Day 1 - Saturday, September 27
The first morning is spent converting our apartment into Alice's, which means clearing all baby-related items into the rooms we're not using and bringing in the many props found by Michael and Jessica, the movie's producers who took on the task of dressing locations (again Jessica is my wife/producer and Jess is the lead actress). After returning in the afternoon from a failed trip to find more pictures for Alice - who, in between getting high and bumming around at the dinosaur store, is a photographer - to find the walls lined with stacks of books and the floors littered with dirty clothes. There are also skis sitting in a corner, paintings wedged haphazardly behind dressers and other props meant to suggest that Alice has tried and given up on many things. Shooting at home means waiting until after Luna's nap to begin, so I make a cup of tea and sit in the yard in a futile attempt to clear my head. An overcast day, I think. Good cloud cover.
Bella arrives around 3:30; we're still getting to know each other and I want to start on the right foot, so of course I find my mom talking to Bella and Jess about my recent vasectomy. Good, so now we know each other. Luna wakes, mom takes her out to play and we turn our attention to Black Light. The main challenge of the day is creating an intimacy between two actors who've only met the night before. I'd hoped the first day would be devoted to more casual scenes, but juggling the availability of actors and locations means starting on a sequence revolving around pillow talk about pubic hair, leading into an impromptu photo shoot. While I'm confident the "bush vs. shaved" scene, which was inspired by a drunken debate between friends, will play, the photo shoot is meant as the one fully improvised scene in the movie. Anyone with improv experience will tell you about the high failure-to-success ratio, so I figure it's going to take some time to get it right.
When Jess and Bella get into bed and we start blocking the scene, I know immediately that I've found the right Nikki and Alice. Their chemistry is immediate - each brings out sweetness and honesty in the other, and most important, they're really listening to each other right away. I tweak the blocking, asking Jess to let her head rest on the soft spot just above Bella's hip - the most comfortable place to rest one's head on another person, I've found - which helps Jess find the right morning-after tired horniness for the scene. Bella asks if I saw Nikki as naked in the scene. I tell her I'd pictured a t-shirt and underwear, and she says she assumed she'd be naked. I admit that bottomless would work better, that the undies were one of several small concessions to a potentially less self-assured performer. But the t-shirt, I think, is sexy, so she throws on one of Jess' tank tops. I love having an actress willing to go as far with Nikki as I'd imagined, and I feel a strong sense of responsibility in deciding when it will enhance the scene and when it will be completely gratuitous.
The other challenge of the day is that my DP, a near-lifelong friend who has been involved with Black Light for a year, has flaked out without any notice. With no time to find another DP and a small crew to begin with, this means dividing my attention between working with the actors and lighting each shot (though my plan to use available light when possible helps). As I light the scene, Jess and Bella create a sequence of poses for Nikki to model as Alice snaps away. As we begin shooting the "bush talk" part of the scene, I find that the orange walls of Alice's room, which I feared would be two strong, actually work well with the Lowel and source lights to create an orange glow on Jess and Bella's skin. Coupled with their performances, the scene is shaping up as far more intimate than I'd imagined, an essentially comic scene given an unexpected erotic charge. When Alice orders Nikki to "Say 'pussy' one more time," a line I'd meant as a deadpan joke, Jess plays it as a turn-on of Alice's, and it's stronger and better that way. Maybe these moments of detachment that I'd written in were what I needed to talk myself into getting to this point.
When we get to the photo shoot - a scene I'd feared might be a bit thin, or too familiar - I see how far Jess and Bella are willing to go for me and the movie. Bella is not only aided by her experience and ease with modeling for a camera, she's also one of the most open actors I've worked with; as Nikki is submitting herself to this inexperienced, awkward photographer's directions, I realize Bella's doing the same with me. What she percieved as caution was actually gratitude - Jess is the only other actor who's ever given me this level of trust right off the bat. And as she takes pictures of Bella, directing her to strip, smoke, lie on her stomach, lie on her back, and finally pinning her to the bed, I see in Jess a confidence and sexual aggressiveness that I'd never seen before. There's a slightly surreal feeling to Jess pacing around the room finding shots of Bella as I do the same to both of them; Jessica told me this movie would be therapudic, and I'm starting to get what she means.
The next scene is a brief but important one; while I want the other love scenes to mirror the physical awkwardness and immediacy of the real thing, I wanted to give Nikki and Alice one movie moment. The plan is to push in on Nikki and Alice, veiled in blue light, locked in a stylized embrace. The clouds prevent enough exposure from the moon, but Alice's tv casts a flickering blue light across the room.
Jess asks, "So what do you want us to do here?"
"Well, Nikki and Alice are kissing, and I pictured them in a sort of formal position."
Bella adds, "What kind of position?"
"Well, like they're locked in together."
Bella laughs. "Scissors!" Jess shakes her head no. After a few tries, they find a comfortable pose. I decide, rather than pushing in, to pan across the doorway, beginning and ending in darkness. I call action, and for two takes they kiss and touch each other. Bella will later tell me that she was just relying on a standard porno pose, but the camera read it as something different - hungry and even compassionate. As I review the footage later, I wonder to myself where attraction ends and begins - where Bella and Jess are able to connect Nikki and Alice's scenes to their own experiences and where it's pure acting. It's the sort of thing that's best left unspoken between a director and an actor - it's too much like talking during sex, in this case quite literally. But this ambiguity is one of the reasons that I'm a director; in real life I'm too polite to ask about such things, but the camera allows me to wonder.
One day down, eight to go.