Monday, February 19, 2007


What the HELL were we thinking, making a movie up here in the winter?

First, let it be known that I was born in northern Ontario, Canada, which is kind of like Outer Siberia - except instead of Russians we had White Trash - so you’d think I would be used to the cold. But THIS is ridiculous.

As we pulled up to the location today, back on the same neighborhood street where the locals can’t WAIT to be rid of us, I was surprised to see that there was virtually nobody on the street. The trucks were parked along the sidewalk, the set was decorated – well, as decorated as a set can be with the twelve dollars and fifty three cents our Art Department seems to have left out of their already tight budget – and yet there was nobody in sight.
The moment I stepped out of the car, I realized exactly why. In spite of the sunny skies, the temperature had plummeted to minus eight hundred degrees (I may be off a bit here, the thermometer in the car was frozen solid…) and with each breath you could literally feel your lungs collapse like a couple of wet paper bags. All I really wanted to do was go back to the hotel and crawl into my Russian Hooker Approved Bed and wait out the subzero conditions, but suddenly the truck doors opened and my crew - dressed like they’re heading out to conquer Mt. Everest – trundle out onto the street. Oddly, they don’t seem fazed by the cold. These are the same people, mind you, who take our constant schedule changes as personally as if we’ve shot their dogs, but the fact that their eyeballs are freezing in their sockets doesn’t seem to bother them. And so, in spite of the fact that I haven’t been able to feel anything below my knees since I set foot on the sidewalk, we bang off a sequence of shots showing the Dennis the Menace’s “neighbors” decorating their homes for Christmas.

In my mind, this was going to be a magical, exciting sequence, with lots of laughter and fun as we watch everybody get ready for the Holiday Season. In reality, with the limitations of our location AND having to point my camera away from anything resembling snow (see earlier Blog entries for why….), the scene becomes a series of close-ups of cardboard boxes sitting on muddy patches of dead grass as the hands of our Extras pull out strings of cheap lights and Thrift Store garland.

On the plus side, for the first time in the entire shoot, our Background Performers are actually ATTRACTIVE! Usually, our Extras look as if they’d been recruited from discount laundromats and seedy bowling alleys, with a promise of REALLY good crystal meth as payment, but today we have finally got some of the beautiful people I’ve seen all over Montreal!

Unfortunately, the scene requires them to be wearing scarves and hats and gloves and huge overcoats, so I don’t actually get to SEE how good looking they are. I considered having one particularly stunning young man decorate his house in a pair of shorts – I’m sure I could’ve justified it in the script somehow – but I was afraid that the more useful parts of his anatomy might’ve frozen off in this ridiculous cold.

We continue to shoot more of Scene 90 – faithful readers of this blog will recall this as the climactic “Big Bike Race” sequence – but instead of risking any more disastrous accidents – such as the moment when our “bully” rode over his own foot and burst into tears - we strap our actors to fake bicycles mounted on the back of the camera and wheel them along the street.

The boys do their best, but the cold is really getting to them, especially our Maxwell – Dennis the Menace himself – who is a Southern California native and hasn’t experienced anything this frigid outside of an Ice Cream Truck. Yet the kid is a trouper, focused and concentrated, delivering an incredible and moving performance. But when the cameras stop rolling, he folds up into a fetal position, wrapped in thermal blankets in a desperate attempt to stay warm. His Mom, who goes down in my books as being one of the unsung heroes of this movie, pours hot soup into him and he carries on, because – as he tells me between takes – “I’m cold Ron, but I’m having fun!”

Ah, the glamour of show business.

Have I mentioned the fact that every time we have to go to the bathroom we must hike four blocks to a freezing cold Porta-Potty?

Unlike a normal film shoot, none of the local residents would give us permission to use their facilities – even after we’d offered them money – so we are “borrowing” (and if by “borrow” you mean “use without permission”) some outdoor toilets set up by a local construction site. So the next time somebody says to you “I want to make movies for a living” you must slap them hard across the face and hand them an application to their local community college.

My First Assistant Director shivers through the entire day, and given my usual self-centeredness, it takes me until almost lunchtime to realize that he’s not wearing much more than a pair of jeans and a light jacket. It occurs to me that maybe one of the reasons things keep screwing up on this movie is that the guy who is supposed to be my Right Hand Man is suffering from hypothermia. But I don’t want to make a big deal out of it, so I hint to him that the extreme cold is hurting the production and perhaps we should think about rescheduling yet again, shooting interiors for awhile until the horrendous temperatures go up a bit.

