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Jules of Light and Dark
- Indie Feature Film
- November 2016
- Best Boy

In November 2016, Emmar worked on the feature film Jules of Light and Dark.  He began as a grip and was given credit as a best boy.  It was a truly exciting experience around wonderful filmmakers.  When the other members of this crew are ever spotted in the wild, they recognize each other.  Below is a school paper Emmar wrote about the experience of making the film.


 The Film


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“The secret, which I can’t get used to, is that the people that do great things just do them until someone tells them to stop. They never ask permission in advance.”

-Bongani Mlambo, Filmmaker, at the wrap party for Jules of Light and Dark

“One thing that can’t be taught in school is assertiveness.”

-Richard Porter, Key Grip, on set of Jules of Light and Dark


Arriving at campus after a day of filmmaking is like Godzilla beaching himself on an unsuspecting Tokyo. The willpower and assertiveness required to be on a movie set doesn’t translate to the civilized university atmosphere. You feel as though you can barely fit through the door, and once inside, all art, food, power outlets, or anything else in that world, feels like it is at your disposal to use for the good of some cause that your brain hasn’t realized is over for the day. The looks of terror on the art students’ faces as your gaze crosses them is proof that a return to the sensitive artist is still an in-progress transition. François Truffaut’s Day for Night (1973), a movie about making movies, speaks to this level of assertiveness. One of the first things the director Ferrand, as played by Truffaut himself, does is instruct his crew to swipe a hotel vase as set dressing for the film they are making titled “Meet Pamela.” Later, upon looking at a couple of possible hero cars for the film, Ferrand decides that the blue car as driven by his assistant director would be the best aesthetic car for the film, which they proceed to drive off a cliff. Day for Night is forty-three years old, and the art of making movies has changed, but has it changed enough that this film is outdated? After my experiences working on Daniel Laabs’ feature Jules of Light and Dark this semester, I would say the film is completely accurate in the spirit of making movies in the modern age.

Day for Night begins with the opening credits over the optical soundtrack, the way movies used to have the sound on the film stock. There is the sound of the conductor conducting, starting off with showing, through sound, how this is a movie about constructing a work. We meet the director Ferrand, as played by Truffaut, Alphonse, an actor that began his career as a child star and maintains a childish edge, and Julie, an English movie star that has had past troubles with mental illness. Also, there is Alexandre, a wise older actor that is keeping a secret about his personal life, Severine, an older Italian actress of wisdom and renown, and Liliane, the Script Supervisor and Alphonse’ girlfriend. Alphonse’ story is about his codependence on his girlfriend, and even involves him asking the question, “Are women magic?” to most of the cast and crew of the film. When Liliane runs off with the stunt man, Alphonse has a mental break, and Julie sleeps with him out of pity. Alphonse calls her husband and tells him about the affair, which leads Julie into an emotional melt down. Julie’s story involves being a bit of an outcast British actress on a French set. Alexandre spends his time off meeting a mysterious character at the airport, who turns out to be his boyfriend. Severine struggles with alcoholism while performing her role, though it is revealed that her son is dying of cancer and the wine she drinks is her way of coping. Ferrand maintains his compassion and gentleness while working in the chaos of directing a film. Truffaut wears a hearing aid throughout the film, though he did not wear one in real life. This symbolizes the isolation of the director. In a series of dream sequences, he exhibits a fear or delight that he is stealing from Citizen Kane. The rest of the characters are crew members, and here we have an Art Director, an Assistant Director, a 2nd Assistant Director, the camera crew, the Producer, and, momentarily, a cat wrangler. The film’s final act involves the death of Alexandre in a car accident, and the fall out and eventual rally made by the cast and crew to finish the film without their friend. This is a film that has the warm-blooded drama of the French New Wave, with true relationships and a character driven story, but where it lives is in montage. Truffaut made a film to pull the curtain back on the secrets of making movies. There is a montage of set work, a montage of editing, and even a montage that shows biographies of famous directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, who Truffaut interviewed for his famous work Hitchcock/Truffaut.

