I. APPROACHING THE EDGE
Monday, April 11 – Tuesday, April 12
John Chavez and our art director Mike Stuart have had this great idea for some time now about where to buy a lot of the salvage-type junk we want to dress our sets with: San Diego. Their reasoning is that San Diego hasn’t been barraged with people shopping for set pieces, as most of the more interesting L.A.-area scrapyards have, and besides, they’re both from San Diego (where I also did part of my growing up) and know where all the promising places are.
Well, it sounded good. All we find in San Diego is a lot of rusted debris not fit even for Life on the Edge. Back to L.A., empty-handed but still high-spirited.
Wednesday, April 13
After extensive discussions and list-compilings, casting for Life on the Edge officially begins today. It had already been decided that all auditions and readings would be conducted at the Burman Studio, because of its size and parking accessibility, and also for Tom’s ease.
The first actress scheduled for today reads with one of the casting people, finishes, thanks us and leaves – and Tom and I are left dazed. The scene they’ve chosen for our performers to audition with is the one in which Henry and Crabneck first sit down at the table while Miriam bustles about, just before the confrontation starts. The scene is long, and they’ve just read it omitting large chunks of the dialogue so that only Miriam’s lines are complete.
Our dialogue sounds like the noise a tube-reaming must make.
The next time they read the entire scene, and the improvement is marked – now the words are beginning to flow, and pretty damn well at that.
It’s a really strange sensation.
We see four actors that day, three Miriam’s and one Henry. They were all good. This could be tough.
Thursday, April 14
Work is proceeding apace now on the set dressings – Ed, Mike Stuart and assistant designer Johnny Logan (taking a break from his usual job as Burman Studio manager) have already cut some wonderful deals and are already beginning to drag all kinds of incredibly wonderful junk into the studio. Totally tubular.
That afternoon I venture over to Westwood (it’s a wet day and takes me an hour-and-a-half from the Valley) for a production meeting. Even though Pippa’s input on the script so far has been excellent – she’s helped us build up the relations within the Hollowhead family and define the slang of the tube world – Tom and I were both apprehensive when she asked us about bringing another writer in to punch up some of the jokes. Today I meet that writer, New Yorker Stanley Mieses, and am pleased to discover that he is funny, very perceptive, and after forty minutes I realize that I won’t have to throw injured-ego tantrums5 over any of his additions to the script.
In the meeting later that day, we discuss what to do with the set when photography wraps, a consideration I never realized could be of such importance. In my naivete, I suggest we find a local college or film school that would gladly take the set off our hands for use in school productions, and surprisingly my suggestion is applauded.
It’s also probably the most useful thing I got out of three years of film school.
Friday, April 15
A day of celebration around the Burman Studio for two reasons: First, Scrooged, the mammoth Richard Donner-Bill Murray production for which the Burmans supplied special make-up effects, has finally, finally wrapped! The reason for our jubilation over this is that Scrooged, originally scheduled to end considerably before Life on the Edge began, has tied up the services of most of the Burman Studio staff, quite often including Tom, when we desperately needed them for Life on the Edge. Now Scrooged has ended, and at last we are able to assemble the crucial special make-up effects team, to be led by Tom’s eldest son Rob. Also, we can now complete the art department with the full-time services of Johnny Logan, and Bari Dreiband-Burman as production supervisor.
The second cause for celebration today is the afternoon casting session. Everyone is there – Pippa, Joe Grace, John, Tom, Bari, myself (in other words, the maximum number of production personnel allowed by SAG), and the casting people.
We read one stunning performer after another.
After two or three of them, everyone starts muttering, "Those lines actually play! Son-of-a-bitch, they actually play!" The highlight of the session is undoubtedly the dual performance of actor John Glover, who was originally brought in to read for Mr. Crabneck, but who, after seeing the massive Richard Moll (of Night Court fame) waiting to read, asks if he can read for the part "the big guy" is not reading for. His Crabneck is so screamingly funny we all have to stop to dry our eyes – particularly unfortunate Irene Cagen, the casting director who has played Miriam to Glover’s forcefully-lecherous Crabneck. Half-an-hour later, Glover returns, and plays Henry with such an endearing stammer and surprising warmth that it makes me realize the extent to which acting can be a creative art, and not merely an interpretive one.
The decision to use Glover in the film is easy; the hard part now is deciding in which role.
Saturday, April 16
Saturdays have become our official days for art department meetings, and today is no exception. The meeting goes quickly, about the only point of interest being that Ed is now thinking of moving from in-camera glass paintings to optically-composited matte paintings. I instantly see mysterious dollar signs floating in the air before me, but they dissipate somewhat when Ed explains that he thinks he can work out a deal with a local optical effects house.
Later that night, I watch a tape of the film 52 Pick-up, which features John Glover as one of the sickest, sleaziest psychos ever portrayed on screen.
And to think I’d been leaning towards him for Henry.
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