Shooting a film during the summer can be rough if the heat doesn't cooperate but what happens when bystanders start to ruin your production?
I was hired to production manage/ 1st AD a one day short film shoot in Austin, Texas and we were facing a 14-hour shoot day for nearly 7 pages and the high was going to be 104 with 40% humidity. The location was a beautiful outdoor park and it was pretty empty & quiet on both days we scouted. What a perfect location! On the shoot day, this all changed.
The director had picked out a scenic grassy area under trees and by the riverside. This was an amazing picturesque location for a scene about an elderly man saying goodbye to his deceased wife. We were half way into the shoot day, staying hydrated and positive, when the some loud leaf blowers started buzzing and planes were now going over us. We must have been near a private landing strip with low flying Cessna's. Murphy's law usually brings out the lawn guys and plane noises while your filming, so we just paced ourselves with the flights and got lots of room tone of the leaf blowers, just in case. Luckily our Production Assistant got the lawn guys to stop and our world was back to creative bliss.
And then the soccer moms arrived. On the other side of the river, a huge group of teenage girls hopped in the water and started jumping off the rocks. Loud rap music started blaring blended with spurts of screaming girls. Our poor elderly lead actor, brushed the sweat off of his brow and tried to continue, but this time our sound guy looked hopeless and there was no room tone that would fix this problem.
Coming off the leaf blower incident, our now confident and fearless P.A. ran over to the other side of the river to work on solving the soccer team problem. Whatever she said, seemed to work. The music went off and all was good.
However, about a half hour later, the screaming started again and the music was back up. Our P.A. went flying back over to nicely explain that we were still filming. She was met with hesitation this time so she showed them a copy of filming permit. The soccer moms stepped in and felt their girls had been quiet long enough and were not going to be told what to do by some "rude" film people. As the production assistant walked away, the music got even louder and the screams intensified.
Thinking she could appeal to the screaming girls on our side of the river, the director walked over to the rocks and asked if everyone wouldn't mind keeping it down, but the soccer moms turned the music up even louder and the screams kept coming. OK, wow! We had a serious problem on our hands as we had at least 2 hours of dialogue left to film, the light was changing and could not get good sound now.
At this point I thought, we do not have anything left to lose. I started shuffling through my mind of 15 years of problem solving and raced over to face the soccer moms. There's an old trick that we used to play in production. If the assistant is still meeting resistance, send in the big guns. I walked over to the river and said "I'm sorry we've been bothering your day at the river. We know you're just trying to have fun and I'm sorry if we've ruined any of that" About 25 people in the river were now staring at me and I was met by mean glares from the moms. "I'm Jennifer, the production manager with the film crew over there. We are in the middle of a 14 hour day and many people are working for peas since its a one day shoot for a short film. We have an elderly man who's about to get heat stroke in the middle of a lot of dialogue we're trying to shoot. We are completely stopped down because all we can hear is rap music and screaming over his dialogue. I brought $50 dollars to donate to your day in the hopes you may consider keeping it down and for the inconvenience".
One mom in a black bathing suit got out of the river and slowing walked up to me. Her expression had changed and her tone turned nice. She explained that the girls had worked really hard all week and this was their one day to blow off some steam together. She asked if it would help if they just turned off the music. I thought to myself, we can work around the screams, this will be a big help! I agreed and went to hand her the money but she refused. She smiled at me and got back in the water. We both now understood each others worlds from a respectful place.
I walked back to our production team feeling like a batter in a park who had just hit another problem out of the field and into the grandstands. The park was quiet, now even a scream to be heard. The cicadas started humming and we continued on our marry way with the sounds of nature and the reminder that we could be in a cubicle, pouring another cup of coffee, but we choose to be in a park making art.
Author: Producer Jennifer Hutchins
Jennifer Hutchins has produced over 200 episodes of hit TV shows, branded content and films.