Sunday, August 24, 2008

THAT BURNING SENSATION

There are very few things these days which can lure me out from behind the protective fichus lined walls of my desert paradise at 801;



- with a solid investment portfolio consisting of half a dozen rare coins from the Pomeranian Empire-



- a signed first edition copy of the autobiography of Joanne Worley -



- and a U-Lock-It in Reseda filled to the rafters with mint condition Ginger Spice Dolls -



- I am pretty much set for life, so the only projects I deign to accept anymore are the ones which really SPEAK to me on a deeply personal, highly artistic level.

Or the ones that feature handsome young men running around with their shirts off.

And so I find myself back in Vancouver, Canada once again, in the autumn of 2008 to film back to back thrillers – “RED TORRENT” and “DEATH AMONG FRIENDS” – both of which boast enough strapping young male flesh to make even the most devout Catholic priest reconsider his faith.



Case in point, the lead of the first film, Shawn Roberts.



While Mr. Roberts has considerable skill in the Acting Department, having been a child star whose evolution into leading man I have been privileged not only to observe but also to participate in, it is in the Shirt Taking Off Department where he truly shines. As someone with the reputation of being the Jayne Mansfield of his price point-



- (BEFORE the car accident, naturellement) his presence in “Red Torrent” – or, as we’ve been calling it around the set, "That Burning Sensation" – could have simply fulfilled a certain “beefcake” quotient and that would have been that; certainly his nude scene at the side of a river in an ancient forest is utterly breathtaking, with the natural beauty of the surroundings perfectly complementing the flawless body he has worked so very hard to achieve.



Needless to say, I barely paid attention to this particular shot; I find the exploitation of the human form distasteful of course, and although there were rumors to the contrary, let me just say that the arms on my director’s chair were already quite loose and would probably have come off in my hands even without the spectacle of Mr. Roberts admittedly well-defined buttocks.



But to my delight – and, frankly, relief – he is more than just a great set of glutes, having grown over the years into a remarkably accomplished thespian with extraordinary on-camera charm and in this, his first role where he is the undisputed STAR of the picture, literally Number One on the daily work schedule “call sheet”, he simply shines.



(There are still moments when the Shawn I’ve known for almost a dozen years reappears however – when a “take” goes awry, Mr. Roberts slips from his lower registered, slightly gruff “movie star voice” back into his normal tone which could be charitably described as sounding rather like Mickey Mouse after a hit of helium, and it is both jarring and amusing to say the least.)

In the other roles, we have a delightful mixture of actors new to me, as well as a few of my old favorites: the lovely and charismatic SARAH CANNING -



- she of the entrancing eyes and completely beguiling screen presence - being among the former, and the hot-as-a-stolen-pistol LEVI JAMES in the latter category.



Levi and I once worked together on a pilot presentation for a certain music television network run by ex-hippies and pandering nitwits; the sudden decision to cancel the entire project without a word of warning, and the ensuing lawsuits over cancelled contracts and lost wages all but derailed several careers – to my relief, however, not ours and having him in this movie makes all of that seem like a distant memory.



Another new face in the cast is a remarkable South African import by the name of PJ PRINSLOO. Having spent the last several years working in the education industry, PJ has a healthy disdain for the nonsense of the motion picture business but this doesn’t seem to detract from his marvelous performance in our film; he’s graceful, heroic and utterly believable, which is the ultimate compliment for any actor.



Of course no movie made by yours truly would be complete without the marvelous RICHARD COX, who makes me laugh just by standing still.



Another ex-child star -



- Richard worked for years with Hollywood Legend/Reprobate Mickey Rooney -



- and has stories so scandalously funny as to make one incontinent; this is not a good thing on set necessarily, but since we’re shooting in a forest it hasn’t really been a problem – those silly trees have to earn their keep somehow.



