Friday, October 28, 2011

Return of Obligatory Halloween Post

Greetings, Hallo-Weiners!

Last October I began to document the first formative experiences that scared the poo out of me as a young 'un. Well, kiddies, according to the calendar it's time once again to venture out into the realm of terror and incontinence.  So, grab a blanket, pop some popcorn, ease down onto that cold bedpan and I'll put on a couple of scary movies for ya...  

First, a word of introduction.  After seeing George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Poltergeist back to back on Halloween night when I was twelve, I quickly came to the realization that I was still just a horror movie tenderfoot.  Although both of those films had effectively traumatized me, I suspected that there were even more intense cinematic nightmares out there just waiting to pounce.      

Even before I was old enough to rent a VHS tape or sneak into a theater, I tried to prepare myself for this eventuality the only way I knew how: I started reading about them.  I devoured one horror film anthology book after another.  Here are just a few notable examples:

While reading these books I began to suspect that certain film-makers (Mr. Romero, I'm looking in your direction) were certifiably nuts.  Crazy because they had no common courtesy nor respect for their audience.  Their only goal seemed to be to traumatize the viewer so badly that they'd end upon the floor in a fetal position with a thumb in their mouths and their undergarments distinctly "soiled".

I also got the distinct impression that guys who wrote these books were older dudes who thought that horror movies began with the classic Universal pictures and then ended with the Hammer films.  Anything more intense and gory then that was often regarded as a perverse incarnation of pure cinematic malevolence.  Growing up as a good "Catlick" boy, I didn't completely disagree with them, especially as I started to see these movies for myself.

So, I present to you, the first of several horror movies that I really thought had evil woven directly into the film stock.  I'll try and list them roughly in the order in which I saw them and I'll also include their rating (out of a possible 5) on the Evil-O-Meter...

An American Werewolf in London(1981) 

Now, you might think this an odd choice for an "evil" film, especially considering that it's also a very effective comedy.  But you also have to remember that it was one of the first contemporary horror movies I saw after the twin bludgeoning that was Night of the Living Dead and Poltergeist.

Director John Landis does a great job building atmosphere during the early goings of the film wherein two young American backpackers David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are seen hiking across the creepy moors of England.  The authentic-looking pubs and foggy on-location exteriors really help sell the film's realism.

And it's this dedication to realism that makes the subsequent lupine attack on David and Jack pretty intense.  David wakes up in a London hospital and is horrified to hear that his friend has been killed by some sort of wild animal.  Since his wounds are limited to a superficial bite mark, David is soon discharged and quickly shacks up with a cute British nurse named Alex, played by Jenny Agutter.

As a side note, if anything threatens the film's overall "evil" quotient it's the presence of Jenny Agutter.  She was definitely one of my first cinematic crushes.  Her unabashed willingness to get naked at the drop of a hat in such films as American Werewolf in London and Logan's Run really puts her in a cherished pantheon alongside other 80's hotties such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mathilda May, Phoebe Cates and Linnea Quigley.  *Sigh*

Having said that, the film's evil quotient gets dialed back up to "11" when Jack returns from the dead as a reanimated corpse.  He tries to warn David that he's been bitten by a werewolf and it's only a matter of time before he starts sprouting fangs and gnawing on jugular veins.  This is coupled with some terrible, violent nightmares in which David envisions himself stalking and killing a deer with his bare hands and witnessing his entire family get gunned down by Nazi monsters.

Despite how vivid all of these experiences are, David tries to dismiss it as a symptom of his trauma.  But we, the viewer, suspects that he knows that Jack is telling the truth.  When Alex leaves David alone in her apartment one night during a full moon, he begins to pace and fidget nervously.  Landis, the cruel bastard that he is, drags this scene out mercilessly.  The suspense is agonizing.

All of a sudden, as if by self-fulfilling prophecy, David starts screaming at the top of his lungs and then tears his clothing off.  What follows is a painfully protracted metamorphosis in which actor David Naughton convinces us that he's dying.  The first time I saw this, I was slack-jawed.  The practical, on-screen transmutation scenes coupled with the bone-crunching sound effects and David's genuine screams of agony, makes for a truly distressing sequence. Even the creature's disappointing final incarnation as a big shaggy dog can't diminish the genuine horrors that preceded it.  

For it's flagrant use of nudity, deadpan realism, agonizingly real performances and no-hold's-barred, flesh-warping transformations, American Werewolf in London scores a "3" on the Evil-O-Meter:
So, there you have it for another year, Zom-boys and Zom-bettes!  Join me again same time next year for another installment of my Obligatory Halloween Post.

Until then just ponder this:  if you thought that these movies were scary, wait til you see what earned a "5". 


EPIC DOC PART ONE  While I was watching this movie, it would have been impossible for me to conceive that there were even more horrific films out there.  Here's a fantastic doc about how real societal upheaval inspired some of the nastiest films ever made.  Warning: the blending of gory fiction and even more repellent reality sometimes makes this doc a pretty difficult watch:

EPIC DOC PART TWO Great little "behind the scenes" mini-doc for American Werewolf In London.

FAIL  These movies gave me nightmares as a teenager so I can only imagine what they'd do to little kids.  Man, we really need to set up a licensing system for people who want to breed...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy Your Mind...With Information!

Hey, All You Financial Freedom Fighters!

So, I read this letter in our free weekly newspaper The Coast the other day crapping on the recent "Occupy Wall Street" movement:

"So, the Wall Street/Bay Street lads and lasses are going to return their huge bonuses after listening to the ramblings of 35 dossers in a coffee shop in Halifax?  Viva La Revolution and pass the latte and organic sugar!"

