An entire feature. Shot in one day.
Because of the time constraints it obviously had to be a simple project -- three actors and one location.
But to complicate things, we didn't have a script written going into it. I developed a basic story and characters beforehand with the actors (Marian Brock, Paul Herbig and Mickey Ryan) and the cinematographer (Alan McIntyre Smith). Dialogue was improvised, and we shot the movie in sequence so we could write as we went, stopping before each scene or sequence to figure out what needed to happen next.
We shot at Alan's apartment.
Alan had another self-imposed challenge: he wanted to go the entire day without using a single light. This led him to make some interesting decisions. For example, for the last scene, the sun had set, so in order to illuminate the location enough that we could see the actors' faces, Alan decided to light about 25 candles and use a slow shutter speed on the camera. This gave this scene, our only handheld shot in the movie, a completely magical quality that worked perfectly with the subject matter.
Obviously an entirely improvised movie will be a challenge to edit. And while we have enough footage to make a full feature-length film, I may find that it is better in a 30-40 minute version. We'll see once I start cutting.
I will say that I was really impressed by the willingness of the actors and cinematographer to really throw themselves into such a crazy idea. The actors especially were fearless in putting themselves on the line and making fully committed choices. They really gave up their egos to the service of the project, which is a really rare quality in an actor, even actors as talented and experienced as these.
We had a pretty short day to get everything done. Two of the actors had a job last night and we wanted to complete the shoot before Alan's fiancée came home from work. So we spent 11 hours, from 7am to 6pm, including lunch, to shoot.
Alan and I have a long working relationship, and I've also worked regularly with Mickey and have known Paul and Marian for several years. This was a major element which helped make it possible for us to pull this together in such a short time. Not to mention that my four collaborators are really amazing at what they do.