Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Asparagus @ Midnight - Part III

We tramped through the muck between a line of Port-A- Potties and equipment trucks like a pack of white bread migrant workers.  The sight that awaited us just ahead and around the corner was startling.

The distant background was blocked by a mountain of debris.  It looked as if someone had dynamited a modest sized shanty town and then bulldozed the remnants into a small ridge to obscure the horizon.  As we rounded the corner I spied several items in quick succession: a prop phone booth, a series of colored lights designed the give the set a garish cast, an industrious crew wrestling with a myriad of logistics, and a truck with a unique hood ornament that looked as if it had been illegally parked there by The Humongous.  But what caused my jaw to hit the pavement was the scale and condition of the elaborate set laid out before me.

To my left a ominous-looking, run down building crested by a smokestack.  We tramped across a flat, metal plate into an area that resembled a prison common yard.  To our immediate left: a long alleyway set-decorated with evocative props, like a forlorn-looking child's tricycle and an eerie empty stroller.  Anarchic, profane and anti-Hobo graffiti lined every  free space on the walls.

We took care to keep out of the way of Jason and company as they diligently worked away trying to puzzle out the next series of shots.  The A.D. lagged a bit and instructed us to climb the steps to the second level of the main building directly ahead.  Instantly I recognized what look they were going for: we were to line the exterior walkway on the side of this building for a scene reminiscent of the "Thunderdome" sequence in "Mad Max 3".

Which is a point I'd like to address right now.  Before I'd been visited by the costume dude I overheard him asking people if they had anything "funky" to wear.  Nowhere in email sent to me did it mention anything crazier than punk clothing, so color me surprised when I saw people dressed in borderline post-apocalyptic haute fashion.  There were people there in worn leather, fur, chains, feathers, hockey pads, and even chainmail. I saw metallic welder masks and something that resembled Kurgan's serpent skull helmet from "Highlander".  It's a pity I didn't know such things were kosher since I would have brought my old-skool road hockey mark and other crazy stuff.

Having said that, it would sorta suck to have a chance to appear on camera and your face is obscured by a mask.  There!  See how quickly show biz goes to your head?  I was already thinking like Tobey McGuire...

Between the dilapidated set and the very convincing background players milling about, the illusion was complete for me.  Now I know in some humble way what actors mean when they make the claim that, if immersed in convincing surroundings, they don't really have to "act", just lose themselves in the milieux.

Frankly I think Jason's choice RE: the setting is pretty brilliant since he doesn't have to obey the laws of reality, can get really nutty with the visuals and create his own unique tableau.

Me, Lauren and Andrew lucked out.  We took our spots a little under mid-way on the third floor balcony and positioned ourselves by the railing.  The A.D. promptly got us to squeeze further into the frame, improving our chances to be in the shot.  People continued to file in to the walkway above us and a few beetled their way onto the roof.

We had little time to be bored as several of the principal actors made their entrances.  Lauren in particular was keen to spy the Hobo himself and when Rutger Hauer appeared in character we all fell into a respectful hush.  He was set up for a few closeups involving a cool deathtrap gimmick that would make Ernst Stavro Bloefeld turn green with envy.  Also the props department came through with a a unique multi-purpose weapon that could only have been dreamed up by a brain fertilized by years of watching "Evil Dead"-style horror films.   

I'd like to take this moment to re-iterate my motto: people that deal in spoilers are lower forms of life than the cast of "Jersey Shore".

After Rutger's close-ups he retired briefly to his trailer, leaving a very convincing body double to haunt the fringes of the set in his stead.  Even when he wasn't in a scene, he'd check back periodically to lend an encouraging word to his fellow cast mates and the crew and stand back to observe developments just like any other curious onlooker.   

In came another face I recognized right away, Newfoundland-born actor Brian Downey whom you might recognize from the sci-fi series "Lexx" which was filmed right here in Haliwood a few years back.  Resplendent in a pristine white suit, "for display purposes only" slicked back hair and a silver .45, Brian cut an appropriate air of badassery.  Despite his threatening appearance, Brian constantly broke from character to crack up his captive audience with well-timed quips and asides.

