Holding For Sound: Field Notes From the Making of “Zeus” – Part One
No one really had any idea what we were in for, save for the dude running camera. Hunter was the one with the experience and the wherewithal to avoid work like this. Making a full length film within a week is torturous, he said. There were work unions to protect crews from schedules like ours – 20 hour work days with minimal sleep. Two weeks and maybe we’d have enough time to shoot what we needed. Six days, though, would be hell, but for whatever reason Hunter agreed to fly into rural Western New York to film our little movie, “Zeus”.
Jeremy H. and I began work on our screenplay in February 2009 with the idea of making a simple comedy centered around a gym teacher. Their quirky personas and passion for molding children through games seemingly made up on the spot could make for a cool story and maybe some decent comedy. Over the next few months, we pounded through some awful drafts, trying to sand the edges off our flat characters and extract something of a story from pages and pages of ideas. We had a loose outline: Legendary gym teacher dies; two friends reconnect to honor his legacy in the form of a gym class Olympics. But what else? Who were our characters? What kind of people were they? Why are they so connected to a gym teacher? We needed to connect the dots, take all the loose ends and tie them into one cohesive string of story.
Fast forward through the summer. We burn through another set of drafts, and our screenplay passes the century mark in number of pages. Still, the plot seems thin, characters seem to have no identity and the dialogue is flat. Frustration mounts, and we put the screenplay away for a couple of months. With the new year, we recommit ourselves to “Zeus”. Scrapping months of work was out of the question, so we barreled on, fueled by fresh ideas and a clearer vision. We weren’t trying to make “Citizen Kane” here, and that perspective alleviated any pressure and allowed us rookies to write a story to the best of our abilities. By February, a full year after beginning the project, our script was nearly complete, save for some dialogue changes here and there. Jeremy got to work setting up locations and locking in dates. We would shoot our first scene April 19.
During the day, schools are lively with bustling children, clashing lockers and voices everywhere. At 2 a.m., the ghosts come out. The inside of Hinsdale Central School’s gymnasium hummed with the overhead florescent lights while we approached Hour 18 of Day One. Already, we were hours off our shooting schedule. The day called for 17 scenes (Yes, 17. We were ambitious). We had completed just six. Prepping scenes involved pain staking detail and planning, but we refused to compromise quality just so we could go to bed a few minutes early. Also, what we didn’t get done that day would have to fit somewhere in an already full week schedule. So, at 2 a.m., I positioned the boom mic and Hunter looked up from the view finder.
“Holding for sound,” he said.
“Sound”, I replied while hitting the record button on the handheld mic. The LCD screen lit yellow.
Then, our “pretenders” – Jeremy, Marc and Senneca ran suicides.
* * *
Sleep is a sort of buffer from one day to the next. What you did yesterday is defined by whatever you managed to accomplish before your head hit the pillow. But, when sleep is limited to just a couple of hours, days are no longer blocks of 24 hours with a sun rise and sun down. There is no more Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Just a successive timeline of 168 hours with little frame of reference.
Six a.m. came like a bad dream. A warmth surrounded my eyes, and the pain in my heels hadn’t subsided. Van slip-ons were a terrible idea. Jeremy’s house wreaked of dudes and sweaty socks. We should’ve just slept in the gym, on the blue and yellow wrestling mats, but an actual bed, or in my case a recliner, offered needed refuge from an arduous first 24 hours. We battled through the lethargy and got to the school by 8 a.m.
After a productive morning and afternoon in the gym, we were on schedule and burning through our scenes. However, as night fell, we faced a hard reality. There was no possible way to finish our gym scenes. We would need another day, but could we get permission from the school? And if so, where could we possibly fit in a 12-hour block of time? We entertained some harsh scenarios, like cutting the Olympics completely out of the movie or postponing the shoot for another time. If HCS couldn’t give us another day and we had to come back some other time, how would we find another $1500 for location insurance to shoot in the school?
The generosity of HCS’s superintendent was our only hope. A group of fools needed another evening in her gym. So, at the end of Hour 44, Jeremy sent an e-mail pleading for more time, some day during the week to film the crucial Olympics. While waiting on her response, we would continue with our regular schedule for Hours 50 through 70, which included scenes at Crosby’s Mini Mart in Hinsdale and Jeremy’s sister’s place in Olean. For the first time since the start of filming, Zeus’s fate was at the whim of someone on the outside, and that someone had the power to kill Zeus.