In addition to being supremely cynical, this letter endeavors to beat up on people who, at very least, have done more then just bitch about how messed up things are.  They've actually detached themselves from the opiate of mainstream media, gotten up off their asses, gone out of their homes, hooked up with like-minded people and have begun to fight for change in the only method available to them.

Remember, Emerson once wrote: "Every revolution was first a thought in one man's mind”.  No, those Wall Street/Bay Street lads and lasses aren't going to return their ill-gotten gains but maybe a few of them can be taxed, prosecuted or prevented from committing grand-scale larceny ever again if a few of these brave rabble-rousers can get a spotlight on these issues.

Then, after a bit of research, I stumbled across the "We Are The 53%" contingent, typified by poor, misinformed shlubs like this guy:

So, these people claim to represent the 53% of the American population who supposedly work, pay taxes and merrily keep their heads buried in the sand so they don't have to come to grips with how corrupt and one-sided the entire system is.  Instead of actually researching things and trying to keep an open mind, all these jokers want to do is characterize the Occupy Wall Street protesters as a bunch of unwashed, Granola-eating layabouts who are freeloading off the system.

Never mind the fact that if the Occupy folks actually got some respect, media attention and political representation to champion their cause, guys like Erick Erickson wouldn't have to work three jobs, be stuck with a worthless home or get screwed on his insurance premiums!  People like this are so uninformed and ignorant about what the Occupy movement represents, they don't understand that a rampant, profit-drunk Wall Street is exactly who's to blame for Deep Six-ing the economy!  The Occupy people are fighting for everyone, including Tea Party-supporting rednecks!  

Back to our local paper, I also noticed this little homily of naive and woefully unmitigated snarkiness:

"Stick it to the man and the evil corporations who run this country! Don't forget about our terrible conservative government! We've been pushed around and lied to for long enough! Isn't this movement totally relatable to the Arab Spring? I mean we are soooo oppressed aren't we? Who do the corporate bastards and the government think they are! All we have is a favourable economy, public healthcare, access to unbiased education, freedom of speech, 3 meals a day, hot showers and access to all the shitty social media we can handle.

Don't even get me started on the deadly Tar Sands. Did you know that it takes 9 barrels of oil to produce one barrel of tar sands oil? And they kill thousands of ducks on purpose! I know this is 100% true because I read it on some shitty blog. My liberal art degree entitles me to know how to solve the worlds problems, never mind all those dumbass business, economic and engineering types. I mean, what the fuck do they know? Get your cardboard sign up in the air and lets protest this terrible situation we Canadians have been put in!" 

OooOooo, wow, sarcasm!  Nice!

No-one in the Occupy Canada movement is saying that our country is in the same state as Libya.  What they're trying to tell your uneducated ass is that things aren't what they used to be and if we continue to stand around bent over the pool table with our knickers on the floor, we're gonna keep getting drilled.

The sad fact of the matter is:
  • The gap between the rich and the poor is growing faster in Canada then it is in the U.S.
  • Canada's top CEO's make more money in a single day then the average Canadian makes in a year.
  • Between 1997 and 2007, the salaries of Canadian CEO's went up 444% 
  • In the last 25 years the average Canadian family income (thanks to inflation) hasn't really grown at all! 
So there, dumbass!  Canada may still be a great country, but as it turns out, we're not perfect after all!

So, in light of all of this rampant sarcasm, here's my own contribution to the toxicity of this debate.  Here's:

  1. You're got more money then God and you want politicians to keep offering you sweet tax shelters.  And you're not Warren Buffet, apparently...
  2. You really think that lobbyists representing obscenely rich corporations should keep influencing government policy to the detriment of the average citizen.
  3. You think its a great idea for banks to keep making "Liars Loans" by knowingly granting mortgages to people who can't afford them.  Bonus points if you also believe that it's a sound business practice to group all of these bad loans together and resell them as if they're prime investments.  More bonus points if you think it's creative and clever for these same financial institutions to secretly bet against these ventures (after scoring an exemption from the federal government to avoid prosecution under state gaming laws).  Instant demerit if you actually think all of this sounds kinda illegal.  
  4. You believe it's a swell idea to bail out shady outfits like Goldman Sachs, despite the fact that they gambled with the collective savings of the American people like a bunch of drunken lemurs. 
  5. You love to see currency get printed like Monopoly money, thereby creating gobs of inflation and reducing your hard-earned life savings to the value of some loose string, bits of twigs and a dead vole.
  6. You can say with a straight face that there's absolutely no conflict of interest whatsoever when  high-ranking government positions are habitually stocked with shady corporate alumni like Hank Paulson, Timothy Geithner and Robert Rubin.
  7. You and your spouse really enjoy working 2-5 jobs with a combined work week of 122 hours.  Meanwhile, your kids are being raised in a daycare that once featured prominently on 60 Minutes.  Speaking of the young 'uns, you're also pretty jazzed with the concept of of letting them grow up in a world where they'll inherit our mountain of debt and, as a result, become modern-day serfs in a 21'st century feudal system.   
  8. You love living in a world where massive conglomerates dictate what news, entertainment and information you see via a Tongan Death grip on our media.  You also believe wholeheartedly that these media giants willingly and routinely report news stories that are detrimental to their corporate interests.  In a completely unrelated point, you also have no idea who Rupert Murdoch is.        
  9. You think it's co-incidence that wars break out after fat military contracts get handed out like coupons for Domino's Pizza.    
  10. You're prone to say "Please, sir, may I have another?" when the company you work for shit-cans you after ten years of loyal service, not because the organization is struggling but because the investors want to squeeze another few dimes of profit out of the machine by exporting your job to Tobago.
So, by all means, if these things appeal to you keep being apathetic or, even better, continue to mock something you barely understand.

