I knew somebody who told about having re-written a script for a low-budget film; he had done so because the fellow who asked him to had offered to pay in cash on delivery of the script which was so unlike this guy's previously established M.O.
This director was working on a small film that he was hoping to complete; he had just completed working on another no-budget but very commercial thriller that was filmed in an office building basement and all of the sets were still standing. He still had a few days left to use the space, and wanted to complete one more script he had promised to deliver on, using the same sets redressed, the same cast and crew since he had them all assembled.
So after the script was reworked into something that could be worked with this director's intention was to shoot the entire film in three days. He had even brought up that Roger Corman shot "The Terror" with Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff in three days. Many people have concluded that they too can film an entire (non-porno) feature film in three days. Unfortunately, despite what popular film histories claim, Roger Corman did not film "The Terror" in three days, and this bit of misinformation lurks like a landmine, ready to explode underneath anyone who tries to take it seriously.
This auteur decided filming was to commence on a Friday, and continue through Saturday and Sunday. All filming was planned for the same set, there were no location or exterior shots. The very first thing early Monday morning, the people who actually owned the basement expected the director to be gone.
So my acquaintance the script writer, a job he has only worked at a few times decides to see how it turns out. At first, despite the pressures of a low budget project it seemed it would turn out well. It all went smoothly, the actors were professionals who had been working with each other for awhile at this point.
Except various other factors made themselves aware
- It turned out one of the lead actresses was not a professional, but an "exotic dancer" who had had a bit part in the previous film, and who showed up late and turned out to have problems with pronouncing certain words in her dialog and she kept flubbing her lines and ruined take after take. As she got nervous, she started flubbing more and more of her lines and wasting more and more expensive film stock.
- To save time the director decided to use a two camera set-up, he would have one camera filming the actors in medium shot, while at the same time another camera was getting necessary close-ups. While this made it possible to get far more shots completed in far less time. this was after all, this was a very low budget film, and the director had very little money to spend on film stock. Therefore he planned for a very low shooting ratio, which meant that any waste of film stock could not be tolerated, such as a lead actress who turned out to get more and more anxious whenever she made a mistake.
- On Sunday, with a large part of the movie still needing to be shot, the production runs out of film stock. With a superhuman effort, the director managed to persuade a local film lab to open on a Sunday and allow him to purchase more film. Filming continued, now very much behind schedule. In order to save film, he decides to use only one camera.
- Shooting was slowed down so the particular "lead actress" could be given smaller portions of dialogue to record which meant a lesser chance of her making mistakes, which she was prone to do as she became more and more nervous and as it turned out she had been sneaking off to smoke crystal meth to stay awake which did not help.
- 5:00 – 6:00 Monday morning. The director has been up for four days straight, and his eyes are bugging out. The other actors are exhausted, and several of them have full-time day jobs they have to go to in a hour or two, the rest of the cast and crew silently (and some not so silently) hating the "exotic dancer", who had had a dramatic crystal-aided nervous breakdown at 1:00 am, curling up in a corner like a fetus and having to be coaxed back to the set, wasting more time.
There are one or two—absolutely necessary—shots left. The director has to be out of the building in a hour or so—more to the point, the actor he needs for these last shots has to leave shortly in order to go home and get ready to go to work. Once the sets are gone, they are gone for good, so this is the only chance he'll get to get these last, critical shots. Without these shots, a large part of the movie will actually make no sense at all. It will be unreleasable. Four days of hard work and thousands of dollars irretrievably wasted.
There is only one roll of film left—twelve minutes of footage—in Camera 2. Any mistakes cannot be made up with a retake.
The director calls "Action."
Everything is going fine. Camera 2 stops in the middle of the shot. The "cameraman" steps back, says "Camera out."
The director turns on him. "Why the hell did you stop shooting?"
And the explanation comes back. "The battery on the camera is run down."
It turned out that the "cameraman" had rented the camera on Thursday, and had noticed at the time that there was only one battery provided with the camera. Had he said anything to anybody about it? No. Had he bothered to put the battery on the charger, say, Saturday night, when there had been a chance to do so. No. Why not? Don't know.
At this point my acquaintance who had been the only one to actually leave the set during filming and get some sleep at least once, decided to leave, having seen more than enough. What transpired after that, he wasn't sure. Afterwards, he said, the director seemed unwilling to talk about exactly what had happened.