NEVER PUT A MOVIE STAR IN THE TOILET
- one of the biggest problems we’re having is finding locations that don’t look like low end strip malls, cheap housing projects or astonishingly unattractive glass office towers plunked down in the middle of low end strip malls and cheap housing projects. With a story set in Albany, New York, many of our scenes take place in elegant, old money law firms and well heeled development companies, places which barely exist in the city of Vancouver let alone an hour's drive away, out in the reclaimed cow pasture which is our current home.
For example, our private detective’s boyfriend “Tim” ostensibly works for a New York state senator named Platt, whose office in the State Building would, in theory, be a high security, beautifully appointed place full of history and purpose.
In a perfect world, these scenes would take place in, at the very least, a stately old structure accented with dark woods and brass trim, beveled glass windows glistening in the morning sun. With our budget, we are shooting at a recently completed corrugated steel flying saucer which houses a vocational school for future roofers.
Such is the world of B movie making and it only got worse on Day Four.
Twenty four hours before filming here, I had been asked by the transportation department exactly WHERE I planned to shoot, and therefore WHERE the production vehicles – camera trucks, actors’ Winnebagos, etc – could be parked. The head of the department brought me a map, carefully detailed, which I then marked with very clear instructions as to where my cameras would be pointed, the idea being that the trucks would be placed somewhere out of the shots.
So imagine my chagrin to discover, upon arriving at the location to commence filming, that the trucks were parked 180 degrees in the wrong direction, and in the EXACT PLACE where I had planned to shoot. Fingers were pointed, blame was shifted back and forth, but a film crew is truly like a family and while tempers may flare from time to time, nobody really stays mad for very long. And so, after a few minutes of coughing engines and shuffling cars, the set was cleared and ready to use.
This did not, however, make the day any easier.
The schedule had us shooting a scene where “Tim”, holding an envelope filled with 3 million dollars worth of Eurobonds, is approached by a – to quote the script – “dark, threatening figure”. The extras casting department, apparently taking the description literally, brought me a six and a half foot tall Trinidadian actor: yes, a black guy. Given the recent discussions with the studio regarding ethnic stereotyping, I decided it would be prudent to choose a different background performer; not even I, a director who prides himself on being color blind, could support in good conscience a scene in which a tall black man threatens a vertically challenged white “good” guy.
Unfortunately, again due to budgetary restrictions, my alternative choices were limited - which is to say non-existent. There were plenty of ladies available in the extras holding tent, mind you, but not a single other male extra in the bunch.
I was, to say the least, screwed.
But fortunately my steady diet of 1940’s film noir movies comes in handy once in awhile and, using my best Edgar Ulmer riff -
(check IMDB for more on this cinematic genius), I shot the scene with the huge Trinidadian but did it in a way in which we didn’t ever see his face. Lots of over the shoulder shots, feet walking, an imposing, foreboding presence moving toward our hero, closer…closer…
And the punch line? A final close up of our friend from the Caribbean, beaming with the biggest, most beautiful smile you could imagine, as the audience realizes he’s not a threat at all. Not to pat myself on the back or anything (ahem…) but I was rather pleased with this slap in the face to racism; the fact that it forced me into a creative corner for which I will look like a clever visual “stylist” is beside the point.
The vehicular logjam at the beginning of the day forced us to race through the rest of our scenes as quickly as possible. But in spite of the dreadfully generic quality of the place, our location “liason” - the building’s office manager - was as helpful as she could be and giggled with delight when I nicknamed her “Bubbles” and told the crew that we were lucky to have her as she was usually very busy performing her exotic dance act at the local strip bar. The fact that “Bubbles” has probably never even been INSIDE a strip bar only added to the fun and at the end of the day I slipped her a bottle of Belvedere vodka as a “thank you” for putting up with our nonsense. Heaven only knows what deviance occurred “Chez Bubbles” that night…
The final scene of the day had our private eye and his boyfriend making up after a fight, and per the script it was to take place in the Senate Office Men’s Room. But if I know ANYTHING about making movies, it’s this – the only time you put your stars in a toilet is when it’s a gold plated one located at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
As you may have guessed from my incessant whining, ours was a nasty little porcelain number jammed into the corner of an industrial park in rural Langley, B.C. Thus, I moved the scene to a stairwell and, instead of the scripted gag of a homophobic reaction from some senate employee as the punch line, used our large group of female extras to watch and sigh with romantic delight.
This may ring false to some in the audience and to that I would reply “fair enough”. I am not so Pollyanna as to be unaware that I still live in a world where the sight of two men kissing elicits, at the best, nervous laughter -
- and, at the worst, open hostility.
But if the religious kooks out there get to believe in the sheer lunacy of virgin births, walking on water-
- and the resurrection of a zombie who is the son of The Giant Fairy In The Sky who controls the world -
- all without even a shred of physical evidence, then I get to believe that love is love…no matter where you find it.
It’s my movie, baby. You people are just living in it.