Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bag of Awesome - Part II

Greetings, Mavens of Movie Macabre-ery!

So, there I was, on the set of Bag of Bones, watching veteran horror director Mick Garris run around the set, blocking out shots and trying to anticipate future set-ups like it was all an elaborate chess game.

This had me positively enthralled.  After all, here's a guy who's probably had more conversations with Stephen King then I've had hot meals.  Although I was completely wrapped up in what I was witnessing, the other extras were either fixing their make-up, chatting idly amongst themselves or complaining about having to stand in direct sunlight.

I couldn't help but notice that there was also a black-clad, pony-tailed gent standing at the foot the coffin this whole time.  He chatted warmly with us background folks for a bit, observing that we all looked appropriately formal-looking.

"Yeah, we clean up pretty good, don't we?" I joked.

Turns out, he was serving as a stand-in, allowing the crew to work out all the technical details before bringing the performers into the mix.  Eventually things was hashed out and Mick requested that the principal actors be brought on set.

I turned towards the makeshift sun shelter just a few meters away and saw three very distinct-looking characters headed our way.  The first was played by Nova Scotian actor Gary Levert:

Gary's been pretty darned busy since be began his acting career in earnest back in 1998 when he assumed the role of "Hal" in the TV series Black Harbour.  He's had a parade of solid gigs since, appearing in Emily of New Moon, The Shipping News, Trudeau, Lexx, Shattered City, Trailer Park Boys: The Movie, Jesse Stone: Thin Ice and Haven.       

This time out Gary is playing the role of George Footman, a shady Castle County Deputy Sheriff who's actions play a significant role in the plot of the original novel.  He certainly looked the part: clad in distinctive dark olive/brown pants, holster belt and gun, dark tie, tan shirt, badge, name-tag, hat and shoulder crests.  As soon as he took his place by the foot of the coffin he turned back appraised us all with an approving eye.

In the case of the other two actors, both IMDB and the normally-omniscient power of the internets have failed me in my quest to identify them.  The first was a very tall, imposing older gentlemen dressed in a suit.  If I were to hazard a guess, I'd have to say that he was portraying one of the lawyer characters from the book: either John Storrow or Romeo Bissonette.  He was positioned just to the right of Gary and immediately started to interact with those gathered around, particularly the "priest".

Speaking of the devil, the "good" Father continued to regale his flock with several extremely off-color "sermons" featuring such inappropriate topics as bestiality and ethnic humor.  Pretty soon I was chuckling uncontrollably, which caught the attention of the well-dressed actor standing in front of me.            

"Can you believe he's actually one of the producers?" he leaned over and whispered.

Turns out, it was actually Mark Sennet doing a cameo...

Mark's funded such diverse projects as the television movie Inside the Osmonds, the George Gallo art pic Local Color with Ray Liotta and another Stephen King adaption: Desperation.  When he's not busy keeping the coffers open for productions such as Bag of Bones, apparently he's likely to turn up headlining Amateur Night at "Magooby's Joke House" in Baltimore, Maryland.

I believe the third performer who shared the scene with me is named Debra Graham.  She was cast in the role of  Rogette Whitmore, personal assistant to the book's main baddie, Max Devore.  Her costume and make-up work was flawless.

The slight, rake-thin actress was clad in a long, black frock with a raised veil and a shawl around her neck.  She wore Victorian-style boots and her face was deathly pallid and finely wrinkled.   It was the perfect Cruella DeVille/Black Widow look.  Despite her imposing appearance she took the time to speak with each and every one of the extras gathered around, describing us as appropriately "funereal".  I personally had a chance to chat with her about the tremendous location we were shooting in, how perfect it was to have the paint-peeling church up on the hill and how Nova Scotia is rich with so many great cinematic locations.

Just before the cameras began to crank, one of the the wardrobe ladies (proudly wallowing in what she claimed was an Antigonish accent) bombed through and made sure we all looked ship-shape.  In quick succession, she performed an elaborate but muted handkerchief fold for the "lawyer's" jacket pocket, added an eye-catching silver broach to "Rogette's" shawl, and made sure that Gary's gun and holster covered up his pant's belt.  After a quick hair and make-up appraisal by another team, we were ready for the cameras.     

But just before we got underway there was another notable addition to the gathered:

Yes that's right, folks, Pierce Friggin' Brosnan arrived on set, saying a hearty good morning to Mick Garris and shaking his hand as if they were meeting for the first time.  He greeted his co-stars warmly and then said good morning to everyone before taking his place half way up the hill for the scene.

Instantly the set seemed electrically charged.  All of the men suddenly felt strangely diminished, myself included.  Soccer moms and dilettantes alike leaned over, whispered in each other's ears and giggled like schoolgirls.  Suddenly I recalled a local news story that Pierce had been spotted at local java house called Steve-O-Reno's Cappuccino.  I remembered this because, by no co-incidence I'm sure, everyone on the crew seemed to be drinking from Steve-O-Reno coffee cups.           

