Balls of Steel: Unexpected Emotion

This past weekend, I became not only a producer, but also a produced writer with the short film, Impasse. When you produce your first film, everyone says, “Expect the unexpected.” I thought I was prepared for anything… until the cameras started rolling.

Sure, we had sound issues and some miscommunications in pre-production, but for the most part, our shoot went surprisingly well. In future posts, I’ll go into detail on some of my mistakes and suggestions on how to avoid them. But today, I simply want to speak from the heart about the most unexpected of happenings…

The emotional roller coaster of watching your words come to life.

Expect the unexpected. How true that statement is.

I had been so busy producing the film, running around getting props, food for the cast and crew, and doing damage control, that when the director, Michael Bekemeyer, called “action” on the first scene, I was unprepared for what was about to hit me.

Jennifer Fontaine and John T. Woods photo courtesy of Juliana Bellini

As Jennifer Fontaine and John T. Woods breathed life into Alice and Robert, interpreting them in a way only they could, and took them from the page to three-dimensional, breathing, thinking, feeling people, I sat in awe.

By the end of the first take, I was crying. Smiling and crying. I had done it. We had done it. We took a simple idea born from a voyeurism moment at a coffeehouse, and gathered an incredible cast and crew to bring that vision to life. Every single one of us, touching it, owning it, and shaping it into a beautiful piece of art.

To say I am humbled these talented people came together to help me is an understatement. As they applauded me after the first take, I knew my words were safe in their hands. I took a deep breath, and released the fear.

What was even more remarkable was the cast and crew’s respect of me as the writer on set. I had heard all the tales of writers not being allowed to talk with the actors, and being pushed aside by the director. But that was not my experience. No question, the shunning of writers isn’t as prevalent in the indie world, but this experience was a writer’s dream.

Bekemeyer, being a writer himself, knew how deeply personal this story was for me. If I was near the monitor, he always looked to me to give him a nod of approval on a take he liked before moving onto the next scene.

When we were shooting the pivotal coffeehouse argument between the young couple, Bekemeyer knew I had witnessed it in real life. Wanting to be sure the actors were evoking the same emotion from our audience as the real-life couple did for me on that cold day in February, he called me over to speak with the actors Andrea Jordan and Jose Miguel Vasquez.

Jose Miguel Vasquez and Andrea Jordon - photo courtesy of Juliana Bellini

They listened intently as I recounted what moved me as I watched the real-life argument. I spoke purely of emotion, not directing them in their actions. They soaked in every word and worked tirelessly to bring a full range of emotions to their characters, from love, to angst, anger and sadness. Real tears fell for both of them, as they became Rose and Eli.

Despite, Bekemeyer’s generosity, I was mindful to give him distance. During one take, I chose not to watch the monitor and only listen from another room. As I heard this one line of dialogue, I knew it wasn’t right. A few takes later, it was gnawing at me. Then I heard the scene was wrapped, and raced over to Bekemeyer, telling him I wanted to change John’s line. It was too expository. Not natural.

Since Robert was John’s and no longer mine, I pulled him aside to ask his opinion. John, ever so professionally, agreed to reshoot it.

The choice was to take a long expository line of dialogue and change it simply to, “Really?”

He nailed it. That one change made the entire scene more natural.

I have no problem admitting when I have made a bad choice as a writer. That line was a bad choice. The new one met my ears like bourbon touching my lips after a long day. Perfect.

The last take of the first day was the intensely, emotional opening scene of the film, which also happened to be a sex scene, making it ever more difficult on the actors. This one I watched on the monitors. As I saw a tear trickle down Jennifer’s face, a matching one was gliding down my own. She embodied everything Alice was feeling and everything I had intended to convey as a writer.

As we wrapped for the day, Bekemeyer and I took a private moment and stepped outside, where we both cried. He took my hands and thanked me for writing a scene that had the emotions he had always wanted to direct. I will never forget that moment and the choice I made putting that scene into the script. It wasn’t originally there on the first draft. It was one of those scenes, when I first told Bekemeyer I was writing it, that made a director say, “Are you sure?” I was sure. It was a tough one, but it would show the audience instantly where Alice’s head and heart were.

John T. Woods and Jennifer Fontaine as shot by Director of Photography Nathan Blair

By the final day of shooting, so much talent had painted on the script that was our canvas. After watching Jennifer Fontaine’s inspiring interpretation of Alice, and Nathan Blair’s gorgeous, artful cinematography, capturing every emotional detail, I knew the ending had to change. Impasse was no longer the original script I had written. The sculpture had morphed during the two-day shoot.

I pulled Bekemeyer aside, describing the new ending. He beamed, saying he totally agreed, as did Jennifer. We all felt so strongly, we didn’t even shoot the original ending. Through Jennifer’s stellar acting, she showed me who Alice was, and what she needed to do to fully evolve. I am deeply grateful for them respecting my need to change the script at the last minute.

I hadn’t expected those two days to be so full of raw emotion for so many of us. I’m sure if I had written a comedy, laughter would have been my goal, but this is no comedy.

