It started snowing today. We had been told over and over that “it never snows in Montreal until after Christmas” which is, of course, a bloody lie! Kind of like the one they tell you in Vancouver – “oh, this is strange weather, it never usually rains this much this time of year” which as anybody who’s ever lived in a rainforest before can tell you is just ANOTHER BLOODY LIE.
In our “movie time” it’s too early for snow, so we decide to move out of the ghastly winter weather and into a neighborhood house to do some interior scenes. The homeowner, a lovely woman with very good taste in furnishings and décor – a rarity in these parts I’m finding -- had graciously made us coffee on our first visit last month to scout the place out. I’ll bet she wouldn’t have been so gracious had she been able to see our crew lugging equipment, set pieces and even my monstrosity of a director’s chair into her dining room. Imagine a hundred rhinoceri in a room full of antique crystal. Then multiply by five.
We shot a scene in the living room where The Mitchell’s friends and neighbors have gathered for the annual Secret Santa draw. Unfortunately I stupidly left my casting director/Third Assistant Director – he of the Fingerless Fireman persuasion –- in charge of finding me a guy to play FRIENDLY NEIGHBOR #1, who has a line about how it hasn’t snowed in the town on Christmas in thirty years. A simple enough request I thought, asking for a nice, friendly guy without a too-thick French accent.
Unfortunately, the fellow who was selected, while a perfectly lovely man, bore a rather watery resemblance to one of the lesser Sopranos. And since the scene in question was about passing an empty hat around the room, I was afraid it would look to the audience as if he was waiting for the other guests to drop their wallets and jewelry inside. I shot the scene quickly and will probably cut his line out.
I’m not sure what the obsession is in my casting department with bringing me creepy looking people? I walk down the streets of this beautiful city day and night, and the absolutely gorgeous human specimens passing me by are enough to make one believe in Intelligent Design. So why on earth can’t I get any of these ravishing creatures into my movie? Are they too busy sipping cappuccinos and laughing about Sartre to bother becoming professional actor/model/waiters? What’s wrong with them?? Don’t they know there’s big money to be made in the field of Professional Rejection?
We go back outside again later at night where the wind chill is something like minus 850 degrees Celsius. This may be a slight exaggeration, but I did see a dog frozen to a fire hydrant. Like an idiot I still haven't gotten around to buying boots, instead wearing thermal socks inside my running shoes. That works for about an eighth of a second before I can feel the soles of my feet beginning to freeze to the pavement. I get even crankier than usual and stand closer to the cheap electric heaters our production manager placed on set to keep us warm. They're useless, putting out about the same amount of warmth as a television screen, and you practically have to put your hands ON the burners to thaw out your fingertips.
Just when I think it can't get ANY COLDER, the heaters flicker and shut down. It seems the overpriced generator we've been forced to rent from The Godfather isn't strong enough to support the heaters AND the puny lights we could barely afford to illuminate the street at night. An odd choice - heat or light? It's like shooting in a Third World Country. No, I take that back - I filmed in the middle of the South African Veldt once and we didn't have these problems. Frankly, if filmmaking here were any more primitive, we'd be doing this movie as a Cave Painting.
By wrap time, the whole crew is sharing a cold. This is not unusual given the French habit of saying hello by kissing one another on both cheeks at the drop of a hat. It’s usually done in the morning on set, and seems rather an extravagant way to greet someone you’ve just say goodbye to not twelve hours earlier. But given the temperatures around here, I suppose just surviving another night in this subzero hell is worth at least a peck or two.
Still, an observation is in order. In France, where the “kiss kiss” tradition probably originated, the custom is charming and somewhat romantic, in Quebec, where it has been imported, it seems like an easy way to spread disease. That’s because even in the deepest winter, Parisians don’t have to slog through fifteen feet of ice and slush just to get to their cars, so the odds of them catching double pneumonia and passing it to the next bit of flesh they slobber on is rather slim.
But in the overall scheme of the world, Quebec is to France as Mexico is to Spain, so perhaps they’d better let go of this whole “heritage” thing and just find a more sanitary way of salutation.