Darren Dean is a producer who worked on Kinyarwanda, winner of the 2011 World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic at the Sundance Film Festival.
We all think and say stupid things. I think one of the first things I thought when I got to Rwanda to work on Kinyarwanda was, “Gee, there really is no filmmaking infrastructure here.” I repeated that for a few interviews early on and then realized what an ignorant statement it was. There was a filmmaking infrastructure—just not mine.
A bit of a wake-up call, I’d hoped that it was the end of my silly rhetoric, but my new kick has been thus: I recently got back from the Ukraine, where I was blessed with teaching two Master Classes, entitled “Shooting Outside Your Comfort Zone: Making the Impossible Possible.” When planning to write this blog – geared to enlighten other filmmakers—the original plan was to give it the same title. What a load of crap.
Thing is, I don’t know the first thing about shooting outside my comfort zone or in different infrastructures. Here’s what I can tell you:
Every change of venue, every change of actor, every change of production team provides a different set of challenges. Shooting in Rwanda is going to throw you off. So will shooting in Milwaukee (unless you’re from Milwaukee). So will my shooting in your backyard or your shooting in mine.
The best advice I can give? Be prepared for the worst. That way you can (hopefully) give your best. One of our actors, Cassandra Freeman, and I consistently trade quips on what often seems like a string of bad luck. What once was, “Ain’t that some sh*t?” has turned into, “Ain’t that some Kinyarwanda sh*t?”
So when a producer (me) gets his actress (Cassandra) to set early – so early that it’s three hours ahead of the rest of the team, stranding her on a dirt road in Rwanda – Ain’t that some Kinyarwanda sh*t?
When a producer (Tommy Oliver) is forced to fly to Kenya for the best possible deal on equipment—leading to a week-long journey back through the jungle by truck (I kid you not) – Ain’t that some Kinyarwanda sh*t?
When the batteries for the Red One that Ted Hope gets donated to the production (along with two outstanding FSU students) get held up in customs (the batteries, not the students) for the duration of the shoot, meaning a PA had to follow the camera with a rechargeable battery pack the whole time – Ain’t that some Kinyarwanda sh*t?
(By the way – did we every get those batteries back? Sigh. More Kinyarwanda sh*t.)
We’ve tragically lost our AD, Steve Ntasi, whose greatest desire was to see this film released. Our youngest actor, Hassan Kabera, sat in a coma with a fractured skull for several days after being struck by a motorcycle. We’ve been stranded on the road with this film and while making this film. We crammed 30 people into a condo at Sundance last year, leading to numerable colds and several backs being thrown out.
And we’ve fought.
We’ve fought history and the elements and the system and journalists and distributors and Genocide revisionists and each other.
But we’re here.
Sure, there’s an element of Murphy’s Law. And there is ugliness. But man, the beauty? I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Though all the BS, I’ve worked with an incredibly talented director and some of the strongest people I have ever met. I’ve learned enough lessons from a single mother who has been able to balance raising her child with a 9-to-5 job and co-producing this film to last a lifetime. I’ve seen new stars and creative talents born.
I get to complete that journey with that amazing team this weekend. I get to tell my friends on these shores stories about my late Rwandan friend Steve. When I’m in my seventies and chasing kids off my lawn with a rifle, I will reminisce about the kid I almost brought home from Rwanda – Hassan.
We all get our share of these stories to share.
And though our fingernails and teeth are chipped and cracked and caked with dirt from the fight and the climb and the crawl—we ARE here.
Now, ain’t that some Kinyarwanda sh*t?
What does that teach you?
It will come to you like a tsunami. It will hit you like a brick.
I can’t offer any kind of road map. There is none.
But here’s some gas. Enjoy the ride.