Wednesday, April 11, 2007


This was one of the days I’d been looking forward to. Finally, we were shooting in a location owned by somebody who actually WANTED us here!

Taylor’s Department store is one of the oldest established retailers in the city of Montreal, and when we first scouted the place I was delighted to discover that it hadn’t changed structurally in decades, which makes it perfect for the “small town America” aesthetic of our Dennis the Menace movie. Of course I didn’t get my hopes up too high; after several weeks of disastrous location debacles, it seemed likely that I’d end up shooting the big “Kids Take Mr Wilson Shopping” sequence in the back of a 7-11.

However to my utter delight Mr. Taylor, the latest in the long line of titular family owners, welcomed us with open arms and couldn’t have been more accommodating. If only the local residents had been as civil…

Once we sorted out the usual difficulties I’ve come to expect on this production – trucks parked in the wrong place; a ten minute drive from the location to the makeup wagon; constantly shifting weather patterns turning scenes from day into night and back into day again, sometimes during the same shot! – things moved along relatively smoothly.

That is until our Unit Manager had a melt down on the street and started shouting at the First AD in French, but with enough force that even I could understand he was raving about not having enough help to control the crowds who were gathering to watch us film. It seems that in his never-ending attempt to save every single dime, our Production Manager hadn’t brought in enough Production Assistants to keep the crowds under control, and we were therefore treated to the delightful spectacle of watching Robert Wagner get physically shoved out of a shot by a passing shopper on her way to the discount underwear rack.

RJ, ever the gentleman, merely turned to the woman, smiled politely and said “excuse me” before marching over to me and enquiring in a strained but still ever-so-patient tone why there were bargain hunters in his close up?

Enlisting the help of everybody from makeup to the transport department, we managed to keep the endless parade of humanity down to a saunter long enough to finish the scene, but not before my First AD seemed to simply lose interest in the entire enterprise. It was as if he suddenly realized that in spite of his best efforts, things were just always going to go wrong and he couldn’t stop it. Normally this would slow things down a bit, but in fact it actually galvanized me into action when I realized that we were in danger of not getting our day.

Thus began what seemed like a hundred mile marathon as I ran from inside the department store, where one camera pointed out to the wee kiddies looking in, and then outside to another camera aimed across their faces glowing in the light of the Christmas toy filled window and then back inside again to watch the first shot again. Barking commands to the kids, lines of dialog were recited again and again until they were right, reactions were repeated until they were real and honest; at one moment I silently wished I’d told my DP to do a “zoom” shot, narrowing in on our Dennis’ angelic face and, miracle of miracles, it happened, one of those great and unexplained psychic events on a film set which remind me of how lucky I am to have Kim Miles in my life.

The late hour and the cold weather began to wear on the kids and they all got a little punch drunk. The “giggles” broke out and I had to get a bit stern with them, which resulted in our Bully bursting into tears yet again because he thought I was mad at him. I hugged him and told him I certainly wasn’t and finally we finished the scene.

But not quite the day.

Back into the store we went, this time to do some quick shots of the kids dragging Mr. Wilson through the store to do his Christmas shopping. Once again I was blindsided by the clock as my First AD, apparently back from whatever mental theme park he’d run off to, came to tell me that our Max had to be wrapped in ten minutes.

Which is why, should you happen to see the movie, you’ll notice Dennis the Menace doesn’t do much “menacing” through this scene. However, RJ’s reactions and the other kids’ performances – including a delightful bit involving Joey and a very large brassiere – ended the night on a high note.

I would be remiss however if I didn’t mention the gracious Mr. Taylor and his entire staff who helped us so much during this ridiculous day, including keeping the store open after hours so those of us working 16 hour days could get in some last minute Christmas Shopping! If you ever find yourself in Montreal and in need of some very old fashioned customer service – something in very short supply in Canada I must admit – I highly recommend googling them for the location.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

as i recall, that was one of our better days on the show...

i got some christmas shopping done while we were wrapping, too...

it all seems so long ago now, although the dvd of the assembly arrived today for timing notes.




2:26 AM  

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