After spending a month in Zambia, I now know that making the first feature film in a country is an insanely difficult task. If there is no industry in place, there is nothing to support it. It’s nearly impossible to find equipment, parts or supplies. There is also a lack of understanding by stage actors about what it takes to make a feature film. They had no idea of the amount of time it took. There was the nearly insurmountable challenge of feeding, housing, moving and maintaining a film crew of 18 and accommodating a cast of 45 for nearly a month. We all began the project with tremendous excitement but, from day one, we encountered serious hurdles.
Amazingly, the crew never broke and rarely faltered. No matter what challenge they faced, they were steadfast and determined in their goal to finish the film. In the U.S., one can always throw more money at a problem when filming (that’s why so many films go over budget). That wasn’t possible in Zambia. It didn’t matter how much money I was willing to spend since there wasn’t a single bulb in the entire country. So, we had to figure out how to make it work when nothing was available. Our crew had to pull solutions out of thin air. Their creative problem-solving was amazing.
Shawn “The Flash” Downs did lighting on the feature film. Initially, we brought four very expensive light kits to Zambia. The first day of shooting, we melted a transformer and blew several bulbs. Our expensive lights wouldn’t work. We had to go to the electrical store and create a low-cost, low-power solution. We ended up using shop lights with halogen bulbs of varying intensities. When presented with his new lighting gear, Shawn adapted without complaint. He lit the sets quickly and efficiently. No matter how small the location, he could bounce, screen or gel the lights to create great visuals. I look at the footage and I’m in awe of what he did. The guy’s got a great eye. Maybe even two of them.
Carlos “The Dark Knight” Espinosa was the cinematographer on the feature. He used the Sony HVR-Z1U, high-definition camera and he was the man in charge of capturing the director’s vision. Like The Dark Knight, the work of a good cinematographer is hard to see. It’s in the eyes of a satisfied audience as they get lost in the story. As the cinematographer, Carlos was first on and last off the set each day. He hung out of helicopters and buses and cars. He pulled Zambia through the lens so the world could see what we saw. Only better. To look at the images, you’d never know what he went through to get them on the screen.
Technically, Michael “Thor” Montesa was unit photographer for the feature. At the end of the month, Mike had over 40GB of photographs taken on set, on location, in the wild and of the crew. Some of the images have already been seen on the blog and in the crew video. The images are powerful, evocative and beautiful. His Zulu warriors leap out of the image and into your imagination. Mike is an amazing crew member and, one day, I am certain he will run his own crew. He was a great support to everyone. You could count on him to do whatever it took to make things work. Get sandbags, block windows, jerry-rig lights, carry a live light to follow the action. Whatever it took. He’d do it. Mike was the backbone of the feature crew.
Nick “Green Lantern” Marshall was first assistant director. On set, he got the nickname “Tick Tock” because his primary responsibility was to keep things moving. He had to make sure the crew got set up as efficiently as possible, that the cast was in make-up and on set as quickly as feasible and that all scenes were accomplished for the day. The biggest challenge he faced was his evening meeting with the producers (me and Pamela) to go over what needed to be accomplished the following day. He had all of the responsibility and none of the power to personally move things. With only three weeks to shoot, he never lost sight of what we had to get to make the story work. I’m looking forward to when he directs his own feature film. He’ll be strong and steady after this experience.
Edgar “Silver Surfer” Rider was the script supervisor. Like the cinematographer, Edgar was one of the first on set every day and one of the last to leave. He monitored the progress of the script scene by scene, take by take. Edgar watched the script inch toward completion. In spite of the daily grind, Edgar was the best pair of hands we had on the set. He moved more gear than anyone. When we went out at night, he partied with an enthusiasm that was contagious. A theater major, Edgar enjoyed watching the development of the characters as much as anything else.
Jeniece “SuperGirl” Toranzo did make-up and hair. Initially, Jeniece came on board as an editor but we were needing someone to take care of the cast visually. Jeniece jumped in and learned to do make-up for dark fleshtones. There aren’t a lot of all-black casts in the Mesa area so she had to research and study and prepare on her own. Not only did she make the cast look great, she caught the continuity details that others overlooked. She hid microphones, removed sheen and adjusted prosthetic pregnancies. With a cast of 45, there were days Jeniece must have wished she really were Supergirl. She handled them all. She made them look good and feel great about giving an authentic performance. We call her “Gidget” because there’s always fun around her. She’s just super.