But instead of taking this as a subtle hint to wear a sweater or something, it comes across as more of my “whining” and my previously-noted “Hot As A Pistol” Key Grip, assuming correctly that my Running Shoe/Thermal Sock ensemble isn’t working so well, shows up with an pair of his own insulated boots for me to wear. Although they look like something Gene Simmons might’ve worn during the heyday of KISS, I practically swoon from the idea of having something of his touching my skin, but as I’m the Director it wouldn’t be professional to admit that so I just say thank you and slip them on.

We continue shooting, rushing through a scene where Dennis and his pals inadvertently shove an entire Christmas tree through Mr. Wilson’s front window – the dialog in this scene is particularly overwritten, so I film it in a way that I can cut it out and rewrite it later – and as night falls we finish the day with our Christmas Angel, played by the very funny actor known as GODFREY (one word only, you know, like CHER or BOTULISM), plummeting out of the sky and landing in Dennis’ neighborhood in time to deliver the Christmas Spirit.

Well, that was the idea anyway. Unfortunately, when I ask the On Set Art Department to put the “shrub” in place for Godfrey’s landing, I am met with blank stares.

“Shrub?” they ask.

For a moment, I consider rescheduling this scene to another night – it’s been 11 hours in this hellish cold and frankly all I want to do is drive to the airport and go home – but we can’t afford to come back to this neighborhood again, so I tell the Art Department to “do something”.

Once again they rise to the occasion and, within ten minutes, we have a lovely shrubbery for our actor. Some fishing line attached to the branches for a bit of impromptu "puppetry" creates a perfect “thud” moment for our Angel’s arrival, and Godfrey – dressed in an immaculate, if chilly, white suit, makes his first official appearance in our movie.

It’s a wonderful moment, capturing the magic at the heart of this story, and when it shows up in the film, nobody is going to care about the fact that a certain tree in a certain Montreal neighborhood is going to look a little…sparse…this spring.

At least, I hope not.


Anonymous Anonymous said...





HOPE SO.....

7:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Ron.

We're enjoying reading your updates, although I have to say we wait with baited breath between installments. You must have one mean internal editor! Can't wait for the next one.

JL, Isaac (the "bully")'s mom

12:30 PM  
Blogger ron oliver said...

To Dredd Lock Girl - yeah, the show was cool after all. I am still trying to catch up with my blogging but I'm glad you're reading and enjoying! And to Isaac's Mom, good to hear from you! As we edit the film, I am delighted - although not surprised - by Isaac's performance. He does a wonderful job and you will be very proud of his work in the movie! Keep reading...xo, RO

7:43 PM  
Anonymous JL said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ron. Max and I were proud of Isaac, and it was a good experience all around. It's fascinating to read about the production from the "other side". It's pretty easy for the "talent" (and their parents) to forget that they aren't the sole focus of a production, and that there are a million other factors that come into play.

8:25 AM  
Anonymous Max! (Isaac's Dad) said...

Ron: I know that it is hard to see everything that happens on set at all times what with the actors,crew,extras..... not to mention the fact that you are directing the movie.So I would like to clear up one small detail that I think you might have missed with relation to the comment"our "bully" ran over his own foot and burst into tears". The details you might have missed are: as Isaac was waiting for his cue to enter the scene a crew member came through the set and knocked the bike over causing it to crash to the ground. Given the fact that Isaac was wearing shoes and the aforementioned sub-zero temperatures the handlebar hit Isaac on the left foot removing the top lair of skin from the two small toes as well as bruising the top of his foot.
Isaac picked up the bike went in on cue held back his tears and finished the scene. When he returned from the scene he started to cry, so with some help from me,Claude and the medic we cleaned up the blood put a bandaid on his foot and reassured him that it would be best for him to keep it moving.Pina cleaned up the tears put on a little makeup, we gave him a drink of his tea and sent him back to set.So I hope you see why he was crying, frankly I don't blame him at all for shedding some tears. Do you?
Love the blog. Hope to see more soon. Isaac says hi and hopes you are doing well. We have some pictures, if you like we could send them to you.
All the best.

12:02 AM  

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