Filmmaking To The Max: Improvising Off-Screen


(Kyla) #1

Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.

Hey! I’m so hyped to be writing this micro-column! I’m hyped enough that I’m capitalizing my words, which is a rarity if you’ve spoken to me before. (I’m apparently not hyped enough to come up with a good title though shhhhh.)

The number one thing you need to know about me going into these columns (and basically the topic of today’s column) is that I have a certain philosophy in life. It’s not well-worded, but basically: there’s always another way out. There’s always more solutions than the ones you can immediately find, and there’s always a way to spin something awful and make it something beautiful. That philosophy has carried me through the making of this webseries-- we’ve been kicked out of filming spaces, had to recast multiple people, and apparently according to high school gossip, were almost protested (more on all that in later columns). So when something goes wrong on set, or even in life-- I find a way to spin it, and find a way to spin it fast.

One of the most important things you need to do as a filmmaker is essentially to apply that philosophy-- you need to be able to spin problems and do some good old off-screen improvising, and you need to be able to do it quickly.

I could provide a million examples of off-screen improvising that I’m sure I’ll touch on in later columns… But there’s one very creative solution that I came up with a few weeks ago for our first scene filmed not at school that we had extras for.

Meet Daria!

Daria is a lovely human being and also plays one of our protagonists, Heather. She’s absolutely amazing. In fact, she’s so amazing that she let us put her in a bad outfit and falling apart Snow White wig that’s at least a decade old so she could pretend to be an extra! We needed as many people as we could to fill the space at this “party”. We had seven cast members (two of which who left mid-scene) and four wonderful extras, but we didn’t want to leave Arjun to search the fridge alone. And so, Heather’s evil clone was born! This is an excellent way to fill space when you can’t find enough extras. Daria got to be on set without having to memorize or say any lines and she got all the perks of being an extra-- food, social interaction, and watching the actors agonize over having to do embarrassing things in front of a bunch of people (more on that in a later column). It was also really hilarious to witness. If you don’t have a willing cast member, you could also take your sister’s fake skeleton that she “has for school”, dress it up in clothing, use a fake beard as a wig for it, and let it be an extra. Because that’s what I almost did when I wasn’t sure if Daria could show up or not. Because sometimes the common solution of letting things go or settling for less doesn’t always have to be the right solution.

Daria as Heather’s evil clone ft me being a disaster

A few dos and don’ts, though, when you improvise off-screen:

  • Do look around you. A solution could be right in front of you, just like how I found the skeleton in a chair in my basement, which was where we were shooting.

  • Do cover all your bases. You want the skeleton? Great. But sometimes it’s better to text your lead and coerce her with cookies.

  • Do be prepared. Sometimes you won’t be at your home, where you have a skeleton right there, or sometimes you won’t have a lead to put in a wig. Have people you know you can text to be extras, or in other situations, keep a mini emergency bag on you with all your essentials-- mine would be extra lipstick, an extra eyeshadow palette, an extra curling iron, and a flannel or jacket that could pass for the 80s.

  • Don’t reach. Sometimes the easiest option is the best option. Sometimes it’s better to have four extras and maybe a lead in disguise than four extras and a skeleton in a wig.

  • Don’t let the problem consume you. Your focus is not on a skeleton in a wig. Your focus is doing your job, being present, and getting through the shoot day.

  • Don’t let this stop you. So what if you have four extras? Your solution can be as easy as working with what you have. You don’t always need a skeleton in a wig. Sometimes you just need creative blocking.

Moral of the story-- things will not go as planned, and as a creator you need to be able to stay ahead of the game and make quick decisions, like convincing your lead to wear a wig and eat peanut butter cookies for three hours.

And on that note, I’d love to hear stories of your wildest times improvising off-screen! What’s the weirdest story you have from behind the scenes?

(Herman Wang) #2

Once we needed a summer exterior shot, only it was February and we couldn’t wait, so we composited with greenscreen.

(Bri Castellini) #3

Love this and the new column!! Wooo! We once also had an issue where we needed to fill a space with too few extras, but we had the added concern of being a found footage show so we couldn’t cut around as much, so we brought extra costumes and had characters walk off screen, put on a new hat and jacket, and then walk back out lol. Movement sometimes makes a scene feel busier than bodies :slight_smile: