Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Christmas Came Early This Year! - Part III

Good day, Cinemaphiles!

Well, the first few takes of our walk-through continued to be tweaked.  At one point the sound guy must have gotten an alert that my kicks were making a bit too much noise on audio so my soles got the ole' carpet treatment after all.  It was kinda surreal standing there like a stabled horse getting "shoed" by a dude that bore  more than a passing similarity to the "The Jefferson's" doorman.  

Also, due to our proximity to the "video village" we risked showing up on the audio track.  Instead of moving on the typical command of  "BACKGROUND ACTION!"  we utilized an ultra quiet "tap system".   Here's a typical breakdown of how a shot is done:

BLOCKING: This is when the director and the actors hash out how the scene is to be played out.  The principals go through the motions of the scene without the camera burning film so that the Director of Photography can puzzle out lighting and everyone can decide on their marks.  Typically this happens before background is even on set. 

REHEARSAL: The actors practice the scene with all the elements in place and the camera is still off.  At this point in time, background performers are usually on set and doing their parts as well.

FINALS: This is an alert to the cast and crew, letting us know that this time it's for keepers.  Hair, make up and wardrobe paw over the actors and background performers to see if you've sprouted a zit in the past three minutes or suddenly look "dewy". 

PICTURE’S UP : Cameras will soon roll.  Film will be burned.  Don't f#@$ up

ROLLING: As soon as the AD’s screams "ROLLING!" (often making you pee a little) this is the technical term for "SHUT YER CAKE HOLE".  Don't speak, don't move, don't even blink.  A boom mike can actually pick up your thought patterns, so put your brain in "test pattern mode" and just collect some dust for a bit.  Keep paying attention tho, since you might miss this next command: 

BACKGROUND ACTION : The 1st AD usually fires this one out and it represents an extra's "cue to ski-doo" (unless otherwise instructed).

ACTION: Everyone goes on ‘action’ if Background doesn't have it's own separate orders.  The principal actors typical hit the ground running when they hear this one. 

CUT : The cameras stop grinding and the director then decides on whether or not to do another take. If the director is in a "Kubrickian" mood than you're more than likely to hear…

BACK TO ONES, or FIRST POSITIONS: You head back to where you started from and run it again.  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  And again!  Okay, you get the idea...

So, for sound's nefarious purposes, we Background folks weren't given an audio cue to move, but a tap system was employed.  The A.D. tapped Mary, Mary tapped me and we were on our way.    

Eventually the shot was locked down and we moved on.  

For the next pass the cameras and equipment were all rolled down to the opposite end of the corridor, next to the three principal actors.  We would be walking into picture this time.  Subsequently our direction was also a bit more complicated. 

"Okay," the A.D. hastily explained, exhibiting more energy than Regis Philbin on a Red Bull bender.  "This time when we tap you I need you to do exactly what you did before but I need you to listen to the dialogue carefully.  Since we just got you passing by Sam as he was saying '*Mumble, mumble*  "Something badass."  *Mumble, mumble* "Something awesome".  *Mumble, mumble.* "Something inspirational'  we need you to pass through the scene around the same time he says it again.  So, if you're walking down the hall and you're almost there but they haven't gotten to the line yet, just slow down a bit.  If you hear the line coming up but you're too far away, just speed up a bit.  Got it?"

"Um, yeah?" I said, only managing 'semi-convinced' for a tone.

"What do I do?" Mary asked plaintively, clearly hoping for a line or a quick song-and-dance number as we passed by the camera. 

"What you've been doing so far is perfect.  Just follow behind your dad like last time and you'll be fine."

We looked at each other and shared dubious glances.

Well, on the first take I was completely convinced  that I'd blown the scene.  When we passed the triumvirate of frighteningly convincing actors and made a move to go up the steps I discovered to my horror that the way was completely blocked by John Corbett and his canoe-sized shoes, which he'd inexplicably taken off. 

In a panic, I did the only thing I could do.  I walked between the camera and the stairwell railing, behind the crew and prayed to Tom Cruise that the stairway was out of frame.

Well, just as soon as we were out of the shot Mary called me on it. 

"We were supposed to go up the steps!" she whispered.

"But...but...I couldn't get through!" I replied, feeling terrible about my gaffe. 

But in my mind, I couldn't have done anything else.  If I'd bumped into Chris Stevens (or worse), stomped on his kicks, he might have lost his temper, picked me up and hurled my noob ass down the stairwell like Darth Vader heaving Palpatine into the Death Star reactor.
As the A.D. screamed a request for "FIRST POSITIONS!" I stopped him as he passed by and asked:

"Dude, were we supposed to go up the stairwell?  The way was kinda blocked..."

