Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Series of "Firsts" - Part Three

Welcome, Crime Scenesters!

While we were being put through our paces as Detectives on the set of Forensic Firsts, the costume and makeup departments were busy transforming fellow background performers Rich, Terry and Craig into G-Men.

Apparently the very same cliché that we've seen played out in a hojillion cop shows and movies also plagued the Green River Task Force.  You know what I'm talking about: underfunded and understaffed local law enforcement gets overwhelmed, progress on the investigation stalls and the FBI is sent in to mop things up.  Of course, there's a break in the case and the local cops who did all the ground work feel resentful when the FBI gets all the credit.  But that's where this particular story deviates sharply from tradition.

So while us local law enforcement types are pouring over our baffling and seemingly insurmountable mound of evidence, the Feds suddenly barged in.  Jozel was the first to notice them, inspiring one of her "patented" eye rolls.  She then shared a look of disgust with the rest of her fellow cops.  After a beat, Erik marched over and tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention.  Still engrossed in our labors, I finally looked up to see the agents.  When I first laid eyes on them, I certainly didn't have to act surprised.

Wardrobe and makeup had done a bang-up job.   With his lanky frame, Evil Spock goatee and stern countenance, Craig had the ability to cut you to the quick with a mere glance.  Terry had the bearing of a government-sponsored mortician.  Finally Rich, shorter of stature but with a full head of hair, was appropriately humorless and businesslike.

The first time they came in through the door and hit their marks this is what we saw:

Since it looked as if they'd come in to challenge one Monsieur Anderson to a kung-fu duel, Director Jay Dahl just started cracking up.  Even without my glasses on, I could see that the effect was unintentionally funny.  Soon the whole room was in hysterics.

"Okay, I need two of you guys to lose the sunglasses," Jay said between chuckles.  "It just looks too ridiculous."

We ran it again sans Ray Bans and it looked a lot more terrestrial.  As the scene continued to unspool,  I was asked to stand up, glare at them defensively, share a moment with my fellow cops, begrudgingly walk over to them, shake their collective hands and then guide them over to the evidence table.

We did a few iterations of this before moving on to our "whisper party".  Jay had us collect off to the side to talk some smack about the G-Men just out of earshot.  While the Feds were instructed to rummage through the evidence (evidence that we'd so painstakingly gathered, mind you!), Jozel, Eric, Thaddius, Justin and I huddled together in the corner to natter and gesture at the interlopers.  To give my actions some authenticity, I just kept mouthing the same sentiments over and over again:

'Unbelievable!  These guys think they can just waltz in here and take over the place!'

'Look at these suits!  They think they're so friggin' smart...'

'They don't know have a clue about this case!  As if they're gonna find something that we missed!"

Every once and awhile Jay asked us to suspend the "whisper party", shoot a collective dirty look at the fédérales and then resume our collective back-bitery.  Eventually, we did bury the hatchet with the G-Men.  Historically speaking, the FBI did bring a fresh perspective and level of organization to the Green River Task Force, at least initially.

As the agents began to make some headway on the case, we started drifting back to the table one by one in order to aid their efforts.  This initial synergy didn't last very long, however.  Jay proceeded to shoot a series of set-ups depicting the FBI experiencing the same level of frustration that we cops went through only hours before.  It wasn't very long before Craig was shooting free-throws with crumpled bits of paper and Rich was embroiled in his own stormy mock telephone conversations.

Around this time we had an awesome break for lunch.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that Shevon, who I'd first met on  the set of November Christmas, was providing the catering.  The spread she prepared for us was amazing: ham, butternut squash soup, two types of salad, gobs of fresh fruit and, get apple pies!  This amazing repast really gave us the fuel to power through such a long and demanding day.  

After lunch and a few more set-ups, I got whisked away for a costume change.  This would be for an entirely different episode in which I'd be playing a police sketch artist.  This time Sarah put me in a pair of light gray pants and a maroon-colored sweatshirt.  Dead sexy.