With familiar Canadian face ALF HUMPHRIES, star of one of my all time favorite slasher movies MY BLOODY VALENTINE -



- and my latest diva LESLIE (“24”) HOPE-



- filling out the roles of THE BAD GUYS, we have been shooting for the past eight days in and around the usual far-flung Vancouver sub-suburbs in order to suck up the tax credits offered by the province for making movies outside the major urban centers. As regular readers of this blog will recall, the absurdity of trying to make movies in a place where there is simply no “place”, the Maple Ridge/Langley Devil’s Triangle being little more than a collection of used car lots, strip malls and cheaply constructed housing projects built on swamp land, has driven me mad for years.

But oddly, in the case of these two films, the “nothingness” of this place is working in our favor. In fact, we’ve managed to shoot some very dramatic scenes using the mountainous backdrop as a counterpoint to the sheer hokum of the plot – acid rain which is REALLY acid rain – and I am delighted to report that for the first time in many years, we are actually showing off some of the incredible beauty of British Columbia in these movies.

To be honest, this has always been the thing that annoyed me the most about making motion pictures in and around Vancouver; the qualities which make the place so remarkable could never be shown in the cheap made-for-tv crap we were making for the unwitting masses. I for one think the audience deserves more credit – is a by-the-numbers “woman in jeopardy” story starring some vaguely recalled 90's screen siren really made less effective by setting it in a stunning mountain framed town rather than some generic “Any City, USA”? I doubt it, but the – to quote Candice Bergen – “tiny, intense television people” are so terrified of presenting anything unfamiliar to their audience of Spray Cheese Junkies out there in Couchville that they’ve always insisted on hiding the dazzling vistas of Canada’s most beautiful province.

This has, however, backfired recently. There has been a rather precipitous drop off in television production up here lately, due in part no doubt to the recent devaluation of the U.S. greenback against the Canadian loonie. And while the plummeting American dollar also means shrinking film budgets, I suspect there’s another reason why producers are staying away; I think tv audiences are getting tired of seeing the same stories told in the same ten square mile radius of generic, characterless Canadian suburb. In the quest to make movies cheaper and faster, the Carpetbagger Producers who pursue tax credits and exchange rates around the world in order to churn out forgettable films from bottom-of-the-barrel scripts have forgotten one very important thing – people have to want to WATCH them.

The original B movie makers knew how to do it, as I was reminded just the other night while attending a screening of THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES-



- at the Vancouver Film Noir Festival with my friend and spiritual advisor Dr. Wong;



get a great concept, develop an original script, find some terrific actors on the skids, a few good character people, and then place the whole thing in an interesting location and let the sparks fly.

Whether or not we’ve managed to do this with our RED TORRENT and DEATH AMONG FRIENDS remains to be seen; as I’ve mentioned, we are only eight days into the shoot.

But with the help of my Brother-In-Cinema, Director of Photography C. Kim Miles -



- as well as my loyal First Assistant Director, Arlene Arnold -



- a delightful madwoman with the energy and tenaciousness of a Killer Shrew -



- perhaps we can rise above the weather problems (non-stop rain in the soggiest summer the region has seen in years), the vehicle problems



- (our cheap picture cars, most purchased for whatever change our producer had in his pocket at the time, are continually breaking down and only the magic fingers of our transportation department can seem to get them going again) and the scheduling problems (trying to figure out how to mesh two totally different movies into one shooting schedule without paying anybody a single cent of overtime) and navigate our crew of old pros and more than a smattering of new comers (who, while enthusiastic, apparently have never actually SEEN a film -



- let alone ever made one) into making ourselves a good picture or two.

But if I have to leave the safety of my glamorous pool-side lifestyle for a few weeks - or, as the clerk at the front desk of the hotel said to me upon check-in, "you're here for 81 nights?", making it sound less like an extended stay and more like a prison sentence - I can't imagine a better reason than to spend time with the collection of misfits, circus performers and societal castoffs which make up a film crew.



It may be a cliche, but we truly are like one big family.



The Manson Family, perhaps, but family nevertheless.