The Dream Life of a Movie Director

My iPhone’s going off. It’s 4:30am – o-dark-thirty. I get to wake later today instead of my usual 3:00am to greet the sun’s golden hour; that was on yesterday’s shot list. As I try to move my stiff legs, I review today’s menu of shots – thirteen of them to be exact. My back is sore and feet are swollen from the past week’s schedule. I just poked myself in the eye with my cell phone. Adding insult to injury is the fact that sleeping on an unfamiliar hotel mattress made more from wood than down has my body pseudo-paralyzed and screaming for relief. Where is my elbow? Thinking of today’s twenty-plus walking miles and thoughts of positioning myself in awkward positions makes me want to die – which just might be the relief I have been praying for.

As I get out of bed, I make my way to the shower to release my muscles and clear my head. I took one five hours earlier, but its effect has worn off. One of my eyelids no longer works. As if to remind me of my mortality, the nefarious gods of reality find a way for my soap to skip though my fingers. A tear finds its way out of my eye as I bend over and beat the shower faucet as if I didn’t see it with my forehead. Filmmaking is a tough job. It exhausts you physically and mentally. It’s all part of the glory I suppose.

“You are so lucky to be a film director,” comes in a youthfully exuberant voice from a cheery morning person behind my hotel’s front desk – clearly a morning person. Such people scare me but I am thankful for them when I drive through McDonalds to get my morning life-giving coffee fix.

“It’s a good life,” I reply. I feel bad because I cannot say I admire her job because of the horrid hours it entails and find myself stumbling for words to reply politely. Instead, I opt for my traditional response. I utter, “Yep! I’m living the dream,” as I place my hands on my sore back and bend over to illustrate my pain. She laughs. My left ear falls off. I step on it.

I have to admit that once I reach an upright position life changes a bit. With coffee in hand (and bloodstream) and a rock hard bagel close by, I explore today’s shot list and determine my path with a sense of grace that… simply doesn’t exist. At that moment, the crew shuffles in noting the unrealistically cheery girl behind the front desk. I remind them murder is illegal here and to try to be understanding of her innocence and ignorance of morning’s true meaning – pain. We have a quick laugh, but we’re all clearly suffering. I was always told film is a thinking-person’s game. As it turns out, the physical stuff matters quite a lot. We discuss today’s schedule and set up a plan to get it all done before nine tonight, although we know it will never happen. Filmmaking is sexy.

Once we eat some semblance of breakfast, we make our way to the vehicles with loads of gear, mostly overly heavy, and begin making our way to location number one – a shot that’s one-mile hike into the forest. It might as well be a hundred miles as far as we’re concerned. As we blaspheme our scout’s location choice (remembering the sun is not yet up), we grab our gear, flashlights and yes, a few guns and other protective accouterments and make our way to the shoot location. Like usual, we arrive without incident.

Now, here’s the part you never hear about. After setting up – we wait! That’s right, we’ve survived our awakening, have made the trek and have beat the sunrise. Now we have to wait for it! It’s odd that for as much hustle there is to get around and set up, there is at least as much boredom that comes afterward. It’s a case of watchful waiting – and when nasty morning this are coming to life and the night things are going to bed, we’re often caught in the mélange of a struggle to survive. Mosquitoes are ubiquitous as are bugs and the constant threat of snakes of all varieties. I’ve personally been bitten three times by water moccasins. (All water snakes have bad attitudes and want to kill you.) DEET and snake gaitors are essential elements of our wardrobe. Don’t leave home without them.

As the day goes on the pain subsides, or is at least more easily ignored. The shot list dwindles. Lunch is in picnic form when we’re lucky, a highlight of our day. After you’ve been on the road a while you realize all fast food restaurants serve high-calories greasy or at least fatty food that makes your ass big. The worst places make it active as well – not a good thing when on remote locations! While a burger is something we all crave every now and then, a steady diet of them gets old quickly. A fresh ham and Swiss on rye with lettuce and slice of onion in the middle of a pristine forest is a welcome break, ants and all. As any true filmmaker will testify – craft services (the people who feed the crafts) are the real stars and should be celebrated as such. In our case, we make up our own craft services and take the job quite seriously. However, just like huge film sets and home, food is where we come together with a common interest – and a welcome break.

As the day continues, shots fall with predictable regularity despite never quite reaching our scheduled expectations. Soreness has become an ever-present friend. My feet are killing me again despite four-hundred dollar hiking boots touted to be the most comfortable in the world. I need them to massage my feet and legs and they just won’t do it.

Dinner time. It’s often late. Snacking gets us through. Hydration is critical but often neglected – especially by me. Tonight’s dinner was at a local biker slash bar-be-que place that rated a three out of ten at best, but was the best game in town nonetheless. We sat around and talked about anything but film while answering the occasional question from the curious customer who overheard our conversations. I’m so tired. Film is sexy. Film is sexy. Film is sexy.

We get back to the hotel, unload our vehicles and make it back to our rooms. I plop backward on my bed knowing full well the Franz Kline-esque DNA I am likely wallowing in. I’m too tired  to care anymore. The shower is my next location followed by bed and all too short sleep before tackling tomorrow’s shot list. Sometimes I miss the shower because sleep wins the argument of importance.

Once the shoot is done, we all return home to wonderful beds, home-cooked meals, bills, yard mowing, soccer games, family and whatever else our outside-life demands of us. It takes us a few days to re-acclimate to real life. It’s better – and worse. Our film is turned in to post-production for editing, color correction, audio and a host of other things required for completion several months later. I am immediately handed plans for our next shoot. This one’s an Oregon beach location – in January!

The day finally comes when we receive notice it’s time to preview our film. We invite a few outsiders to get their impressions. Out rolls a slick production received quite well by our audience. At the end, an invitee comes up to me and compliments my work and comments about how lucky I am to be a director. I smile, agree with her and thank her for sharing her thoughts about our production. What she doesn’t realize is that we’ve become so caught up in the production of our films, we rarely have the opportunity to enjoy the experiences of simply being there for ourselves. This is one of the great paradoxes and enigmas of filmmaking; it’s a real job – and a tough one too. The fact that you’re never in the moment is admittedly frustrating. Nevertheless, we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s in our wiring I suppose.

Now, let me be clear – I  have an amazing job. My job is magical by every standard even with the pain, fatigue, bites, horrible beds, DNA-addled comforters, ass-growing food and everything we encounter However, my real job, and ultimate source of joy, is presenting our world in magical ways that you, our viewer, will never forget. It’s our most important job and where the true magic of filmmaking is found. That’s why we do it. Our passion is storytelling. I know I have succeeded is when someone taps my shoulder and comments about how our production touched them. That’s the very moment that makes me realize that mine is one of the toughest and most amazing jobs in the world.




Kevin Williams

Cinema Director

Explorers Like Us Cinema Productions