Tuesday, April 17, 2007

SCHOOL DAYS 17 and 18

There’s an old military axiom, “for want of a nail, the war was lost” which basically tells the rather tedious story of how some General managed to screw up the history of an entire country because his horse threw a shoe. Never before was this more apropos than today, when the entire production came to a grinding halt because of a jar of peanut butter.

We arrived bright and early – too bright and too damned early for a scene set INSIDE, where daylight isn’t really an issue, but again I’m firmly convinced now that my First AD is keeping me sleep deprived in order to kill me, so it was par for the course.

I had planned a very efficient order of shooting the big Thanksgiving Day Pageant scene, wherein our Dennis and co. put on a show for their parents and friends, and with two full days allocated to stage the event at a local school, it seemed as if nothing could possibly go wrong.

Loyal readers of this blog know that this is usually exactly when disaster strikes, and I am rather perversely delighted to say our record holds up.

As cameras and set decorations commenced, my First AD came to me and reported that, due to yet another slip of the pen, our little stars weren’t going to be available on set for another three hours. This information changed everything of course, and to a chorus of moans and groans I announced that the plan for the day had just changed. As I’ve come to learn, Les Francaises take to sudden change with all the enthusiasm of Death Row Inmates, but after the usual fussing and complaining, we turned the entire set around and began filming in the other direction.

Thus, we lost an hour which, to the average civilian, doesn’t really seem like that much but to a director on a tight budget it can literally mean the difference between a coherent scene and something right out of Uwe “House of the Dead” Boll (for those who don’t know Uwe’s “oeuvre”, I might suggest a quick perusal of IMDB.com…you will get it then…).

Astonishingly, our “extras” for this day were really quite terrific; they were perhaps a trifle “fashion model” to be totally believable as suburban family members, but for a change at least it didn’t look like a gathering of the Mafia. Even our resident Cinema Godfather, from whom we’ve had to rent virtually all of our equipment right down to, symbolically, the last screw showed up with his lovely missus and took part in the scene. When I was told by the Producers that his daughter was going to play a featured role in the kids’ pageant – whether I liked it or not – I figured I’d better roll with the punches or risk having Joe Pesci show up in my hotel room with a baseball bat. To my relief – and I must admit delight – the little girl was adorable; dressed as a sunflower who gets shoved out of the way by the school bully, she even gets a good laugh in the movie.

Once we ran through the scenes of various audience members running for cover from flying cupcakes and reacting in shock to a marauding Turkey (again, trust me, you’ll have to see the movie to understand all this), it came time to cover Robert Wagner with cream pies. Contrary to popular belief, Hollywood Icons are not as difficult to smear with fresh baked goods as one might think and we were finished the whole mess by the time the Wee Kiddie Thespians arrived for their scene.

I should have sensed something was wrong when, during the first rehearsal our Dennis – Maxwell – forgot a line of dialog. In the past three weeks, despite freezing rain, long hours and very challenging shooting conditions, this little boy hasn’t ONCE dropped a line. He has even, as I’ve previously noted, reminded the other actors of THEIR lines, having committed the entire script to memory. But for some reason, he was having a hard time focusing, as were the other kids, and eventually the entire scene we were trying to shoot devolved into a pile of crying, half-asleep vegetables. (This is not meant as a cruel joke against the Terri Schiavos of the world – in fact, our kids were all dressed as carrots, corn and, in Max’s case, a large pickle….once again, trust me, you have to see the…oh nevermind…)

It turned out that our On Set Catering Chef, distracted and frustrated by a day where he was suddenly presented with twice the number of people he expected and had to feed them all with his limited financial resources, neglected to provide some “kid friendly” food for our Little Stars. Understandably not interested in the usual salad and beef pasta platter being offered, the children hadn’t actually eaten anything in six hours and with their blood sugar plummeting to Mary Tyler Moore levels, it was no wonder things had fallen apart.

I found myself feeling very much like David Lean during the making of “Lawrence of Arabia” had Peter O’Toole been dressed as a pickle and, crumpled up in his director’s arms, sobbed for peanut butter.

We called lunch.

Needless to say, an hour later, with fresh carbohydrates and sugar coursing through their blood stream, we blasted through the remaining scenes, including a complicated sequence where Dennis’ pursuit of a loose Turkey (yes, a LIVE one!) ended with him tumbling down a pie-laden table which catapulted said pies across the room and, through the magic of editing, right into Mr. Wilson’s face.

Although the Turkey presented a few problems at the get-go, I am happy to report that his species’ reputation as one of nature’s most Poultry-escent morons is rather exaggerated. In fact, once Mr. Tom understood his role completely, he was more co-operative than any number of adult actors with whom I’ve worked over the years.

With a great deal still to be done, I hurried back and forth across the set to finish the scenes, avoiding the glare of our Production Manager and various Producers as the crew went into overtime. Knowing full well the grumbling wasn’t going to stop no matter what I did, I decided to just keep shooting until they pulled the plug on the lights and made me stop…

Which, finally, they did and we called it a day. I must comment, however, on a very curious phenomenon here. Granted, we work very long, often difficult days and heaven knows the crew arguably work physically harder than I do as a rule. But I am fascinated by what happens at the end of a film day.

Previously exhausted crew members, people who only minutes ago were on their “last legs”, shuffling around the set with heavy-lidded eyes and staring daggers at the Evil Producers, seem suddenly to find their second wind the moment we call ‘wrap”. It is a mystery to me how someone who could barely lift their arms to tilt a lamp can, with the click of a watch hand, magically transform into a “party animal”, ready to dance all night with a beer in his hand.

Perhaps its just another one of life’s little mysteries I will never understand…


Blogger Jason Gray said...

Ron "The Silver Basketball" Oliver?!

Glad to find your blog. It's Jason, from the bad old days. I've had quite a few adventures in the screen trade here in Japan over the past 7 years.

Look forward to checking in again...

8:28 AM  

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