Another back ground performer by the name of Deborah was the focus of the scene.  Characterized by the call sheet as an "80's mom", she spent most of her screen time critiquing my "handiwork" and suggesting improvements.  We were instructed to sit in seats across from one another with the camera to my back.  During this time I had a chance to chat with her for little a bit.  Although this was her first time doing television, she had experience in live theater and did a fantastic job interpreting Jay's mutable direction.

Despite the length of time it took to hash out this shot, we still had to cool our jets while the real, off-camera sketch artist finished his prop drawing.

"Pity I didn't know you needed a sketch done," I told Adam as we waited.  "I probably could have whipped one up for you."

When the drawing was finally handed to me I impressed by the artist's skill while simultaneously put off by the subject's rough-hewn countenance.  Since I'd be tasked to sketch over the features as Deborah mimed changes, Adam called up the original forensic sketch on his iPhone as a point of reference.  Between takes I'd glance at it to make sure I wasn't "coloring outside the lines".

Again, Jay expertly talked us through a series of actions.  He got me to sketch for a little bit then ask Deborah if the eyes looked right.  After he told her to give me a thumbs up, I resumed my doodling  until Jay prompted me to quiz her about (of all things) the shape of his ear!

"Okay, Deborah," Jay instructed.  "Just shake your head; that isn't quite right.  Lift your hair up and show David the top of your ear.  It's more like that.  Okay, David, start sketching the changes."

After making an incremental alteration, Jay asked me to point to the subject's jaw line.

"You think the jaw looks perfect but the nose...the nose isn't quite right."

Deborah gestured to that part of the sketch and mimed some hot Pinocchio action.  I immediately set to work to make the nose appear "bigger".  After a few more light strokes of the pencil, Jay called "Cut!" and just like that Deborah was wrapped!  As I was whisked off for yet another costume change, I had a chance to congratulate her on a job well done and wish her well.

After I was re-dressed again as 80's era Jensen I was ushered back to set, plunked in front of a desk and given a generic copy of National Geographic to flip through.  I was re-united with my fellow officers, who were stationed strategically behind me.  We then proceeded to shoot another version of the "dwindling support" sequence from the first episode I shot.    

This was meant to simulate the slow, real-life dismantling of the Green River Task Force.  As the case grew increasingly cold and the funding dried up, the operation was scaled back until only Jensen and a skeletal staff remained.

To depict this, Jay fell back on the ol' time lapse fade-out technique.  After shooting all of us doing mundane tasks at our appointed stations, he instructed Justin to walk off-camera.  Then the Set Dec folks rushed in like locusts, dismantled about 10% of our "office"and made off with a similar percentage of props.

The cameras started rolling again and after a few seconds he asked Thaddius to slink out of frame.  Once again he'd pause video to send the Set Dec scavengers in to deplete even more of our surroundings.  This was repeated again and again until I was the only one left, sitting at a spartan desk on a nearly bare set flipping through a stale magazine.

To complete the time leap illusion, I was led away and re-dressed once again, this time in contrasting beige tones.  I was then escorted down into the bowels of the older church where Candace had set up a triage makeup station.           

By now it was getting quite late and I could sense that we were beginning to fall behind schedule.  Sensing that my most complicated scene was still imminent, I did my best to expedite the wardrobe change and get my ass back into the makeup chair.  Despite the fact that Candace had only been given five minutes (!) to age me by twenty years, she still came through like a trooper.

I tried to acknowledge this stress and alleviate a bit of it at the same time.

"Look," I said to her, "You can probably age we twenty years in a few seconds if you just remove the makeup that you put on me earlier.  I reckon that should do the trick."   

After allowing herself a chuckle she immediately set to work.  In order to transform me into a semblance of Jensen in his 60's she started by applying a fake gray mustache.  She slathered what I could only assume was spirit gum on my top lip and then plastered on the ol' soup strainer.  By now, a small crowd of curious gawkers had gathered, intent on witnessing my transformation first hand.

"Uh oh," someone commented.  "There's a warning label on this glue bottle.  It says it's toxic."

"Wonderful," I muttered.  "I'm gonna wake up tomorrow morning and my top lip's gonna be at the bottom of the bed."

After the moustache was affixed in place, Candace attacked it with a small pair of scissors, looking to create irregularities and make it look more "natural".  Then she brushed a few (more) gray streaks into my hair and added a few more wrinkles.   All the while, Adam was standing close by with a walkie-talkie, giving everyone upstairs a minute-by-minute progress report.

