I joined the production crew of October 30th: All Hallows Eve like most others, as a volunteer with no previous filmmaking experience. I had only the barest ideas of how movies were made, but I knew I wanted to be a part of the project, regardless of the role that I was assigned. Initially I was to be in charge of ‘digital image transfer’, which is a fancy way of saying that my job was to offload footage from the hard drives at the end of each day. It wasn’t the most glamorous assignment, but it was enough to get me in the door.
On the first day of shooting, the camera crew came to the collective decision that if I was going to be in charge of organizing the footage, I should also handle slating duties (holding the clacker and announcing the scene and take). On the second day we decided that, since I was already announcing each scene, it made sense for me to keep track of which scenes were on the day’s docket and help Ryan, our director, stay on schedule. By the third day, it was deemed reasonable that I should make sure the rest of the cast and crew were aware of our schedule – I was put in charge of organizing who we needed on-set and making sure things ran smoothly.
By the fifth day of production I was officially promoted to first assistant director. My mom was so proud.
As the assistant director, I often took on the role of “bad guy” on-set. It was my job to tell the cast members to be ready for 7pm, announce that we were running late at 9pm, then inform them that we had rescheduled their scene for the next day, usually sometime around 2am. It was my job to wake the camera crew in the morning and berate them for moving too slowly, to guilt the team for taking too long to eat dinner, to push for us to film the next scene when it was dark and raining and the sun had gone down hours ago. I was frequently described as robotic, but I was efficient, and that was alright by me.
For the most part, shooting the movie was hectic but manageable. The most stressful period, when my robotic shell came closest to cracking, came about two and a half weeks into the production – a time that I can still remember vividly. It was, without exception, the closest that I came to giving up during my entire time on the project (including the long, taxing, debilitatingly tedious slog that was post-production). Luckily, a single run in with the film’s most poignant personality gave me the motivation to push on, with a result that, I’m proud to say, you will be able to view very soon.
The story goes like this: we had wrapped our second day of shooting the final scenes of the movie at around 4am. I forget which day it was, since at that point the days were blurring together (as will typically result from limited, infrequent periods of sleep). The filming of the finale had become somewhat of a fiasco – re-written on the spot, the scenes had ballooned to three times their original length and required a second full day of shooting. Since we had begun the process being about a day behind (from previously re-scheduled scenes), that meant I woke up on D+1 facing the prospect of now being two days behind. With a total of 23 days allotted for principal photography, this was a concerning thought indeed.
When we returned from the remote lodge that served as our set for the night it was about 5am. Both our production headquarters and our crew cabin were full, given the number of crew and cast who had been required during the evening before. Before I was able to roll up on the floor next to Duke, our production manager’s dog, and get whatever sleep I could, I had a solemn chat with our executive producer, Julie Hryniewicz.
The following day was initially scheduled as a free day, deliberately left open to allow for any scenes which needed to be rescheduled (of which, by this point, there were many). I had jumped on this opportunity quickly, recognizing the disaster that was beginning to loom larger and larger. Unfortunately for us, the universe had other plans – the latest forecasts called for heavy rain all day, spoiling our hopes for mid-afternoon outdoor shots that would line up with our previous footage (which had been shot with a bright, cloudless sky). Before leaving for Sault Ste. Marie for the night (Julie elected to drive home and sleep in a real bed, rather than brave the floor like me) Julie agreed to call me at 7am sharp the next morning. We would see how the weather looked and make our decision then.
After a sparse but appreciated two hours, the phone rang out and I stumbled my way past our head of construction/key grip, Mark Boychuck, who was crafty enough to have secured an air-mattress for the night. As expected, Julie informed me that the predictions hadn’t changed and it was currently drizzling in Sault Ste. Marie. If we were going to cancel the day’s shoot, then we would have to begin the process of calling our actors within the hour – before they started their hour-long trip from the city to our set. Julie and I agreed that I should consult Ryan before making the decision, and I hung-up the phone convinced that the day was lost.
