On Location: The making of “Beholder” (Part 2)

On March 16, out director Nisha Ganatra‘s new film, Beholder, will premiere as part of the ITVS/ PBS series FutureStates. FutureStates is a modern day Twilight Zone series for which ten filmmakers were selected to each make an episode that takes place in the future and explores a political idea in the realm of a fictional film. Beholder stars Jessica Paré (of Mad Men and Lost and Delirious)  Elaine Hendrix (from Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and Superstar) and Michael McMillian (True Blood), with Rupak Ginn (Royal Pains and Private Practice). In this article, the second in a series (read the first in the series here) that takes readers behind the scenes in the making of the film, Ganatra writes about developing the screenplay for her episode and the obstacles faced when predicting an anti-gay future for a publicly-funded channel based in San Francisco.

So now that we have our super awesome sci-fi story, how in the hell do we shoot this for the small budget that we’ve been given?  We can’t afford to make some Minority Report-looking future, but we can afford to make it look like the 1950s.  I wonder if this is why Gattaca did the retro look, too. Wait a minute — Gattaca had maybe three million times the money we have but, damn, I love that movie.

We divided up the money we need to shoot and realize that it affords us about three days. That means 39 hours, because we don’t have a penny for overtime. And this is where you start to really love and appreciate your line producer, because she is the one that calls the Director of Photography (DP) and says “You can’t have that piece of equipment because we are $56 over budget”  and can do it with a straight face. Because that $56 plus that 40 bucks plus this, that and the other quickly adds up to a couple thousand dollars that no one has.  And this is where you, as the director, have to balance making sure your crew gets what you need to achieve your vision, but also that you don’t go over budget. Because, ultimately, it’s your wallet on the line when it comes to low budget things like this.  That’s another reason why I haven’t produced anything that I directed since Chutney Popcorn.  It’s awful to run film through the camera and just hear cash register sounds with every reel.  We had actually managed to program the Avid to make a ‘Cah-CHING!” sound every time we added what would amount to an optical effect into the movie. But this is the age of digital. It’s different. It’s practically free to shoot on digital, right? 

Apparently, wrong. But you do get a lot more for the buck. But it’s still bucks, and who has that? So I call upon my Indian immigrant upbringing and figure out every which way we can cut corners – but there aren’t a lot. Not if you insist on paying your crew, which, it turns out, is a good thing to do.  At some point, you have to lay your credit cards and money in the hands of the people you hired to trust and just hope that they are really good at their jobs. There were moments when it was really hairy, but ultimately Angela and Erin and Jasmine came through and balanced the budget.  It turns out that the DP and I didn’t need that jib arm anyway, because we didn’t have the manpower to operate it and we didn’t have the time to set it up. So I’m really glad we didn’t waste our money on it. Wait a minute…

Casting
The best part of pre-production is casting. It’s so incredibly amazing and (alternately awful) to hear your dialogue come to life (or fall to the floor with a thud). We landed an incredible actor, Jessica Paré, who you may already know as the lesbian that made Piper Perabo kill herself while wearing a cute girls school uniform in the movie Lost and Delirious. Or you may know her as the soon-to-be Mrs. Don Draper in Mad Men. But wherever you know her from, if you don’t already love her (as I do) you will love her in Beholder. There are some actors that are just an insane pleasure to work with and Jessica is beyond one of those actors.  All of our actors made it possible for us to accomplish the incredible pace we shot this movie, but Jessica (who is in every scene of the movie) was a huge part of making it happen. 

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