The beginning of Day for Night is much like the beginning of my time working as a grip on Jules of Light and Dark. The crew shows up, people that have met tell old stories. One of the crew stories I heard involved one Producer, Adrian, and the Key Grip, Richard, meeting a strange outsider carrying two pillows near the set of a film they were working on. The pillow carrier asked what exciting movie they were working on, and as is protocol and to attempt to bore any passersby to avoid questions, they replied, “A mayonnaise commercial.” The pillow carrier replied, “Shiiit, I don’t even like mayonnaise anyway, I like mustard.” Then he proceeded to sachet away. In Day for Night, Alexandre and Severine know each other, some members of the crew know each other, and camaraderie begins to form, even with new members. When the Producer informs Ferrand that the production will have a seven week schedule, they pass under a latter, and Ferrand figures out that the last day of production will be October 31st. All omens of the future bad luck the production will experience. Jules of Light and Dark only had eighteen days of production, and was shot on location as opposed to Day for Night’s backlot. On set, I watched as they dressed a closed hospital, an Olympic sized swimming pool, a couple of farms, a Chipotle, a bowling alley, an old Irish pub, and the Assistant Director’s loft as sets for the film. Jeff, the Assistant Director, endured what would be closest to Day for Night’s Assistant Director having his car thrown from a cliff. Jeff’s home was turned into a massive college party, trashing the entire thing in the name of film. The next morning, Jeff admitted to sleeping in the laundry room to hide from the chaotic state of his residence. Day for Night shows the dressing of sets in the more extreme ways, showing fake rain, fake snow, and as in the title, shooting daytime for nighttime.

Day for Night shows a few of the tricks of the trade in filmmaking that are still in various use today. A candlestick is outfitted with an electric light so that it may be lit, but also beam electric light directly onto the actor’s face. In my experience, I learned that soda cans can be cut to create a device to shape the light from practical bulbs in lamps. We also created a great deal of day for night ourselves, wrapping windows in black out material, and taping straw colored gels to windows and blasting light through to create the sense of sunlight. We used a wheelchair as a dolly, with DP Noe Medrano in the seat wearing an easy rig for the Arri Alexa. I was pushing the dolly through hospital corridors, chasing an actress wheeling herself in the hospital very quickly in a wheelchair. I was surrounded by crew, all watching the monitors as I ran to stay in pace and keep the subject in frame. There’s nothing quite like launching $75,000 worth of gear, plus crew, at a wall as fast as one can run, hoping one’s shoe leather can stop the rig in time not to smash any of that kit or DP. At the absolutely enormous Olympic sized swimming pool, I watched the crew get underwater shots by placing a fish tank into the water, with two crew around it, and then placing a DSLR into the fish tank. They filmed the lead actress jumping from the high dive board, getting slow motion footage beneath the water. Another piece of advice I received from a grip on the first day: what a “safety meeting” is. The term “safety meeting” is a code word for the 420 enabled to meet up and smoke marijuana. The grip I met that explained this to me said that he had only ever ended up in one real safety meeting with that code.

In Day for Night, Liliane has a safety meeting with the set photographer during rushes. Then Alphonse has a bit of a jealous reaction. Another character under the influence heavily in the film is Severine. She drinks a great deal of wine on set and can’t seem to remember her lines. This causes an incredible number of takes. She tries to get the crew to dub her lines, the way she had experienced on Italian movies, but Ferrand insists that she must say her lines in this film. The scene comes to a head when Severine breaks down crying on the Art Director’s shoulder. There is, at first, an irritation at this effect on the crews’ work day, but then an understanding of her humanity as we come to realize that she is coping with personal problems. On Jules of Light and Dark, we shot in an old bar in Oak Cliff. None of the actors or crew were inebriated, the actors were very professional and fun to work with. But the patrons of the bar were rowdy septuagenarians. The actors were mocked during takes, the place was filled with smoke and profanity. One overheard comment by an occupant: “You mean we ain’t allowed to say sonsabitches in this mutherfucker?” Crew call was at 10 in the morning, some of the customers that were in the bar when we arrived were still in the bar when we left at 10 at night. Jeff got angry at a customer that started giving the 2nd Assistant Director, Cristen, a creepy back massage and then taking her picture. Fights were almost had. An elderly firebrand of a woman piledrove through a take, then at the end of the day let it be known that her songs on the jukebox didn’t play, and claimed the production owed her five dollars. They could leave it at the bar, and tell them it was for Annie. Though despite moving lights and equipment all through the place, I avoided altercations at all the sites. I only had to speak with one set of curious employees, at the Chipotle set. Two of them approached me and asked what movie we were filming. I said, “We’re making a mayonnaise commercial.” Their response was, “Oh yeah, what kind of mayonnaise?” “Spicy,” I replied. Their eyes lit up, “That’s why they’re shooting it at Chipotle!”