"Oh no, that was perfect!  The camera can't even see the stairwell from that angle."

I promptly turned to my co-star, bent down and said:

"HA!  HA!  I knew it!  In your FACE!  Neener-neener-neener!!!"

That right, folks, as if it wasn't already apparent, here proof positive that I have a lower maturity level than a ten year old girl.  

Every time we passed by the principal actors to go back to our places (which was a lot!) I got brief glimpses into their world.  Sarah Paulson seemed a bit insecure about some elements of her performance, which in my opinion was baseless.  I thought she was completely convincing as the distraught mom. 

Sam Elliott was a boundless wellspring of patience and tranquility.  He definitely came across as team captain, giving his co-stars tremendous encouragement and hitting every line reading flawlessly.  I was amused when I passed by once and Sam was confiding in John that he was having a hardcore sushi craving (?) but couldn't get anyone to go with him.

"I'll take ya!" John said, looking more than amused. 

As I passed by I thought 'Curse you, John Corbett!  That was supposed to be my line!' 

Sam, if you're still in town and didn't get your hankerin' for miso soup, California rolls and sashimi fulfilled...dude, call me!  I know all the best spots.

John Corbett was a bit more tightly wound than I expected.  He flubbed a line once and blurted a colorful little epithet despite the presence of little ones around.  I guess that's just a workplace hazard that parents likely have to warn their kids about.  After all, when I thought I'd screwed up my last take I certainly thought about shouting a couple of "Fiddledy-Dee's" and "Poopidy Doo's" myself.

He seemed pretty intense at times; taking deep breaths, shaking out cobwebs and sneaking periodic peeks at a little cheat note with lines written on it.  But when the cameras started rolling, the dude was money.  Frankly I'm still amazed how actors can inject so much emotion and gravitas into lines that some solitary, pale, chain-smoking writer just banged out in Microsoft Word in his basement.   
One thing that I found kinda irksome was the constant background noise.  Seems to me that, initially at least, the crew didn't put up enough signage down in the lobby to encourage visitors to try and be quiet due to filming.  I know it's kind of a "Catch-22", though.  The location was off-season but the building still had to be open to the public so I can imagine it must have been difficult to get a handle on it.

The scene itself was being shot in a big open atrium/stairwell sorta thing and the talking, slamming doors and footfalls down below screwed up quite a few takes. 

To cut down on the noise (and since we would no longer be shown going up the steps) I was asked by the AD to doff my shoes.  I'm not sure how much that really helped considering the veritable three-ring circus happening down below.

Director Robert Harmon was a constant presence on set to guide the proceedings and encourage his cast.  He worked quickly and efficiently.  As soon as I saw him I though he looked a bit familiar.  I was aware that he'd shot the Tom Selleck/Jesse Stone detective series as specials for CBS right here in Halifax.  But later on it clicked: he was also the director of the seminal 80's thriller The Hitcher!    

Of course!  A few months back I'd attended a charity screening of the film with Hobo director Jason Eisener and star Rutger Hauer, who's mentioned Harmon's name several times and went on and on about his genius as a wonderkind director.   

And here I was rubbing shoulders with that same guy mere months later.  Life can be kinda cool sometimes!

We repeated the shot a few more times.  Even in the air conditioned building, the day was super-humid, I was dressed for the winter and feeling constant pressure not to goof up.  I felt myself getting distressingly "moist".    I feared the worst when I saw the A.D. go by and he looked like Raj Binder in a jacuzzi.  Mercifully the nice makeup girl happened by and powdered a few of us down.  I imagine by that time I was probably looking like a Muppet dipped in shellac. 

On a subsequent take Mary became obsessed with walking beside me instead of behind me, perhaps in an effort to ensure that she'd be seen.

"Um, I'm pretty sure you're supposed to keep walking behind me.  In all the other shots, you're behind me so I think it's gonna look weird if all of a sudden you're walking beside me."

Try as I might, I couldn't dissuade her.  After we went through our motions, we were called back to "First Positions" and the A.D. interdicted us before we got there.  He bent down to talk to Mary.

"Okay, kiddo.  I need you to keep walking behind your Dad, okay?  Walking side by side like that you take up too much space in the shot, so I just need to you to trail along behind Dad like you did all those other times.  Okay?"

"Okay," she said sheepishly.

After he left I let a beat pass, turned to Mary, bent down and said:

"HA!  HA!  I told you so!  In your FACE!  Phhttttttttttttttt!!!!"

