III. OVER THE EDGE
Monday, October 3
Linden is now in the final stages of clearing out the storage unit. A number of props Ė the Splat Spray game, the toad slicer, and the telephone, for example Ė and costumes have been set aside for use in promotional displays, and most of the make-up effects have been kept by the Burman Studio; whatís left, it seems, Neil has been unable to sell or even give away (so much for my long-ago idea of donating our sets to a university), so everything left is up for grabs. Even though the vastly-deserving art department boys have already made off with a number of key pieces (Neil gave them first pick), I still manage enough booty to open my own Edge museum.7
Later in the day we receive a sample of the proposed typestyle for the filmís credits, and find itís not what weíd hoped for. Part of the style is borrowed from the lettering found on 50s Cadillacs, and plans right now are to shoot the credits in simple white on black, something Tom feels could set the wrong tone for our silly, garish movie (in fact, I finally begin to understand why there are people who get paid large sums of money to do nothing but design opening credit sequences for movies). Tom begs Linden for the chance to research alternatives, suggesting he or Bari can provide the actual credits, and Pippa agrees to let him try Ė even though the credits must be done by Friday.
Thatís only one of his two crises: The other involves our matte shots, which have already photographed unsatisfactorily three times, and which we have one more try at before discarding them altogether. At the request of Tom, Rob Stromberg has touched up his paintings, taking them from blues and violets to the rust and green tones of the pumping station, but Tom thinks they still need something more Ė foreground miniatures, to give an illusion of depth and keep the eye from fastening on the paintings, which start to look like paintings under close scrutiny. Although Tomís foreground miniature theory is sound, thereís just one big problem (a usual one for us by now): We have no one to build them. Although Mike Stuart could do them for free (also, as usual, we have no budget for this), heís putting in 15-hour days now on The Abyss. While I come from a modelmaking background, itís obvious that Tom has the clearest idea of what he wants Ė even if it means that he now must prepare both miniatures and credits by Friday (with all of Thursday taken up by ADR).
Tuesday, October 4
Tom, feeling obviously strangely excluded from crucial decisions like choice of credits and preparation of trailers, has had a blow-out with Linden since yesterday, although apparently (hopefully!) no permanent scars have been left on either side.
Now he buries himself in the work of credits and miniatures. He has begun to design individual titles, but itís painfully clear that at the meticulous speed heís working heíll never complete them by Friday.
But then itís Bari to the rescue! A new graphics/animation studio recently moved in next door to the Burmans, and Bari quickly makes a deal with them to prepare our opening credits. They set to work designing tubular letters, which they place on a computer that allows them to tilt the letters to any angle, or print out finished credits easily.
Thusly freed, Tom goes full speed on the miniatures. Mike drops by about 9 p.m., but is so impressed with Tomís models so far that he doesnít even need to offer assistance.
Wednesday, October 5
The one thing Mike did offer was a box of extra model parts and tubes, so this morning I drive out to Simi (almost an hourís drive, putting Mike in the big league of commuters) where the effects shop doing The Abyss is located. When I walk in, itís like a Life on the Edge mini-reunion, then itís back to the studio with the new parts.
That evening, Glenn Jordan drops by with a friend of his, former Saturday Night Live regular Gary Kroeger, who auditions for us as the voice of the chicken. We show him the footage, and he immediately comes up with a personality halfway between a chicken and his own parrot, with a healthy dose of James Brown thrown in. Pippa and Tom approve him instantly, and we agree to see him at 9 a.m. at the ADR stage tomorrow.
Tom finishes off the miniatures with a minor addition from me: Iíve purchased a new game called "Tuba Ruba", which consists of lengths of clear tubing that you snap in places around your body (tube games...hmm, life imitates art?). We wanted to place some transparent tubes in the foreground of the first matte shot, to suggest some continuity with the tube forest, and these tube should be just about the proper scale.
