The Storm Before the Storm

The month before we began shooting West of Her was the most panicked of my life. Suddenly, everything I’d told myself we’d have time for later needed to be done right now. And every time I thought I knew everything that should be on the to-do list, something else cropped up, items multiplying like hydras’ heads. So let’s take it item-by-item:

Our lawyer, Josh, informed me late that spring that we really needed script clearance, and he pointed me towards a service. I sent the script to off, and, for a fee, this company read it and flagged anything that might have gotten us sued. Most were pretty obvious duh items that I had only used as placeholders in the script—Jane eating a popular brand of cereal, Dan watching The Searchers on TV—but the one that really struck me was the strong suggestion that I change Dan’s name, as they’d found record of a real individual named Dan Lincoln living in Chicago, where the film begins. My mind was boggled by the idea that someone would get litigious over that, and I couldn’t bring myself to change the name. Mr. Lincoln, if you’re reading this, please forgive me. I really like your name.

One painfully dull and painfully complicated issue was insurance, which was tangled up with the only-slightly-less-dull issues of equipment rentals and shooting permits. Cam had put together the equipment list and put in a rental order for camera equipment through a company called SIM Digital, who agreed to ship everything to the hotel in Chicago where we’d all be gathering at the beginning of July (we rented our lighting gear from a company in Chicago). But, of course, all that state-of-the-art equipment needed to be insured, and I made good friends with Otto, a broker at Reiff & Associates agency. I probably talked more to Otto than my girlfriend in June, eventually securing insurance for damages of up to a million dollars for each one of the national and Native American parks we wanted to shoot on. I wish I could make this part interesting and dramatic, but it really was just a numbing process of phone calls and scanned documentation. Nothing personal, Otto. You were really cool to work with.

And finally, hey, I had to hire all the other people we needed to make this movie. Cam found several crew members through his network—his camera assistant, Adam, who had more on-set experience than any of us; our assistant director, Mario, whom he’d worked with many times; and our sound guy, Tanner, who came highly recommended. Dave brought along our production assistant (essentially an intern on a film set, who does all the tiresome work nobody else wants to) in Devin, his longtime friend who’d been musing about his desire for an adventure that summer. That just left hair/makeup, and grip (i.e. electrician). For these positions, I posted on, an industry standard crew directory. I put out the call in Chicago, since I didn’t want to have to pay for more transportation than I had to.

And that’s how I ended up finding Hillary, who would tell me later her circle of hair & makeup colleagues were saying, “Did you see this ad for a road trip movie? God, doesn’t that sound awful?” And she told them, “Yeah, I saw it. It sounds awesome.”

On the grip front, I offered the job to a woman who ended up having to decline, but she told me, “I recommend you contact Anneliese Sloves. She’s one of the best crew members I’ve ever worked with.” And we had to start in, like, two days, so I called Anneliese without looking into her whatsoever, and said, “Hey Annelise, I’m making a road movie, want to gaffer/grip?” And she said, “Is it paid?” And I said, “Yup,” so she said, “Sure!” I told her to meet as at the hotel in Chicago.

And then we were staffed up, had insured equipment, and were crossing our fingers that we wouldn’t get sued. So…it was time to go make a movie. Check back next time. The fun stuff is about to start. The really scary fun stuff.