If you're gonna trash the Occupy Wall Street folks, then at least have the decency to occupy your mind with a couple of facts first...
EPIC  A tad alarmist, but then again, we should be alarmed...

FAIL  Rich douchebag Kevin O'Leary tries to single-handedly turn the CBC into Fox News with this shameful exchange with respected journalist Chris Hedges.  While it's certainly in O'Leary's best interest to make sure the Occupy movement gets no attention, a stunt like this would get the average person fired.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bag of Awesome - Part V

Greetings, Behind the Scene-sters! 

The last series of shots we did for the A&E Stephen King miniseries Bag of Bones had us working in close conjunction with mega-star Pierce Brosnan.

As a kid I always assumed that the Remington Steele actor would inherit the role of James Bond from Roger Moore.  Unfortunately his television contract initially precluded his involvement in the venerable spy saga.  Instead, Timothy Dalton assumed the role for two films.  Then a legal battle broke out which resulted in the cancellation of a third Dalton Bond project in the early Nineties.  By the time all the legal wrangling was over, six years had gone by before the producers could finally offer this iconic role to Pierce.

In an arrangement that had fans thinking 'better late then never', Pierce put his own unique stamp on the 007 role over the course of four solid films.  To this day many people still see him as the prototypical James Bond.  In addition to really looking the part, Roger Ebert described Brosnan as "somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete" then his predecessor's take on Bond.  In fact, I consider Goldeneye to be one of the best of the entire series.  It's just a bit lamentable that the role hadn't come to him earlier.       

In retrospect, things probably worked out for the best.  After all, if Pierce had assumed the role right after playing Remington Steele he might have been typecast forever.  Instead, he's enjoyed a long and celebrated career in such diverse films as Mama Mia!, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The Thomas Crown Affair, Grey Owl, Dante's Peak and Mrs. Doubtfire.

So, there we were: me, Shannon, Ashley and few other select folks, hanging out on a film set with a former British secret agent with a license to kill.  What can I say; sometimes life can take a decidedly odd detour into the surreal.

Again the action we were to follow was pretty straightforward.  Reacting to the awful sound of an accident, Pierce had to rush out through the doors, push his way past the gathered crowd and then break into the clearing where his wife's body was lying in the street.  As part of the continuity contingent from the previous day's bookstore scene, we had to run out just seconds behind him.

Before we charged out the door, Pierce looked back at us and smiled knowingly.  We barely had a chance to acknowledge this since we were all totally preoccupied with making sure that we could clear the doors quickly without trampling all over each other.  We'd already been instructed to wait a few beats before following "Mike" out the door, which seemed to jibe with the previous scene inside the "bookstore".

After working in close proximity with Pierce Brosnan for three days, I have to say that this guy is a consummate professional who really takes his craft seriously.  Heading into this emotionally taxing scene he had a certain restlessness about him.  At the time I couldn't tell if this edginess was a symptom of the thirty-seven day production schedule or if he was just attempting to ease himself up into a pretty dark headspace.

One person who seemed completely unfazed by the scale of everything around him was director Mick Garris.  Leading up to the first take, Mick gave Pierce the option to wear a jacket during the scene, presumably to keep him sheltered against the incessant rain.  Taking continuity over personal comfort, Pierce dismissed the offer and continued to psyche himself up for the scene.

Just before the cameras started to roll, Pierce got a bit twitchy when a crewman made the mistake of disappearing with his prop pen.  It seemed like an agonizing wait before all of the elements were in place and the equipment was all up to speed.  When 'Action!' was finally called, Pierce charged through the door and hit all of his marks like a pro.  After a few seconds, we hustled out the door right behind him, only to witness a scene rife with gallows humor.

For the purposes of establishing a sight line, the dummy representing Jo Noonan was still lying in the street, rigor-stiff with clawed hands outstretched skyward like a zombie in the video for Thriller.  Instantly I got shades of Martin Prince from that "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons:      

It took all of our willpower to keep reacting to the ridiculous sight with horror.  Mercifully "Cut!" was finally called and, as it turned out, I'd been a lot more successful keeping a straight face then some other extras.

"Alright!" P.A. Mike shouted. "Remember, this is a very serious, very somber moment.  Unless some of you actually think that a woman getting run over by a bus is funny."

I quickly deduced two things from this: (1) Some background performers aren't very professional and (2) Mike has never played Grand Theft Auto IV.

After a few additional takes we ventured deeper into the scene.  Annabeth re-appeared, this time looking as if she'd actually been smoked by that Greyhound.  The special effects team had expertly rendered her thoroughly bruised, contused and abused.  Mercifully the dummy stand-in was carted away and Annabeth sprawled out into the street in its place.

As if all the gore and bruises weren't nasty enough, a special effects dude came by and practically hosed her down in stage blood.  We then marched back into the lobby to attempt another take.  A wardrobe woman began hovering around Pierce, using a swatch of absorbent fabric to try and minimize the dark raindrop spots on his blue shirt.  After she was dismissed another woman appeared and blew something straight into the actor's eyes.  Later we learned that it was a menthol "tear blower" which is designed to help actors get the water works a-flowin'.  Here's a snap of this curious-looking device:

Again we charged out into the elements.  Pierce pushed his way through the crowd, grabbed the limp form of Annabeth, cradled her in his arms and then began howling in pain.   After "Cut!" was called, we quickly beat a hasty retreat back into the shelter provided by the  "bookstore" entrance.

