‘I feel bad for my brain’: How filmmaker Nida Manzoor copes with a stressful shoot
As part of our yearlong series on Sundance filmmakers, The Independents, we asked participants to keep a diary of one day in their working life and submit an accompanying self-portrait. Today’s diary is from Nida Manzoor (“Polite Society”), who is in the half-exhilarating, half-exhausting throes of shooting TV series “We Are Lady Parts.”
Read yesterday’s diary: How Erica Tremblay markets her movie without ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ money
7 a.m. Rainy. East London. I’m in the car on the way to the studio. I am shooting Season 2 of my show “We Are Lady Parts.” We are five weeks into the shoot. I ask the driver to put on Magic radio, known for its smooth ‘80s vibes. Abba’s “Lay All Your Love on Me” comes on. What a tune.
My dog snoozes in my arms. I am bringing him to set. He lights up the production whenever he comes with me. He is a good morale boost for a weary crew. I leave him in the assistant director truck with the production team when I head to set. I eat a pot of porridge with berries and have a black coffee whilst I flick through the scenes for the day.
I wear my Sundance hoodie to set. I get nods of approval/respect from the electrical department. An unintentional flex. I should wear it more often.
8 a.m. I rehearse a scene with all my principal cast on a returning set. It’s Saira’s bedsit. My favorite set from Season 1. The cast are s— hot. They are all so much more assured in their performances. I have a mini “this is f— cool” moment before my first assistant director asks about the coverage I want for the scene. I notice I am a better director these days. I trust my instincts, I communicate better, I am more accepting of my imperfections. I think to myself that this is what it’s all about. Growth.
1 p.m. I eat lunch in my trailer on my own and enjoy some silence. I am an introvert so alone time is restorative. I resist checking the news. I hug my dog before I head back to set.
5 p.m. I am trying to avoid unhealthy snacks during the shoot, but it’s 5 p.m. and I am particularly exhausted and indulge in a full, fat can of Coke. My first assistant director sees me drink it and widens her eyes all like “uh-oh.” She calls a can of Coke a “red ambulance” — an in-case-of-emergency sitch.
To commemorate next year’s 40th edition of the Sundance Film Festival, we’re spending 12 months looking at the lives of 7 members of this year’s class.
6 p.m. I wait for lighting to finish setting up. I cave and open the news on my phone. I am reminded that the world is on fire. What is the point of television? Everything feels utterly pointless. The standby art director asks me if I think the characters should be drinking tea in this next scene.
6:50 p.m. This is KBS o’clock (Kick Bollocks and Scramble). That oh-so-familiar end-of-the-day rush to complete a scene. Going overtime will mean incurring a big cost that we don’t have the budget to absorb. It hurts to rush a scene I spent weeks crafting in my head. I feel lucky that my actors and crew are incredible and are moving fast with me. It’s great to work with great people.
7 p.m. Wrap. I thank my crew and cast and get into the car, clutching my pooch. Drained but feeling positive. I call my editor. I tell him I am tired and want only to hear good things about the footage I am getting. He can tell me the pickup shots he thinks I need another day.
8 p.m. I come home and stick some salmon in the oven and watch “Love Is Blind” Season 5. I think about doing some yoga. … It does not come to pass.
The filmmaker may have been ‘slightly naive’ about ‘Polite Society’s’ theatrical prospects, but she’s received heartening feedback from its streaming afterlife.
9 p.m. I am reflecting. I have a big guest star coming in tomorrow. Someone I hugely admire and respect is coming in for a scene. I think I must try and be cool and do my utmost not to be weird. Every time I have Zoomed with our amazing guest I have always been weird. Fangirl-y, you could say. I figure no matter what I do I probably will be weird, so I decide to focus on trying to have self-compassion when my inevitable weirdness arises.
10 p.m. Night times are tricky. I hope to stop blocking scenes in my head and dreaming of being on set. Can’t my brain have any respite? I have this one recurring dream where I am asleep in Amina, the main character’s, bed and we are about to go for a take and I think S—, I NEED TO GET OUT OF THE SHOT and I splutter to life riddled with anxiety. I feel bad for my brain. Indeed, it is fried.
I tell myself I need to do better self-care than just impulse buying expensive cosmetics. Must capitalism always win?
11 p.m. I rely on a history podcast to get to sleep. Tonight’s is about Ivan the Terrible. Last night was the Tang Dynasty. I listened to this one podcast that said that it’s unhealthy to rely on podcasts to fall asleep. Alas.
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