In December 2014, my father-in-law Dan and I drove out of the suburbs until we came upon a burned down house in the middle of Rosamond, CA (which may as well had been the middle-of-nowhere.) There was only one problem, there was a giant oil pump on the other side of the two-lane road.
We drove until we found another human, and we asked them about the oil pump. “They haven’t touched in 25 years, it doesn’t work anymore.”
GREAT! We were go for launch.
So in January of 2015, we gathered our cast and crew and drove back out to the burned-down house in Rosamond to film the short film we were calling The Drifter (I’ll explain why we renamed it to Stranded in another email.)
We had planned on shooting for two days to finish this 10-page script. It sounded simple on paper.
Until we got out there.
After an hour or two of waiting for our special effects make-up artist to come out, we got a call from her explaining that she couldn’t make it.
This happens all too often on short films. It’s why people like to go SAG or other unions. People are a bit more responsible when their union knows about it.
We asked what happened. She had car trouble. Sounded like an excuse, but when we offered to pick her up the next day, she said yes. So great, we had our SFX artist back but we had to push all the special effects stuff to day two. Not a problem, we could make that work.
While we were trying to figure out the schedule, my father-in-law drove his motorcycle out to the location for the opening shots of the film. (By the way, in some of the wide shots, Dan is actually driving the motorcycle, not the actor.)
We had planned to film all of the street scenes on the first day, and all the behind the house scenes on the second day.
My director of photography Will Turner got the camera ready. We got the actors through makeup and wardrobe, and we were set. They had their places and we were about to roll.
Then two giant trucks came rolling down the road. They pulled off right next to us. At first, I was worried they were going to call the cops (always a worry when shooting without a permit.)
But when they started planting the truck on the ground and aiming the crane towards the oil rig, I knew what was really happening.
They were tearing it out of the ground. The entire thing. Two-hundred feet of pipe and metal.
It was there for twenty-five years without someone touching it, and today of all days. No big deal though, right? We weren’t shooting that way. But the noise. OH, THE NOISE. We couldn’t even hear the actors, which is a real problem for a film that is supposed to take place in a post-apocalyptic future with few people around.
I asked the workers how long it would take to finish. They said it would only be an hour or two.
Fine, I thought. I’ll shoot the no sound B-Roll shots first and then come back to the audio scenes when they leave.
Except they didn’t leave. It kept getting later. We had lunch. They were still there.
It became time to make a decision. Admit defeat and go home, scrapping the project altogether, or find a way to shoot nearly 10 pages and hope they are gone by the next day.
I was defeated. I was depressed. I wanted to quit filmmaking. This was the first short film I had shot in three years and it looked like it wasn’t going to be finished.
I looked at the cast, the crew, my father-in-law, and I did the only thing I could think of.
I asked them to come back the next day. To work harder than they ever had before on day two, and to finish this short with me.
They all said yes. My father-in-law even agreed to come back, a 2-hour motorcycle ride for no pay and no credit. Just to help me out. They all rallied behind me, and I couldn’t thank them enough.
The next day, we came back. The oil rig, and crew were gone. We shot like our lives depended on it and we got everything in the can.
After a year and a half of post-production, we finished the film and it’s still my favorite short that I have directed. It’s amazing in every way.
The next time you’re faced against the odds, don’t give up. You could be working on your greatest project yet. Push through the pain and find a way to make it work.
Again, if you haven’t seen Stranded yet, check it out after hearing this story and know that we shot nearly that entire film in one day. A cold Sunday in January after having the worst day of my creative life.