I can't express how taxing this must have been for her.  Realistically, it was probably a job that should have taken about a half hour, but she was initially given five minutes and managed to negotiate for seven.  By the time Jay came down to do an inspection and escort me back upstairs, she'd probably only gotten about ten minutes with me in total.  I can only imagine what kind of job she could have done if she'd only had more time.

Despite this handicap, everyone seemed to be blown away by the results.

"It looks incredible," Jay said, echoing the thoughts of everyone I passed by en route back to the set.

Of everything that happened that day, this is what frustrates me the most.  I knew that I couldn't take a photo of myself, but we were so pressed for time that I didn't even get a chance to see myself in the mirror.  Somewhere out there is a continuity photo of me dressed up like a sixty year old Detective!   

When I walked back onto the deserted Green River Task Force I slowly realized that I was about to experience yet another daunting first.  I was about to carry a scene all by myself!

Just before we started to roll, Jay wanted to put a set of glasses on me.  At first Beth Ann and Sarah were going to put me in an old pair of used prescription glasses.  Frankly I was kinda dreading this since it probably would have resulted in an instant migraine.  Since I'd been forced all this time to "act" without my glasses, I jumped at the chance to wear my own real specs.

"Uh, Jay, do you mind if I wear my own glasses for this scene?" I queried.

"Yeah, sure," he returned.  "So long as they're not super-modern looking."

"Oh, trust me, they're not," I replied, reaching into my pocket and putting on my woefully un-stylish five-year-old goggles.

"Perfect!" he shouted.  "Let's shoot something!" 

The scene itself was intended to represent the pivotal, long-awaited break in the case that came only upon the advent of genetic profiling.  Jay sat me down at my desk and gave me a new magazine to read, this one featuring an article on DNA evidence.  A subsequent tight shot of my face revealed an epiphany as I "read" through the article.  I was then asked to do all of the following actions in quick succession:
  1. Leap out of my chair.
  2. Tuck the magazine under my arm.
  3. Rush over to the last remaining file cabinet at the back of the office.
  4. Open up the top drawer.
  5. Find a particular evidence envelope.
  6. Take it out, hold it up and turn it over. 
  7. Run back to my desk.
  8. First throw down the magazine and then the evidence bag, making sure that they both land in such a way that the camera can see them.
  9. Sit down and dial a number.
  10. Take the vial out of the Ziplock bag, hold it up for the camera and examine it, all the while miming an impromptu conversation and not looking directly into the camera.         

Despite the complexity of the sequence, I personally blew about three takes:

  1. On the very first take I didn't rush back to the cabinet with enough urgency.
  2. Then I found the evidence bag a bit too easily (forcing the prop guys to hide the friggin' thing on me for each subsequent take!) 
  3. The filing cabinet got locked by accident.

Every other time it was some other issue forcing a go-again.  There was quite a bit of debate as to whether or not I should leave the magazine on the desk or take it with me.  One time the camera operators either weren't tracking me or keeping me in focus as I jumped up and ran to the back of the office.

Without a doubt, the most annoying thing was actually the friggin' magazine itself.  Instead of using an issue of Popular Science or designing a completely original prop, they'd somehow managed to find a DNA article inside, of all things, Cosmo-friggin'-politan.

Cosmo: discover the wonders of  genetic profiling whilst (and at the same time) learning how to protect your man from cougar attacks!

Since I had to keep the magazine aloft for the camera and flip back and forth between the two pages of the article, the rag was folded back on itself to obscure its completely inappropriate cover.  Unfortunately, there was no way to turn the damned thing over without revealing a "Sex Quiz", a "Sex Article" or some other "Sexy Sex Story Now With 25% More Sex".

Initially the Set Dec folks tried to remedy this by using double-sided tape to hold some of the pages together.  Unfortunately, all this did was reveal the next page in order, which invariable bore such fascinating articles as: "'My Gyno Talked To My Vajay-Jay' and Other Doc Shockers!", "Get Butt-Naked: Fun Things To Do While Bare-Assed" or "Sizzling Sex Positions (That Won't Give You Boob Sweat)".  Needless to say it wasn't long before everyone was busting up, no pun intended.