There was some concern that, since the movie has LBGTQ themes, that we had to be careful how we spoke to the locals about the film. The people on the two farms may not be that keen on the subject matter, and definitely not the people in the bar. In Day for Night, it is revealed that Alexandre is gay and has a young boyfriend that he picks up from the airport. The response from the crew is totally progressive. All the crew members express acceptance. One of the most divisive historic events of our time happened while working on Jules of Light and Dark: Trump won the election. Much of the cast and crew were angry and upset the next day on set. There was the sense that much of the progress made on LGBTQ issues would be lost, or that those that are opposed to LGBTQ rights would be validated and empowered. There was sense of dread on those first post-election days. As for how we spoke to the locals, we mostly said the film was about rave culture, as it was a film filled with parties. There’s the aforementioned college party, with extras as dancers inside, and bright orange and purple lights, all visible from the street. Adrian told a group of real party going young men that the police had already broken up the party, the young men sped away disappointed. In the bowling alley, I had to bowl in the background as an extra. In Day for Night, the Make-up Artist took on the extra role as a maid. The use of crew members as extra extended into that time period, too. For Jules, there was a barn party, with projection art as lighting, a disco lit horse, and a bonfire. An actor danced in his underwear around this fire, giving an incredible performance, as though summoning the spirit of the fire. This was met with the entire crew showing up to watch and applauding this amazing performance. The crew also had a couple of real parties.

One thing about working on a film, that is reflected in Day for Night, is that there is a love for group photos. Everyone gets invited in for the big crew shot. After the bonfire underwear dance, we all gathered together for a giant group photo in front of the fire. At every party we did the same. In Day for Night, on Severine’s last day on production, there is a huge group photo on a lavish staircase. One of the Jules of Light and Dark parties was a pre-Thanksgiving potluck. I had no time to make anything at all, so I had a cookie cake made in the shape of the Super Moon, the other historic event from during the shoot, and with the name Jules in light and dark icing. It was a hit on arrival, and I discovered that the main cast made an amazing amount of food for all of us. It was a warm evening of eating, chatting and learning more about everyone. I got to speak more with Cristen about the Ewok hat she wore on production, and she joked about how she has the strange desire to spear things and ride a glider around. She said that her phone was destroyed on a day I wasn’t there, and just knew that that wouldn’t have happened if I was on set. Adrian performed magic tricks that he learned from a famous British magician. I spent some time speaking with Daniel Laabs, who I spent some time in film school with years ago. The director job is sort of isolated, and we had little time to speak on set. Daniel spoke about film history, and being well read in cinema. He mentioned Hitchcock/Truffaut, and several other films that inspired this one. There’s a moment in Day for Night in which Truffaut receives a package of books on filmmaking, and another montage occurs with a love theme playing over it. We see works about Bunuel, Godard, Hitchcock, Bergman, and others. While conversing with Daniel at the pre-Thanksgiving party, it occurred to me that being well read is probably more important than being an incredible craftsman. All of the most influential people on the set are all well read in cinema, they know their movies. When I met Jeff, we had a conversation about Medium Cool. I spoke with a set photographer about Canon Films. We had small conversations about local productions like Upstream Colour, which Jeff and Bongani both had done extensive camera work on. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came up. Being well read in cinema, art, and even reading itself provided access to another subset of people, and gave us mutual experiences to bond over. After all this high minded cinema conversation, and after we had all had plenty of wine, Daniel introduced us to a card game. In the card game, some players are werewolves, and most are villagers. We all close our eyes, and when we “wake up” we find out who the werewolves ate and try to figure out who the werewolves are. Then we had a round robin of what we were all thankful for. It was very warm, and everyone was thankful for each other. I said I was thankful for serendipity, because my time with these people seemed to bloom from absolutely no planning or effort on my part. It just came about and I was grateful.