Other than that, Tom has had no help on the miniatures Ė and theyíre stunning. He confesses a secret desire to have been a modelmaker, and it shows, although strangely enough heís used some tricks of the make-up trade to really bring the models to life Ė i.e., using a hair tinting spray, "Streaks ĎNí Tips", to provide a coating of rust.
While Tom has finished the miniatures, Iíve wrestled with what to do about the filmís end speech. It seems now that, even though weíve all agreed to do away with both an older version of Billy as narrator and the voice-over at the opening, itís generally felt that Billy should say something over the end. Tom has already written one short piece which heís not all that happy over, and Stanley Miesesí suggestiong was to add to Tomís material, "As for me, I just goooo with the flooooww," which sounds like a commercial for a bank or something to me. Tom would like to bring Joeyís name up at the end to suggest another story (namely, a sequel), but he doesnít want anything too wordy. By the time we leave around 11 p.m., itís a puzzle we still havenít solved.
Thursday, October 6
I type up something for the end real quick this morning, then head over for another full day of ADR.
First up today is Gary Kroeger as the chicken, and he is truly hilarious. At one point, when the chicken glances at Cindy, Gary has it mutter some suggestion of incest, which has us all clapping hands to our mouths to stifle until the take is finished, even if we know we canít use it.
Next up is Nancy, who has the lionís share of looping today. Nancy proves to be as consummate a performer here as on stage, and when she asks to do a line once more, sheís always right, because itís always the best reading. Itís interesting, too, that she has to catch herself sometimes and raise the pitch of her voice to match Miriamís Ė none of us, her included, quite realized what a different voice she did for Miriam.
Nancy also spends a few minutes working with Glenn Jordan, who wants to replace Miriamís mindless humming in the kitchen with Miriam actually humming the theme from the movie. To accomplish this, Glenn has brought in a small portable keyboard, upon which he plays the theme for Nancy until she has it down. He then has her hum it into a Nagra tape recorder, since he plans to actually incorporate it into the score itself.
Once again listening closely to Jim Beshears, our ADR expert, I pick up some useful tips. When actors need to match an inhale or exhale, Jim tells them to watch not their mouths but their shoulders. Jim also fills Tom in on a couple of points to keep in mind on the next film. One is to always try to avoid having anyone read lines from off-camera while youíre on a close-up of another actor, because the microphone will faintly pick up the off-camera lines, and youíll have to loop a close-up; and always allow about 5 seconds of time to elapse between the strike of the clapboard and when you call "Action!" Ė it gives ADR editors more room to work with.
We also see today Lee Arenberg (adding another line for the Head Reamer), Barney Burman (a line and a yell for the Young Reamer), Donovan Scott (a couple of laughs for his cop), Matt again (a few more lines, and 2 versions of the new end speech, one of which is what I typed out this morning), and Josh Miller, who, like Matt, has noticeably grown in the few months since we shot the film. Joshís approach to ADR is the one that actually makes the most sense to me: He doesnít use the headphone which relays the sound of the scene to the actor (and which confuses a number of them as well), but simply watches the scene carefully, waits for the three beeps preceding his line, and hits it right on almost every time (heís obviously done this before). In fact, when we ask him to lay in a scream as Joey and Billy flee Babblaxe, he notes wryly that for his last ADR session he was in this very same stage laying down hours of screams (for Near Dark).
The last ADR of the day involves what has been dubbed the "Group Linden Walla Walla", meaning that almost everyone from Linden, including Neil, Joe, Randy, Pippa and her assistant Hilary, have shown up to add various voices to the opening pipe montage and the pumping station. Sound effects editor Bruce Richardson has come with PVC pipes in hand, which we will talk though during the opening to convey the sound of the voices traveling through pipes. We then stand before the microphone, singly or in pairs, ad-libbing through pipes: Pippa does an operator, Neil and Joe do businessmen, Hilary does a girl jabbering about a party, Pippa and I resurrect Mrs. Lumbago and Mrs. Syzygy and do their dialogue, and the topperís gotta be me playing an obscene phone caller (I get to use a line Iíd written for Crabneck about boys and their "tubes in tight clamps") to Randyís embarrassed and prim operator; when Iím done, I find Iíve raised the spectre of the Edge Hooker with the guys!
