Ever wondered what it’s like to make a film? The different aspects of filmmaking are often not well understood until one actually sees it all in action. Emerging South African filmmaker and screenwriter based in the United States, Tumelo Tladi takes us through a day in the life of a 1st assistant director on the set of an independent film in production.
The objective: shoot a series of ten scenes written independently as part of pilot episodes of an anthology series about life in Brooklyn, New York, and call it Map of Brooklyn.
She writes in a thread on Twitter, “The mission was ambitious. Ten scenes from a ten-episode anthology series, shot in five days on location in January (winter). And, a cast of 25 lead actors, some extras and a crew of 30-35, paid. Began pre-production in September, and have been in post for four months.” The production was filmed over the course of five days, excluding days for prep. And, the budget: $50 000 (roughly R730 000) - much more than any indie production can ever hope to work with.
Tumelo was tasked with one of the hardest and most challenging jobs on any film or TV set -- the 1st assistant director, aka 1st AD. Of all the on-set crew, the one who's running the show; the first one in, and the last one out.
She says about the role, "No matter how hard you prepare, you will always get something new each and every day when you show up to set. So it’s always best to know how to triage, handle multiple personalities, conflict and any potential disasters. Basically, be ready for anything. And, watch the clock!"
The 35-year-old stresses that as 1st AD, one really needs to be smooth, but also respectful of all the crew in order to get their way. "Remember that everyone has a job to do. Don’t do their job for them. Your job as the 1st AD is to make the director’s life on set as easy and as smooth as humanly possible. And, everyone else’s job is to make sure you can do that, IF things don’t go according to plan. This is triage work; preemptive work. Prioritising. Damage control might be going on behind the scenes (and over walkie), but it should be smooth sailing on set in front of the camera with the actors, the director, and director of photography. If you can pull that off, you’re a genius", she adds.
After all the hard work on set and in post-production, the anthology short was finally set to premiere on 4 May, but due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, the planned screening was turned into a live YouTube premiere, followed by a virtual “meet and greet” with the writers, the director and some of the executive producers.
And, that is how you make an indie production. The full thread with insight into each department can be found on the filmmaker's Twitter and the full Map of Brooklyn anthology short is also available to watch online. Tumelo's currently in pre-production and crowdfunding for another short, scripted during the initial lockdown in 2020.