The cat scene of Day for Night is one of the most iconic moments of the film. The crew attempts to accomplish a shot where the camera starts with Julie, who sets a tray with a saucer of milk just outside of the door to her apartment, then tilts down to allow for a small kitten to approach the saucer and drink the milk. The kitten does not behave. Take after take is wasted as the kitten does not hit its marks. Finally, a cat that hangs around the set is brought in and performs perfectly. During the making of Jules of Light and Dark, there were several animal performers. Central to the film is a dog, a collie. The dog met the crew, and a look of panic struck Adrian’s face. I moved past a small meeting of the above the line crew. I heard Jeff say, “Wait, THAT dog?” Apparently, there was a dog from half a decade before, one of legend, that caused a production to go over budget and over time. Adrian’s eyes filled with the dread of seeing some deep seated monster in the eyes of this pooch. But they had no other options. With much trepidation, they went forward with this sincerely sweet animal. In the five years since whatever disaster and devastation lay behind her, the collie turned out to be a professional. She was able to do everything on command and became a beloved cast member. Later, a couple of other animal performers had their film debuts. At one of the farm locations, a domesticated deer and a miniature horse were friends. This was not something cooked up in a safety meeting, the two animals hung out and spent their days in support of one another. While the crew was shooting scenes in a trailer at the farm, I took a trip into the RV where the office was set up. I met up with the DIT named Sam, and I got to see some of the footage from the film. Sam was spending most of the day syncing audio from each day. I got to see the lovely footage from the underwater swim shoot. I saw the slow-motion bubbles of the lead actress splash into the water from the high diving board, all from under the water. The footage was beautiful, and peaceful, there was no sound added yet. In Day for Night, one of the montages involves seeing footage with the editor, and also involves a swimming pool scene. They are checking to see if the pregnancy of the actress swimming will be noticeable in the final film, as her character isn’t pregnant. As production on “Meet Pamela” nears an end, actors wave and wish everyone luck. In my experience, as production came to an end, every fully wrapped actor would get a standing ovation.

The last day I was on set was very much in the spirit of Day for Night. There was shooting all day, and then right around magic hour, we had so much mad scrambling to get important filmic tissue before the sun drifted below the horizon. A car was supposed to be involved in a wreck. Cristen, who had also worked in special effects, set up Daniel’s car to appear as though it had a collision with a tree. This shot was to be done a few minutes away from set. I rode with another crew member, and I started laughing with excitement when I saw the actual “wreck” with smoke pouring from it. The car had hoses run through the engine connected with a pair of fog machines. Cristen would switch them on before each take to appear as though the car’s engine was on fire. The effect was very convincing. Of course, on a film everything is shot out of order, so filming the aftermath of the wreck was shot before shooting the moment of impact. It was explained that these scenes actually take place at dawn, and they shot them so the sun would be coming up, even though we were shooting in the evening. We wouldn’t show the collision, but we were going to have the camera on another character in his own vehicle, and the soon to be ‘wrecked’ car zooming past his window. On the first take, the lead actress passes by in Daniel’s car, gingerly driving by with a lovely sunset behind them, and just as the scene hit the moment of impact, Daniel surprise shouted “BAAAANNNNGG!” leading myself and other crew covering our mouths to keep from laughing. But the actor in frame gave the intended startled reaction. For the second take, a decision was made that the lead actress didn’t drive fast enough, so Adrian volunteered to take on the task of stunt driver. Action was called, and Adrian gunned the car, zipping past the window in frame, kicking up country road dust, debris, and shock for all of us. Soon after, Daniel gave another, “BAAANNNGGGG!” Jeff muttered, “My assistant director side is angry, and I want to shout at Adrian and tell him that that was not okay, but my producer side is like ‘did we get the shot?’”

“What a funny life we lead! We meet, we work together, we love each other, and then as soon as we grasp something it’s gone!” Severine says during a farewell party in Day for Night. There is a warmth to the character’s friendship, perhaps because they know that there’s an expiration date to this time together. I wasn’t on set for the last day of filming, instead I waited by my phone for location and time for the wrap party. When I received a text from Jeff, it was like finding out that a baby had been born. Congratulations all around. I went to the wrap bar and it was quite a warm celebration. It was ping pong and beer, and laughing. So much conversation. Just before I left, I spoke with a producer named Judd. I said, “We went so many places: a bowling alley, an old bar, a huge swimming pool!” Judd continued, “We had huge parties, and crazy tent camping scenes!” I continued, “And we were werewolves!” Judd quickly replied, “And we were eaten by werewolves!” After that night, a lot people caught planes and left town. Adrian said that he was going to tell them to stay away from the edit for two weeks, that everyone needs fresh eyes before that phase begins.

Day for Night provides the experience of this feeling, this unique way films come about and are made. If one could translate that feeling, Truffaut makes that life accessible to an audience, even in modern times. One thing is repeated in the film over and over by several characters, “There is no money in it, I make films because I love it.” The same could be heard on a real set on several occasions. Between 1973 and 2016, very little has changed behind the scenes.

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