Mick Garris came in to remind Pierce to react to the shopping bag and its contents scattered on the ground beside Annabeth.  Brosnan protested that he didn't get a chance to do this since the cameras stopped rolling before he could even get to it.  Garris apologized for the oversight and they went right back at it.  If there was any lingering tension between the two it wasn't apparent.  

We went again and this time the results were much better.  Again, Pierce barreled through the throng of people, threw himself down beside Annabeth, gently took up her rag doll form and began to weep.  This time he made a point to first spot and then reacts to the innocuous items strewn onto the road.  Several paramedics then piled in to try to pull him back but he shook off their efforts, told them to "F#@% off!" and then rushed back to her.

Even though I was cupping my hands to my face, looking distressed and whispering in horror to my fellow onlookers, all I could think at the time was:

'Wow, are they allowed to say 'f#@%' on A&E now?'

And this is a perfect example of what people mean by "movie magic".  Witnessing this scene first hand, it seemed overwrought and melodramatic.  But I know, guaranteed, that when it plays out on television screen all across  the country, it's gonna be intense, powerful and emotional.              

We ran the scene a few more times and eventually nailed it.  Although it was unseasonably warm for mid-September, it was raining pretty hard by then and Annabeth was still splayed out in the street between takes.  Sometimes it seemed to take forever before her assistants arrived on the scene to shelter her with an umbrella and cover her up with a blanket.

Indeed, she almost seemed relieved to be shooting the next scene in which she gets lifted onto a stretcher and covered with a white sheet.  Now warmly enswaddled, the extras dressed as paramedics lifted her up into the back of the ambulance.  Instantly I could see why casting companies prefer to hire real paramedics, cops and firemen.  Despite having cameras and lights pointed at them, everything I saw these guys do had a distinct air of confidence, proficiency and authority about it.      

We went back into a holding pattern after that and I was socked to hear that it was now well past 1 pm.  Annabeth came inside and continued to putter around with us, still looking like death warmed over.  Lunch was called not long after and soon our executive-class kindergarten parade trooped back to the church.

The stellar meal awaiting us certainly made the trek worthwhile.  I settled on the roast pork loin, steamed mixed veggies and Caesar salad.  It was absolutely awesome.  The other two options (fish cakes and vegetarian pasta) looked equally delectable.  My hat always goes off to catering for feeding so many people so quickly and so consciously.

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the rain seemed to pick up as we got ready to head back to set.  Indeed, my crappy little umbrella proved to be indispensable.  En route, we theorized as to how much more was left to shoot.  Scuttlebutt had begun to circulate that some chuckle-head had busted that last take due to a laughing fit.  We hastily concluded that morons like this should either be escorted off the set, relegated to a "Where's Waldo" position or get invoiced for the film's overtime costs.

As it turned out, everything seemed to be fine, leaving one last bit of coverage.  It was an elaborate crane shot which I think is going to look amazing.  The camera started out at street level with Pierce and Annabeth in closeup, rose up into the air and then angled down, stopping only when Mike and Jo were center frame with the rain pouring down on them.

Brosnan's emotional performance was pretty powerful so it certainly wasn't difficult to mime grief and shock.  Then, as if some higher power wanted to remind us that things aren't always completely bleak, the rain finally started to slack off.  This turned out to be good timing since we were outdoors quite a bit working on this sequence.

We were asked to dodge back inside again as they tweaked the set up.  As if we hadn't already been well cared for, the production team brought in twelve pizzas to keep us well-fed.  During this time, director Mick Garris started wandering around, asking how we were holding up and answering questions about the production's last remaining days.  If the weight of the world was on his shoulders, he certainly didn't show it.

When we went back out on the street for the last time, I noticed that things had been reversed so that the crane started high up and then finished its movement down at street level.  Now I'm really wondering what shot will end up in the final cut.  The post-production window for this film is pretty tight, which is pretty remarkable.  Bag of Bones is set to air sometime in December so they have about two months to design the sound, overlay the score, complete the effects and edit the film.

After the fourth or fifth run, we were wrapped.  I gathered up my crap and we all shuffled out the bank's front entrance.  As we were leaving, a van pulled up to whisk Annabeth Gish away.  Still engorified and characteristically shoeless, she took a moment to wave and thank us all for coming out.  A spontaneous outpouring of applause came from the crowd, obviously meant to acknowledge her own down to earth nature and gung-ho attitude.

Mike the P.A., still a fount of boundless energy despite being soaked to the skin, jumped up on a low stone wall to address us:

"I just want to thank each and every one of you guys for coming out today and being so co-operative and patient.  Without you, we wouldn't have much of a movie so...thanks a lot!"

Mike generated his own ovation as he took a bow and hopped down off the wall.  En route back to the church, people kept asking how he could possibly be still standing upright.

"Oh, I'm fine as long as I don't sit down.  If I were to sit down right now, I'd probably go into a coma."

