Production Week 2

by Andrew

View from the ferry

View from the ferry at dawn; picture by Michael Brotzman

Week two began with an odd day – we had spent our rainy day off on the mainland, which meant part of our next day of production would take place on the island ferry. In Nor’easter, our priest travels back and forth from the island several times, so those scenes were shot together, in an hour-and-a-half window while we rode the ferry to Vinalhaven. Veronica and I had originally planned this part of the production for a full round trip plus a one-way trip, but we decided to knock it out in just a single one-way trip when we finalized the schedule, and that turned out to be enough for what we were after.

Ian, our DP, did especially great work on the boat, and the production was able to operate smoothly, in large part because we happened to be nearly alone. With so few people traveling back and forth from Vinalhaven in February, we were able to manage the many silent, lonely rides in the boat’s cabin with the kind of isolation we were seeking.

We arrived on the island, grabbed a few good shots of the priest coming and going near the ferry terminal, and then headed off to what became one of the greatest surprises of the entire production. Scene 16 directly follows our priest’s first big failure in the script, and I had written it to happen immediately after that failure. The scene takes place at a stone quarry that has been filled with water and frozen over, and I hoped that the sense of peace there would contrast the fight that the priest had just gone through. As written, it ought to have been shot at around 10 in the morning.

After our morning on the ferry, though, we realized that the complexity of the shots we’d planned was going to keep us from shooting until around 3pm. After I read through the script and realized it wouldn’t affect the continuity of the movie to adjust, we set up for scene 16 and were blessed with the most extraordinary light of the entire shoot.

What I had written as a simple series of shots – what amounted to our priest happening upon a moment of intimacy between two kids and then choosing to spy on them – became an extraordinary composition, courtesy of Ian and the timing of the sun. When we turned around to do David’s coverage, I pushed the production to hurry and capture the flickering light that managed to both illuminate and obscure parts of David’s face in a way that felt peaceful, natural, and bizarre all at once. It was a gift.

This was one of the many days during the production that I felt the crew’s work and the elements in general collaborated to elevate the material to something that felt beyond any individual’s command. Watching the dailies I was proud that we’d delivered something that could heighten the aesthetic of the film and also our sense of David’s character in a simple moment.

After the days in the church when I felt we were, at times, pushing our compositions into square, predictable spaces for the purposes contrast to what we knew the film would later be, it was another enormous relief to see that moments in the woods and on the ice could feel both earthly and magical at once without bleeding into sentimentality.