- hopelessly out of shape, wildly unhealthy and bitter enough to cure olives – I drove from my hotel in downtown Vancouver to our location in Langley absurdly early in order to avoid the crush of traffic one usually finds on the SINGLE ROUTE in and out of the city, evidently originally built on a path used by drunken mules finding their way home.
British Columbia’s largest city is many things – clean, scenic, civic minded – but it is hellishly difficult to navigate around. Especially given the fact that those who travel on its roads and thoroughfares seem genetically predisposed to drive at or below the speed limit in the left hand passing lane.
At first I thought this was just some kind of quaint local custom or perhaps simple ignorance of the rules of the road. My tailgating, headlight flashing and horn honking – all helpful attempts to suggest the offenders return to their proper place on the right hand side of the highway - produced nothing but confused glances and the occasional upraised middle finger. In retrospect, I realize that my efforts were futile from the outset; one simply cannot negotiate with these “hempbillies”!!
The province’s original cash crop – lumber – has been superceded by another, more lucrative trade; marijuana. The pot up here is so powerful – and indeed so all pervasive – that just getting off the plane is enough to give one a contact high. So it should come as no surprise that fully 80 percent of the population – drivers included – would be stoned at any given time.
A rather colorful Los Angeles film producer, making a movie in Vancouver, once referred to his Canadian crew as “Mexicans In Sweaters” but I fear he may have been off by a few thousand miles; “Jamaicans In Fleece” is more like it.
Anyway, upon my arrival at the Langley Fitness World -
-- I was greeted with the news that they did not have “towel service”. For the sedentary among you, this is the rather common practice of providing towels for the club’s membership to use in order to clean off sweat soaked equipment, dry off after showering and rip off to use later to wipe away the evidence of random trysts made while at the gym. But when I asked where I could buy a towel, the Desk Clerk gave me a blank smile, his bleached teeth shining against the tangerine-colored skin he sported courtesy of the tanning booth located not fifteen feet from his post and said “gee, I don’t think anything’s open in Langley at six o’clock in the morning.”
And so I found myself driving around sub-suburban British Columbia hours shy of dawn, looking for linens, the phenomenal stupidity of the area’s haphazard city planning becoming more and more apparent as the sun rose. Strip malls abound, crammed up against faceless housing developments and wedged in between random office buildings and warehouse units without rhyme or reason. What was once proud farmland and lush green forest has become, literally overnight, one of the ugliest places on earth.
This is where we have been forced to make our movie.
The government of British Columbia, in a well-intentioned but thoroughly misguided attempt to bring industry and commerce to the areas outside Vancouver, have been offering a healthy tax credit for businesses based in the hinterlands. It seems like a good idea, I suppose, and if one was making a film that could take advantage of the local color – a romantic comedy about inbreeding, perhaps, or maybe a horror film that takes place entirely inside Home Depot – one would be very well served.
If, on the other hand, one is trying to create a post-modern film noir, set in Albany, New York, one is – to put it mildly – screwed.
But with the help of a phenomenal crew – my “A” team of cinematographer Kim Miles -
First Assistant Director Sirish Harman, production designer Rick Whitfield and camera operator Ryan Purcell –
- not to mention our stars Chad Allen -
- and Sebastian Spence -
- the very first day of shooting came off almost without a hitch.
At least it did after I purchased three Christmas decorated hand towels from an all night grocery store, worked out with one and dried off with the other two, much to the amusement of my locker room companions back at the Fitness World.
I tried to explain that I was getting into the Spirit of the Season early, but I don’t think they bought it.
We started off filming at the lovely estate of a local construction magnate-
- whose delightful wife gave us the literal keys to the castle with a single caveat – No Nudity in the Hot Tub.
This in spite of the fact that the only nude scene in the entire film takes place IN THE HOT TUB: apparently our Locations Manager had to use a bit of creative truth telling to secure the place. But it was almost a moot point anyway, as upon their arrival our background performers – local strippers hired for the express purpose of being naked in the hot tub – balked at taking off their clothes.
This did not surprise me.
Earlier in the week, during a meeting with our Extras Casting Coordinator, I had specifically told her to make sure that the Naked Extras knew they were being cast because they were going to be unclothed in the scene. That is to say they were to be filmed with no clothes on. Full frontal nudity.
I made the point again, repeating myself in person and in an email I sent out later copied to EVERYONE in the production to make sure that there was no misunderstanding. These actors were going to be NUDE. Of course everyone nodded and smiled and agreed and said they understood and the agents would be told and they in turn would tell their “clients” who would then show up on set and take off their clothes and get into the hot tub.
(A short aside: whenever I have filmed a nude scene in Canada, I have had trouble. Invariably the actors show up and say “I didn’t know I was supposed to be naked”, despite having been hired for that very reason. It’s a mystery to me, especially in a place like Vancouver, where the infamous Wreck Beach –
- a ghastly little strip of mud packed every summer’s weekend with the shamelessly exposed flesh of locals and visitors alike, most of whom would be better served by full evening wear, including top hat - that there should be such hang-ups about nudity on screen. But it happens every single time, and I’ve come to expect it. )
After shooting the opening scene of the film, a rather nasty bit of torture involving suspending Chad from the ceiling of the tool shed and zapping him with a Taser (a “hanging Chad”, as it were), we proceeded to briskly move on to the hot tub scene. Cameras were set up, lights prepared, and then it came time to call the actors to set. At which point one of my assistant directors came to me with a rather sheepish look on his face and said “there’s a little problem”. Without missing a beat I said “let me guess. They don’t want to get naked.”
He laughed, looking at me in disbelief. “How did you know?”
After a flurry of phone calls, and a daisy chain of finger pointing wherein the casting director accused the agents, the agents accused the casting director and the actors accused anybody they could, I finally put my foot down and called the four performers – 3 girls and a guy - aside for a conference.
“Look,” I said, “I don’t care if you don’t want to be naked in a movie. That’s your decision. But what I do care about is that I have 50 people standing around doing nothing while you hold my movie hostage. Your agents all had copies of the email outlining the scene, you all agreed to do this—“
At which point the guy piped up: “Nobody said anything about being naked.”
“Then why on EARTH did you think I was casting you? You’re a stripper-“
“Exotic dancer,” one of the girls corrected me.
“Fine, exotic dancer. Who gets naked for a living! Did you think I hired you to come and compute “Pi” on screen for me? Now either you get naked or you go home, with no pay, and I sue your agents for breach of contract. You’ve got five minutes.”
I walked out of the room and left them there. Six minutes later they were naked in the hot tub.
I’m not the type to brag about my romantic conquests – goodness knows I can barely remember them all anyway – but I think it is fair to say I’ve never worked so hard to get somebody out of their clothes in my life.