Many of us could relate, but compared to Mike's eventful and protracted day, we really didn't have a reason to gripe:

"I've been up since about 5 am and likely I won't be leaving tonight until around 9.  Then, of course, by the time I get home I'll be too amped-up to sleep.  So, I'll probably be lucky if I get to sleep around 2 pm.  At least I don;t have to come in tomorrow..."
   En route back to the church one of the extras dressed as a cop indulged in a little power trip.  While we were waiting to cross a busy four-way intersection, we managed to coax this guy into walking out into the street to pose as a traffic cop.  It didn't take much goading for him to stride out and stop traffic dead and wave us across.  We didn't even have to ask him at the next crosswalk! 

As expected, since we'd run out of paperwork at the beginning of the day, people who hadn't even signed in yet were processed before any of us got a chance to leave.  This really didn't phase me at all since it gave me a chance to chat more with Shannon, Ashley and a girl named Martina, who recognized me from the set of Roller Town.  

By the time we'd gotten signed out, it was well after six.  In a kind gesture, the production crew rounded up our times so they could pay us for a full twelve hours.  I thought this was a very classy move, but to be perfectly honest, I probably would have paid Mick Garris and company for the privilege of being there myself.    

Before I left I overheard a couple of people lamenting  about how long the day had been.  Instantly, I harkened back to something P.A. Mike had said while we were walking back to the church that last time:

"Look, if I was being screamed at by some asshole customer in a retail store over something I didn't even do, that would feel like a long day!  But running around on a film set for twelve hours?  This isn't even like work to me!  I live for this stuff!"  

Say on, brotha, say on...


EPIC In the age of digital film-making, it doesn't take long to cobble together an awesome looking
"sneak peak" vid to promote your film:

FAIL  Man I could only imagine how awkward it would have been to be on the Terminator: Salvation set that particular day:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bag of Awesome - Part IV

Good Eeefning, Cheeldren of the Night!

Before leaving the Bag of Bones set on Friday afternoon, I began to hear rumors that we'd be shooting the big "Jo Noonan gets smoked by a bus" sequence on Granville street in the heart of downtown Halifax.  I was immediately skeptical since there were no bookstores in that area I could think of.  Where could we possibly emerge, Stargate-style, that would jibe with what we'd already shot?  

My curiosity was further piqued when I received the call sheet later that evening.  The header offered some enticing clues as to what was in store for us:

"Hello Everyone,

Thank you for taking this Background Performer Call for us on Saturday September 24, 2011.

Have a great day on Set with us and please remember that it is not good Set etiquette to ask for autographs and the taking of photographs is strictly forbidden...thank you for understanding!


Location: St. David’s Church corner of Blowers and Market St.
Please park on side streets

Call times vary so please locate your name (not in alphabetical order) on the call sheet and arrive at background holding at the time specified.


Review of costume notes:

Please bring appropriate rain gear ie. Raincoat and / or umbrella, your Social Insurance Number, and Full address.

NYC Bookstore Patrons:
Same as Friday

Midtown Passerbys, Pharmacy Patrons, & NYC Drivers:
Generally this look is high end - big city - very sharp and crisp – non seasonal – colors should be earth tones. Shirt colors should be pale grey, off white, creams, blues).   The style range is from business suits/office attire to upscale casual attire. Jewelry should be tasteful upscale for business attire can be larger for upscale casual attire.  Also bring with you a casual option ie. Jeans and a shirt.  Please bring 3 options from head to toe!

We would ask the Background performers to provide – a white crew neck t-shirt, black lace up classic shoes, black sox.

Background performers to provide – a white crew neck t-shirt, black lace up classic shoes, black socks.

Pharmacy Staff:
Wear neutral solid colors, either beige or grey shirt/blouse and darker pants, navy, grey or brown (a dress pant or casual style, No jeans) and comfortable shoe.

No red
No black
No white
No logos
No sandals

Best Regards"

Since I couldn't see any reference to Granville Street in the email proper, I hastily opened up the first attachment.  After noticing that Ashley and I were listed first and second respectively at the top of call sheet, I then proceeded to check out the second document.  This turned out to be a secret map to all of Saturday's relevant locations:

So, as it turned out, the Church would merely serve as our holding area and we'd likely be walking down to the actual set on Granville.  Again, I tried to puzzle out what could possibly double for a genuine-looking book emporium down there.  I honestly couldn't think of anything.

But then I remembered the old adage of cinema:  if you can find the proper reality, just make it.

The details revealed by this privileged document instantly gave me the impression that we were in for a very long day.  Notwithstanding our call time of 7:30 AM, the sheer number of extras being called in to pull this scene off was crazy.  Between pedestrians, drivers, bookstore patrons, cops, firemen, paramedics, punk rockers and our own humble little continuity group, there were eighty-five people who'd been tapped to become human window dressing for this scene.

Mercifully I didn't have to worry about my wardrobe this time out.  In fact, I'd probably be beaten to death with a sack filled with rusty doorknobs if I'd showed up wearing anything but my outfit from the previous day.  So, as a result, my evening was pretty casual.  I just carefully re-ironed the same clothes and made sure to put aside the same ugly tie.  It was also going to be my first Saturday shoot, which was super-convenient.  After all, this meant that I could drive down to the set in my own car instead of running the risk of marinating in a pool of someone else's urine while sitting on a bus seat.

The downside was that the location wasn't a quick bip up the street like the previous day.  To ensure that I'd have sufficient time to wake up, caffeineate, snack, pack up and get down there, I set my alarm for 6 am.

Look, I'm perfectly capable of getting up early like any other self-respecting adult, but there are just some times on the 24-hour clock when its a bloody crime against humanity to be standing upright and shuffling around like an olde-skool George Romero zombie.  When that goddamn alarm clock starts bleating at you to get up, you sway drunkenly to your feet and then crack your sleep-sealed eyelids only to realize that it's still pitch dark outside...well that, Gentle Reader, is just wrong.

