Sunday, February 13, 2011
ON THE SET: THE HOUSE—DAY FOUR
The movie set began to seem like a small town.People came and went. Some lived there longer than others. You knew everyone’s face, but not necessarily everyone’s name. And Jon was the mayor.
Counting all the locations, I wouldn’t be surprised if around fifty people were somehow involved in the actual shooting of Jon’s film. Probably more. Several times, it was obvious some of the crew were meeting each other for the first time. It was a mixture of Chapman students and professionals. But for the most part, you couldn’t tell the difference. Almost everyone handled their job with the style and demeanor of someone who has been doing their job for years.
On this day, before everyone arrived, Jon and Libby discussed the shooting schedule. This would be the day of the big stunt and everything else would have to be arranged around it. It was an essential part of the film, of course, and the stuntmen would be arriving at 10:00.
Jon wanted to get in seven shots before the stuntmen arrived. And that would be pushing it.
The plan was to get through heavy schedule this night, so that the last night of shooting would be a light schedule. This would also allow for the possibility that if they didn’t get what they wanted on this night, they could shift some shots into the schedule the following day.
They had been shooting in this location for three days, so it wasn’t unreasonable to think they could work faster.
One issue was the simple aspect of everyone showing up on time. More than one crew member was late in the past few days. In fact, on this particular night, one of the actors was also going to be late. Sometimes it was traffic that delayed people (understandable in LA) and sometimes it wasn’t.
Everyone was supposed be at the house ready to go by 6:00. But many were showing up so late that on average, the first shot wasn’t completed until 9:00. Three hours of prep time was killing the schedule and tonight it was essential this kind of delay didn’t happen.
At 5:40, Jon and Libby met with the producers Hillary and Sean to set the tone of what they needed for the next twelve hours. Not long after, there was a general meeting with everyone.
With the stunt crew coming at 10:00 there was no room for slacking off on anybody’s part. Jon made it clear to everyone that this night in particular was a crucial time. The longer it took to set up and get the takes, the more likely they would have to sacrifice certain shots. Everybody needed to focus and not be chatty between takes. He explained that this night in particular would be exceptionally intense, but that his plan was for tomorrow to be light by comparison. As they finished final shots in each of the rooms, the crew would need to start putting each particular room back the way they found it.
Jon had another brief meeting with Andy (1st Assistant Director), Jeff (editor) and the script supervisor to discuss a contingency plan. If things did not go well, one option available was to start minimizing scenes. On this night, every shot was crucial. There could be no sacrifices.
The worst case scenario would be that they would shift some of the shots to the last day, changing the final day from a light schedule to yet another heavy, intense one.
As everyone got ready, Jon talked with Andy about the title sequence of the film and the possibility of a dream shot, in which we would see the main character (Alma) on some kind of public transportation such as a bus.
One of the producers had the production designer start working on the office which would be used on the final day of shooting. They needed the office to look more masculine.
The crew seemed motivated and focused like Jon had hoped. As mentioned before, on most nights, the first shot was finally taken around 9:00. On this night, they got the first shot at 8:00. Things were going great.
Here are some odds and ends:
Libby Green had her own way of communicating. LibbySpeak included referring to Drew on the lighting crew as “Drewski.” Jon was “Byron.” And she often made use of “dealio” as in “What’s the dealio?”
Whenever the camera dolly (a very heavy contraption) had to be moved, a certain amount of care was taken to not run over anyone. They always said, “Dolly moves,” before actually doing it.
And if I remember correctly, this is what you would hear before each take:
Andy: “We’re going for a take. We’re going for a take.” (sometimes followed by “settle down” or “quiet on the set” if needed). Andy: “Sound ready?”
Jeff: “Sound speeds.” Andy: “Roll camera.” Camera Guy: “Speeding.”
Guy with the Clacky Board Thing (not the technical term): “Scene 17Kangaroo (17K), Take 1.” Libby: “Frame.” Andy: “On you, Jon.” Jon: (pause) “Action.”
Some of the first shots on this night required the camera to be on a long balcony leading to the upstairs rooms. The bedroom had made for a crammed location, but this was even tighter. Once the camera was in place, you were virtually sealed off from the rest of the house.
In order to get one shot upstairs, it was necessary for the camera crew to push the dolly along the balcony at a pretty good clip while Libby was on board. Jon and I and a few others were watching the tap in the room next to the balcony, so when the camera was moved forward, we would see them fly by the open doorway. During one of the takes, they were cruising pretty fast and Libby got a little uneasy about hurtling along the balcony. As she passed the doorway, we heard her say with some concern, “O…K…”
By 9:00 they had completed four shots.
Not long after, I heard the make-up girl sincerely say, “Bless you,” to Jon. He said, “Oh, I was just trying to show the look of fear that I want, but apparently it looks a lot like I was sneezing.”
The stuntmen showed up at 10:00. The crew had two hours to film the stunt. The guy actually doing the stunt was contracted to have them film the stunt twice. No more, no less.
