We had one night to shoot our film's most important scene. Then it started pouring rain
Embracing the unplanned chaos led to an irreplaceable moment in Something You Said Last Night
Cutaways is a personal essay series where filmmakers tell the story of how their film was made. This TIFF 2022 edition by Luis De Flippis focuses on her film Something You Said Last Night, which intimately follows an Italian-Canadian family as they unravel on a summer vacation.
I swiped my phone's screen for the umpteenth time, only to find that the weather forecast still suggested rain. I sighed, rested my head against the car window, and watched as the yellow street lamps whirred by. When we drove by what I judged to be "enough" street lamps, I pulled out my phone again; I took a breath, and gave the screen another swipe. The weather forecast shone back at me, brightly and brazenly, confirming that yes, it was indeed going to rain.
This was in September 2021, when I was shooting my first feature film Something You Said Last Night. The film follows Renata (Carmen Madonia), who joins her family on a one-week resort holiday where she confronts the realities of being both a stunted millennial and a trans woman. We had been on set for nearly two weeks of our 19-day shoot. The cast and crew were on location at a resort two hours north of Toronto. It was there that we were living, working, and dancing away our weekends at the resort clubhouse, Mary Lou's, where we would drown our martinis in olive juice — extra dirty, please!
After the first couple of shaky shoot days, I had quickly come to know the ever-changing tide of feature film production — the ebb and flow of disasters and miracles. The crew had shown themselves to be quite spectacular; they never took out their stresses on me nor the project. We were stretched thin but everyone believed in the vision, and as a first-time feature director, that was more than I could have asked for.
I clicked my phone shut and promised myself to not check the weather again. I plopped my tired phone into my lap, crossed my arms over my chest (as extra assurance), and tried to remind myself how lucky I was.
That night we were shooting an important scene — the climax of one of Ren's arcs. It was a challenging scene that asked a lot from the performers. We had to manoeuvre three cars and corral a group of rowdy boys drinking and partying in a parking lot. The stress of the night was compounded by the fact that it was our only overnight shoot. And on top of it all, it was suddenly forecasted to rain.
The realities of our tight 19-day shoot — and the impossibility of re-booking extras, picture cars, and the location — meant that rescheduling was not an option. I tried to stay calm and rationalize that we had already come up against difficult days; it was an unusually grey and cold September and the film was taking place in the height of summer.
The weather held out for the walkthrough, the rehearsal, the lighting... and just when we thought we were safe and that the weatherman had gotten it all wrong, rain poured down on us, unrelenting and in droves.
I entered the holding area and took in the waterlogged faces around me. The miserable silence was punctuated by rain hitting the metal roof of the craft market we had taken over. A craft market is a weird place at 3 in the morning — the cheery handmade items in sad but comical opposition against the tired crew slowly stirring and staring into cups of instant ramen noodles.
The heads of the department drifted into a circle to discuss a game plan. The rain continued to pour, reminding us that our options were limited. Mara, our costume designer, stressed the impossibility of keeping all of the extras dry; Matthew, our production designer, stressed the same for the cars. Different options were suggested — to wait it out, to try and reschedule. Jessica, our quick-on-her-feet producer, suggested a fast re-write that would bring the scene under an overhang.
"What do you think, Luis?" she asked. Suddenly, I felt everyone's eyes on me.
The hard discussion had gotten to the point I was dreading. I would have to make the final call.
I stared at my feet and remembered the simple mantra that I think sums up the director's responsibility best: "My job is to know what I want." What did I want? I wanted to shoot the scene, to make a good movie, and for the rain to stop. Unfortunately, when shooting a film you rarely get everything you want. I would have to settle on one of my wishes for now and would hope for two of the three later.
I took a breath and simply said, "No."
I had gone through all the options in my head and realized that the only viable one was to lean in. Though I had written the scene to be a hot and sticky summer night, what we were given was damp and wet — and that's what the scene would now be.
We broke from the circle with a new energy and a new goal: to shoot the scene in the rain and scrap what all of our preconceived notions had been. Watching that scene now, it's impossible to imagine it without the rain. It adds a texture, a slick layer of dread that cannot be replaced and that no small indie budget would be able to produce. The rain was a gift from the film gods; we just didn't realize it at the time.
We returned to the resort exhausted and worn out. It had been a tough shoot, but we had made it through. Everyone shuffled back to their rooms, their shoes squelching. As I turned to head to my room, Priscilla and Rielle, our line producer and production coordinator (otherwise known as the quiet heroes of the shoot), were bringing in the last of the craft and held out a cup of instant ramen noodles.
I plopped down on my couch, enjoying the warmth of the noodles more than the taste. I suddenly realized I was still wearing my wet clothes, and was about to change when I noticed the sky lighten. The rain had stopped and an early dawn calm had settled.
I remembered the lesson I had just learned and decided to lean in, once again, to what the universe had offered: a view of the sun as it rose over the trees, the most perfect cup of instant ramen noodles, and wet feet cocooned in some very soggy socks.
This year's Toronto International Film Festival runs September 8–18. Find showtimes for Something You Said Last Night here.
Missed it at TIFF? Catch it at the Atlantic International Film Festival (September 15–22) and the Vancouver International Film Festival (Sept 29–October 9).