As Ryan was staying in the second cabin, I grabbed my things and set out on the short walk. Leaving the camp full of sleeping people, however, I was met by a sight that I hadn’t expected: immediately outside, pacing erratically and gesturing emphatically, mumbling to himself and evidently in great concentration, was Adrian Gabrylewicz. As the movie’s most experienced actor, and as someone who had signed onto the project without hesitation and with full conviction (outshining the rest of us, devoted as we were), Adrian was relentless in his commitment to contributing all that he had to his role. From the moment I was first introduced to Adrian, who was to play the film’s principle villain, I knew that he was a consummate actor. At our first on-set production meeting, Adrian had quickly volunteered to serve as both the acting coach and the film’s weapons advisor, imparting in both roles a complete willingness to take the project seriously which inspired me. Today, as I sit here writing this, I sincerely believe that there was never a time that the notion that October 30th wasn’t “for real” entered into Adrian’s head. While some of us (myself included) may have looked at the film and noted the lack of budget, scraped-together equipment, untrained actors, DIY special effects and set construction, and go-with-the-flow attitude regarding the script, Adrian only saw the final product: a story.
As I stepped out of the cabin it was obvious that Adrian hadn’t noticed me, he was too caught up in making the next development in his character – a process which continued throughout the production. Seeing him become wrapped up in his thoughts, acting out his character’s mannerisms in an attempt to fine-tune and preserve them, had become an infrequent and unsurprising event. Still, in my tired and discouraged state, I called over to Adrian, breaking his concentration and surprising him by my presence. I told Adrian, who referred to me exclusively as “slate-boy” (despite my more prestigious title), that the forecast was calling for heavy rain and that I was considering cancelling the day’s shoot. I asked him if he had an opinion on the matter – more as a testament to my aversion to making the decision than as a genuine expectation of his offering meaningful input. As in so many instances during the making of October 30th, however, I was completely wrong. Adrian provided me with a short yet incredibly powerful piece of wisdom that I will remain with me for the rest of my life. He said ‘it doesn’t matter if it rains – actors just want to act. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or snowing or whatever, give an actor a stage and they’ll make art, even if it’s wet.’
That simple statement changed my mood entirely. I was immediately reminded where we were and what we were trying to accomplish. It was easy to forget as the days passed and the work had piled on, the schedule had proven unyielding, and the novelty of the task had given way to the reality of the challenge, that we were out in the forest doing our best to make art. Art that would live on long after I wasn’t tired anymore, art which would be given a life far greater than the sum of our collective month’s effort. I had begun to feel like a slave to the logistics and a tyrant over misguided partiers, but Adrian’s comment reminded me that there was something else going on on-set, something which most people didn’t get to experience in their lifetimes, something worth taking a risk for.
So I set out towards the second cabin with my outlook completely changed. With significant effort I managed to wake Ryan up, and together we decided that we would take a shot on the day, forecasts be damned. I called Julie back and announced that we would stick to the schedule and not call the actors, despite her informing me that it was now pouring in the Sault. I returned to the first cabin, put on a pot of coffee, sat on the deck outside and waited for the remaining cast and crew to arrive.
By 11am we were filming under a bright, sunny, cloudless sky while, less than 50km away, a thunder storm drenched the city. By 7pm we had wrapped on our outdoor scenes for the day and had made up close to a day and a half of missed material. It was only then that the rain started to fall. As I sat in the kitchen of the crew cabin alongside Julie, Ryan and Adrian, I wondered aloud at how we had gotten so lucky. I suggested, in what was becoming a surprising habit for a skeptic like myself, that the unlikely circumstances which had led to our success that day seemed a little too good to be real. As would happen many times before the film reached completion, it seemed as if the universe had taken a particularly kind attitude towards us and had given us a series of events which no reasonable person could have expected.
Unfortunately, this warm-and-fluffy feeling wouldn’t last long, as later that evening we would be confronted by one of our principal cast members declaration that the production no-longer fit his schedule and he was unable to commit for any further scenes. That, however, is a story unto itself, and I’ll save it for another day.