Working with kids and dogs on a film set

My film school doesn’t allow students to work on school projects with kids or animals until thesis year. Which I consider ridiculous. Even as extras, they’re part of the fabric of society and as a director, if you don’t know the pitfalls from personal experience, you’re useless for most mainstream projects and many indie things. And why would you want to be learning this thing while making your final project – your industry calling card? Anyhow. I don’t need film school to make films, luckily. And I’ve been curious about childhood lately – not in a morbid way, but because there was some crazy innocence in me deciding to spend my retirement savings and everything else becoming a filmmaker. And actually, kids take direction really well, at least, Storm and Layla did.

After the final shot. Everybody was still hanging round because my mom, who was the most amazing host, was giving us all cake and getting everybody to sign her table cloth. Long story about the tablecloth that involves embroidery.

What surprised me, after the whole experience, was how great it was to work with kids – at least, the kids I got to work with. I had done it before – helping a summer school USC student as AD, and thought I just got lucky with that child. And I assumed I’d struggle. But Layla and Storm were twice as professional as the average over-40 prima-donna LA veteran. Storm (who knows his way around a set) even insisted on slating for us because he has this boundless energy. Layla (who has never done film before) was a natural storyteller, so I asked her to improv a lot of scenes. It’s just play. It has to be honest. That’s not different to directing adults. The biggest thing I struggled with was not swearing, cause I swear a lot.

Dogs? Well that’s a lot more difficult.

My amazing crew – most of whom were also new to film – seemed to get that this was our film, not mine. For that, I’m eternally grateful.

I’m glad I tried making a film in South Africa. It’s different in so many ways to the USA – from what equipment is called to what is expected of roles. To the fact that here, I have a community, and there, I’m nobody to most people. I am sure it’s the best thing I’d done. And when I say I, I mean we. My producer, Ashlin Simpson, was so determined and fought against all odds to get this done. When budget issues hit us, we needed to cut the parents and she suggested using Cow and Chicken POV, so crew members could step into the roles. A creative solution to a financial problem.

My Director of Photography shotlisted with me days in advance, walked the location, talked story, gave days of his time… and brought his experience and expertise to the set.

My Assistant Director Michael Klein noticed performance issues and pointed them out when I was distracted by random problems. He ran the show without shouting.

Yay, filmmaking. In South Africa. Yay, getting up at 4.30am. Yay making something that didn’t exist before.

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One Response to “Working with kids and dogs on a film set”

  1. queen Says:

    children get a bad rap – they are awesome. we all started out as children anyway…

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