Remember back when you were just a kid and you needed about sixteen hours of sleep just to survive?  Remember how awful it was to have your parents rouse you out of your warm cocoon at an ungodly hour just to facilitate some mid-winter road trip?  They had to get you up at, like, 4:30 in the morning in order to catch a plane or a train or a Chinese junk in order to kick-start some sort of nightmarish "vacation"?

Then you'd wake up around 11 am in the back of a moving car, with only the vaguest recollection of pulling a Lazarus, putting your shirt on backwards, gagging on toothpaste and nearly drowning after falling forward into a mixing bowl filled with Corn Pops.  I really firmly believe that there's no way we can shake off these traumatic childhood memories, even as grown adults.  That resentment is still there, folks, it's just bubbling there underneath the surface.

Having said that, I'm also not one to sleep in late, spring out of bed with barely any time to spare, and then start running around the house like a madman.  I need a bit of time to take my first tentative bites of the shit sandwich that mornings often serve up.  Now, granted, this attitude is really a hangover from my call center days, when I had to do these daily rituals in order to come to grips with the fact that I was about to piss away the next nine hours of my life.  But what can I say?  I guess old habits die hard.

The next morning I hopped into the ole's Ninjamobile and sped off to my destination on Market Street.  With the day still newborn, traffic was scarce and parking was plentiful.  I found a spot on a side street close to the church and then hopped out.  To add to the morning's doldrums, it was extremely dark and dreary outside.  To try and keep my Captain Continuity monkey suit protected, I'd wisely chosen to wear a long gray trench-coat and carry an umbrella.  To the casual onlooker I must have looked like the world's most gung-ho yuppie.

The precise location for holding was in the basement of St. David's Church.  While the parish itself is technically on Brunswick Street, the grounds also border on Market and Grafton.  I'd actually been in the basement of this place before to attend an indie craft fair, but the entrance that I'd used before was locked up tight.  The surrounding environs were so quiet and deserted that I started to become paranoid that I was in the wrong place.

Mercifully, I spied one of my fellow continuity peeps who was also trying to figure out how to get inside.  After reassuring each other that we weren't nuts, we then proceeded to search for secret doors in the church's outer walls like D&D characters.  After tapping, listening and running our hands along three-quarters of the walls, we finally spied some activity at the top of Blowers Street.  A gaggle of crew-members standing next to a craft services truck were loitering around just outside.  Half way up the hill we finally noticed our first bit of low-key and ultimately completely useless orientation signage.

I ventured downstairs and saw that it was already a hive of activity.  I don't know what it is about church basements but they all smell the same.  That evocative but unmistakable odor of books, residual incense, mildew and righteousness always takes me back to my childhood.  Instantly I'm eight years old again and preparing to lead my Cub Scout pack through a hearty round of  DYBs and/or DOBs.

Soon I'm re-united with Ashley and Shannon and we quickly completed our daily ritual of check in paperwork. I wandered around for little a bit and then bumped into a former co-worker who's been making a real splash in the local entertainment scene lately.  Her name is Naomi-Joy, and she's a recovering call center employee and former real estate agent.  Even before jettisoning the drudgery of 9-5 toil she'd gained notoriety as a finalist for Canadian Idol and as a front-woman for the prog-metal band AQuestrya.  More recently she's started to investigate acting opportunities full-time and has already appeared as the lead in short films such as Snappy's and in live theater with the Fringe Festival smash Steal Away Home.

Naomi was dressed as one of the "punk rockers" listed on the call sheet.  Not that I was surprised since the leggings, skirt, bustier and bitchin' boots she was hastily trying to strap on likely counts as standard issue attire for her live performances with AQuestrya.  We quickly took a moment to catch up before I went back to my table for some announcements.

Mike the PA showed up, looking decidedly more besieged then usual.  Turns out that Maria, one of the other PA's is sick, so he was charged with running the show almost single-handed for most of the day.  Immediately my heart went out to the guy.  I saw how challenging it was to herd thirty extras in a single interior location the day before.  I could only imagine what it was going to be like to try and wrangle over eighty extras, especially considering that we had to walk down to the set.  In an omen for things to come, they didn't have enough check-in forms to accommodate all of the background performers, which I immediately interpreted to mean that the end of our day was going to be very interesting.    

I  watched in fascination as some big dudes arrived and then promptly got outfitted as paramedics and cops.  I could also swear that some of these guys arrived already dressed up as firemen.  As it turned out, I wasn't hallucinating after all.  Well, at least not on that particular occasion.  Not long after, I overheard that more often then not these guys are actually real emergency personnel, which makes sense, since they certainly look and act the part.

Me, Shannon and Ashley chat for a bit before the makeup and wardrobe folks come by.  I receive a bit of a touch up since the heat and humidity is already starting to make my face look a bit "dewy".  I'm also slightly alarmed when no-one comes by with the continuity photos to give me final clearance to leave for the set.  Just seconds before we're out the door I stop someone to get validation but all I get in return is:

"Are you wearing the same things you were wearing yesterday?"


"Then your fine!"

As a precaution, I grabbed my pack containing my entire ugly tie collection and prepared to join the mass business-attired exodus.

To make things even more interesting, it had begun to pour out of the heavens.  Everyone except the "emergency personnel" was part of that pilgrimage, which Mike led very expertly.  People on the street started craning their necks to look at us, obviously trying to puzzle out what the hell all of these well-appointed people were doing.  After all, we were all clumped together and shuffling down the street like daycare kids with thyroid conditions and impeccable fashion sense.   

