In Long Night’s Journey Into Daybreak: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Make Your First Feature Film filmmaker Michael James Kacey takes you through his top ten list of things you must know before you make your own movie.
Each of the ten chapters dissects the filmmaking process and includes a “Reel Life” moment in which the author lays bare a real-life example he experienced while making his debut feature film Daybreak.
MJK’s pearls of wisdom include:
- Your drive to succeed must be greater than your fear of failure.
- It is fallacy that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. Sometimes it leaves you a whimpering ball of pain and desolation.
- Only a fool knows everything. Nobody wants to work with a fool or invest in their movie.
- Trust your instincts above all else, against all advice. No one else knows exactly what you’re striving to accomplish better than you. Trust yourself.
- Like spawning salmon, filmmakers are compelled to do whatever it takes to make their film. And sometimes we even have that same bulging look in our eyes, usually from sleep deprivation temporarily overcome by loads of caffeine.
- Let your mantra be, “Change is good. I will roll with it.”
The Midwest Book Review
Making a full-length feature film is quite the challenging endeavor. Long Night’s Journey into Daybreak: 10 Things You Need to Know Before You Make Your First Feature Film is an advice guide for those who are aspiring to be filmmakers. With much to inspire readers to roll with the punches as they pursue their dreams, the practical and motivational wisdom blends together well. Long Night’s Journey into Daybreak is a fine pick for any aspiring filmmaker.
NOTE: As of January 1, 2017, the book is no longer in print. Contact us via email if you are interested in purchasing one of the remaining copies.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK:
Preface -or- Dolly Across the Rubicon
Imagine if you will…
An inch of snow covers the landscape. It’s Day Three of filming on location in northeast Pennsylvania on an impossibly tight shooting schedule. Up today: Exteriors. Yes, exterior shots which will not match any other exterior shots because this late March snow will be melted by the end of tomorrow. This snow is what’s called “production value.” It’s also called “film production teetering on the edge of doom” and “the director’s ever-looming ulcer has arrived.” What to do? How to do it? And why do bad things happen to good people?
I was perhaps moments away from a complete psychotic break while my Los Angeles-based cast and crew ate a wonderful homemade breakfast in the tiny town of Catawissa, PA. This is where four scenes had to be shot today. It was the only day we had to use this particular location for filming. Within the next few minutes my AD will float the idea of scrapping the day’s shoot or reconstructing the remaining ten-day shooting schedule. The DP will query which shot is first, what angle, and how much movement from the actors in the scene. Also, the key grip will ask if I know where he left the gloves he’d borrowed yesterday… The idea of aborting the dream of filming my 102-page screenplay Daybreak was flooding my consciousness. At this very moment, I knew that everything hinged on what I did—or did not do; I was Julius Caesar on the banks of the Rubicon River. Cross or do not.
How did it come to this?
I was an actor whose career averaged one job a year; one gig, one day, one scene and usually one line. I was forever just “this close” to breaking out. Inspired by the great flood of independent films in the 1990s, I decided to take a short story I had written called The Dark Wish about a man’s wish to change his past which ends up destroying his present and future. Think of it as a very dark version of It’s A Wonderful Life minus Clarence the Angel and feel-good redemption. Yup, it’s a downer, but with a message.
Director of Photography Cameron Cutler and I chose to shoot Super 16 to accomplish the gritty mood and to allow for more minutes of film per roll as compared with 35mm. Another practical concern was because most of the film would be shot on location in narrow, cramped houses in the coal region of Pennsylvania, we needed a smaller camera.
Because most of the film takes place in a nightmarish world where the sun never shines and the trees are barren, I selected late March as the optimum time to capture the desired look. Camera angles and lighting emphasized the drab, flat, and depressing environment of Daybreak’s production design.
Another factor in choosing to film in Pennsylvania was to make use of the area where I grew up. The coal region of northeast Pennsylvania offered a unique opportunity for great images, which enticed cinematographer Cameron Cutler to sign on to the project. This region opened their arms for the production of Daybreak. We secured locations for free, donated food, lodging, and countless other details that go into making a movie. Marsha Fetsko of Pennsylvania Film Commission helped me get permission to film on a closed section of PA Route 61. All of these people did everything they could to alleviate stress. What they could not do, however, was control the weather. It snowed.
“We’ve got production value, let’s use it,” I tell the AD.
“Dolly tracks in the snow so we can reveal the death of one of our characters even more dramatically,” I tell the DP. His eyes ignite with excitement at the idea of a dolly move in the snow. He loves it!
“I have no idea where your gloves are. Here, use mine,” I tell the key grip. He grabs the gloves with a curt nod and immediately confers with the DP on the dolly setup in an inch of snow.
Now don’t mistake my crisp decision making for confidence or bravado. It was all terror-based. I was scared to death, but here’s what I knew: the director makes decisions; big ones, small ones and any and all in between. I’ve worked on sets where morale plummeted because the director kept vacillating and reversing himself. The important thing is not that you make the right decision. It’s that you make a decision. It’s true, if you make too many wrong decisions the film will crash and burn, but let’s face it, the first priority is to survive the shoot.
So we filmed the four scenes and kept the shooting schedule intact. I rewrote three other scenes to account for the snow and deleted another one entirely. Since this was early in the production, I had the luxury of rewriting. The reality is that the deeper into the shoot you go, the fewer options you have.
I also learned when to stop trying to get the perfect take and instead keep the production moving. I designated five scenes in the script as “golden scenes.” These were the most important scenes to get right. This was the trade-off since I only had 18,000 feet of film stock.
In the end, the twelve-day shoot in Pennsylvania and three-day shoot in Los Angeles were successfully completed. Daybreak languished in post-production for another year, finally being edited on an Avid Meridan system. Daybreak then screened at the Fort Worth Film Festival and had other screenings in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Daybreak was finally released to the home video market by its U.S. distributor on March 5, 2007. The DVD bonus material includes a special version of the movie called Daybreak: Day by Day, showing the scenes in the order they were filmed with an audio commentary by me explaining what I learned while making Daybreak. My goal is to add to your wealth of knowledge before you take that plunge and make your first movie. And I do highly encourage you to take the plunge. Making Daybreak has been one of the great experiences of my life. And that dolly in snow shot? It’s probably my favorite shot in the whole film. Like Julius Caesar, I decided to cross the Rubicon.
The Dolly in the Snow shot in progress on Day Three of filming “Daybreak.”