Sunday, February 04, 2007


I figured it was only going to be a matter of time before we had a mutiny on our hands. I just didn’t expect it from a bunch of SIX year olds.

Our morning started out well enough. The weekend seems to have recharged everybody’s spirits and the ominous grumbling about scheduling has receded to a dull hum.

We’re shooting in a house on loan from the guy who owns the film equipment company, or who married the woman whose father owns the equipment company, or who owes a favor to the guy who owns the equipment company – I’m not exactly sure and at this point I’ve stopped trying to figure out this weird cinematic daisy chain anyway.The art department outdid themselves turning the place into a mid-century home where our Mr. Wilson journeys back in the past to see himself as a young boy pestering his neighbor Mr. Newman; the premise being that he himself was a “Dennis the Menace” before he became an old grouch.
Our Young Wilson is a talented Circus Kid who hits his marks and says his lines without fault, but the real treat of the day is our Old Mr. Newman, played by Walter Massey – a relative of the late, much-admired character actor Raymond Massey – and an utterly delightful fellow. This is one of those great days on a film set where the story, the camerawork and the performances all flow together seamlessy and I take a moment just to let it all sink in.

As usual, it’s a fleeting moment. A heavy snowfall has started again and we have to hustle to another location, a classroom nearby. The trucks slide around on the icy street like the Hippo Ballet from Disney’s Fantasia but the crew moves like lightning and we manage to get ready for the next scene, setting up Dennis’ plan to give Mr. Wilson the Christmas Spirit, in record time. It would seem that things are finally going our way and we might actually finish our day ahead of schedule.

Of course that’s when I discover that most of the cast is missing.

I’ve got my usual collection of extras, culled from a local herd of school children (including one little darling who hadn’t realized that being in a movie meant being on camera and suddenly burst into tears) but the only one of my stars sitting in the classroom is our Dennis.

Given the icy conditions it’s entirely possibly that the van they were traveling in has slid all the way down to Albany, but then I realize that my First AD is very deliberately avoiding me. Normally I would assume this is because I’m in Full Joan Crawford mode, but actually we’ve had a very good morning and he and I are getting along just fine. So I corner him to find out just what exactly is going on?

“You don’t want to know,” he replies. This is standard operating procedure for many AD’s; used to dealing with sociopathic directors, they learn over time not to “trouble” the “artist” with something as unimportant as, say, the location of the ACTORS! But if I’ve learned anything on this shoot, it’s that what I don’t know WILL eventually show up and bite me on the ass.

“Tell me what’s going on,” I say through smiling, clenched teeth.

He reluctantly informs me that the child actors are refusing to come to set because they aren’t happy with their dressing rooms.

“What?!” I say, barely believing what I’m hearing. These are, after all, six and seven year olds, basically Sea Monkeys with Per Diem, so I suspect that there’s more to the story than I’m hearing. I try to stay calm and ask in the kind of voice one uses at a polite afternoon tea just exactly what on EARTH he’s talking about?

It appears that our production manager, in an admirable but somewhat misguided attempt to save money, has sent the cast dressing trailers away – they are being rented at the extortionate prices I’m getting to know as the special “Screw The Americans” rate – and is trying to make do with some blankets strung up on ropes in the wardrobe department.

Frankly, if I’d known this earlier, I would’ve stopped shooting too! We had better dressing rooms at the Strip Bar (see previous post "NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS") and we didn’t even have wardrobe.

I’m sure it’s a culmination of several things and when our American producer finds out what’s going on agents are called and the sound of sabers rattling can be heard all the way from Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, I confer with my DP Kim, figuring out a way to work around our missing kids, and tell my First AD that if they don’t arrive in ten minutes we will shoot the scene without them. His eyes light up and he asks me “is that a threat?” as if the idea of a figurative bloodshed excites him – being German and all - and I say no, I am not threatening anybody, I am just saying we will keep shooting one way or the other.

He seems a little disappointed but suddenly the situation defuses itself as the not-unrealistic request for proper dressing rooms for our actors is met and my little Barrymores arrive on the location, their parents in tow. They all avoid eye contact with me, as if I’m going to growl at them about this minor mutiny, but the truth is as crises go this is the least of my worries. Our slim lead on the day has been eaten up by this delay and we are now two hours behind.

Sacrificing some of our more elaborate shots – in a low budget movie, the first lamb led to slaughter is usually the coolest shot - we race through the classroom scene and head down the hall to set up the next sequence. In this one, Dennis, his parents, and the local bully confront Principal Peeves, played by an old friend and wonderful actor named Richard Dumont. Once again our crew astonishes me with their speed, setting up the lighting and camera in less time than it takes to cover our actors in whipped cream, the result of a food fight we will shoot next week.

Richard is terrific, very funny, and even though I haven’t seen him since the mid 90's, working with him again makes it feel like no time has passed at all. He’s one of the few really talented Anglophone actors left in Montreal – with the downturn in English film production that happened here some years ago (hardly a mystery given the suicidal infighting between the two crew unions AND the ridiculously inflated equipment rental rates) many performers have either left the business or left the city – and if he was anywhere else he’d be a bigger star. But lucky for us, he’s still here and for the price of a couple of martinis he’s ours!