I have zero tolerance for listlessness and stagnation. I think a healthy discomfort is always necessary and I try to create that by expanding the network.

So yes, I experimented with new people and I got screwed by a few. The good part is that everyone else was great! The NUNE cast was my support system. All of them are so sweet, grateful and patient. Every now and then I’d have to stop and give Bri and Jess a hug, just because they were just awesome.

The one thing that’s unusual about NUNE is that it is a film of higher consciousness. When a film is operating at a high vibration and people who aren’t in alignment with its frequency resist or fight it: there will be collision. I vowed to myself that I would never let this happen again.

Even though I wish things were different, I know that these obstacles I contended with are valuable. I wish I could treat others with the same patience as I have been given—when I first entered the business, immature and rebellious.

Film relationships are similar to going on a date for the first time—and learning what the person is really about. You try not to get married too quickly, but you can’t help it and then find out that each person cleans their dishes differently—or not at all. Whereas one person leaving a date feels that they were on their best behavior, meanwhile, their date has taken notes of all their bad habits. And that’s what goes around in the industry: those notes.

Despite how I wish things were different and how it pains me to say this: I would not change a thing. It gave me lessons on what to do for the next production and I was thrown many things that I wasn’t prepared to handle.

I swear that it is all preparation toward greatness. I’ll be writing you from the beach…one day.

We Shall,ji_kelly_logo_sm

Ji Strangway with Lisa Leonard (Coach Marceau), Jessica Lauren (Briana) and Kevin Grady (Wayne Woodcock) on the set of NUNE.
Ji Strangeway with Lisa Leonard (Coach Marceau), Jessica Lauren (Briana) and Kevin Grady (Wayne Woodcock) on the set of NUNE. Photo by – Chad Alan/ Set Photographer

I was never good at anything but telling the truth.

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