Lastly, we lay in various work conversations to echo through the pumping station, and shouts for the reamers. And my "Tuba Ruba" tubes get an interesting work-out: I brought them in because I thought we might be able to talk through them for a different pipe sound, and although they didnít work that way, the sound men love the sound they make when whirled around and record a few minutes of same.
After the party the last two hours of looping have become (with everyone taking their turns at the mike to see who can crack us up most), the day ends on a wonderful, final note: Our foreign sales reps have taken a full page ad in the Weekly Variety, which appeared on the newsstands today, and which marks not only the first time we all see our names in print, but also the first blurbs (albeit in this case they are based only on the script).
I confess that my initial reaction, after working ten years for this, is not flattery or even glee, but more like, "Well, itís about time."
Friday, October 7
Today we begin by paying a visit to the optical company that will be providing our credits, and we discuss the problems inherent in doing the credits the way Tom wants them Ė only to discover there are none.
That turns out to be meaningless, however, when we find that Linden has already made the decision to go with computer-generated lettering, in plain white. Tom is very disappointed.
A ride out to Santa Monica takes us to the studio of Frank Serafine, our "big-name" sound designer. His studio, set deceptively in an innocuous-appearing guesthouse in a quiet residential area, is extremely impressive Ė but no more so than the demonstration he gives us of what heís come up with so far. He has underscored the entire pumping station and a number of living room scenes with ambient noise, creating an atmospher of constant flowing, chugging noises. It takes the film one step farther out, and is almost exactly what Tom and I had in mind for our sound so long ago.
Then itís back to the valley for our last ADR session. Richard was called back for one last line, after our editors discovered, late last night, a bump in the production track over one of his lines. Richard literally bounces in his seat when we describe the ad in Variety, and he confesses his struggles to restrain his excitement about Life on the Edge.
The next few hours belong to Tom, as he dubs sounds for the tentacle, the eye and Spike. Spike and the eye are easy (heís been practicing for a while now to get just the right sounds for them), but the tentacle is a major problem, primarily because we never foresaw it having a voice (and I still donít think it should). Three of us take shots at it Ė Tom, Bruce Richardson and myself Ė but I sound too much like Miriam, and the men sound too much like Crabneck. We finally opt for Tom's comical, half-articulate throat rumblings, with Jim Beshears and Bruce promising to tweak it until it works.
John Chavez, sitting in on the ADR today, has a new credit list, upon which I discover that my acting credit now reads "EDGE SLUT". When I reproach the crudity of this, Tom and John both silence me with teasing about the appropriateness of the title.
I've heard of prostituting yourself for your art, but does the whole world have to see it in writing?
Monday, October 10
Tom has managed to schedule himself in two different places at the same time this morning, so I head to one, our optical effects house, to stall them while he goes to the other, our sound effects team in Glendale, to oversee creation of some crucial sounds. Meanwhile, Hollywood Optical (who are, incidentally, also blown away by Tom's miniatures) tells me that our matte painter isn't due in with the revised paintings for three hours yet, so Tom will be able to make it back to supervise the shooting of the mattes this afternoon.
I return from a meeting on another project this afternoon (which didn't go as well as I'd hoped - I'm about two weeks away from secretarial work) to receive a call from Joe, who says they'd like to figure out some clever way to say "To Be Continued" at the end of the movie. I tell him I'll give it some thought, but the only way to do it that makes sense to me is to print out, after the credits:
"That's the tale of the tube in one short squirtÖor is it?," followed by one of Crabneck's barking laughs.
