How to Make a Movie in a Foreign Country: Chapter 3

December 28, 2017
James Pillion jumped at the opportunity to direct his first feature film; the fact that it was to be made in Romania didn’t faze the young Australian filmmaker at first. The result is the highly accomplished Far From Here, and this series of candid articles that he’s put together exclusively for us.

DO

LOVE YOURSELF (NO ONE ELSE WILL)

Making movies demands your full attention. It takes a physical and emotional toll on the body and requires the help of so many different people. Everyone has their own reasons for making your movie and some of them are bound to contradict your own. Through every stage of the process you find yourself alone, your back against the wall as you fight to create something from nothing.

We met at a soulless looking pub in downtown Bucharest, the air heavy with second-hand smoke. Jonathan looked awful, a mess of skin and bones, heavy bags under his eyes like he hadn’t slept in months. I didn’t look any better, a poor excuse for a beard hiding my gaunt features. Our conversation was forced as we both avoided the elephant in the room – that our friendship was on the rocks. We gave up and walked to the metro, a thick fog in the air. Jonathan forced a smile as he dug something from his pocket and handed it to me. I looked down at a Romanian flag pin in my hand before watching him descend the station steps. A desperate rage came over me as I hurled the pin into the gutter, my twisted smile replaced by blank despair. It was the last time we saw each other.

A few days after the wrap party, I found myself alone with a hard drive of footage and a heavy heart. The team flew home to the States and I moved into an isolated apartment complex. It was a concrete box inside a concrete block, the damp hallways dark no matter the time of day. The plan was to finish the film in Bucharest and it was my responsibility to see it through before Spring reared its head.

With the days growing shorter and winter around the corner, I reluctantly settled into the editing room in an attempt to pick up the pieces. With our budget just about exhausted I paired up with Ovidiu, a talented homegrown editor, who agreed to help me sculpt something honest from the madness. Watching the editing rushes was pure agony. Jonathan and Maria’s on-screen relationship felt so passionate, so real. As we approached the film’s turning point, my stomach pains intensified as their love went up in flames. I struggled to separate the fictional story from the one that had played out in front of my eyes. It was all too close to home.

I fell into a genuine state of depression as the first assembly came together. The film was a monster and it was all my fault. Ovidiu laughed off my fears and explained the filmmaker’s curse; every director hates the first cut. His unrelenting passion for storytelling helped me bury my negative energy, his wisdom doled out through blunt honesty. The tough-love was just what I needed to pull me out of the ditch and into the express lane.

DON’T

GET LEFT BEHIND

You might think it sounds like a glamorous idea to finish your film all by your lonesome. Problem is the endeavour can come at the expense of your sanity. The long and winding road to seeing a film through to the silver screen can be so lonely and debilitating that it’s important to have friends and family to fall back on. Take it from me; spending a lonely winter exorcising your demons isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

After a few days of feeling sorry for myself, I made the decision to leave my cramped quarters and search out honest connections. I struck up conversations with my Uber drivers and restaurant staff, anyone that could temporarily relieve the pain of being so far from home. Everywhere I went I seemed to invite discomfort; smiling rubbed people the wrong way, small-talk left the locals scowling. I stopped going out at night, making an exception for a hole in the wall restaurant next to my gym. Ali Baba was an immigrant-run establishment complete with smiling staff and Eastern European music videos on loop in the corner. It was the only place that reminded me of home.

I resented the fact that I couldn’t be myself and hated that my fear was causing me to become bitter and spiteful. Where once I’d been a glass half-full kind of guy, I increasingly expected the worst from people. I began drinking heavily, an ever-present bottle of Ballantine’s by my bedside, trying to figure how it had come to this. I played the events in my head over and over again but came away with little more than a nasty hangover. In an attempt to counteract the damage, I signed up for a gym membership (an almost impossible feat in Bucharest). Trips to the change room would take me past the manager’s office where the health instructor could be found laid out on a massage table, blowing manicured smoke rings into the air. He never once said hello to me.

As the snow began to fall I became a virtual hermit. One of the direct results of this isolation was that it forced me to hold myself accountable and face my fears. While my initial reaction led me to point the finger at others, it slowly dawned on me that my actions were my own. I needed to forgive myself before I could move forward in any meaningful way.

As I worked on creating a healthier self-perception, Ovidiu and I continued to breathe new life into the cut. The film was taking on a life of its own and I knew we were approaching the end of the road. By the first weeks of Spring, we had put the finishing touches on the final cut, an experience that was bittersweet and profoundly fulfilling. I boarded a plane home and landed into a glorious heatwave, organic laughter all around me. Those first few weeks (…lets be honest, months) of re-adjustment were hard but one thing was crystal clear; I’d learned the power of home.

Read the fourth, and final instalment of How To Make A Movie In A Foreign Country

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