This is easier said than done, mind you, as the Child Labor Laws dictate exactly how many hours we can work our Kid actors, so we’ve been forced to hire a pair of twin “look a likes” for our Dennis in order to do certain shots without him.
In theory this should work, but needless to say we have problems right off the bat this morning when it turns out that thanks to another in an endless series of miscommunications – apparently the cold yesterday took a toll on my First Assistant Director after all -- our Twins haven’t been called in for the day. So we move across the studio from one set to another, losing a valuable hour of shooting time, and begin doing a series of shots of Mr. Wilson using RJ’s photo double. He’s a lovely guy and while, as I’ve previously noted, he bears a closer resemblance to Dr. Shivago than Robert Wagner, he’s up for anything.
Unfortunately not even he can help us with the next delay. Mr. Wilson’s monogrammed handkerchiefs, part of his daily preparation “ritual”, are missing and it turns out they haven’t been picked up from the store in Montreal where we’ve ordered them, half an hour’s drive from the studio. A car is dispatched and while we wait I start to plan for the next scene.
My DP Kim and I begin hunting around the studio for the “upstairs hallway” set, where our Dennis The Menace is supposed to accidentally destroy a potted plant and several feet of a rare Persian carpet. When we ask about it, we are proudly led to a small closet just off the fake “foyer” of the fake house – which is NOT the location for the scene as written. Upon closer examination, we discover that apparently two pages of the script were inadvertently photocopied together misleading the entire Art Department into building us the wrong set.
I consider my options, including sticking my finger in one of the open electrical boxes and ending it all, when suddenly the handkerchiefs arrive! Telling the Art Department to “build a damned hallway and be quick about it!” I run across the studio to the original set to finish off Mr. Wilson’s scene. The sheepish looks from the prop department tells me something is still wrong; it seems the monogrammed “W” has been placed on the hankies upside down, so we now have 45 handkerchiefs custom made for Mr. “Milson”.
Just then, the Twins arrive. I leave the hanky debacle to the wardrobe department to sort out and run back across the studio to the bedroom set where we’d originally tried to start the day. I set up a shot where our Fake Dennis, wearing PJ’s, leaps from his bed and runs out the door. It should be pretty simple really but as the camera and electrical department start to work, the studio suddenly erupts with the sound of hammers, saws and drills. Not the most musical of sounds at the best of times, but in this enclosed, echoing space it is positively Michael Bolton-esque.
I race back across the studio to discover the noise is coming from my On Set Art Department as they desperately try to slap something together for our “upstairs hallway” scene. I know they’re doing their best, and the cheap flats and mismatched corner joints certainly aren’t their fault, but it appears that there isn’t enough “wall” for the entire set, so I am forced to shoot the entire scene from one tiny spot on the floor, not daring to turn the camera even an inch either way for fear of seeing the rough two by four structure barely holding the whole hideous mess together.
My First Assistant Director foolishly mentions this out loud, chastising my camera operators for shooting “off the set” and, for the first time in our five films together I see my normally Zen-like Director of Photography lose his temper, threatening to insert an entire HD Camera into a certain very private orifice of said First AD.
A hush falls over the set. Nobody knows what to say.
Suddenly, the uncomfortable silence is broken by the sound of a five-year-old boy crying his eyes out on the other side of the studio. I head off in search of the source of these mournful sobs and discover that our Fake Dennis is in tears because the shot we’ve set up requires him to take his socks off. It turns out he’s terrified of letting anybody see his bare feet. He’s not even in pre-school yet and he already has a foot fetish.
All of this happens before lunch.
AFTER lunch, some of our more vocal crew folks decide it’s time to hold a “meeting” in order to discuss the “problems” we have been having. I wrongly assume the “problems” to be discussed will include why nothing ever shows up on time and when it does it’s usually wrong, but of course that’s not even on the agenda. Instead, one of our more self-righteous stage-hands – his union rule book clenched so tightly in his paw that he’s bleeding from the fingertips – insists that the crew is being disrespected because we don’t take a vote every time the wind changes.
All of this takes place on the set, in the rather colorful patois of the French Canadian tongue, so none of us who actually make decisions on this film can understand what the hell’s going on. I take our Dennis off set and keep him occupied playing video games so he doesn’t get soured on the film business before his seventh birthday. I am told later on that our oft-mentioned Hot As A Pistol Key Grip has delivered an impassioned speech IN FAVOR of the production, telling his compatriots that the Americans are essentially “guests” in the Montreal film industry and that they – the crew – have a responsibility to be good hosts. This gives me yet another reason to admire HAAPKG. Well, this and his great butt.
After much teeth gnashing on the other side of the studio, and the rather red-faced discovery by the rabble rousers that, in fact, the union agreement they signed barely gives them the right to a bathroom break, filming recommences for the afternoon.
But by now I’ve already decided I just want to finish the day in one piece, go back to the Soviet Whore Inn and get drunk. We quickly set up for the next scene, where Dennis inadvertently launches a Thigh-Master (yes, as in Suzanne Somers Thigh Master!) through the air and it smashes through the lovely framed portrait of Mr and Mrs. Wilson hanging on the wall.
Need I tell you, gentle reader, that when I look at the wall in question there is no framed portrait of the Wilsons? There are, however, half a dozen incredibly expensive pieces of Art on loan from a local museum and, while impressive if one is interested in obscure Canadian oil painters (and gosh, who ISN’T?), it doesn’t really help my scene. When I threaten to have the Thigh Master pierce one of these valuable canvasses, my Production Designer visibly pales – tough to do for a lady whose natural skin tone can best be described as transparent – and a framed picture of the Wilsons is quickly found. Unfortunately it’s not much bigger than a wallet sized print, stuck into a cheap frame, rather deflating the comedy impact of Dennis’ destructive wake and, with time running out, I make a quick decision.
Grabbing a nearby hammer, I take a broad swing and smash a hole through the set wall. I grab the Thigh Master, jam it into the gaping cavity, and we roll the cameras. With a bit of judicious editing, it will look as if the thing has flown across the room and stuck itself into the wall.
A general murmur floats among the crew now; they’re afraid that after twelve days of putting up with all manner of foolishness with a relatively calm demeanor, I have now in fact cracked.
This may be true. But at least we got the shot.