Thursday, January 31, 2008

THE FINISH LINE

And then, just like that, it was over.



With barely a whimper – well, except for the Frank L. Baum-like wind storm which tore apart the tent housing both the shivering extras AND the beautiful black Corvette driven by our star in the movie, terrifying the former and gouging a rather significant hole in the latter – we finished filming both ICE BLUES and ON THE OTHER HAND DEATH ahead of schedule and on budget, give or take a penny.

(I, of course, say this rather blithely but you can trust me when I tell you my Producer is holding onto that last penny like it’s a life preserver on the Titanic…)



Regular readers of this blog will sense that I’m leaving out a few of the more sordid details, but truth be told the final few days of principal photography went practically without a hitch. Sure, the camera crane almost fell out of the window of a barn loft, and only the quick reaction by our camera trainee – who received a mildly crushed foot for his efforts – saved the day.

(We all felt terribly sorry for the young man, especially since he was working as an unpaid "volunteer" on the shoot. But when a recently approved mortgage for his new house revealed his extremely healthy financial position we all decided that a foot was not enough sacrifice and he should have THROWN himself under the crane instead.)



Or I suppose I could go on and on about how difficult it was to try to shoot a half a dozen driving sequences set in Albany, New York around the only two buildings in Langley, British Columbia which look even remotely like they are in an actual city and not just plopped down in the middle of some cow pasture two hours away from anything resembling civilization.



And then there was the rather heated exchange I had with our talented but somewhat sensitive Sound Recordist who seemed to think we were making a Radio Show and kept complaining that the beautiful pictures we were shooting were in fact “no good for sound” and insisting we redo the scenes, apparently unaware of the fact that our schedule barely permitted us to film the scene in the first place. This climaxed in his telling me in no uncertain terms that while I may have thought my bantering with crewmembers and keeping spirits on set light in spite of the horrific conditions was amusing, he did not find me even remotely funny and was quite prepared to quit on the spot.



(While no court in the land would have convicted me, I managed to control my natural instincts to strangle him, the truth being, after all, that I was actually quite fond of the fellow. And this is Show Business which is unlike any other industry in the world; while normally an Underling who tells off his Boss would be sent packing with his intestines in a bag, I simply rose above it in a Saint-like fashion-

- made amends, and promised to try to be a Better Person. There is clearly no lie I won't tell for my Art.)



But I think instead I will tell you how I decided to rewrite the movie as I drove to set one morning.

The scene in question involved a gay son whose homophobic father has been trying to “cure” him. In the original script, the sequence ends unresolved, with the father unsure what to do with this strange child of his. But in the car, on the way to the location, something about the scene kept bothering me: it occurred to me that maybe it was time to stop frightening young gay kids into staying in the closet with the politically correct – and rather convenient – company line which says that All Gay Children Get Kicked Out By Angry Parents.

Now I am no fool (contrary to the opinion of the aforementioned Sound Recordist) and while I am certainly aware that some teenagers end up on the streets because of their sexuality – heaven knows, it does provide endless opportunities for both dramatic narrative AND annual fundraising dinners - it seems to me that this is quite possibly the exception rather than the rule. Surely if every homosexual teenager out there was sent packing by his or her folks, the hills would be alive with the Sound of Madonna.



I think that what REALLY happens, more often than not, is that families do what families do; they circle the wagons, look into their hearts, and somehow get through it. That’s been my experience, and I’d venture to say I speak for quite a few of my brothers and sisters who subscribe to The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name.



So as I drove along past the grim strip malls and ramshackle gas stations which make up this hideous suburban culture of the 21st century, my morning Chai Latte souring in my stomach from the memory of trying to survive as an "enfant homosexuale" in such ghastly environs, I decided to throw away the script and do a quick rewrite. Why not, I pondered, present our gay youth with the possibility that maybe – just maybe – when they finally accept themselves for who they are and live honest and open lives with the people they love, they won’t necessarily be strung up in the middle of town by Christian neanderthals and pelted with rocks and bottles.



