Making Shabbat Dinner Part 2: Production in 2 days

Making Shabbat Dinner Part 2: Production in 2 days

A four-part series on just what went into making a short film. You can also read part 1, preproduction, part 3, finishing the film, and part 4, distribution.


Pre-production was well underway and Aidan began putting together the shoot. He found a cinematographer, costume designer, assistant cameraperson, sound recordist and boom operator, transportation coordinator, production assistant, and assistant makeup artist (my friend Alejandro did the makeup.) He put together a call sheet and came with Kris and I the night before the shoot to dress the set.

The room we wanted to use for William’s room was a kids’ room that held three-year-olds, and it barely resembled the 15-year-old’s room that Aidan crafted. He turned one of the cribs into a bed, hung posters, and filled the bookshelf with appropriate books. We borrowed toys from my friends who lived upstairs and bought a few others. (The Newton’s Cradle arrived in the mail broken, which was perfect as they usually end up broken after a week or so anyways.) I wanted an old mac computer to place the film firmly in the 1990s and posted about it on Facebook; luckily, a friend saw the post and noticed a computer monitor being thrown away in Williamsburg. I raced over and grabbed it.

Kris, the cinematographer, and I, went over the shooting style and discussed the cinematic language we wanted to use in making the film: the kids’ room with long, static shots, solid, clean lines, and a color palette of blue and red, and the living room with frenetic movement, mostly reaction shots, extreme closeups, and a color palette of yellow and red. The roughness of the movement and shooting style was going to correspond with the parents’ emotional states and level of drunkenness.

Stella, the costume designer, and I, went in an iterative process of costume design. She is an expert in clothing and was able to figure out exactly what clothes each of the characters would wear, picking the right shoes, shirts, pants, etc. for their personalities, and in the correct trends of the 1990s! When she sent me a photo of a long sleeve plaid button-down shirt with a t-shirt underneath I was elated – that was my childhood summed up in clothing!

With the kickstarter campaign wrapping up, we held a read-through for the cast to meet each other (with everyone but Eva, who had not yet returned to New York.) We ran through the whole film a few times over and then dived into individual moments; because the shooting schedule was so tight, this was going to be our only real opportunity to work on character. Stella turned my room into a costume fitting shop, with safety pins and bits of clothing everywhere. I was very happy with the read-through and thought that the cast had the characters down.

The rest of the week before shooting was a frenzy of activity, though more for Aidan than for me. He bought remaining set pieces and coordinated camera rental, and I borrowed the lights from a friend. I gave the script another polish and created the final production draft.


And finally came the day of the shoot. Shooting is the most stressful part of a production for me. We had spent two months on the film so far (part time) and I knew that I was going to be spending at least two more months, more or less full time, editing the film. The more we could accomplish during shooting, the less work I would have to do in post to edit around mistakes we’d made. And if we couldn’t at least shoot every scene, the whole project would be bust unless we came up with a creative way to tell the story differently.

But shooting is also the most fun of the whole project. We had an incredible time and all the actors dove straight into their parts with gusto. Thanks to the incredible professionalism of the shoot and the actors and crew, we were able to pull off shooting some scenes in only twenty minutes (though others took over three hours.) Aidan’s notification that we had all the time that we needed to shoot a scene was, a few hours later, replaced by an urging to move on to the next one, and so it was that our pace oscillated between lackadaisical and breakneck. There were heated moments, as there always are, but we pulled through and came out with some incredible footage (and some footage that needed work, which was unavoidable given the time constraints.)

Two long days, and Alejandro and I headed back to my place to celebrate the end of the shoot. We feasted that night on the prop chicken and green beans, and I took two days without even looking at the footage.

Stay tuned for Part 3!