Okay, I know, I know, that's 'Strike Two'.   

We had out penultimate moment next up with close up coverage of the principal actors while both of us cut in front as foreground. 

This time our command to move was triggered by the more traditional call for "Background Action".  We trucked through the shot several times.  Once we were asked to reset because a baby just started crying from out of nowhere, prompting Sam and John to crack up mid-scene.

"Okay, it's just getting ridiculous now," John chuckled, half-amused and half-seething. 

After this we were dispatched to a holding area close to the set on the same floor.  We were treated to pishcha like sammies and muffs and bevvies like moloko.  No eggiwegs tho.
During this time I got acquainted with Mary's mom and introduced myself to some of the other parents that had brought their kids in for the call.  They all seemed very astute, level headed and easy-going.  I had a chance to quiz them a bit about their previous experiences on set and how they'd gotten their kids inducted in the experience. 

I did get a chuckle when moments later the scene wrapped and John Corbett strolled by.  He appraised us knowingly and shouted out:


This prompted a ream of girlish giggling from the ladies.  Oh, and likely, me as well.  

What can I say, he's a good looking man.  I'd do 'em.

Sarah Paulson walked by in the company of the director.  She looked relieved that the emotionally draining scene was over and was emerging from whatever dark place she'd gone to in order to achieve that level of realistic grief.  Her elevating move was infectious and I felt my own spirits buoy somewhat as she passed by looking a lot happier. 

I drifted around for a little bit while peeling a clementine.  As I spun around abruptly I nearly collided with Sam Eliott.  Instead of saying something intelligent like "Hi, Mr. Elliott.  How are you?  Do you prefer your sushi as rolls or maki?" I just grinned like and idiot and hopped out of his way.  He returned the smile and had the decency not to trample me into the dust under his cowboy boots.

After lunch I retrieved by wayward shoes and went down to the original holding area.  To my chagrin it had been moved upstairs to the food court and when I got back up there, my garment bags, back pack and shoes were scattered all over hell and creation.  I hunted everything down, put everything together and soon discovered the reason for our expulsion: our original holding area was being swarmed by the crew who were hastily preparing it for another scene.

This amazed me.  Everywhere around me there were people passing the time sitting around reading books, doing crossword puzzles, texting or watching television episodes on their computer.  What the hell was wrong with these people?!? 

From where we now stood we had a perfect vantage point to watch the next scene come together.  It had all the entertainment value I needed.  I watched with growing interest as the set was dressed, a dolly track was laid down, lighting was strategically positioned and cameras were moved into place.  It was riveting. 

So, during this spectacle, some dude was actually watching episodes of the Star Trek show Enterprise, instead of watching them film.  What What What?     

Dude, I might understand if it had been the Original Series, ST II: TWOK,  "The Dominion War" storyline on DS9, or some selected eps of Next Gen like "Yesterday's Enterprise" but that piece of canon-altering mush?  Really?!?

Sorry, I digress. 

The A.D. bombed in again, this time snagging a slew of people who "hadn't been in a scene yet today."  Booooo!!!  I immediately ran over to have a confab with Mary to re-state my conviction that someone was still going to come by any time to give us both a page of dialogue to memorize.

During this time I also had the privileged to meet and hang out with "Chase" a cool mom, Goth queen and Star Trek addict, who will likely rip me a new one for my appraisal of Enterprise.  Her son was in a star-making turn as "Wheelchair-Bound Sick Kid" and frankly, I think his efforts were Oscar®-worthy.  I wanna thank her for being so cordial, friendly and (by happy co-incidence) having similar interests.  Our discussions of all things geeky certainly helped pass the time.

Eventually supper time rolled around and craft services put on a crazy spread of Asian-themed dishes.  With my allergies I'm always trying to eat the most innocuous food I can.  After all, if I were to have a severe reaction on a movie set involving an impromptu hospital trip or puffing up like an adder it's really gonna be a bitch for continuity!

After a tremendous supper, we goofed around a bit more.  At one point me in time Mary and I busted out a few "Hail Mary"-style football plays by launching "Ney Ney" the Webkinz horse long-bomb style down the hallway.  At this stage in the game the kids were really grokking my loopy comedic stylings and I had a few of them following me around Pied Piper style just to see what lunacy I'd be up to next.  At any moment I expected them to shout out "Dance, monkey, dance!" and then throw change at me.

My obvious connection to Mary and general affinity with the other kids quickly earned me the nickname "Daddy Dave".  I'm still flattered and I can say in all confidence that I had a real blast.                  

