The assistant director is having a moment.
Life on a film set is a strange mixture of frantic action and abject boredom. People had told me this before, but it wasn’t till Fort Bragg that I came to appreciate it myself. You race around to get the shot set up, and then most of the time you end up waiting: waiting for the actors to be ready, waiting for the light to be right, waiting for traffic to pass, waiting for the fucking sound guy to get his act together.
Thus it is that filmmaking, although often a high-speed, high-pressure activity, allows many moments for quiet contemplation. This is especially true during that one minute out of the day when the F.S.G. calls for quiet on the set so he can record the room tone, i.e. what it sounds like in this particular location without any added noise. It’s only in situations like this that you begin to appreciate just how long a minute can be — long enough to have a dozen different cascading trains of thought, to experience epiphanies and regrets and fantasies and anything else the human mind is capable of.
(This was captured very well in Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion, which is the Spinal Tap of movies about movies. Toward the end the audio engineer of the film within the film takes room tone, and DiCillo uses this period of enforced silence to cut around to the various characters and get us to think about what they’ve been through. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Living in Oblivion in a while; note to self.)
Anyway, I found myself looking around amazed at the contrast between the image that was in front of the camera — sometimes just a single actor, or a spider web, or a rock — and everything out of the frame that made that image possible. It struck me that all those people standing around looking at the monitor, or listening to headphones, or holding reflectors and diffusers, or just patiently holding still till the shot was over, were all servants of the camera. The director is the high priest, the rest of the crew are acolytes, and the actors occupy a privileged position, because they will be Seen. In this sense, only what goes into the lens is real; everything else, though you can see it, is an illusion.
Why do we do it? Why do we bow down to the magical recording machine, carry it around with gentle reverence like some aged maharishi, and run ourselves ragged to serve its needs? Simple: immortality. The recorded image has the potential to last forever, and we will fade away. These are the kinds of morbid thoughts you can have when things get too quiet. Now, I think, I will go watch something funny on the television.