By Melinda Li
Contrary to what my bio says, I am currently not in my suburban shoreline hometown of East Lyme, Connecticut. Instead, I am in my soon-to-be home away from home, Cambridge, Massachusetts. And what better way to spend this transition of a summer than doing what I love most in a city that I will soon adore?
Filmmaking has always been my passion, one great enough that I hope it will transform into a career path. I believe that cinema is the most moving art form; through film, the creative mind is able to reach others through subtleties of the moving image, and speak in abstract visuals rather than in direct words. For a part of this summer, I have the opportunity to share my veneration of cinema with those who actually work in the independent industry. Right now, I am volunteering on the set of an indie film that is filming in Cambridge during the summer and fall of 2015. Being the youngest and least experienced person on set is, to say the least, intimidating. Initially overwhelmed by the professionalism of others and the amount of knowledge I lack, I quickly realized that this SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Production would be nothing like my usual ten-minute student short film shot on a simple DSLR camera with minimal lighting and sound assistance. Nevertheless, I became instantly motivated and eager to learn everything I possibly could about independent filmmaking.
Firstly, some context about the film, it is directed by Mark Inman, who was the executive producer of Damien Chazelle’s (Harvard Class of 2007!) Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Guy and Madeline was originally planned to be Chazelle’s thesis film for the Visual and Environmental Studies department, but it went on to be screened at numerous film festivals around the globe and select theaters as well. You may have heard of Chazelle if you saw his 2015 Oscar Best Picture Nominee, Whiplash. This summer, Mark Inman is directing and producing his own feature film, The Overseer, a thriller with dark comedic elements and electronic music. The film is about a sociopath with political ambitions who is promoted at work and given time off, but he sets out to vent his psychological frustrations by stalking and murdering others. While doing so, he discovers that the homeless girl he’s been psychologically tormenting has caught him in the act of killing, and now he must silence her in order to protect himself. Inman says that the works of David Lynch and Christopher Nolan influenced aspects of the film, and his political interests, past experience, and fascination with thrillers inspired the concepts of the central characters.
My experience on set has been invaluable, even when I am behind the scenes doing preproduction work. I learned to create and organize call sheets, which contains information pertaining to the cast and crew about call times, daily schedules, specifics about the scenes for that day, location addresses, necessary props, etc. Before coming on set, I was aware of the importance of call sheets, but being able to physically create them for a feature film was very surreal. My other office work duty consisted of filling out paperwork for actors in the film; in other words, I transferred actor information from their contracts to the official SAG forms for the film. Although it may not sound entirely interesting, being a part of a SAG production is momentous for an 18 year old coming right out of high school. Just as most aspiring directors dream of becoming a member of the Directors Guild of America, the majority of actors hope to one day become a union member. Thus, for me, working on paperwork for a SAG production was much more thrilling than it might sound.
During the actual filming of the production, I was given the responsibility of logging scenes and taking still photography. Logging scenes is a constant task that requires undivided attention. Before the director called “Action,” I had to write down information about each take on the log sheet—scene number, take number, shot type, camera roll. The person slating announced this information, but recording the details was incredibly crucial, and that was my job. Even though I was not a part of physical filming, like being a camera or sound assistant, the act of logging scenes felt equally as immersive. I had to pay meticulous attention during the process, noting anything that may have interfered with the sound quality. Furthermore, I was the still photographer during my time on set, taking pictures of cast and crew behind the scenes to capture the filmmaking in action. Although I was a volunteer on the set, I was considered a Set Production Assistant and the Still Photographer for the film, which felt all the more rewarding.
Volunteering on the set of The Overseer has been extraordinary for an aspiring filmmaker like me. I feel that I found this project at the right time in my life; the size of the production allowed me to be able to productively contribute to the progress and learn an immense amount about filmmaking each work day. Upon first hearing about my experience, you may envision me running coffee errands for the cast or standing on the side-lines, but being a part of this independent film was not at all like that; I was really able to be a part of the process and immerse myself in vital tasks. Additionally, the crew and cast morphed into a tight-knit community of passionate people working towards the same goal. The nature of the production made way for friendships and bonding, and casual conversations about personal lives were frequently exchanged between crew members. The atmosphere of the set felt free and comfortable, yet professional. I learned that this is the beauty of an independent film. A great film, like The Overseer, is the result of easily flowing ideas among incredibly creative minds. I am confident in saying that this film has limitless potential in its artistic endeavors.
As I’m sitting in Cambridge writing and revising, I realize that it doesn’t matter if I’m in my house in East Lyme, Connecticut or on a colorful chair in Harvard Yard. At the end of the day, as long as I’m doing what I love, I am at home.
Melinda Li is enjoying her time on set and is proud to announce that her job description does not include coffee runs.