Firmly outside of my comfort zone on a freezing Wednesday morning, Eoin and I began our trip from Dublin en route toward County Kildare, where our full-day shoot would commence at 7am.
Leaving the foggy cobbled streets for the empty quiet of the freeways, I felt affirmed by the fact that here we were, up and at ‘em early before anyone else. It’s like a game of dominoes – you nail the first push and the rest of the pieces fall seamlessly. In line with this metaphor, awaking on time and being the first to arrive on set portends a day of good old fashioned hard work.
We arrived on set – the enchanted old Killadoon House in County Kildare. Against the biting nip of wind we hurried to unpack and assemble the production equipment. In a few short minutes, as more crew arrived, the still darkness behind each three story window was soon broken by flashing lights. The chaotic dance of headtorches up and down the dark staircases by crew members scurrying to assemble the unwieldy cameras. Our two star actresses, sitting before glowing fans as make-up artists did their magic.
My role was decidedly less glamorous – I was production assistant. I was to anticipate the needs and desires of the cast and crew before the same occurred to them. And so I did. I made a routine of it. Nursing boiling pots of water to fill both coffee flasks and hot water bottles, I hurried through the quiet underbelly of this antique Georgian villa.
Constrained by a 7pm deadline, we worked laboriously throughout the day, take after take, line by line as we slowly converged on the vision that pre-empted this proof of concept shoot. Tempted as I was, as a creative, to offer input, one is sobered by the chain of command. It is an discomforting lesson to learn that, far from the myth a lone, toiling genius director steering the production ship, the success of a picture relies on the collaborative machine as a whole. Sure, larger-than-life characters emerge, though for each one that enters the frame of infamy we are obscured of their vast collaborative network.
It’s a bit like a relay team – the success of whom relies upon the collective effort of each runner. Suppose we were to suddenly pause the race at a random point and direct the spotlight at the lead athlete who happens to be in possession of the baton at that particular moment. Surely we would not assume the rankings of the race at that point to be the lone achievement of that particular runner?
Though not exact in comparison, people today often have a tendency to inaccurately assign the success of a collective effort to select individuals. Earlier generations of film-makers aware of this tendency made the effort to steer clear of it, such as the Italian neorealists who cast unprofessional, unknown actors in lead roles to divert the stargazing of audiences toward the collective psyche and conditions of post-war Italy.
It’s a pity to see the stardom model of film dominate at the box-office though I suppose it speaks to a broader cultural attitude that locates a great sense of human agency in the individual self, rather than in the emergent machinations of systems. Just my two cents.