The Legacy We Leave

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I have been so immersed in the depths of preproduction that I’ve just had to look at a calendar to figure out how long I’ve been in Indiana. It’s my first feature, and my role on the film is 2nd Assistant Director. I’m fortunate to be working with John D. Hancock; the Oscar-nominated director that discovered Robert DeNiro, helmed such critical successes as Bang The Drum Slowly (1973), and television classics including Hill Street Blues and The Twilight Zone. His latest film, Swan Song, is somewhat of a magical journey for lead character Julie, a teenage girl who through a stage production of Alice in Wonderland comes to bond with her estranged grandmother. Thematically, the film explores legacy and what we leave behind.

When you’re dealing with a stage production within a film, it means actors are playing roles in a film that are playing roles within a musical. It means not just working with a film crew, but within that a theatrical crew including a choreographer and composer, and having musical numbers, and it all surmounts to the point that I can’t imagine the production logistics that might arise with something like Inception. In some ways it’s similar to short films I’ve worked on, it’s just everything is on a much much grander scale.

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It turns out I’ve been here a little over three weeks, preproduction has been going on much longer than that however. I have two months to go yet, but already it has been such a mind-broadening experience. From the close friends of John and his wife Dorothy – who penned the screenplay – to the Columbia natives, and the locals that are helping bring this story to life, the sense of community is inspiring. So too is the fact that so many of John’s old-school filmmaking friends have traveled far to be a part of the production, and with the knowledge they are imparting on us younger filmmakers, the whole experience becomes somewhat of a self fulfilling prophecy with the theme of legacy expanding beyond just the page.

Last weekend we were granted some rare downtime, and I had some friends in town. We spent Friday night at my friend Paul’s beach house, drinking some beers as the sun set over Lake Michigan. It was a much-needed breather, and as we laughed the evening away I looked around at my friends – also filmmakers, and both past and future collaborators – and wondered about the knowledge that we might impart on future filmmakers in years to come, and what our legacy might be.

Principal photography kicks off this Friday, I expect an industrious path ahead. That said, I will do my best to take some time to fully appreciate all this summer has to bring. Like novelist Mark Harris says in Bang the Drum Slowly, later adapted for screen by John, “the sky was just beginning to light up a little, the quiet time when all the air is clean and you can hear birds, even in the middle of New York City, the time of day you never see except by accident, and you always tell yourself, I must get up and appreciate this time of day once in a while”.

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