Sunday, September 21, 2008

THERE WILL BE MUD

Well...I suppose it could have been worse.



Trying to shoot ANY film in ten days, let alone an action-thriller with stunts, special effects – both visual, physical AND makeup – and a continuous onslaught of torrential “sulphuric acid” rain (hence the movie's title "RED TORRENT") is essentially a path toward madness.



Given our various production challenges, this most recent cinematic project of mine could have been just the thing to finally push what I refer to as "my career" into serious "Golden Turkey Award" territory alongside such classics as "Catwomen on the Moon"-



and “The Killer Shrews”.



Although to be honest, one fears that those more innocent times, when an audience could be terrified by a herd of collies sporting papier-mâché masks, may have long since passed -



- and instead of being heralded as a clever B filmmaker, I will simply end up as the Edward D. Wood Jr. of my price point.



Even my enthusiastic and determined crew found themselves stretched to the limit by the highly uncooperative weather pattern -



- giving us rain when we didn’t want it and blue sky when we did, and forcing us into the unenviable position of actually having to bring rain towers – for the uninitiated, these are essentially overpriced garden sprinklers mounted twenty feet in the air - into a rainforest.



This may seem like an ideal solution, but let me assure you dear reader, standing beneath several thousand gallons of smelly, freezing water pumped from a nearby fire hydrant for hours on end is enough to drive even the most dedicated auteur to distraction. The resulting mud pit covered every square inch of the set, which then had to be hidden by judicious camera angles as we tried, in certain scenes, to create the illusion that the rain hadn’t even started yet. It almost worked, except for the shots where our star, the ruggedly handsome Shawn Roberts -



- had to race across the length of the “campground” at lightning speed in his quest to save the day. In order to not slip and fall on the soaking earth he was forced to take tiny cat-like steps as he ran and it will require some particularly clever editing on my part to keep him from looking like a burly Bette Midler out for her morning jog.



(At one point I was so frustrated by the situation that when the fifth crew member within an hour smiled at me from beneath dripping all-weather gear and said “it’s weird, it NEVER rains in Vancouver this time of the year” I threatened to perform a little amateur hydro-colonic therapy on him with the aforementioned rain tower. The local climate didn't come up in any on-set conversations again...)

The constant wetness caused difficulties for our stunt driver as well; during a rehearsal run he took a particularly slippery corner perhaps a tad too enthusiastically and slammed our fortunately-purchased-rather-than-rented "hero" SUV into a tree. Thankfully he was unhurt, not just because he's one of the city's more visually pleasing stuntmen (observant readers will notice a pattern here...), but also because the cameras WEREN'T rolling and trying to find somebody willing to smash into things this far out of town who wasn't either a) drunk or b) under house arrest would've been time and cost prohibitive. I may be a humanitarian, but I'm trying to make a movie here...

The only respite from the rain came when we ventured indoors to shoot the “Ordox Refinery” sequences, including the massive explosion that causes the whole disaster in the first place. We filmed these scenes at a disused metal works facility even further away from civilization than our previous location, and while the owner of the place couldn’t have been friendlier nor more cooperative, I must admit to feeling a little anxious upon spotting shelves of toxic chemicals being stored within spewing distance of my Director's Chair.



Now I’m no chemist, I'll grant you, but any non-pirate-related glass jar with a “Skull and Crossbones” label on the front of it just seems like the kind of thing from which one would be well advised to steer clear.

My anxiety was not allayed in the least when our Special Effects team began rigging the place for the fire and smoke bombs which would propel our stuntman, the Buster Keaton-esque (if Buster had been a handsome Asian man with abs you could bounce a quarter on...) Raymond Chan -



- off a second storey balcony and down to the hard tiled floor below. I had a sudden and rather disturbing vision of fifty years worth of genetically damaging dust and debris up in the ceiling being dislodged by the concussion and raining down on us; not that I particularly care for myself, as my interest in having children ended when I heard that Clay Aiken had recently became a surrogate father-



- but I certainly don’t relish the idea of receiving a Christmas card from a crew member a couple of years down the road featuring a picture of some gurgling two headed mutant toddler nestled amongst the holiday gifts.

However, I am relieved to report the explosions went off without a hitch, Raymond made a safe landing on the crash pads, and we finished off the rest of the shoot pretty much without a hitch. I say “we” in the most grateful sense imaginable, as the crew on this particular adventure were asked to endure some fairly grueling circumstances.



For example, there was the hour long drive to and from set everyday, which doesn’t sound like much until one takes into account the fact that British Columbians seem to have an almost psychotic aversion to piloting their automobiles in anything other than the passing lane of the freeway. Traffic may be flowing smoothly for a mile or more and then suddenly everything comes to a grinding halt because some dullard is meandering along in the left lane at precisely four miles below the speed limit.

One would like to attribute this to the fact that many of those in possession of a driver’s license here are in fact newcomers to the country, and so they are entitled to some cultural leeway; it’s entirely possible that back in Outer Swinovia (say) they’ve handled nothing more vehicularly challenging than an oxcart -



- so the intricacies of a Yaris would understandably take a little getting used to.

Unfortunately that excuse doesn’t hold water in this case as the perpetrators of this automotive inanity generally seem to be local types. From little old ladies who’ve clearly never been out of the province to the mullet-ridden teenage by-products of several decades worth of inadequate public sex education, these morons clogging up the transit lanes and causing perfectly rational people like myself to imitate drunken NASCAR drivers in order to make it to work on time are clearly homegrown.



But complain as I might, I had it easier than most.