In order to get the most out of it, there would be two cameras each time, aimed from different angles. This would essentially give the editor four angles to work with to make the final effect. As a backup option, providing yet another take and yet another angle, Andy used a small hand-held camera called a 5D camera. It wouldn’t provide as good a quality as the other cameras, of course, but it would do for brief images. This would boost the total takes to six.
The stuntman did the stunt twice without being filmed just to warm up. Everyone had their cell phones out though, to record it just for fun.
It was almost 11:00 when everything was ready to actually get the first take. Two cameras meant two taps. Jon and I used our iPhones to record the taps so that he could watch it again right away to see how it looked.
The cameras started rolling and Jon said, “Action.”
The first stunt went great. Both cameras captured exactly what Jon was hoping for.
The stunt required Julia (Alma) to interact with the stuntman briefly, just before the stunt. The first time, she got the timing right and everything went fine.
The second time, she messed up on the timing and it threw off the stuntman’s focus. He wasn’t hurt at all, but the stunt didn’t look very good. A kind of hush fell over the crew because everyone knew that in essence the second take was botched.
Jon immediately hurried over to the stuntman and asked, “Are you all right?”
The stuntman was fine. But I think he was impressed that Jon wasn’t so focused on his film that he forgot about the things that really matter. Either the stuntman appreciated Jon’s concern or he simply felt responsible for the bad take. But right away, the stuntman said he was the one at fault—that he should have asked for the cameras to cut so he could get his focus back. In the end, he said he would do the stunt a third time for Jon—no charge. He did the stunt yet again and everyone applauded.
So counting the three cameras and the three takes, Jon ended up with nine possible angles to work with.
Another shot involving blood was completed and then everyone broke for lunch. All in all, the first half of the shoot had gone incredibly well.
After lunch, they worked on a shot that captured a really cool POV (point-of-view) through the balcony railing. Soon after that, the pace began to lag.
Things were still going well, but the crew had already been working on this film for almost a week, with just a little time off and this day had been exceptionally stressful. The anticipation and execution of the stunt had given everyone an adrenalin boost that provided some real momentum, but there is only so much you can do before your mind and body began to wane.
Yet, they kept pushing, moving from one shot to the next. And believe it or not, they had a lot of fun while they did it. All in all, there were more laughs than sighs of frustration. Despite the fact they had once again fallen a little behind schedule, despite the fact the director’s hair was sticking up and he was pacing, Jon kept encouraging everyone and continued to check off the items on the shot list one at a time.
At 3:00, a crooked headboard slowed things down somewhat.
At 3:50, the script supervisor fell asleep. But she had lasted a lot longer than some of the other crew members who weren’t stationed at the tap. When one of the lighting crew saw her asleep, he pretended to get on his walkie-talkie and said, “Send up three Redbull—stat!” But she was able to be revived with just a simple nudge.
Andy, as usual was the stand-in and often did stand-up while he did it, helping everyone keep a good sense of humor.
Setting up one shot, Libby adjusted the camera, booming down and everyone reacted with “oooo” at the unexpected cool effect. They ended up using this “accident” in the shot.
At 4:00, a piece of tape slipped out from behind a picture on the wall. That simple little detail used up a little more time. Jon laughed and said, “We are surrounded by jankiness.” As if to confirm this, the bed became uncooperative and began to dismantle itself. Jon and Andy had to fight the thing back into shape for the next shot.
It was almost 5:00 when Jon was shooting the actors doing dialogue. Chris (Alfred) did fairly well, but then asked Jon for another take. He said he felt like he could do better. Jon gave him another take and it paid off. Chris did great.
Jon was really good at getting the most out of the actors. He would give both Julia (Alma) and Chris (Alfred) time to “get in the zone” before actually rolling film. He achieved some impressive depth for the characters by discussing the nuances of the roles. One specific point in the film will end up being pretty powerful because of Jon’s shaping of the actor’s delivery.
With less than an hour to go, they had five shots left on the shot list. There was no way they could get all of them done in time. Jon and Andy started discussing which shots could be possibly postponed and maybe even inevitably and painfully sacrificed. The 5D camera was an option for some of the shots, but not the first choice.
You would think that under these circumstances, they would then begin to stress out. But it wasn’t long before they were laughing about how Julia’s hair across her face looked like a moustache. Of course at this point, just about anything was funny.
The Martini Shot was of stone sitting on the floor.
When 6:00 hit, everyone knew they hadn’t completed every single shot. But Jon said, “We did really well today. I’m not disappointed at all.” They got 18 shots—20+ if you counted the double camera coverage of the stunt. This meant they had achieved more shots than any other day since they started. For the first time since I had been on the set, when the day of shooting was over, everyone applauded.
All in all, the shoot had been like a turtle wearing a rocket. Fast at first, but inevitably slow again. Yet, getting there eventually.
But most of all, when it was over, everyone was smiling. Including the turtle.