Despite being kept around for several more hours, Mary was wrapped not long after.  Now dressed in her street clothes with her hair liberated she looked like a normal, vibrant kid again.  I wondered if she'd been wearing makeup before because she suddenly looked a hell of a lot healthier.  I guess it was just "ACTING!"♫ 

So, with heavy heart I parted ways with my darling daughter.  She hugged me goodbye, wished each other well, and expressed hope that we'd see each other again some day. 

After she was gone I found myself oddly moved.  Trust me when I say this: I don't normally have parental urges.  Sometimes I'll watch a sappy McDonald's ad and think it would be cool to have a son or daughter but just as soon as I witness a kid going apeshit in a mall, the feeling quickly goes away.  It always does.   

But it lingered with me this time.  I think it's because Mary was such a smart, bright and well-mannered kid, and we obviously shared a common interest.  I sincerely miss the l'il monster. 

Before I get too maudlin here, I'll always remember her final words to me.  Just before she came up to me looking sorta pissed off.  I asked her what was wrong and pouted, folded her arms and said:

"They didn't let me keep 'Ney Ney'!  Can you believe that!?!"

That's my girl.

Since could now officially be billed in the credits as "Mary's Dad" I assumed that I was wrapped as well.  I went to one of the assistants and asked if they still needed me.  Much to my surprise they told me that I could still conceivably be used (perhaps as a doctor in the distance or clad in my final still-unused outfit) so I grabbed a seat at the table and waited for filming to resume. 

While there the director and a few senior members of the crew finally came by to power down some supper and get back to the set.  I was amused listening to them gripe about the sort of things that I'd often hear aired out at the lunch table at my last place of employ.  Stuff like health issues, who's being a jackhole to whom and some other movie-related things they might prefer to be doing.

This came to a head at the end of the meal when one of the A.D.'s got from the table and announced:

"Okay, so next we shoot the car chase, then the alien attack and finally the murder scene and I think we can call it a day."

Inside I was roaring.  As the director responsible for such insane material as The Hitcher I could only speculate that Robert Harmon might find a "disease of the week" flick a bit mundane in comparison.  Even if that might be the case, it certainly wasn't obvious on set.

In fact, after the break, they were right back at it again.  I watched in awe as the seasoned crew milled about like workbeltified army ants, always mindful of personal space and never once getting in each others way.  That alone was remarkable.     

An elaborate scene was soon staged which involved Sarah Paulson and her two fictional kids (including Emily Alyn Lind from The Secret Lives of Bees) sitting on a couch in a hospital common area, surrounded by kids, parents and medical staff extras milling around.  Dad John Corbett enters with some presents for the kids and they share a heart-warming scene involving a snow globe. 

I was completely captivated watching this scene play out and was particularly taken by how impeccably professional the child actors were; staying completely stationary for hours at a time.

Certainly more than some others on set.  As the hours wore on I was also amazed to overhear some people actually bitching about the lack of sandwiches in the holding area.  Or someone gossiping about script changes or rumored on-set propositions. 

I'm consistently stunned by people's fascination for the salacious.  I guess that's one of the many reasons why I despise reality T.V. shows and the main reason why I left my last place of employment.  It was a bit disheartening to see to exhibited here as well, it even to a much smaller scale. 

I want to embrace the positive and roll with the negative.  Life is too short to constantly marinate in negativity.

Just like on the Hobo shoot, it turned out that I'd been locked on set longer than I was needed.  But I really didn't mind.  I'd been there since 9 am and that evening at  9 pm we were all wrapped.  I picked up my pay stub, hastily gathered up all my crap and then left the location.

As I was on my way out, Sarah Paulson was coming back into the building.  Despite my burden I held the door open for her and her assistant and she thanked me warmly as she went inside.  Just outside the doors a van was idling with the door open where John Corbett sat, presumably awaiting his co-star's return so they could all be shuttled together back to their hotel.

We shared a mutual acknowledgment and with that I was off to my car and back to reality.

On the drive home I spent the entire time on a natural high, feeling privileged to catch yet another fleeting glimpse into a world that I would love to make my own.  I left feeling blessed that life and circumstance had afforded me yet another rare and unforgettable opportunity which I'd cherish as long as I lived.

And then half way across the bridge I realized that I'd left my Merrill sneakers behind. 


EPIC:  http://www.kingscountynews.ca/Arts/Entertainment/2010-07-28/article-1628850/A-November-Christmas-in-Wolfville/1

The Hitcher

EPIC III: THE EPICING: http://apps.facebook.com/flixster/m/13641

FAIL: http://www.horror-movies.ca/horror_14566.html

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