En route to the set, Mike lost his shit on us a couple of times.  I can't say that I blame him since the people at the head of the pack kept failing to hold up at stop signs and crosswalks as requested.  I knew that if the throng split up, if someone wandered off, or if an extra ended up mounted underneath the grill of an Escalade Mike would probably be crucified.  This was driven home earlier when I heard Mike say perhaps the funniest thing ever uttered by another human being:

"Put it this way: everybody who isn't my boss!"

I'm tellin' you right now, if the dude were to copyright and print that shit up on a t-shirt it wouldn't take very long for him to become his own boss.

Mike tried to keep our route as simple as possible to prevent attrition.  We beetled out way deeper into the downtown core, first trucking down hilly Market Street, then crossing Barrington and finally traveling north west on Granville until we reached the set.  It wasn't hard to tell that we were approaching something big, really big.  The George Street intersection had been cut off and the strip of Granville that separated the RBC building from the TD Center was positively choked with activity.

To simulate a busy New York city downtown scene, they had a slew of civilian cars parked two abreast on both sides of the street, with a little clearing right in the middle.  In addition to this we also noticed the presence of several very legitimate-looking taxis, police vehicles and ambulances which looked as if they'd been teleported right from the streets of Manhattan.

Obeying the "no photography" rule, I didn't take any snaps but I did want to include some images from the interwebs just to give you an idea as to what these life-sized props looked like...

In addition to all the exotic-looking vehicles, soon the extras dressed as cops, firemen and paramedics showed up on the scene and began milling around.

There were also a slew of people just posing as pedestrians and onlookers, including Naomi decked out in her "rock-a-ware".  As we were led towards our fraudulent storefront, I thought about how all of this had been coordinated for what might only be four or five minutes worth of screen time.  Amazing.

The set decorators hadn't even bothered to find a real bookstore to convert, they'd just redressed the side entrance to the RBC building.  Just inside the front window were rows of  the fake Noonan book They All Fall Down as well as a huge promotional poster featuring Pierce Brosnan in an appropriately authorial pose.  Even though our holding area was just inside it was far enough away from the camera to ensure a flawless illusion.

Just inside the side entrance, the corridor branched off to the left, presumably leading to offices.  The main chair-lined passage continued on straight ahead for about forty feet and then hooked a sharp right.  As instructed, Shannon, Ashley and myself took a seat at the far end of this long hallway and began to speculate as to what interesting sights and experiences might be imminent.

Soon we were reunited with our respective wayward prop books from the day before.  Regrettably, the inside cover of my copy was lamentable pristine, with no signature in sight.  As of this writing I still have no idea why the props department abducted my copy, got it "signed" and then gave it back to me.  Somebody really needs to get the guys from Homicide: Life on the Streets on this.  
Pretty soon P.A. Mike materialized again to try and organize us into different groups.  Already I'm amazed that he hasn't experienced some sort of stroke.  To make communicating instructions even more frustrating, a small handful of extras had wandered around the bend and were drifting around the main lobby of the bank's arcade.  This really wasn't a major transgression, since chairs had purposefully been placed around the bend accommodate overflow, but some people had started nosing as if they were in the friggin' Louvre.

Initially our little continuity group was excluded in lieu of designating some fresh faces to walk around outside and constitute packs of post-collision gawkers.  Mike divided the gathered into groups One, Two and  Three and groups A, B and C.  As a result of either sleep deprivation or complete mental exhaustion this process was both protracted and quite confusing. 

"Alright," he says, struggling to keep everyone focused. "If someone comes in here and asks for Group B, who's gonna raise their hands?"

A small contingent of extras tentatively raised their mitts towards the fluorescent sun overhead.

"Okay, good.  And if someone, especially someone other than me, comes in here and asks for say...Group Three, who do we have?"

Another cadre of background folks raised their hands sheepishly as if confessing to breaking wind.

"Okay, excellent, perfect," he muttered and then swept a lock of wet hair out of his eyes.  He dashed off again, presumably to try and exterminate another handful of hypothetical fires that had probably cropped up during the time he'd taken to address us.

Naturally, based on the dictates of Murphy's Law, there were a few hiccups when these groups were eventually called upon.  Some of the extras had gotten so strung out for a nicotine fix, that they'd propped open the doors to the front lobby for the express purpose of smoking just outside.  Naturally this played havoc whenever the P.A.'s were attempting to locate everyone.
For a little while, the movie people tried to ban folks from going out that door to smoke, but I imagine that someone must have thrown a diva addiction hissy fit.  This privilege was soon reinstated with the caveat that they had to tell someone on the crew where they were going before heading off to Project Black Lung.

To make matters worse, the washrooms could only be found by navigating an elaborate maze that would confuse the crap out of Theseus.  This epic journey started by taking either a flight of steps or an elevator ride, then trundling down a corridor, then passing through a doorway, then turning left down another hall, then passing through yet another portal, then hoofing down a shorter passageway and then going through the bathroom door.  During the last leg of my first pee crusade I half-expected some old, one-eyed man to leap out and yell: "Answer me these questions three!"

After some background folks were placed strategically outside, Ashley and I were selected to walk out the front door just behind actress Annabeth Gish, who was playing Mike Noonan's wife Jo.  At first we thought this was kind of odd since the continuity established on the previous day dictated that we should still be standing in the lineup long after she left the bookstore.

