Many movies feature their characters traveling about in very signature vehicles that help establish their identity. What isn’t always obvious is just how much of a hassle this can turn out to be for the indie filmmaker.
In Death To Prom our lead character Rene drives about town in his gold vintage Jaguar sedan. Looks good, right? Tells us about what kind of guy he his without uttering a single line of dialogue, right? But what a pain in the neck this car turns out to be. It is more temperamental than any crew member and if not handled quite particularly it holds its breath and won’t budge from its current location like a bad-mannered three-year-old child.
We were able to use the Jaguar thanks to our associate producer Jaimie so it wasn’t like we had a vehicle budget with which to be demanding or choosy. It was in our collective possessions and it fit and the price was right. But it was a fickle beast. It wouldn’t start on an incline. It had to be shifted just so or it would stall. If it didn’t start the first two times we tried we were out of luck for a lengthy amount of time… You get the idea. It cost us a lot of time and stress. We resorted to just pushing it through scenes and laying in the engine sounds in the edit.
When Jeremy did TRIUMPH67 it was a similar situation. The lead character Sami had a vintage Triumph motorcycle that was cobbled together from two different bikes and it never really ran well or for very long. It would flood easily and idled erratically and, of course, did so quite dramatically on the first day of shooting. Added to this already sketchy situation was the fact that neither lead actor had ridden a motorcycle before and had a short amount of time for us to put though motorcycle safety and training classes. They threw themselves into the task and excelled, but every time it had to be ridden on camera Jeremy had a very difficult time breathing and focusing on getting the shot. Thankfully the bike made it through the shoot and promptly died the next day and all the grief and hassle were worth the effort.
The day we had the very fancy sailboat? No wind. And did we mention the vintage Mercedes that the other brother drove? The one that was crashed after a late night in the second week of shooting? You can imagine…
While out at Sundance and Slamdance this year we saw Brea Grant’s film Best Friends Forever and the lead ladies in that movie drove an old Pacer through the southwest U.S. Apparently it broke down every single day.
This set of challenges is pretty much never planned for in indie filmmaking, so choose your signature vehicles carefully and keep a mechanically-inclined crew member close at hand. Or shoot near to locations with a service garage. You won’t, because of the unique aspects of your story and budget constraints, so at least make sure to get some footage and pictures of all the mayhem. It makes for great stories.