Exhaustion Lines - Feature Film

Exhaustion Lines - Feature Film

A dark comedy film about the little things keeping us awake, and bigger things we'd rather sleep through.

'latch on to the people who are there, and trust them to do well.'

My debut feature is in post production, nearing an early 2024 release. It was a tough one. The making-of story isn’t something I’ve found easy to tell, but I suppose if anybody else in the community finds it useful, it will have made the pain and suffering a little more worth it.

The [working] title is Exhaustion Lines, and it centers around a sleep deprived protagonist, driving around LA for a night. So naturally, pre-production gave me some sleep issues, they worsened throughout production, and subsided when we wrapped.

So first of all, I should embellish on why this thing exists in the first place. Like many of us, I wrote a lot during the infamous covid year, and after conceiving of dozens of ideas, half formed scripts, and occasionally a draft that I liked on a Monday and hated by Friday of the same week, it felt more like I hadn't written anything. So I was a little restless. I didn't really particularly want to make anything high concept, plot heavy, cumbersome in text. I just wanted to go outside and point a camera.

So that’s why this one has an ultra-simple premise:

A nameless drifter drives into LA with all of his material possessions loaded into his car. We don't know where he came from or where he's going. In any case, his sleep deprivation catches up with him when he narrowly avoids crashing the car. He seeks out a hotel; they're overbooked or shut down. Confused and annoyed, he tries sleeping in a parking garage. No dice, it's closing. He finds west LA and downtown unviable, so he leaves the city, opting to head towards East LA and Commerce. He drives, and drives, and drives some more. The second he leaves the car, BAM. It's towed. There’s more after that.

This was a very rough around the edges, DIY road movie centered around a screw-up of a main character as he drives around all night, made up of a bunch of random encounters with the type of people you meet when everyone else is asleep.

To be honest with you, this was going to be a 30-40 minute medium-length short.

I set the budget at $8k, wrote up an Indiegogo, and started reaching out to various contacts asking for advice and seeking to crew up. I knew I wanted a DP who was good with making the most of practical light. I wanted a producer who knew a thing or two about locations and permitting. The script was done (not really, I rewrote it many times throughout pre-production, during production, and wish I could more now but it's proven more difficult now that there's nothing left to shoot). My roommate played the main character, and living together helped get us on the same page.

I had an idea of what I wanted it to be, and that was going to have to be what kept me going. The Indiegogo made... $2500. A far cry from the $8000 I was aiming for, but frankly every dollar was an absolute miracle. It meant a bunch of people put their hard earned money down on this, a hypothetical movie. And that only meant I was gonna be $5500 out of pocket. A bargain for a film, actually. I will acknowledge it ballooned, and the total budget was about $12k. I’m still paying that off, actually.

I’m getting off topic. At some point, it clicked fully that we were well into pre-production.

I locked a DP named Samir Golshan. While a big part of choosing him was really clicking with his portfolio, what really made me choose him above all else was his understanding of the idea, the script, the type of movie it was.

Samir introduced me to Shahrooz, and he was one of the people who supported the fundamental logistics of the project.

I mean no exaggeration when I say they saved me many thousands of dollars, because they loaned me a camera package and penciled me in on the insurance policy.

So a few things were crossed off in pre-pro.

But there were a lot of unanswered questions about other logistics, like the locations, the crew, the accommodations.

I tapped some producers, a coordinator, but few were fully available to do a substantial amount of the heavy lifting. Again, that's no slight - when you're championing a project with very little money and a whole lot to do, you're probably going to have to produce it too.

Our shoot days were scheduled, and suddenly the dates seemed...frighteningly close. It got to a point where I considered several delays. Too many questions were unanswered, to the point where I wasn't completely sure how we'd be shooting a bunch of it. And the problems kept coming. The schedule didn't work. We lost our original production designer. 

Locations were a sizable chunk of pre-production too, actually. Because to really know that the location you've scouted out is viable and won't have problems on the shoot day, you need to go multiple times and get a feel for it. And for a road movie, where there are dozens if not hundreds of locations to deal with, you need to be driving a whole lot to be even 90% sure. So suddenly, I was becoming like the main character of the film. Go figure.

Next, there were the technical components of production that had to be sorted out.

How do you film out of a car at another car for cheap? We foolishly started with a hi-hat on an apple box, but the shakes and bumps of the car translated to unusably rocky footage. A shoulder rig was of course the natural choice, but shooting backwards was difficult because of the necessity of twisting around to get the camera in position. After a bit of trial and error, it was settled – a backwards mounted shoulder rig wins! It felt stupid, but somehow, it kind of worked.

Now that I think about it, that was a running theme throughout our initial shoot dates. Trial and error, and then sometimes moments where the stars somehow aligned.

Production had plenty of catastrophic issues. We lost a few locations we thought we could use. The number of shoot days meant the crew roster changed at a rate that was difficult to predict, and it meant we often wouldn't know whether we could shoot until hours before. Sometimes we didn't have access to a bathroom anywhere near the location, so we had to shuttle crew members to the nearest bathroom. Cars broke down at a rate that seemed to indicate there may be a curse.

And amongst all of the chaos, there were glimpses of some really fantastic stuff being shot.

At some point I realized that the lead actor (again, my roommate and a close friend), had actually really developed the character, and had legitimately progressed as an actor, through practice and honing in on a craft he was not even pursuing as a career beyond this. I saw the interactions between the actors turn into moments with characters. There was such a learning curve to shooting some of this stuff, but when the stars aligned, they aligned because somehow, inexplicably, some really talented people put their time into this.

The problems we had were, for lack of a better term, fucking bananas.

Multiple people got sick, including yours-truly with a covid diagnosis. We had enough setbacks for ten productions, and each time we delayed it cost me another pile of money, and it became increasingly more difficult to get a crew together to finish it. The production had gone on so long that it was anyone’s guess whether or not we would.

But hey, it wasn’t all doom and gloom after all. After what I’ll charitably refer to as a hiatus, we got back on track and shot everything else on the list. And now we're in post.

There's only a couple little inserts and establishing shots left. The whole thing is just sitting on the ‘ol hard drive. And when I take the time to watch all the way through the rough cut, I’m honestly unsure if it’ll all work, and I won’t be until it’s released.

But hey, whatever happens, I'm deeply, emphatically proud of the work we all did. A lot of people showed up for shooting styles that were far from traditional, and unpredictable experiences were had.

These were late nights, and it was cold, and there were a lot of locations and variables. Something like 60 people worked on it in total.

The single most valuable thing I learned doing this:

latch on to the people who are there, and trust them to do well. I wasn't always the best leader, but I had a lot of people who saw my blind spots and looked at them for me. The fact that so many people put their time into it is something that I lack the words to address properly. I look at this as one of the many case studies in independent spirit – it’s crazy, sometimes it happens that a group of people collectively loves movies so much that they make one.

Thanks for reading! 


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