Tom's Foley work goes well today, as he sits in on the creation of sounds for doors and footsteps. The doors opening and closing end up being a combination of four sounds: A ratcheting noise, a scrape, a slide whistle and an old refrigerator door opening, with the front door being an intensified version of the other doors. For the footsteps during the edge walk, a variety of different surfaces are employed, including echoing metal, sloshing through shallow water, and gravel.
Unfortunately, shooting of the mattes doesn't proceed as well in the afternoon. Tom arrives at the stage to find virtually none of the equipment he and the effects cameraman requested has been supplied; where they requested "inkies" and other lights to light both the paintings and the miniatures, as well as gobos, barn doors, black Duvatyne, a white show card, etc., he's been given four old lights (only one with barn doors), a camera and one can of film. He and the cameraman manage to make due (with some materials they scrounge from old supplies laying around the stage), but he's unable to properly light both miniatures and matte paintings, and ends up being able to film only one of the three shots the way he'd planned.
Tuesday, October 11
Tom sits in on selection of credit style today, and wins a victory by convincing Pippa that no matter what style they choose, it must be on screen in vibrant colors. Only one color can be afforded, though, so green is picked (later, we find out it also costs extra to have the credits opaque, so instead our credits will be green and translucent).
When they see the dailies of yesterday's matte shots, they appear with none of the defects Tom expected, but are instead inexplicably misty and bluish. Although this is initially chalked up to a bad print, further investigation reveals it may be that the negative was damaged in processing. Tom actually hopes this is the case, since it would mean he'd be able to reshoot the mattes, hopefully better equipped this time.
Wednesday, October 12
Tom arrives on time for a screening today of the opening credits, only to find that they've started without him (this happened once in dailies, too).
This is one more example of an attitude often displayed towards Tom which continues to perplex me. Tom's decisions on various aspects of the film are sometimes ignored, and he's dismissed because "he's new". Although this treatment would doubtless be far worse in a studio environment, I still look forward to the day when we'll be able to do some dismissing of our own. Right now, however, the only consolation is the film itself, which continues to live and breathe and grow despite the occasional turmoil around it.
Thursday, October 13
A day distinguished primarily by another visit to Glenn Jordan's studio. He has now scored all but three scenes; in regards to one of those remaining scenes - the end, in fact - he's waiting for a decision to be made as to whether or not it will be editorially changed before he scores it.
Sunday, October 16 - Monday, October 17
Glenn records the last of the score these two days, this time in a full recording studio, with a real (as opposed to unreal and synthesized) four-piece woodwind section, which he is using both because it was stipulated in his contract that he must use at least 5 musicians, and because live players will break up the "perfect" sound of the synthesizers, and really bring the score to life.
In addition to having recorded pipe and tube noises, he's also got human voices run through his digital sampler, and the main title is a mix of the synthesized voices with synthesized bike horns!
While Glenn is finishing up the score on Monday, Tom and I are in Hollywood reshooting the mattes. It turned out the negative was damaged in processing, and so here we are again, in a 30' by 50' cinderblock mess of a stage, which it seems also doubles as living quarters for one of the company's employees (another example of high-tech moviemaking at its finest). We spend the morning getting all of our equipment together; fortunately, it ends up costing virtually nothing, with all the favors Neil is able to call in and negotiate. We've been provided with three effects camera and lighting guys, and we begin shooting about noon. The revised matte paintings are incredible - Rob Stromberg has added more "black" blacks and little flashes of fiery glow here and there. Tom carefully places the foreground miniatures himself (using half-apple boxes and sandbags), and then each matte is filmed at a number of different exposures, to make sure we're covered. We also shoot the paintings without the miniatures, and the miniatures without the paintings (against a plain white backdrop of foam core) to give the optical people wedges to work with if necessary.
|A small Hollywood studio is transformed into the Life on the Edge matte-shooting stage|
Ed Eyth drops by with a poster concept he'd done for fun, a delightful rendering of Henry and Crabneck, engaged in their struggles, Miriam and Billy all emerging from a tube. It would certainly behoove our eventual distributor to check out our very own production designer for the poster concept!