"Stop making me laugh!" I shouted.  "My moustache is gonna pop off!"

Eventually the props guy managed to solve the problem by ripping half of the pages out and completely busting the spine.

We shot this from several POV's.  First a stationary shot with me at the desk, then with the camera tracking me to the back of the room and then a side-view of the cabinet as I opened the drawer, flipped through the files and pulled out the evidence bag.

After we finally nailed this complicated scene it was off to the makeup chair to be transformed back into myself (and 80's era Jensen).  Again, Candace facilitated this transformation like a seasoned pit crew boss.

"If we're really pressed for time, you can just rip it off," I said, referring to my Porn-stache.
 "Just don't warn me..."

"Hells no!" she shot back.  "Do you know how long it takes to re-grow a top lip?"

She gingerly lifted one side of the 'stache she began to strategically dab away at the seam with mineral oil.  Although she was working quickly not once did she inflict so much as a twinge of discomfort.  She then scrubbed away the excess wrinkles, brushed (most of) the gray out of my hair and re-applied a new layer of Spackle.  I thanked her profusely as Sarah and Beth Ann expedited yet another hasty costume change.

Although most of my heavy lifting was done for the day, I still featured prominently in another scene in which Jensen is shown trying to use one of them "new-fangled" computers.  The props department had somehow managed to wrangle up a ginormous monitor and installed an older version of Windows (using post-it notes to cover up the more anachronistic on-screen iconography).  It seemed to take forever to fine tune the ancient monitor's refresh rate so that the fake FBI database graphics on the screen were visible on-camera.

I was directed to sit in front of this radiation-spewing monolith and cycle through some of the images with the arrow keys.  Then Jay asked me to do my best hunt-n'-peck job at the keyboard.  Apparently my interpretation of this was just a little bit too competent.

"No, David, I need you to really hunt and peck.  Act like your afraid of it.  Hunt and peck like your mom!"

After treating the keyboard as if had a secret self destruct button, I nailed the scene and we promptly moved on.

All that remained were a few sequences featuring Jozel instructing Officer Thaddius to scratch suspect names off of a flip chart and Rich conducting a departmental meeting RE: the discovery of a new victim.  For many of these sequences, Eric, Justin and I filled in the frame by doing multiple foreground passes in front of the camera.

As the time-pressure began to abate, I took this opportunity to check out the professional Nikon digital camera that the crew was using.  I had a chat with one of the assistants about how units like the Red and the GoPro were making digital film-making more and more accessible to semi-professionals.  High Def and 24+ Frames Per Second To The People!

I also had a chance to shoot the shit with Adam and Jay about some of our favorite films, including American Movie, one of the best documentaries ever made.  Jay also shared his mind-blowing plans to go to L.A. for the premiere of Ridley Scott's new Alien prequel, Prometheus.  Who's hella-jealous?  This guy...   

When we wrapped not long after I glanced at my watch and was stunned.  My day had started at 6:30 am and it was now closing in on 10 pm. 

Y'know, it's funny.  In every single previous workplace, I've always felt uncomfortable, nervous and ill-at-ease probably because I had no aptitude nor interest in what I was doing.  But while I was sitting there on set that day, labored in aging makeup, with a camera and light trained on me, and having a bakers-dozen strangers appraising my every move, I felt completely calm and relaxed.  In fact, it was the most fun "working" day I've ever had in my entire life and the closest I've ever come to actually "ACTING" on screen.

Although I'd still prefer to be on the technical side of the camera, my zen-like reaction to this amazing experience was shocking.

Sometimes you can really surprise yourself.  

EPIC GRAPHIC NOVEL   In September 2011, Tom Jensen's son, Jeff (a very talented comic book artist) adapted his Dad's incredible story in the 240-page Dark Horse graphic novel Green River Killer: A True Detective Story.

FAIL   Considering how many people work on a movie set, behavior like this is completely inexcusable.

GENDER FAIL   Cosmo: delaying T.V. shoots and setting the role of women back to the Dark Ages since 1886.

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