Before The Pandemic.
Updated: Apr 11, 2022
Written By: Danny Chandia
Looking back on those early days of news coming in that this “coronavirus” was shutting down entire countries... it wasn’t really sinking in at first. Sure, it felt like some apocalyptic movie was playing itself out on the major networks — but it wasn’t happening here.
It didn’t feel real yet.
. . . .
February 27th, 2020
I’m crowded into a small, old house with the biggest crew I have ever worked with, starting principal photography on the most difficult project I have ever attempted.
It’s a short film about a recently-divorced professor and his world-weary teenage daughter, Caroline. It’s the night she’s leaving the house to live with her mother, and being an expert in mythology; he tries getting through to her in the only way he knows how- by telling a story.
It’s about “Margaret the Brave”, a determined young farm girl who leaves home to stand up to a corrupt King, and in the process, restores the hopes and dreams of an entire kingdom. The parallels between Margaret’s tale and the real world are not lost on Caroline, and by the end, she calls into question whether our myths and legends are even relevant in a day and age where truth has become subjective. It was a very personal story for me to write. I found my thoughts and fears coming from the character’s mouths in a way that hadn’t happened before. With everything going on in the world, it just felt like we needed to hear something hopeful. A fairytale, if you will.
It was about two weeks before the shoot and everything was in order except our location. We wanted a house that had some history to it, but most of the mid-century places we were looking at would not let us shoot for more than a few days. We needed six.
That’s when I remembered a recent call I had gotten from my aunt.
. . . .
A little back story...
In 1970, my grandparents moved into a little house in what we now call “Old Henderson”, with their four adopted kids: my two uncles, my aunt, and Mom. They all grew up in that house, and it’s been in the family ever since.
The olive tree in the front yard. The wood panelling in the master bedroom. The linoleum floor in the kitchen. These were the textures that shaded some of my earliest memories.
I remember when Mom was still raising us on her own, me and my younger brother. At the same time, she was working at getting her masters to become a teacher. It was a lot for anyone to balance. And that’s where Grandma and Grandpa came in.
Now biologically speaking, these people were not related to me-
but that was the beauty of it. From an early age my definition of “family” was based on love, not genetics. To me, they were always just Grandma and Grandpa. And they loved me like any other grandparents would.
They spent as much time as they could with us. They’d take us out to the pier on Lake Mead to feed the fish, or to watch the bighorns graze at Hemenway Park. My grandfather, a state basketball champion in his day, made good and sure we went to as many Runnin’ Rebels games as possible.
At their house was the all-powerful VHS collection. We watched all the Disney classics. Each Thanksgiving we’d crowd into the kitchen and share a meal of traditional recipes, and at Christmas we’d help put up the tree, the lights, the stockings, the fake snow, and the collection of battery- powered Santas and snowmen.
We’d sleep over all the time. I remember the waterbed. I remember the sound of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” coming from the CD player as I’d lay there staring at the night light, my mind racing in anticipation for the day to come. Just like Mom, they tried to instill a sense of wonder in us... Grandpa passed away 9 years ago, and Grandma is in a nursing home now- fighting Alzheimer’s. The house wasn’t the same anymore. It just sat there collecting dust... a ghost of its former self. This leads us back to the call from my aunt.
Because of what it costs to put a parent in a care facility in this country, our family was having to sell this house that had been with us for 50 years. My aunt was calling to see if there was anything I wanted to claim from it. I must have tried to expel it from my mind at first. I didn’t want to face the fact that this cherished place- a constant in my life, was going to be gone. As the father in my script says,
“Change is tough, and messy... and sometimes, it’s terrifying.” I called my aunt to explain the situation, and soon we were meeting the actors at the house to plan out the blocking for the film. I could certainly sense the significance of this turn of events, but 2020 had just begun... and I still had no clue how meaningful this shoot would be in hindsight. ....
The film takes place over the course of an afternoon. For lighting continuity, and because of the movement of the sun - we had to shoot in the middle of the night and make it look like it was bright outside. Sometimes you would find yourself walking into the kitchen at 3 a.m. and it would feel like the sun was setting. If you wanted to wake yourself up, the best place to be was wherever we were currently shooting. This went on for six nights in a row.
Despite the unusual working hours, the crew was in great spirits. Honestly, it was a humbling experience. These artists and craftsmen could have been at home in their beds but instead they were there with me trying to bring this story to life. They were also bringing the house to life. Sometimes, our sound engineer would sit at the piano and play between setups. The grips were always cracking jokes. Our cook (who was also our P.A.) made different themed meals every night. It didn’t occur to me at the time that these would be the last meals prepared in my grandma’s kitchen. My aunt was there acting as a “location manager”, and I could tell how proud she was. At lunch, everyone would gather around the living room and talk and eat and laugh. It felt like family.
. . . .
Less than two weeks after we wrapped at the house, the country had gone into lockdown.
Unfortunately, the scenes with the father and daughter were only half of it. We still had to shoot Margaret’s story. This would involve months of planning, making costumes, building sets, and eventually getting our fairytale cast into a studio to shoot on a green screen.
It makes perfect sense why Hollywood shut down. Filmmaking is a highly collaborative process, and all the zoom meetings in the world won’t get a movie made.
That being said, there were bigger things happening in 2020, and I’m glad we still have our health. And our sanity. And our apartment. And our dog. And movies to discover...
It’s good to list them off sometimes.
The past year has made it hard to feel positive about a lot of things.
Sometimes, I’ve even found myself doubting the story I set out to tell in the first place...
“Is the script just naive?” “Is there really any hope for the future?” “With seven billion people in the world, can one person even make a difference now?” “Can we still change the course of history, or are we stuck playing out some inevitable extinction?”
“Is this story of a parent instilling hope in their child itself a fairytale?”
I’m torn between the father’s optimistic view of the future, and the daughter’s view of the world as it is right now. My wife and I knew this project would be a test of willpower, but we could have never imagined the world itself would also be tested in the way that it has.
The fear that we have of each other now, as human beings, is palpable. It seems to have permeated every level of society. Perhaps cynicism is the real virus...
Or maybe 2020 just gave me too much time to think.
. . . .
April 1st, 2021
It’s been over a year since we shot at the house, and I’m happy to say we’re now heading into the final phase of VFX shooting. Vaccines are becoming more accessible than ever, and people are eager to start living fuller lives after this is all said and done.
It looks like the end is finally in sight.
Thinking back on it now, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some kind of cosmic significance to it all.
To face this right of passage as a filmmaker in such a personal place, telling such a personal story- and then to spend the year that followed in quarantine, with my hopes and determination being tested on a daily basis... this stuff writes itself.
“Margaret the Brave” has been the single-most-difficult project I’ve ever undertaken, and it’s one that I will cherish forever.
Danny Chandia (5th Edition - Featured Artist)