An interesting conversation with Tom during lunch: I ask him if he's thought about trying to get an agent (as a director) when the film opens. When I explain that my thinking on this is basically someone to weed through all the strange scripts he'll undoubtedly be offered, his response is simple: He doesn't even want to consider any other scripts, but is instead intent on making our projects. For myself, we've gotten this far without agents (even though an agent would no doubt argue that's why I'm flat broke right now), and I see no reason at this point to give anyone else 10% or more of my earnings.8
All the matte shots and the various separate elements are completed easily, and we wrap by late afternoon.
Tuesday, October 18
The film is definitely winding down; Tom is at his studio, looking a little lost, and I'm on my way to the print shop with my new resume, which I have no choice but to start sending out today.
I pick up today's Hollywood Reporter for the "Help Wanted" ads, then realize it's the Mifed issue, covering all the films being presented to foreign distributors at the Milan Film Festival. Sure enough, there's a mention and a photo of Life on the Edge. I'm looking at that while I circle the ads for 'Receptionist Wanted' and wondering if I dare ask for $350 a week.
The funny thing is, people always told me, "Oh, once you get that first script sold, the others always fall into place."
Any time something applies to everyone else, I always know it won't work for me.
Wednesday, October 19
A day tagging along with Tom.
First, it's out to Santa Monica to check out Frank Serafine's latest sound creations. He's transformed Gary Kroeger's chicken voice into an operatic warble of great range, has completed the ambient noises for reels 2 and 4 through 9 (leaving only 3 and, because of the opening pipe montage, the most difficult, reel 1), and he finishes today by recording chuggings, hissings and extremely flatulent noises produced by the ancient air compressor Tom brought along.
Then we hightail it into Hollywood, where Tom shows what he wants in the mattes by laying sheets of clear acetate over photos of the paintings, then sketches steam puffs, lights and lightning flashes where he wants them. Dave Hewitt of Hollywood Optical looks them over, approves, and promises to have them done by Monday, so they can be cut into the final print for mixing purposes.
Then it's back to the Burman Studio, where Tom gets a make-up case together, picks up Bari, and the three of us head out to Beverly Hills High School, where we are taping an appearnce tonight on - I love this! - Joshua Miller's very own talk show! Josh, now a high school freshman at B.H.H., takes over their incredibly-well equipped television studio (my colleges didn't have it this good!) every Wednesday night, and tapes a half-hour show which is actually being shown on a local cable channel. Tonight is the Halloween show, and so Josh has asked Tom to perform a make-up demonstration. I'm the victim as Tom and Bari apply a 10-minute miracle make-up (a zombie); the other twenty minutes are taken up by an interview with Tom, a "Hollywood Update", and film clips. Josh, who also writes and produces the show, has put together a helluva program, complete with video graphics and his own theme song, and we all leave duly impressed.
My favorite note of the evening, however, came when Josh asked us how the sequel was going, and obtained our assurance that Joey would not be written out halfway through next time.
By the way, it's also worth mentioning the name of Joshua's show: It really is called "On the Edge".
Thursday, October 20
We do our first magazine interview this morning.
Actually, it's conducted by my friend Ron, so it's almost more of a friendly chat - but it is tape recorded, and is conducted for an upcoming issue of Cinefantastique.9
I'm pleased to see that Tom, who yesterday said he planned to give no straight answers, has relented and is relaxed, funny and articulate. Paul Sammon, also present, tells us he's got more interviews and several convention appearances lined up in the near future.
I'm still concerned about my own near future, though, and spend the rest of the day making phone inquiries and job hunting.
Friday, October 21
The hunt is over, and I am immeasurably relieved to say it has not ended in a desk job. Instead, on Monday I'll be joining Mike and the others who have jumped from the Edge into The Abyss. I'll be working again as a modelmaker, and probably making more in six or eight weeks than I made in nearly seven months on Life on the Edge.10
The difference, of course - and the hard part - is that I didn't co-write and associate produce The Abyss.