Seventeen year old, up-and-coming actress Molly Dunsworth also wandered on set, dressed street-urchin style as "Abby" and ready for mayhem.  And let me tell ya, folks, she was up to the challenge.  The girl's got a real presence and great intensity and if she gets the right bounces she may be our next Ellen Page

We watched in awe as the film-makers prepared for a complicated set up where Brian's villainous Drake captures Molly's character and subjects her to some "Better Homes and Garden's"-style torture.  During this scene, we as background performers were tasked to mime blood-frenzied screams as the dialogue of the principal actors was picked up live.

We ran through our paces as Brian dragged Molly over to his modus operandi torture device de jour, spouting hard-boiled lines of dialogue that Frank Miller would be proud of whilst Molly screamed bloody murder, Fay-Wray style.          
Remarkably quick, Jason had his shot and moved on to the next set up.  As the mini video village made it's pilgrimage, we killed the time talking about things on the set that evoked our favorite films and video games.  We also worked up the courage to peek into one of the rooms of the old, abandoned sanitarium, peering through the high-gauge metal security wire bolted to the windows, presumably to keep it's former tenants  inside.  The room was uber-creepy and everyone acknowledged my spot-on reference to "Silent Hill".  The space was tiny, with a warped and debris-strewn floor, peeling paint and a lone spectral-looking desk right in the middle of the room.

It's a damn good sight I had lots of company because if I'd been left alone in that creepy place at that hour I would have pulled a "Scoob n' Shaggy"  in zero to ten seconds flat.

By the time we turned our attentions back to the action, the crew had built a little platform by the "Road Warrior" truck so the camera could get a low angle shot behind the unconventional torture device.  It was quickly surrounded with safety mats.  Sensing that we were about to witness an on set, real time, practical effects effects shot the background horde collectively leaned forward to take it all in.

The gorehounds in attendance were not to leave disappointed.  The splatter effect was first tested in rehearsal on a crew member dressed in a rain suit, so you can just imagine how much stage blood was used for this.  After the effect was triggered the crazed masses roared their approval and began to shout "STAND UP, LET US SEE YOUR FACE!" to our anonymous fall guy. 

The triumphant guinea pig , blood-soaked from head to toe, stood up, turned slowly around, raised his hands high above his head and basked in the adulation of the crowd, now crazed like Roman spectators at the Coliseum.       

We were in for more bloody treats.  Brian and Molly returned to the set and Jason ran them through the next nerve-shattering scene in rehearsal several times to get the blocking, actions, and dialogue all in order.  I noticed with a twinge of nausea that one of the actors now sported a pretty realistic looking wound appliance, quite obviously incurred as a result of the next scene.

After multiple run-through's, the cameras started cranking and Brian repeated the action of dragging Molly over to the carnage zone while the background mob screamed our approval.  The effect was triggered and the tables between the combatants were suddenly turned in a very original twist.

As a dude that's seen a million horror flicks over the years, the way this scene plays out is stomach-turningly original and I really hope it makes it to final edit.

Again I'd like to mention: people who like to pimp spoilers should be shot and the survivors shot again. 

Despite all the preparations and the borderline "one-take-is-all-we're-gonna-get" nature of the scene, Jason requested several re-sets to make sure he got everything he needed.  In one instance Brian seemed surprised by his co-stars unexpected level of genuine rage and reflexively threw away his prop gun.  This led to a bit of consternation from the prop girl who spent several anxious moments between takes, buffing the .45 with wet wipes and towels to make sure it didn't compromise continuity.  After Brian begged forgiveness for his oversight they ran through the scene again. 

This wasn't a problem since our exaggerated background pantomime was keeping us all collectively warm.  It was about 11 pm by now and only seven degrees and it didn't take long for the cold damp to settle into our bones when the action became idle.

Jason requested some nuances in the action, so the takes began to add up.  He asked that Molly add a quick elbow to the skirmish.  He suggested Brian hop back a bit from her initial attack.  He prompted one of his actors to really make sure the makeup appliance was shown to good effect.

All of this was repeated as the camera crew caught the action from another angle as one of the characters got the upper hand.  Keep in mind that Molly is howling like a banshee all the while covered in stage blood from head to toe and by now and Brian's formally blizzard-white suit is bloody beyond all redemption.  It's complete bedlam.

