I’m not sure exactly when we “lost” the day.
It might’ve been right off the bat this morning, when I arrived at our first location – a lovely home in a well-heeled part of Montreal – and saw the entire crew standing around looking at the ground. The clean, dry ground.
The problem was, there was supposed to be snow on that ground. And on the shrubs and the trees. And the house. And in the air, falling down around my actors – dressed as if it were 1947 – as they show us how a young Georgie Wilson “became” crabby old Mr. Wilson.
Unfortunately, the people who live in the neighborhood where we’ve chosen to shoot our Dennis the Menace Christmas picture aren’t exactly delighted by our presence. We aren’t even allowed to bring our trucks onto the streets – public streets mind you! – until after 7 a.m. My cinematographer Kim and I have a running joke that the production manager – basically the “foreman” of the shoot – is trying to make this movie without anybody in the city of Montreal knowing about it.
So instead of “dressing” the house with artificial snow and ice the night before as planned, my design and effects crew have been forced to do a rush job which, even though it looks great on camera, has resulted in an entire film crew doing nothing for two hours and ends up costing us about $20,000.00 more than it should have in lost time and wages.
Once we got going, however, the extraordinarily fast and skilled technical team made sure things proceeded with remarkable efficiency. All went surprisingly well for the first day -- EXCEPT:
--the ridiculous agreement we’ve been forced into with the local municipality means all of our dressing rooms and makeup and hair trailers are parked two miles from the set, so just getting an actor from his trailer to in front of the camera is a major military maneuver.;
--and my first assistant director refuses to communicate with my second assistant director who tries hard to communicate with my third assistant director who, judging by the “deer in the headlights” look permanently etched on his face, has never even SEEN a movie let alone worked on one;
-- oh, and as we all know, actors LIE. It’s what they do for a living. When they’re adults, this usually takes the form of harmless exaggerations of their skills, such as “of COURSE I can ride a horse/drive a car/chew gum and walk at the same time”. It is a truism that the more complicated the requirement – fly fishing, for example, or teeth flossing – the more enthusiastically the thesp in question will boast about his or her abilities.
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when our child actors, all of whom swore on a stack of Playstations that they could ride a bike, spent the better part of the morning crashing into trees, curbs and each other as they attempted to navigate their way through the big race scene.
Eventually we ended up rigging a fake bike to a wagon and pushing the little darlings up and down the street – or more to the point, Yanka our hot-as-a-pistol dolly grip did.
When it’s all cut together, it’ll be magic I’m sure.
Not so magical, however, was the “stunt” whereby our little Dennis, the adorable Maxwell as seen in the picture above of himself and me, crashes his bike into a pile of leaves.
Since we didn’t want to risk his life and limb this early in the shoot, we had engaged a “little person” to dress in Dennis’ costume and take the fall. This seemed to be a good idea.
At the time.
I have never seen active combat. Nor have I witnessed a bullfight, open heart surgery or self-immolation by a bereft Indian. However, I doubt even these things could compare with the sense of alarm one feels watching an adult dwarf jammed into ill-fitting children’s clothing repeatedly ram a small bicycle into a pile of wet leaves.
Any of the preceeding events surely contributed to the fact that we didn’t finish all of our scheduled work today. This isn’t unusual of course, but it certainly doesn’t give our little movie a terribly auspicious start.
One can only imagine what horrors tomorrow will bring.