Tuesday, December 05, 2006


On every film shoot, there’s always one scene which seems to take FOREVER to complete. Our Waterloo on this movie is SCENE 90.

It begins simply, a group of kids gather at the end of the movie to watch Dennis the Menace square off in a bike race against his arch nemesis Jack Bratcher. Our writer Kathleen came up with a wonderful way for Dennis to win AND lose at the same time; he “throws” the race because he figures that Jack – whose psychologically abusive father pushes his son not to be “a loser” – needs to win. It is Dennis’ Christmas gift to his enemy which causes snow to fall in their town on Christmas Day for the first time in thirty years.

Nice stuff. On the page.

But if you factor in weather problems, scheduling problems, missing actors and my own growing irritation with my First Assistant Director, you have the makings of a major cinematic disaster. Forced to shoot the whole sequence in tiny pieces, my Continuity Girl is doing a valiant job making sure that each element cuts together to make the whole thing appear seamless, but frankly my head is spinning from trying to remember what the hell is actually going on.

We continue to suffer from the fact that our lead kids can barely ride the bicycles they’ve been given. I have yet to actually shoot the “racing” part of the scene because I’m afraid one or both of our young stars will take a header into a tree and shut the whole production down. The “extras” continue to be a challenge; the neighborhood children look adorable but when I try to tell them what I want them to do, they stare at me with the blank expressions one usually associates with barnyard animals. I’m beginning to understand why Mr. Hitchcock referred to actors as “cattle”.

It turns out of course that none of them actually understand English, and we finally have had to hire a ‘wrangler” to take care of them all, translating my commands into their native tongue which, judging from the behavior of some of these little “angels”, must be whatever language they speak on Mars.

I’d also requested “a brawny ex-marine type” for a gag where Dennis’s past babysitters run screaming in terror. They sent me an actual ex-Marine who, while a nice guy and certainly handsome, looked about as threatening as a cologne spray salesman at Bloomingdale’s. If he’s indicative of the armed forces around here, it’s no wonder Canada’s military is in such dire shape.

Because we’re shooting everything out of order, we have to keep track of exactly when the Christmas decorations are put up on the exteriors of the houses in our shots. Most of the homes on our street have been cooperative, with the exception of the owner of a rather ghastly Castle Keep sort of place which is, unfortunately, right next door to Dennis’ movie home.

Why in a tree-lined residential area featuring lovely family homes this buffoon would build himself a medieval fortress complete with turret is beyond me. He wouldn’t let us put any of our own Christmas lights on his trees or lawn, but he seems to have no problem stringing an increasingly hideous collection of cheap baubles all over the place. I have to continually adjust the camera frame to keep from seeing this crap and while we certainly have no legal recourse in the matter, I am taking comfort in the fact that he is a rather buff, handsome ex-football player kind of dad and is likely completely unaware that I have been observing him from afar with some fairly impure thoughts in my mind…

The special effects department were on set today as well, providing us with fake snow for the big finale; made of soap, it certainly looks nice enough on camera, but god help you if you get any of this stuff in your eyes. Later in the day, they rigged a food blender for a scene where our hero’s attempt to make Christmas cookies results in a sticky mess spewing all over the kitchen. Since we had our young star in the same shot as the blender, I asked them to test it just to see if the glop inside would actually shoot out. They hit the switch and instead of a funny and messy eruption, we were treated to the vision of a household appliance being launched into orbit!

Our Dennis dove out of the way in the nick of time just as this deadly kitchen projectile crashed back to earth.

“Awesome…” he said, wiping fake cookie dough off his face.

“Yes,” I answered, staring daggers at the technicians responsible for the attempted murder of our lead. “Wasn’t it…”

On the way home I called my long-suffering boyfriend, a prominent Palm Springs businessman, and complained about the travails of the day. He’s very sympathetic of course, but I’m sure I sound like some kind of whining diva. I must remember to send him roses.

Oh and RJ Wagner’s schedule has changed again. He doesn’t arrive for another day. I have to keep shooting with the photo double -- who looks less like RJ and more like Omar Sharif in Dr. Shivago -- and just hope it will all cut together…


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant writing, Ron. I look forward to reading more about the production.

Your comments about the propensity of actors to LIE are interesting. I would hazard a guess that your inexperienced casting directors never thought to ask whether the young actors involved could ride a bike competently. They probably also failed to mention that bike riding was a significant and pivotal part of the film. It's the more logical explanation.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous Morgan said...

No, trust me Anonymous, we lie.

6:36 PM  
Anonymous Danny said...

Hmm... I was actually counting on seeing this movie when it came out... but now that you have ruined the ending for me, there really is no point!

Hope the remainder of your shoot goes well ;)

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In an earlier post you seemed proud that you were actually using younger kids to film this. Now I guess you see why others may have used an older child in the past. Were there no older children talented enough?
For the poster who said something about the kids not know ing about the bike riding. The bicycle race was one of the audition scenes.

6:20 PM  

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