Filming Is Hard

Or, to quote my daughter, “acting is hard.” I’ve been relating my limited experience in the filming of a video with children circa 11 years old to the challenges faced in filming Melody with, part of the time, hundreds of children. The core contingent centered on the age my daughter was in summer 2017.

My daughter’s 5th grade teacher was going to be on a network TV show, again, and they were pushing her as something of a superstar in the reality competition involved. Make people want to watch by promoting her. Add human interest by showing stuff about her. They had previously filmed on an entirely normal classroom day. That was awkward when my daughter had an inconveniently timed dental appointment and had to be extracted from the room without disrupting filming.

After the school year ended, I got a call from the teacher, inviting my daughter to be in a video being filmed on an upcoming Saturday. Well, of course!

Little did we know it would be a long, grueling day of takes and more takes, between waiting for setup of scenes, for under a minute that actually aired, with my daughter visible for perhaps a few seconds.

Most of the kids were not from the actual class the teacher had during the school year just ended. My daughter was tall for her age. About half the kids were children of the principal. Kidding, but a few were, and they ranged pretty young. There wasn’t an effort to go for authenticity so much as teacher plus kids. My daughter was sidelined somewhat due to her height and apparent age compared to the norm among the bunch of kids involved.

The first part was a faux classroom scene, which none of the parents there were able to witness being filmed. It was in the actual class, but rearranged and lit as a set for the video. My daughter wasn’t really in that at all, because they clustered the little kids in the area where the action took place. It was like a transformation of the teacher to something else, bounding across the desks, if I recall the details correctly.

The rest was basically a music video, in the hall and then outside. That’s the part where my daughter could be seen if you knew to look. The teacher and the kids around her were ad hoc choreographed with different moves, props and lighting, coming down the hall to music.

Outside there were scenes filmed of action on playground equipment, then in the parking lot. On the playground equipment it was action sequences. My daughter would have figured prominently in one bit, but she didn’t match the size of the other two kids, so they swapped her out. Then she was kind of at the end of the line because she was too tall in another scene. Kind of hard when you’re hanging from bars but your feet touch the ground. She was taller than the teacher, even then. Now she’s 5′ 4 1/4″ at the dawn of 13, and her brother is 1/4 inches behind her all of a sudden, six months shy of 12. That part featured the use of colored smoke effects.

Finally, there was a victory scene of sorts, where the kids mobbed around the teacher in the back parking lot of the school, cheering and throwing colorful dust, like powdered chalk, up in the air, then they all walked off into the distance at the cameraman was rolled after them on a little cart.

It was grueling, even just watching and waiting, let alone being in the cast of kids, directed to do this or that different ways over and over and over. I found it fascinating. There was a young guy who was the director. Totally looked the part. There were a few assistants or people with defined roles, like the cameraman and the art director. There was one young woman, kindly yet stern, super attractive, consummately professional, whose job seemed to be resolving problems and doing anything necessary to make things happen. Sometimes this involved the tool belt she wore. Sometimes this involved fetching things or helping the art person.

The kids were each supposed to bring a sedate outfit and a flamboyant or colorful outfit. With my daughter, it was hard to tell the difference! It started with sign in, so to speak, at a table up on the stage in the auditorium. I had to give them a release form and they reviewed the outfits. Then we waited, even before anything at all started. They gave something of an orientation. They served lunch for everyone, Subway, and had lots of snacks and candy. It took until lunch for the initial art, the classroom scene, to finish shooting. During the break, the kids all got shoelaces that lit up, worn turned on in part of what shot afterward. Those they got to keep.

It was easily supper time before we were done. Then that was it. We had to wait and hope to catch it when it aired or when someone posted it. As I said, it didn’t amount to much, after all that work and what they spent to send the crew there to produce it. I got some bits on video and in pictures, but we were barred from posting any of that online until after it had aired. I haven’t gone back and looked at any of it almost since then. Nothing earth shattering.

As my daughter would say, “So, that was a thing that happened.” It certainly didn’t inspire her to want to go into acting. Shy or not, last year she got up on stage and sang a cappella a song that she wrote, but that didn’t require acting or take after take while following a director’s instructions.

Now take that day and make it a feature film featuring kids. A lot of kids. The core cast of kids for Melody exceeded the number in that video shoot, let alone the hundreds of extras employed for the crowded scenes. The child stars may have considered it “a romp,” but it’s still work for all involved.

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