Saturday, October 22
Re-recording sound mixer Mike Minkler is shown the film today, and promptly tells us that it may take longer than we had originally planned to do the mixing.
Is there anything on this movie that hasn't taken longer than originally planned?
Monday, October 24 - Tuesday, October 25
The mix begins with pre-dubs, the process whereby the final selections are made on which sound effects and which ADR takes will be used, and final adjustments are made to same. Pre-dubs are also where certain sound effects will be virtually created - for example, Crabneck's back burning is currently a combination of six different sounds (including bacon sizzling and animals squealing), and in pre-dubs they may elect to use any number of those six tracks.
For the next few days, they'll systematically go through ADR, Foley walking, Foley noises, Bruce Richardson's sound effects and Frank Serafine's effects; music, however, won't enter into it until the final mix, probably next week.
No news from Milan yet, where Life on the Edge is up for sale at the Mifed film festival to international distributors. However, Tom doesn't need any more reason to be ecstatic - he's having a ball working on the mix, as are Pippa, the various sound wizards and editors, and apparently all of the employees of the mixing studio. It's another case of work coming to a stop when Life on the Edge is being screened.
Wednesday, October 26
Tom, Rob and Barney are interviewed tonight for Fangoria magazine, while Bari, Paul Sammon and I sit in. I'm again relieved to see that Tom is treating the interviews seriously, although I laugh when both he and Bari deny that there's any blood in our movie.11
The good part, though, comes afterwards. Tom has just received the complete score on tape, although he has not receiving anything explaining what the cues are or what they correspond to, so we have to figure it out ourselves.
Öwhich isn't too difficult, considering how perfectly this score fits. Tom is delighted with how "big" the music sounds, but to me that's like saying you like a Picasso because of the size of the canvas. This score would be phenomenal in any size movie. Needless to say, I copy the tapes for myself, and when listening to them at home I find myself struck dumb with the idea that I had a hand inspiring this score, which is genuinely unique.
The other good news of the day is from Milan, where the foreign distributors are apparently - to use our foreign sales reps' word - "barnstorming" the Life on the Edge display.
Monday, October 31
Last week, the pre-dubs on Foley, Foley props, dialogue and ADR were completed, leaving only sound effects and music. The pre-dubs should be finished tomorrow, at which point we move into the final stage, the re-recording mix (which is also where our stereo sound is broken down). We're currently looking at the entire mix being finished this Saturday. Then, provided the mix is finished, we will view the film on Monday (a week from today) a final time before it goes off to the lab for a composite print.
One more unforeseen thing has occurred: After finishing the dissolves, wipes and fades, our 92-minute film mysteriously shrank to 89 minutes and 47 seconds, which leaves us 13 seconds short of the 90 minutes required by certain foreign distributors. Fortunately, however, it's relatively easy to extend the credits for another 13 seconds.
While spending my days detailing foam rubber puppets for The Abyss12, I find myself thinking more and more about a sequel to Life on the Edge, especially when someone comes up near my workbench and asks where the crème hardener is. By late Halloween night (after spending a delightful evening with the Shakmans, who keep laughing at how they've become friends with the "perverts"), I've plotted huge chunks of the sequel, and can't wait to sit down with Tom and venture back into the world of the Edge.
7. The only two things I've kept over the years were Joey's cool shoes (my size) and one of the dining room chairs.
8. Obviously things have changed since, although I did get my next job, Adventures in Dinosaur City, without an agent as well.
9. Indeed, we had a nice little 2-page spread in the May 1989 issue of Cinefantastique.
10. Not only did I make considerably more, I also ended up working almost as long on The Abyss as I did on Life on the Edge.
11. This nice 4-page article appeared in Fangoria #81.
12. My connection to Tom came in very handy during The Abyss - sometimes it took a make-up effects genius to solve that one problem the modelmakers couldn't figure out!
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