We also didn't want to protest too loudly because it seemed like a cool scene.  As we waited just inside the door with Annabeth, the wardrobe people finally came by with the continuity photos and gave us the thumbs up.  Even more baffling, the props guy from the day before tried to give us plastic shopping bags to carry our books in as we left the "store".  When this clearly confirmed that we'd actually "purchased" our books already, we just had to say something.

"When did we pay for these?" Ashley whispered, waving her prop novel underneath my nose.  "Aren't we still supposed to be waiting in the lineup to get our book signed when Mike's wife gets hit by the bus?"

"Yeah, I know," I replied.  "From a continuity standpoint, it doesn't make any sense."

When the propmaster tried to insist that we take the shopping bag just before the cameras started rolling, we protested.  We patiently explained that there was no way we could have made it through the lineup, gotten our book signed, paid for it and then gotten back outside before the accident.

"Alright!" he capitulated, then stalked off.

This modest little triumph must have gone straight to our heads.  The closer the time came for Annabeth to walk out that door, the more we thought that we were about to consciously participate in a pretty hefty continuity error.  We mentioned this to a few of the crew standing around nearby and got one of three responses in return:



Or my own personal favorite:

"Oh, don't worry, it'll be alright."

Even Annabeth seemed sympathetic to our cause.

"You can't really tell continuity anything," she told us.  "They've got it figured out."

Appropriately reassured, we proceeded to shoot the scene, which was quite elementary.  Annabeth went out through the door and crossed the street.  We followed just a few beats behind her, then turned right and walked down the sidewalk, miming an animated conversation along the way.  We did this about three times,
varying our "performance" by gesturing to our books, pointing out the promotional signage in the window or babbling excitedly to one another.

We did several takes and every time we marched back inside, I couldn't help but marvel at the huge coordinated pantomime being played out around us.  Simultaneous to what we were doing, Annabeth was dashing across the street, drivers navigating a score of vehicles were simulating the early stages of road rage, oblivious pedestrians were walking towards non-existent destinations and fake city cops were keeping a vigilant eye out over everything.  Every time we were asked to reset, we just went right back to our starting places as if some higher power had hit ◄◄ on their omnipotent remote control.

After the forth go-round we waited for the command to "return to first positions" but it never came.  The shot was complete!  No sooner were we back to our seats before the debate flared up again about how wrong-headed things seemed to be from a continuity standpoint.  Fortunately, a girl whom Ashley had befriended chimed in.  Although her name escapes me right now, I know that she's done enough local films to warrant her own IMDB listing, so her opinion certainly carried tremendous weight.

"Keep in mind that the last shot might have been from so far back that you two weren't even recognizable," she told us.  "When you see the scene, you probably won't even to be able to tell that you're the same two people standing in the lineup."

"Plus there's all sorts of editing trick they can do," Shannon contributed.  "Trust me, they know what they're doing."

Both of us felt somewhat idiotic for dwelling on this so much.  Ashley was particularly upset over the fact that we'd refused to put our books in the plastic shopping bags when we had the chance.  In retrospect, this  certainly would make a lot more sense if we were two completely different characters.   

"Naw, I would have refused the plastic bag anyway," I maintained.  "It's actually written into my contract that every character I portray on screen is environmentally conscious."

After we had a few yuks over this, craft services arrived with a military-style blitzkrieg of nummy treats.  We'd been fed and watered so efficiently the day before that I hadn't bothered to pack my own lunch, so their timely arrival was quite welcome.  Unfortunately I only managed to snag half of a very tasty veggie sandwich before the balance was torn asunder like Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead.  

Meanwhile the crew was feverishly prepping for the big accident scene just outside.  Some of the street-level extras were called back out to lens the sequence in which the dummy representing Annabeth Gish gets plowed down in the street by a bus.  In fact, a small handful of lucky folks were even selected to be passengers on the bus when it ran into the dummy.   

When I caught a glimpse Annabeth's plastic stand-in I thought it was kinda eerie.  Special effects have certainly come a long way from throwing a lame, floppy fabric dummy off the top of a windmill like they did in the 1932 version of Frankenstein.  This one was very closely modeled after the actress herself.  It had the same height, body type, hair style and even eye color.  The mannequin doppelganger was also attired in identical clothing: white top with red flowers, red shirt and red high heels.  It was friggin' creepy.

They wanted to keep the exits clear while making these pivotal preparations, but I still manged to sneak a few peeks.  The crew was diligently working to clear the street to allow the stunt driver behind wheel of the bus an opportunity to really build up some momentum as it bore down on the mannequin. 

Needless to say, with such a complicated sequence, it took quite awhile to set things up.  In fact, I was half-way back down the hall (after my third glimpse out of the window) before I realized that they weren't doing another rehearsal.  I heard a powerful motor rev up, caught several blasts of a loud horn and then detected the distinct sound of the bus slamming into something like a bag filled with wet cement.  Just as I got back up to the entrance I saw the tail end of the bus fly by at top speed.

When "Cut!" was called, the "sick little monkey" factor kicked in as a round of applause and cheers went up.  Disgraceful!

But still pretty cool

Next time on my Emblogification Capture Device:
  • DEATH!
  • BLOOD!
  • DRAMA!
  • F-BOMBS!
Join me later this week for the thrilling conclusion!   
EPIC I wonder if Mick Garris considers Bag of Bones to be a walk in the park compared to adapting The Stand?
FAIL This heart-rending doc shows just how horribly awry film productions can go.  Honestly, it's like a comedy of errors...