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Eleven days: A filmmaker’s diary

A night scene with the crew from "Jesse's Tracks."

The Office for the Arts awards Artist Development Fellowships annually to promising and/or accomplished student artists and creators who have an unusual opportunity for artistic growth and transformation. This post was written by Lillian L. Erlinger ’10, a Winthrop House resident and VES-film production concentrator, who used her fellowship to create a 30-minute film about morality and responsibility in relationships.  She has more than 10 film credits, many of which she wrote, directed,  produced, and edited. 

Eleven days of film production. That’s what one and a half years of organization, writing, thinking come down to for the 25-page script I’ve been working on for my film thesis.

Eleven days to make what’s existed in my head into a semblance of reality, to capture in pixels, in order to remold in post. The process of filmmaking rides up and down the escalator between abstraction and order.  Chaos in the most sensible way possible. Call sheets printed every day, shot lists written every morning after four hours of eye-lid shivering sleep, images still flashing beneath them. And in the process of making a script into reality, real relationships unfolded, informed, changed the very minutes of fiction appearing before our eyes.

Filmmaker Lily Erlinger '10 on the set of "Jesse's Tracks."

Having written “Jesse’s Tracks” as a script that takes place mostly at night, I was thankful that none of crew or cast belonged to any unions, because we were certainly throwing any semblance of sane working hours out the window. It is the sacrifice of student independent films, that’s for sure. Sixteen hour days and three-to-six hour turnarounds left us all relying on Red Bull and my mother’s coffee to keep us going.

And there was quite a bit that we had to keep going through:

Our first night was rained out. A generator that had been donated to us ended up breaking down (leaving us without power in the street at 1 a.m. and forcing us to reschedule and rent another), airplanes made our sound recordists’ lives hell. Three hurricanes threatened us from off-shore. The wiring of the old motels we worked in couldn’t support the 2K lights we were trying to power. Two Harvard girls (Becky Cooper and me), with an iPhone managed to get lost trying to get to SW 101 Street, Miami, and instead ending up at SW 101 Street, Miramar. An hour and a different city from where the location and the rest of the crew were. Police threatened our final day of shooting until our producer appeased them with several cleverly worded and slightly misleading permits.

It was also one of the most thrilling, funny, engaging, chaotic experiences of my life.

Our sound recordists climbed trees to boom scenes. The generator breaking down saved us from a rain storm, after which we were not rained out again. The police happened to pull out JUST as the freight train we had been waiting for (and was already an hour late) arrived. Had the train arrived just five minutes earlier, we would have lost the scene.

On one of the nights, late into production, we were filming the second to last scene. It had been a twelve hour day already, and it was 3:30 a.m. Becky and Andy (playing the two main characters) sit on a park bench next to the train tracks. Becky lifts her eyes and in a perfect, cinematic moment, a tear rolls down her nose in just the right light. My AD and my own insides crumpled, throats closed up. Pause. End Scene. And suddenly an unexpected freight train rushed by, shaking that feeling down to our fingertips, feeling the wind shroud us in awe of our heartbeats. Such a little tear, such beautiful light, such tender stillness, such sincere feeling, such a rattling whoosh of visceral moments.

The entire crew gathered for our wrap party, and the mother of one crew member joined us. She works for a social program that takes care of foster children. The conversation turned to the problem Miami is currently facing because of its sex-offender zoning laws which have every paroled sex-offender living under the causeway bridge between Miami Beach and the mainland. Her tone rose in disgust: “I have no sympathy for pedophiles.”

The crew fell silent for a moment. It was not that one could argue. Nor that one should. But it was a silence that bore the weight of itself. It turned over in our minds, first that no one’s vehemence rose to agree. Then, with some surprise, we realized that our vehemence had not risen to agree.

For eleven days, we had been wrapped up in the hours and labor of making a film without seeing that it might affect us. And suddenly, the silence arrived to alert us to the fact that it just might have. A story about a man labeled and trapped by his mistakes, caught in the minds of good people as not worth their sympathy. A so-called “pedophile.” Yes, fictional. But that wasn’t the point. The point was the possibility that those labels might not be true, or even if true, that it might be more complicated than any word could possibly describe, or sentence a person to, in one breath.

This is why I make films.

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