It’s difficult to summarize how I feel during and after the process of being produced for the first time. All I can say is, I hope you all have this kind of an experience… and I do mean “kind.” For the cast and crew were so kind to me, kind to my words, kind to my characters, and kind to my vision.

My baby was born with tenderness, professionalism, talent, and love. No epidural needed. I am one lucky writer.

For more behind-the-scenes photos, check out Impasse’s Facebook page.

24 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Unexpected Emotion

  1. Geoff Davis

    Hey Jeanne

    Well done and thank you for the report on how it was.

    I am wondering why the lines you felt compelled to fix didn’t show themselves in rehearsal.

    I have changed lines on the day of a shoot. They were invariably ones that had not been rehearsed sufficiently. Was that the case?

  2. John Connell

    Thanks for a touching portrayal. Nice to know there are supportive professionals out there. Don’t you just love the true artist’s ability to give way to a colleague’s input so that the whole is better?

  3. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Thanks, Lynn. I can’t imagine not sharing the experience with everyone! If one writer takes the leap into indie filmmaking from watching me do it, it will be worth my efforts. As you know well, being brave while being vulnerable is how art is made.

  4. Lynn

    Sounds like your introduction to production as a writer was filled with Grace and ease – exactly as it should be for someone as terrific as you. Thanks for sharing each step of your journey with us. It’s been a blast to read and follow along with your adventures. Can’t wait to see the finished film!

  5. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Marci, thank you… and THANK YOU for finding us Jennifer Fontaine!

    Rick, you are too kind. I honestly think the key to great writing is not being afraid to strip down naked and let your readers see your vulnerability. Luckily, I am comfortable being uncomfortable. I deeply appreciate your support.

    Brad, thanks. After working with the Full Sail University kids on IMPASSE, it only made me more anxious to get to DePaul and work with you and yours! Let’s make it a 2013 goal 🙂

  6. Marci Liroff

    What an amazing and heartfelt article! It truly made me feel like I was on set with you. You described the feeling and emotion of being on “your” set hearing “your” words read and performed for the first time. Believe me, it doesn’t get old and it’s still a thrill for me every time I walk on “my” set of a movie I worked on. Lovely Jeanne and congratulations to all!

  7. Nathan BlairNathan Blair

    I’m so glad it was such a positive experience! You really pushed this film hard, not settling for anything less than amazing from the very start, and I think that approach set everything up for the excellent production we had. My favorite moment was when you ran out to Home Depot to get the perfect ceramic tile to make a shot work. That little moment alone really shows commitment.

  8. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Lee, my director is a dear friend and a fellow writer. His respect for me as an artist and friend is why he wanted me more involved than ordinary. He is/was perfectly capable of directing without me. Believe me, he did a lot of a work on this project without my input. I only shared with you the few times he allowed me to participate in a bigger role. He and I have a great trust in each other and have spent hours upon hours discussing the intent of the film. I assure you, his respect for me on set is not a flaw. Quite the opposite.

    Yes, someday I would like to direct my own words. I’m confident that will happen sooner rather than later.

  9. lee

    You had to tell the director to reshoot a scene ????? He kept on looking at you for your approval? You had to tell the actors how to act in a scene? If that’s the case, it sounds like you didn’t have a ver good director. It’s HIS job to decide if something isn’t working and to communicate HIS ideas with the actors, not get someone else to do it.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the experince, but I think you need to be directing the next one yourself and I’m sure you’d do a damn fine job.

  10. Sharon @MediadivaTV

    Wow, congratulations on a successful collaboration! Reading this account of the shoot made me feel like I was there with you, experiencing the highs and lows. Amazing stuff, and I hope my experiences will be just as fulfilling.

  11. Michelle

    So very proud of you and everyone involved!! Just so amazing to watch it come together. I raise a glass of tequila and toast you, Bekemeyer, and everyone involved – just from the stills the emotions that you talk about are palpable.

    CONGRATS!!

  12. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    James, I cry. I admit it… but I have also made other cry. It’s all part of growing as an artist.

    Dave, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it is indeed like falling in love. Thanks.

    Jose Miguel, I am honored to have had you as part of my first film. I’m confident it won’t be the last time we work together 🙂

  13. Jose Miguel Vasquez

    Jeanne,

    this puts a crescendo on my experience with working with you. I hope other stories keep rolling out where the world gets to connect and feel a change, an awareness of themselves. I personally like to dream that the world could be a better place if people had more awareness of themselves, of what they want. who knows? I may just be a hopeless romantic, but I least I know what I want. And for now I know I feel blessed to have lived in your story for a short and lovely time. I am so grateful that you let stories around you affect you and move you to action. My little world is a better place because you write…Keep at it.

  14. Dave McGlone

    I’m so glad you had a great experience on your first shoot. My first shoot was a magical experience that was like falling in love.

  15. Unknown ScreenwriterUnk

    Jeanne,

    A lot of us were right there with you as you and Bekemeyer and the crew pushed through. We were all rooting for you every day.

    Many of us also knew it might be a tough shoot emotionally but ultimately… Doing what you LOVE will set you FREE.

    Even if it’s just two days at a time.

    Unk

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