Filming Without a Camera
The great film director Samuel Fuller once said, “Save your money for the end.”
The hardest part of making any movie is the climax, and we struggled to find ours. I wasn’t satisfied with the ending we had written, so I was rewriting as we shot. I didn’t know how to end the movie. I knew the good guys were going to have to fight the demon and release the ghost from her captivity, but how? I remember talking to my mother about it, and she asked, “but how do you kill a demon?” I didn’t know how to show the demon, let alone kill it, so I came up with an ending where the group would fight the demon and free the ghost by way of a ritual. Once she was free, the light would come down and she would finally get to be at peace. Simple, right? Well… not really.
I had a weekend off, so I decided to visit my father in upstate NY. The next weekend we were scheduled to shoot both days- the big climatic scene where the group confronts the demon. I was on my way home when I get a call from Patrick, my DP, informing me that we couldn’t get the camera we wanted. The camera we’d been using and were planning to sign out that weekend wasn’t available. It was the only sync-sound camera the school had, but someone else had it signed out for another shoot. I had the location locked, the cast and crew booked, but no camera.
We were shooting with an old Eclair NPR 16 mm camera. It worked for dialogue scenes because it had a motor and ran at a consistent speed- consistent enough so when you recorded dialogue on a separate recorder, you could sync it in post. Without that camera, I couldn’t shoot and record the dialogue scenes, and we had dialogue scheduled for both days.
Luckily, Patrick just happened to own a K-3, a Russian made camera, the real name of which is unpronounceable by anyone who doesn’t speak Russian. It’s a non-sync sound camera. It didn’t have a motor, and we wouldn’t be able to sync the dialogue. Also, it’s really loud, so even if you could shoot dialogue scenes with it, none of it would be usable because all you’d hear is camera noise. The only way I can describe the sound of this camera is to say it’s like having a mosquito stuck in your ear, only the mosquito is on crystal meth.
We decided to move forward with the shoot and use the K-3. I cut the dialogue in the scene down to about three lines that we would dub in later. We shot the whole thing without sound and recorded the dialogue on the set that day, so it would match the room tone from the previous days. Brilliant right? Well… Unfortunately, after watching the footage, I realized the scene just didn’t work. Some of it was usable, but ultimately, it wasn’t the movie I wanted.
At this point we had been shooting for months, and I was exhausted. To make matters worse, I lost my job right around the time we were shooting the climatic sequence and we ran out of money. We couldn’t go back and reshoot the ending, so the film would have to be put on hold until we could find a way to resurrect it.