So now, in the case of our movie, The Redneck Dad goes beyond himself, and lets love rule the day. I won't give away all the details, but suffice it to say it involves a tearful smile, a hug and a heartfelt fade to black.

Call me naïve, but I like happy endings. And maybe, just maybe, if we give the world enough happy endings, things will end happily ever after, after all…



Speaking of endings, the finish of a film is usually celebrated with a Wrap Party, wherein all of the cast and crew gather together for a night of drunken debauchery to celebrate surviving yet another motion picture. At these bacchanalic gatherings, persons with no apparent attraction to each other end up in bed together; inebriated crew members confront the Producer and tell him or her “just exactly what I think of you!”; and invariably half a dozen scripts miraculously appear on my chair written by the caterers, the vehicle drivers, the generator operators, all “perfect” for me to direct.



In this case, however, with the budget strained beyond comprehension by the dwindling American dollar, the Powers That Be decided not to bother with anything as foolish as rewarding the crew for their hard work and so – after my loyal first AD hurried away to attend to the birth of his third child, his wife’s “water” having broke during the rehearsals for the final scene-



- (we actually had to insist that he leave the set and even then he took the time to make a thank you/farewell speech to the crew while his Mrs. was being rolled into the operating room, the newest member of the family all but crawling down her birth canal) – we all hugged and thanked each other and lied a few promises to stay in touch and then piled into our respective cars and headed home.

Well, almost. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful gifts I received from various crew members; several bottles of my beloved Belvedere vodka, a couple of delightfully gauche ties for my collection, a remarkable book on the history of mid century American Tiki kitsch culture -



- and another regarding Miss Audrey Hepburn-



- and, finally and most touching of all, a perfect little blue Tiffany box from my Camera Operator. Frankly, the box could’ve been empty, but I am SO glad it wasn’t: the stunning cufflinks inside are a perfect addition to my wardrobe.



But let me ask you this, dear reader.

In this era of crass, exploitative “show business” news, would you care to know that the aforementioned Camera Operator not only gave me this lovely little present but also managed to stay with us for the entire shoot even though his wife was enduring the first few weeks of a newborn infant alone AND one of his children is suffering through a possibly fatal genetic disease AND while he was functioning on less than five hours sleep a night he still managed to deliver some of the most incredible images I’ve ever seen let alone direct?

Or would you care to hear that two of our actors were dealing with the terminal illnesses of their respective mothers, one suffering through chemotherapy and the other in a coma, but still managed to deliver pages and pages of dialog with charm, enthusiasm and that elusive “star quality” which makes them Leading Men in every possible meaning of the term?

You see, the movies you watch aren’t just made by magic. They are made by people; real, live, honest-to-goodness human beings.



So the next time you peel back the sticky pages of one of those trashy gossip magazines or read some glib review written by a barely literate nitwit who hasn’t so much as lifted a light on a film set, consider this: every shot, every line of dialog, every single moment you enjoy – or hate – in a motion picture is the result of the sweat and, oftentimes, tears of a group of extremely dedicated and talented craftspeople, all of whom are united by one thing.

They love movies. Just as much as you do.



My reputation for sarcasm notwithstanding, I am honored and, indeed, privileged to work with people such as these. And I’ve often thought that if the rest of the world worked like a Film Set – that is to say, if every single person gave his or her all every single minute of every single day in a common effort to create a Perfect Thing – this would be a much better planet on which to live.

Of course we’d need a Big Boss, some sort of Benevolent Dictator who can oversee the entire world and keep an eye on things.



I know what you’re all thinking – Please, Ron, won’t YOU accept that responsibility?

Well, obviously I am PERFECTLY suited for the job but unfortunately, I’m a little busy right now. I'm on my way home to find out just exactly WHAT kind of nonsense my Ecuadoran (or whatever he is - I can barely understand him with that almost unintelligible accent of his!) Houseboy Panton has been up to for the past two months, and why it has caused me to have a $600.00 dollar electric bill.

And if it involves the rest of his family and any number of fold out Army cots in my living room, there is going to be hell to pay...