In school I never liked group activities. I would do them, and get along with my group members and make the poster or the power point or the skit, but every time a group activity was announced I would groan and drag my feet. Film-making is a giant group activity. You need people to hold the camera and the lighting and the sound, you need actors and writers and set designers, and a bunch of other people just to add extra hands and eyes and know-how. I imagine that making a film to me feels like writing a novel to others (and to me, let’s be honest) – it’s overwhelming, it’s so large and has so many arms and legs how do you even start?
And that’s why I was stoked that reader, Laura, introduced me to Caitlin while she is right in the middle of making her film, Sea Glass. I want to know who she is, how she views her work, herself, her future. I want to know everything about the person who goes into making film, like you can just up and do such a thing, like it ain’t no thang, like duh. Because that person has to be pretty amazing.
(Caitlin’s the one with the camera)
I’m a filmmaker. That word is so fabulously specific (like bricklayer) that I have no trouble owning it. I make films, therefore, I am a filmmaker. Easy math! Because working on films or teaching about working on films is how I spend almost all of my time and energy, I actually almost never get asked what I do. I do get asked “what’s your story?” quite a lot and this one is much harder for me to answer. It’s impossible to give a complete answer to this question. It’s also impossible to give a complete answer to “what do you do?” but the pressure is there that you should. Alas.
Lily Gladstone, the actor who plays Riley in Sea Glass, the film I’m working on right now, just asked me this the other night. We were on a high from a really good day of filming and I said something corny about how being on set can feel like being in love; like everyone you care about just came to your birthday party. One of the things that makes Lily an amazing actor is that she suspends judgment and she didn’t laugh at me for being such a nerd. But it is true.
The first time I was ever on a film set I was just job shadowing the locations managers. It was a huge union shoot so I wasn’t allowed to touch anything. I was clearly useless and surely in the way and everyone was so nice. I asked the woman I was shadowing if this was just lucky that everyone got along so well. She said it was a pretty good crew, but it was also just that everyone loves their job. Having grown up in a family where work meant work, this blew my mind! Of course everyone loves their job! Of course!
Of course, about ten minutes later I saw a production assistant rush off bawling her eyes out. It was an excellent microcosm of how intense filming can get and I haven’t wanted to do anything else since.
I asked Caitlin where the artist title fits in her life, if she’s comfortable with it, etc etc. This is a hard one for most people, even people who are big shot full time artist-types. We have so many hats, defining and understanding each individually can be a trick.
Sea Glass is actually about this question. It seems to me that every artist has a period in his or her life when they struggle with this title. But I don’t really think it’s the title that’s the problem. Owning the fact that you’re an artist is scary. It can mean that you might never own a house, or even have a steady source of income. It might mean you won’t settle down and have a family ever. You’re putting a lot on the line when you say you’re an artist. You’re saying, “I’m going to chance it. I’m going to literally bet my future on this. This could end up being a huge failure and I’ll end up all alone. I can’t even afford a dog!” Seriously, I would really love to have a dog. But you can’t have a dog and leave to shoot a movie for a month or two.
I think it’s especially hard to reconcile what an artist is and whether or not you are one if your art is solitary. If you’re a painter or a sculptor, at what point does that become who you are rather than just a hobby? If no one is there to back up your claim that you’re an artist, you just sound like an ass. That’s the reason you asked me this question, right? You’re asking if I believe in my work enough to believe people won’t think I sound like an ass when I say I’m an artist. (Lauren edit: Maybe, and maybe not.) It’s a good question. And I’m lucky because to do my work I have to surround myself with incredibly talented artists. Who the hell am I to make these people work long, exhausting days as I suck every ounce of creative energy out of them? I would be ahuge ass if I didn’t consider myself an artist. If I didn’t believe in the film, it would be an insult to the talent and effort of my cast and crew. And I would definitely not have the gall to ask for their expertise if I didn’t stand behind what I’m doing.
To answer your question completely honestly, though, I do have surges of fear. Everyone does, right? (Right?!) The crew and cast of Sea Glass, especially, are all so sweet and inherently hard-working that on my worst days I think maybe they’re all just working with me because they like me and want to be nice. Not because they trust me or believe I have any sort of vision for the film. But, thankfully, that’s insane. I am just not that nice of a person. Hopefully, it’s some combination. I hope that people have fun on my sets and believe I can get the job done.
