It was 55 degrees in Chicago. Not terribly cold. Not terribly warm. Both actors were about to fall backwards, off a pier, and into a lake.
Oh, by the way... one of the actors, Michael Patrick Thornton, is paralyzed from the waist down. When he agreed to the project we talked about changing this scene. He said, "Not a chance." He was all about it. What an incredible human being! He starred alongside Hilary Swank in AWAY on Netflix, and he was willing to do this for our little film. I saw his Mom after we wrapped. She nearly strangled me.
Back to the pier...
On the spot I decided that if I was asking them to go into the lake, then I was going to do the same. I closed my eyes and fell backwards.
The water was freezing cold, and my neck stung from the whiplash. I surfaced, exclaiming it wasn't that cold. The cast and crew laughed, knowing full well I was lying.
We were set up for the shot at that point. I waded over to the actors on the edge of the pier. Their eyes were filled with nervousness and excitement.
I told them it was a hell of a rush. I wasn't lying this time. I also told them to tuck their heads into their chests to avoid the whiplash. (We had a stunt coordinator on set, and our first AD, Sarah James, did an incredible job of organizing a meeting to go over the stunt with the cast and crew).
We had to get this in one take. We were screwed if we didn't. The actors took their marks.
Michael Patrick Thornton and Brittany Burch fell backwards. They fell together. They surfaced together. They finished the scene like absolute pros.
We nailed the scene thanks to an incredible team effort.
It was the last shot of the day. It was the last shot of the entire shoot. What a note to end on.
The actors got in their cars where the heat was already cranking. They called me over, and I stood in between their cars. We shared a moment that I will never forget.
Our hair was soaked. Our bodies were still shaking. As we talked, our faces were filled with thrill and exhilaration. A bond was formed because of what we went through together.
I walked away with a huge smile. We truly were a team. We were an unstoppable force. Moments like this is exactly why I wanted to become a filmmaker.
Then my smile faded.
Why didn't we shoot that scene on day one?
I chalked it up to a lesson learned and went to the pier to watch the sun set, grateful to have been around such talented and giving people. You better believe that smile came back.