I’m in the middle of making a feature film called Diani And Devine Meet The Apocalypse. It opens with a show scene where my partner Gabriel Diani and I do our act. It’s a little like sketch, a little like standup and very generous people have compared it to Nichols and May.
We originally shot the show scene in April with a bunch of wonderful people in the audience and, well, it just doesn’t look as good as the rest of the movie. It’s a shallow stage with a black wall behind us and honestly in comparison to the rich color palate and dynamic locations in the rest of the piece it just looks boring. Boring is bad. So we had to do the dreaded R-word. Reshoot. Nooooo!!!! Which meant we had to get another audience. Oh, the horror. THE HORROR.
Getting extras is hard if you’re not paying the going rate and getting them through Central Casting. You can beg your friends and some of them might show up. You can post on Craigslist and hope the people who come don’t murder you or poop on something important. It’s hard. There is a reason small projects feel like they’re in tiny worlds of their own. It’s because they didn’t have a budget for extras!
So what’s a producer with limited funds who needs 100ish people to do? Well, in this case we had a party! Our shooting schedule was a bit crazy and we were doing so many other jobs that when we wrapped the movie in August before editing we were just too exhausted to have a wrap party. So this was a great way for one event to do double duty as well as increasing the likelihood of people actually showing up…because beer.
It was very important to me that people actually have some fun at this thing so we wanted to keep our shooting to a minimum. Nobody (especially film set savvy people in LA) wants to sit around quietly forever when they’re supposed to be having a good time. To make things go as fast as possible we shot on three cameras. Scrounging up enough lenses and cinematographers was tough but totally worth it. When there are 100 people standing around 1 minute wasted is really 100 minutes wasted.
We shot without the audience for several hours before they showed up, set up the bar and got 9 twenty-eight inch pizzas. We were originally thinking super fun taco bar but the pizza ended up being significantly cheaper and less messy. We knew about these giant pizzas because we shot something with them before. We didn’t get to actually talk to our guests much, but they got to talk to each other before we made them be quiet for a bit while we shot a couple after show scenes. While I felt guilty about this I probably would have loved watching someone else do it. We did less than 6 takes for each of the two scenes and then went back to partying.
It was probably harder for our crew to prioritize the party part over the shooting. Communicating with a gaffer across the room while 100 people are talking is difficult. But it’s easier than shooting in a tiny boat on choppy water or in a sandstorm in Ethiopia (both things our DP has done) so…
When we had our equipment set up we had everyone sit down and we ran through our 15-minute act once. Then we redid one and a half sketches and had our super funny standup friend (and DIT) Rob Schultz do some time while we set up the jib and we did two sketches one more time. Then we cleaned up and had more pizza and wine with everybody. Because we had everything planned and such a great crew and a couple people on set to be our eyes since we were so busy everything went very smoothly.
It was absolutely exhausting for us but because everybody knew the deal going in and we gave them wine and beer before they had to be quiet everything worked out.
I would be wary of doing this with a big dialogue scene or something that wasn’t being covered by multiple cameras because the line between “This movie making is fun” and “Seriously, they’re doing it again” is a very fine one. But why not treat your wonderful background players like they’re at a party more often? It would certainly make me more likely to show up.