My poor makeup and hair girls had to arrive at our Siberian-adjacent location hours before the rest of the crew in order to erase the effects of our actors’ usual nocturnal debaucheries - being thespians, they are naturally predetermined toward bad behavior of course - and make them look like the clean-cut, fresh-faced young kids they were playing in the movie. This doesn’t even include the extra hour they needed to make Levi (“no, I’m not THAT Levi, I don’t even KNOW Sarah Palin’s daughter”) James look like the victim of a rather aggressive sea salt scrub at the local spa--



- or conceal the loveliness of “24”’s Leslie Hope beneath the cosmetic burns and hideous scarring needed in her role as evil industrialist “Carol Grey”.



Speaking of Leslie, in many of these “modestly budgeted” epics, the “name” actor, whose presence helps secure financing and adds much needed credibility to the proceedings, is usually some drunken lout trying to cover his gambling debts by appearing in everything from Z-grade horror movies to local used car ads. More often than not, said “lout” exhibits unsurprisingly “lout-ish” behavior and inevitably sees his currency plummet lower than the late Bush era stock market; this is known as “The Haim Factor” and it can end even the most talented actor’s career.



I am however delighted to report that this was not the case with Ms. Hope – our “name” - who was a consummate pro on-set, a complete delight to be with (especially when she and I rode together in our picture car, rewriting dialog DURING the shooting of the scene, and cackling over some truly raunchy gossip about which I daren’t breathe a word in this pages for fear of yet ANOTHER lawsuit…) and most importantly, not once did she make any of us feel for a moment that she was lowering her standards by taking time away from her successes in huge network television hits (or from her recent forays into directing) to play in our tiny sandbox.



She was the definition of a Lady.

Actually, we had quite a few “ladies” on this set. Whereas most film crews tend to skew toward male-dominated, this was an unusually gender-balanced bunch, with the fairer sex doing everything from rigging lighting to handling special effects. There was even one particular afternoon where the women completely outnumbered the men by a ratio of fifty-to-one; granted, most of those girls were somewhat limited in their mobility, being locked up for everything from check fraud to murder, but even if the residents of the nearby Alouette Women’s Prison -



- located not five hundred yards from our set, don’t make an actual onscreen appearance in our film, their presence was definitely felt by the male members of the our team – and perhaps a couple of the female ones as well.



I certainly didn’t try to dissuade any of them from pursuing a possible relationship with these distaff “incarcerees” – with the long hours and travel involved in the film business it’s very hard to meet new romantic possibilities, especially ones who know how to make their own tattoos. Besides, there are distinct advantages to dating a murderess; statistically speaking, homicidal women almost never kill a second time, and if they’re notorious enough they always get the best seat in the house at any restaurant. “Table for two? Right THIS way, Miss Homolka!!”



Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn’t our only brush with crime during the shoot. One morning we were filming in a parking lot next to a government agency euphemistically entitled “Family Services” but which was in fact a sort of “check in” center for the area’s younger criminals.



For several hours that day, while we muddled our way through a simple dialog scene-



- we were continually interrupted by a constant stream of disgruntled young men – and they were ALL young men, none of them older than sixteen, some of them resembling nothing more threatening than baby-faced members of the Chess Club – being driven to meetings with their probation officers by their stone-faced and clearly mortified mothers. The whole thing looked like some kind of grim parody of “dropping the kids off for swimming practice” except in this case swimming practice actually meant armed robbery.



I was tempted to slide up to at least one of these vehicles and casually ask “so…knife or gun?” but my Producer, probably less worried about my safety than the publicity (“Gun Wielding Teen Opens Fire on Film Crew; Seven Killed, including Hack Director.”), advised against it. Since he was already annoyed with me over one of my recent blog posts I decided not to force the issue.



The offending post in question, by the way, was the one where I suggested that our picture vehicles on this film were “cheap” and, with the ridiculously low budget the studio had given us to make this movie, our Producer had been forced to pay for them with whatever extra money he was able to scrounge from the depths of his pockets.

I would hereby like to publicly retract that statement.

I was mistaken and I sincerely apologize. Apparently, and quite unknown to me, in this part of the world a battered sports utility truck costing less than $5000.00 IS a luxury automobile and even a ten-year-old recreational vehicle with a faulty starter and a refrigerator which smells vaguely of deceased infants is considered a vacation home.



I stand corrected.

Oh, and he didn’t find the money in his pockets. It was behind the cushions of the couch.

But as I mentioned earlier, things could have been much, much worse. Faithful readers know I’ve had some truly ghastly experiences making movies like this, but in this case I have to admit we got off very lightly, in no small way due to something my first AD said to me later.

“You’ve figured it out, Ron” she smiled. “Surround yourself with people you love and make your movie.”



True indeed. And thanks to those people, my cinematic family one and all, we managed to finish the film with virtually no serious problems – well, nothing that a few martinis and some Preparation H won’t cure - and have already started the next one, starring once again the indefatigable MARGOT KIDDER, whose very name on the call sheet has put the crew in good spirits.



How this next adventure goes remains to be seen, but with my good luck charm Margie onboard, not to mention my long-time muse and spiritual advisor NELSON WONG-



as well as, amongst others, BEN AYRES, X Files legend WILLIAM B. DAVIS and our star, the delightful NICHOLLE TOM -



- I have a feeling our luck might just hold for another ten days…

7 Comments:

Blogger Sandra Montgomery said...

Ahhhh the memories. Can't wait for the next update. XOXO

5:37 PM  
Blogger Kristian said...

I have no comment but I did want to say hi and let you know I am alive and smiling . It sounds like life is going well for you . it would be great to catch up on the phone or on skype so if you get a chance email me at kristianschmid@hotmail.com

Kristian Schmid

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