I’m in the wonderful spot right now of having a magnificent core group of people I like to collaborate with and we are constantly working. But I’m in graduate school which is sadly and happily not permanent and this group will eventually disperse. I hope we’ll all continue to work together as much as possible, but it will be a true test for me to expand this group and keep working at the same speed.
I understand this completely. Being in grad school was like being in the womb. I was surrounded by people all with the same goals, and in a very intense and demanding work environment. After leaving that world, it took me a solid year to feel like I was doing anything that all that was worth while. Grad school is lovely, but it is also a lie. A beautiful, idealistic lie.
Film-making fulfills two very different sides of my personality–It’s the perfect balance between my methodical solitary writer brain and my collaborative adrenaline-junky brain. During the writing process, I spend a lot of sleepless nights at my computer with an old cup of tea and take a lot of zombie walks during the day where my head is in my research and plotting. I sound and look like a crazy person because I’ll act out scenes as the characters and won’t realize I’m doing it. I have a scene that takes place entirely in a women’s restroom and, judging by the look a woman gave me at the sink, I think I once worked out a piece of dialogue aloud while I was in the stall.
During shooting, an observer would be less creeped out. Being on set is long, difficult, unglamorous work, which automatically filters out anyone who doesn’t love it. And because I work with low-to-no budget, I get the luxury of only working with people who are insanely passionate about what they’re doing. We usually work 11 to 14-hour days which means tensions can run high and the humor gets really, really silly. There are times when I’m pretty sure we are fueled by nothing else but Red Vines and That’s What She Saids.
Film has to be my full time gig for me to be happy. I’m generally a really happy person and I have a lot of different interests and pursuits that make me happy, but I know what trade-offs come with a career in film. That said, have you ever talked with someone completely consumed by one subject? BORING! I’m inspired by the people I make films with very much, but I’m also inspired by the people in my life who think I’m crazy for loving film. So I try to aim for balance. I’ve started going to yoga, but I ditched out the other day because I had a scene to shoot.
Now, Sea Glass … how do you even begin such an endeavor? I wanted to know about the spark. The spark is always key, because it’s where you return back to when you’re stuck and feel like you’ve trapped yourself at a dead end.
Like Riley, in the film, I went through a breakup that became unsafe. I was lucky to have friends who could whisk me away to the beach whenever I needed and I started spending a lot of time on the Oregon coast. When someone is able to permeate every moment of your life, it can feel like a wide physical space is the only place to sort yourself out. The ocean became a weird sort of security blanket for me, which I think is true for a lot of people.
I was in a glass shop in Cannon Beach on one of the first sunny days of spring. The shop owners were taking advantage of the nice weather and replacing their windows. Men and circular saws were running all over. It was a construction site, but the shop was still open. All the delicate glass art pieces were on display on their thin glass stands as the building rattled from the power tools. At first I thought it was crazy. I mean, swaddle those things in bubble wrap! But then I realized, glass is glass, right? Whether it’s a vase that looks like a tidal wave or an unassuming storm window.
I fell in love with the idea that glass is something so fragile that needs to be protected and something that protects us from the elements. And glass is the only thing that when it breaks, it’s not something we just pitch, but it’s something to be reckoned with. We jump up and scare little kids by carrying them out of the room. We yell at people to put shoes on, be careful, there’s broken glass! And then, eventually, broken thrown-out glass becomes something we hunt for and collect again because it’s unique and pretty.
Riley’s story runs the course of the glass you find on the beach. She starts as something lovely and delicate; she breaks down and scares herself; and then she becomes something admittedly damaged, but real and beautiful and completely her own.
The thing I can’t get over while doing this series, is how unique everyone’s story is. They are also the same, but that is kind of to be expected. The uniqueness, the varying degrees of intensity, the different modes of artistry, the difference in voice each person has displayed here has been really awesome. While wrapping things up with Caitlin this week she mentioned one last thing to me, something I hadn’t even thought to ask because equality, and gender equality, is something that has a tendency to sneak up on you when you least expect it. But Caitlin said she is incredibly happy to report that, “Our crew has been completely 50/50 split down the middle of men and women. I think every woman on the crew has at one time been the only woman on a crew, which is not rare in the film world. So it’s been a blast to have such an even set-up.
Like you needed another reason to support this project. Please keep posted by checking out the Sea Glass website for film screenings and ways to contribute.
*Photos by: Joe ‘Tuna’ Metesh, Jeri Rafter, and Katie Meade
If you, or someone you know would like to be featured here, and undergo my rigorous questioning (it’s fun! no, really it is!), please email me at betterinrealife at gmail dot com.