Eventually the A.D. came through and parted the mourners like the Red, Sea.  This ensured that the camera had a line of sight through the mourners as it reached the end of its dolly track run behind us.  This was shot a couple of times while Debra went through her actions.

This consisted of taking a white orchid, stepping forward, resting it on the casket, sinking to one knee, lowering her head and then standing back up to engage in a nasty stare-down with Pierce's character Mike Noonan.  Pierce reacted to this by meeting her gaze from behind his reflective shades and then folding his arms in a look of defiance.  This was repeated only a few short times before Mick called "Cut!" followed by "Print that!" followed by "We're moving on!"  Not long after we were escorted back to our holding area.

As soon as I was back inside I set myself to writing feverishly again.  Just as I was getting into it I heard:

"Wow, you look busy!"

I glanced up into the face of an older gent who I'd noticed before sitting part-way up the hill during that last take.  More keen to meet someone new versus scribbling on looseleaf like a madman, I put my work aside and replied back:

"Yeah, I like to write.  I've got this blog thing and if I'm ever on a movie set I like to document the experience whenever I can."

"Well," he said.  "That's a really good idea.  I should have been doing that myself all these years!"

"Oh," I returned.  "I take it this isn't your first time on a movie set?"

"Goodness no!" he replied.  "This is probably the thirtieth film I've done!"

He introduced himself as Bill and over the next forty minutes, he kept me transfixed until our next call.  He'd certainly had plenty of ventures, adventures and misadventures to talk about: like flying combat aircraft in Korea, taking on friendly fire, crash-landing his plane, owning and operating a successful resort and acting as a professor at Saint Mary's University where his equations became instrumental in the development of voter tabulation software.

Needless to say, it would likely be fair to characterize Bill as "financially stable".

And then there were all the movies and whatnot.  He had plenty of stories about his involvement in local film and T.V. productions.  He'd been put through his paces several times by Jonathan Torrens, had appeared in Mike Clattenburg's local comedy phenomenon Trailer Park Boys and witnessed a mass dry-humping of Sandra Bullock during, of all things, a charity hockey game during the filming of Two If By Sea.

At first, Bill just dabbled in these things, but after several health scares, he decided to retire from the rat-race and pursue acting gigs as often as he could.

"Life's too short not to be doing exactly what you love," he said at one point.  "And I love movies."

'Amen,' I thought to myself.

After Bill and I finalized the bonding process by expressing our mutual love for the television show River Monsters, we were all called back to the set.  En route, one of the female mourners somehow managed to maim her foot.  Anyone squeamish at the sight of blood would have been well-advised to avert their gave.  I didn't see the injury myself, but this chick kept bleeding like a Deadite in an Evil Dead film.  Panicked that she might be thrown off-set for delaying the shoot, she keep trying to staunch the wound using any stray piece of paper towel, napkins or tissues handed to her.  She even had a couple of guys trying to help her and they were getting her blood all over their hands.  * Barf *

"Quick!" some yahoo shouted.  "This is a Stephen King film!  Get a camera on this!  You can use it!"

Eventually she began to congeal, so we turned out collective attentions back to the business at hand.  This time the camera had been moved to the south side of the graveyard beyond the creepy old tree.  Debra mimed the same actions as before and this additional coverage was captured both quickly and efficiently.

Another odd thing occurred at this time.  Since a lot of people on set that day were way south of age sixty, we had one elderly gentleman who's been standing in the sun experience a fainting spell.  Things ground to a halt as he was escorted off-set and tended to by paramedics.  Eventually he was okay, but he couldn't get clearance to return to the set.  Mercifully he was way in the background so it was determined that his sudden absence wouldn't impact continuity.      

Then, after one last break, we came back down to see that the cameras had been positioned for a low-angle shot down by the side of the casket.  It was pointed directly back towards Rogette, George Footman and the well-dressed gentleman, with me standing just betwixt them.

When the last take was completed the A.D. shouted "That's a wrap!" and we hoofed our way back up the hill.  There weren't a lot of extras on set that day so it didn't take long to have my release paperwork processed.  I was soon on my (very) merry way.  We'd only been shooting for about five hours, which I thought was rather quick and efficient.  I'd done an epic twelve hour day on November Christmas before but also had to admit that what we shot today was considerably less complicated. 

It's odd to write that I left that graveyard on Cloud Nine, but I really did.  Actually I may have even been on Cloud Ten; I won't be sure until the lab report come back.  I was becoming increasingly comfortable and content being on a movie set set.  I was also 100% convinced that being there was "my first best destiny".  Even burdened down with my forty-pound garment bag and hoofing back to the bus stop in the hot sun, I had a spring in my step and a song in my heart.   

Content with my modest involvement in Bag of Bones thus far, I was prepared to put it behind me and move on to something else.  Little did I know that fate for have more in store for me.  There would be fortuitous meetings, involvement in one of the film's biggest scenes and rubbing elbows with the principal cast and crew.

Sometimes life is pretty friggin' cool, people.

EPIC  The original novel by Stephen King, actually one of his best later-day works.

FAIL  Mercifully nothing this bad happened that day.


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