I. APPROACHING THE EDGE
Monday, April 25
I spend the morning at Linden in Westwood, helping John C. in coordinating attempts to secure the (free) services of a team to videotape a documentary on the making of Life6. I also hand in two new pages for the script requested by Linden, one a revised page detailing the activities of the "ream gang" in the pumping station (Tom had come up with this idea since the last draft), and the other a note to go out with the script when it’s sent to child actors, which is intended to reassure their concerned parents that the script is a comedy and not some new kind of kiddie porn.
That afternoon is a series of errands – phone calls, organizing, buying supplies – and I’m only dimly aware of the concentrated work efforts going on around me. Finally, about 6:30 that evening Johnny Logan takes me on a tour of what’s been accomplished today, and I’m dumbfounded. While I was gone (figuratively and literally), these guys have gotten running starts on the props, the set dressings, and even the furniture. In the side lot of the Burman Studio are great plywood frames which Tom Perkins, a professional set and furniture builder who is rendering his services gratis, will eventually turn into the Hollowhead living room couch (which Ed designed based loosely on his own living room couch). Johnny has also had a successful day raiding thrift shops and has come up with half the apparati for the kitchen, while standing on a table in the studio is the perfect plaster-and-green-foam duplicate of Tom Burman’s dog Shnutz, created by measuring the dog’s every detail and transferring the measurements to the sculpture, which will serve as the basis for Spike, the Hollowheads’ dog, also to be played by Shnutz.
The Hollowheads’ world is beginning to come to life.
Tuesday, April 26
Two (fortunately) minor setbacks: We lose the sculptor we’d hoped to use for the make-up effects, and we lose the video crew who had been our chief candidates for documenting the making of Life on the Edge. On the latter loss, what happened was that after weeks of enthusiastic planning, the producer for the crew finally read the script – and pulled out instantly, out of severe personal objections to the story. (Love those extreme reactions!) Luckily, both sculptor and documentary crew shouldn’t prove too difficult to replace, and we start making phone calls.
Harder to replace could be the editor we wanted to use. Seems the bonding companies, which are sort of the insurance companies of the movie world, are unwilling to back a production utilizing both a first-time director and a first-time editor, as was the case with our chosen editor. We start working on two alternatives: Find a more experienced editor, or (preferably) find another bonding company.
We also speak again to sound designer Mark Mangini, who impresses further with his knowledge and drive. He gives us the best explanation yet of the pros and cons of analog vs. digital sound: Basically, digital, although cheaper and faster, will limit us to the amount of tracks and overall quality of the sound. Although we end up even more confused about our sound, we are clear on the need for a sound effects designer of Mangini’s caliber for the film.
Wednesday, April 27
In the a.m., Tom, Ed Eyth, Neil Lundell and I visit an optical effects house. Ed has already produced additional designs for pumping station glass paintings, has discussed them with Harrison Ellenshaw, revised them accordingly, and now confirms the effectiveness of optical composites for the shots. It looks like Hollywood Optical Systems, who have provided some ingenious effects for films such as Evil Dead II, are willing to cut us a good deal, and overall we’ll have much greater flexibility now in filming our pumping station sequences than if we had attempted to do them in-camera.
Upon returning to the Burman Studio, I find the make-up effects guys in the process of attempting a silicon mold from a genuine, whole dead chicken – the basis for Bud’s musical chicken. Barney Burman, Tom’s younger son who is also on our make-up crew, was sent to a store in downtown’s Little Tokyo area to buy the chicken, and he also returned with a huge, incredibly-repulsive geoduck clam, which could become the basis for the leech Miriam uses on Billy’s black eye. First live toads, now dead chickens and geoduck clams. And to think it’s partly my fault.
The afternoon concludes with the last of the callbacks. Three Miriams are read with one Crabneck and one Henry...and finally we start to finalize some decisions.
It takes a fair amount of debate, including the fact that we’re still awaiting word from Dan Ackroyd and also Teri Garr as Miriam, but we ultimately decide to offer the role of Henry to John Glover, Crabneck to Richard Portnow, and Miriam to Meaghan Fay, a young comedienne out of Chicago’s Second City troupe.
We all adjourn to Tom and Bari’s favorite restaurant, where excitement is running high. Tom and I confess that we’d never dared hope for a cast this wonderful, while Pippa admits to having a hard time restraining herself from bouncing in her seat.
Thursday, April 28
Post production turns out to be the major thrust today. In the morning John C. and I pay a visit to one of the top electronic editing and digital sound houses, and, despite some of the drawbacks to digital, we are impressed. Later that day, post produciton supervisor Ken Hall – himself one of the top music editors in the business – tells us that he has enrolled Mike Minkler, widely regarded as the finest sound mixer in the world, and Mark Mangini, our much-sought after sound effects man. It should prove to be a terrifying trio of sound men, the likes of which is seldom seen on even the biggest-budget film.
Also, a little investigative work, and the assistance of the California Film Commission’s Location Library, provides us with three solid possible locations for our pumping station. I begin trying to set up appointments for us to see them in person.
The day ends with a visit from Ed Eyth, who demonstrates yet another aspect of his talent: He has storyboarded the "edge walk" sequence in exquisite detail. Ed’s the only guy I know for whom the phrase "back to the drawing board" would be both a literal order and a compliment.
Friday, April 29
A day of small odd jobs: By noon, I’ve ruled out one pumping station location, assisted in design of the glow worm lantern, shopped for props and wrapped up some boring paperwork. Tom finishes his own personal storyboards, but worries about the changes to the script that may be submitted by Stanley Mieses, the joke polisher.
We all start to worry again that afternoon about time and money (i.e., which will run out first), but resolve our concerns faster this time. At this rate, maybe we’ll get to the point where we’ll be able to anticipate and solve problems before they come up.
Saturday, April 30
Locations are the major push today. In the weekly production meeting, our newly-hired location manager produces photos from nearly a dozen different possible pumping stations. We go through all meticulously, rejecting them one by one – too clean, too cramped, too far away – until we’ve settled on four or five that look worth checking out. We split these up for next week.
Linden is pressing Ed for a logo design for the film. Even though both Ron Cobb and Ed have submitted a number of different concepts, they have yet to provide one everyone is happy with (Cobb’s were just various letter-styles, Ed’s include graphic designs featuring the two boys walking with the lantern). They pick the one they feel is closest to what they want, and ask Ed to make certain adjustments. Poor Ed looks like he’s beginning to walk with a stoop, considering all the weight he’s carrying.
Lastly, Tom and I are each given a copy of Draft #7 of the script, this one incorporating Stanley Mieses’ additions. Linden wants us to read, evaluate and appear Monday for a script conference so the script can be locked in once and for all. Tom and I exit with script in one hand – and trepidation in the other.
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