Have you ever had a dream, something you ardently wished for, and experienced the realization of that dream in a way that far exceeded your expectations? That is what happened to me today, on the first day of shooting The Restless Hungarian recreations.
Károlyi, the driver, picked me up at 7:30 AM Budapest time. I got to our first location, a botanical garden on the edge of the city, to find Virág Marjai, the actress playing my mother, already in make-up.
A cappuccino machine and sandwiches had been brought in for the actors and crew, and the exterior “set”was already decked out with exotic plants and two large parrots in an ornate cage.
Fecó, the key grip, a lean long-haired man, conferred with me on the placement of metal rails that support a camera tracking dolly in the first set-up of the day.
Andor, my second cousin, set up my camera with meticulous care.
Daniel, the make-up man in charge of aging, presented his work to me on Tibor, the actor who would play my father. He looked ten years younger than when we met last week. Eszter Salamon,the costume lady presented me with alternative tops for the actress playing my mother, Virág Marjai … loose affairs over her one-piece, 1940s bathing suit. As usual she had strong preferences which I accepted.
While Virag was still in make up, we practiced the 25 second-long dolly shot. Fecó nailed the timing on every try. Bence, the gaffer, stepped in with a scrim to soften the light falling on a too-bright classical statue. Zsofi, queen of props and set decoration, looked at a playback of one the trial runs, and then sprang into action, giving orders to Csenge, the grips, and others to rearrange potted plants, a classical statue and the parrots. She added palm fronds at strategic points along the path of the dolly. When she was done, the camera glided though a lush tropical forest in the heart of central Europe.
For the rest of the morning I never picked up my tripod. I just showed the crew each set up… and the it was done. Having been pretty much a one-man band for all the documentary shooting on the film, this felt like an extraordinary luxury.
In the afternoon when we filmed a scene of five-year old Tom and his father in a hammock, Zsófia Szilágy, co-directed with me, working little Lőrinc Pap to make him comfortable in front of the camera in a way that I could never have done without speaking Hungarian. Zsófia, who I wrote about in a previous post, is both my casting director and a director in her own right, having won accolades at Cannes for her first film titled “One Day.”
In every department, costumes, make-up, grip, props and set decoration, exquisite attention to detail was the hallmark of the day. In the feature film industry, all this is standard operating procedure. But to me, a documentary filmmaker, making my most personal film on a miniscule budget, it was magical and wonderfully generous. I couldn’t stop thanking everyone for what an incredible job they were doing. The team was amused by my effusive gratitude for what they consider to be all in a day’s work.
That’s how it was on the first day. Tomorrow the call time is 5:30. We have four scenes to shoot. It will be harder.