"Don't worry, folks," Brian joked with us between takes, wiping a finger on his face and then popping it in his mouth.  "It's only molasses!  Look...mmmmm, yummy!"

Like a pack of grossed-out grade-school kids a  chorus of "Eeeeeeews!" took to the air and Brian chuckled, clearly amused by his own devilry. A Newfoundlander addicted to molasses, who'd-a thunk it? 

As if oblivious to the gross-out, catering suddenly came by loaded down with fresh sandwiches.  I wolfed  down a smoked meat special and quizzed my new local acquaintances  about the location.

"So, this was...what?  Like a mental institution or something?"


"When did it close down?"

"Oh, a long time ago.  Definitely not during our lifetimes.  Probably sometime in the early Eighties..."

Rather than dwell on just how depressing this was, I quickly added:

"This place is amazing.  I wonder if they're shooting any interiors here?"

"Oh, I imagine," Lauren replied.  "It'd be a waste if they didn't."

"Though I heard that the place was full of asbestos," Andrew added helpfully.

Hmmmm, interesting.  All the while during shooting, I've been leaning out from the parapet getting beaned in the head with drips from above.  For the first time I notice curious-looking mini-stalactites (mites?) hanging from the concrete ledge overhead.  I recall that one drop from this even beaned me in the eyeball.

Before I can ponder the health effects of water-borne asbestos drops to the peepers, we're called back to the action.

In a götterdämmerung orgy of blood, f-bombs and flying bodies (as well as a cool perspective scene inspired by Pter Jackson's "Dead/Alive"), Jason captured everything he needed and we wrapped temporarily.  The A.D. called us down from the walls, gave us a big thumbs up and sent us off to the lunch truck.

Still digesting the brick-burger from earlier I opted for an all-veggie midnight snack of herbed asparagus, smashed baby white potatoes and long grain wild rice pilaf.  Despite the fact that people are stealing away with succulent looking haddock and pork chops I'm still content with something lighter given the late hour.

To my surprise Stanley H. Tweedle himself politely excuses himself as he walks by me and nearly collides with the lowered tail gate of a pick up truck nearby.  He mutters something about "whoa, sorry, I didn't know that was so..." and then trails off.  He approaches the gals in the craft services truck, negotiates a tweak in his meal then promptly vanishes.

I go back to the tent to get warm and I'm amazed by yet another series of tables fully stocked with rolls, noodles, salad, and beverages.  I help myself to a stout cup of coffee, remembering the old adage:

"It doesn't matter how much abuse you put you cast and crew through, it you feed 'em right, they'll stay loyal to the end."

The funny thing is, even if all they offered me was a bit of peanut butter smeared on a playing card, I'd still be in pig heaven.  I'm pleased to note that I'm the happiest I've ever been in my adult life right now despite being half-frozen, unnaturally caffeinated, dressed like a bum and gnawing on a piece of asparagus the size of a redwood at the midnight hour with no end to my day in sight.  All I can think is: "How can I possibly do this for the rest of my natural life?" 

After we've been given ample time to rest, load up on carbs and thaw out by the space heater, me, Andrew and Lauren snap to attention when the A.D. prompts us to get ready to go out.  We're towards the front of the line again and he seems to pick up on our eagerness.  As the masses close in around us he gestures for us to stand aside while the main group is dispatched back to wall duty.

We've been picked for something!  Would it be something special?  I could scarcely contain myself as my imagination ran amok.

Join me next time, Kind Reader, for the final installment as the following things happen in dizzy succession:

*  We face off versus the hated cops.  FIGHT THE POWER!
*  We experience our first casualty.
*  Someone is granted some major firepower.
*  The Hobo inspects his honor guard!

All this and more in the next installment of "You Can't Get There From Here"...

EPIC:  http://www.rutgerhauer.org/ 

BONUS EPIC: http://www.briandowney.biz/

BONUS EPIC: http://www.hs.facebook.com/pages/Molly-Dunsworth/119135304773513?ref=ss

FAIL: http://www.cinematical.com/2009/10/22/quick-list-celebrities-with-the-worst-reputations/

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