I. APPROACHING THE EDGE

(PRE-PRODUCTION)

Week 5

Monday, May 2

Well, Tom and I have read the new draft, compared notes, and managed to weld everything into one final version – in which we’ve kept perhaps 50% of the new material. The reason we’ve chosen only this much has less to do with ego (I hope) than timing: Tom is very concerned about the flow and pace of the movie, and some of Stanley’s material was slightly too wordy. The new draft, though, has also strengthened the family bonds, as well as provided some of the funniest bits in the movie. We gird ourselves for the afternoon meeting with Pippa, when we’ll share our comments and criticisms in hopes of locking down the script.

About noon, Tom and I head out to east L.A. to check out another costume house. Finding a costume designer has proven to be one of the more difficult tasks, possibly because Tom himself is uncertain about the directions the costumes should take; we’ve toyed with everything from Victorian clothing to actually dressing them in giant tubes, but we keep coming back to the 50s sitcom idea. Most of the costume designers we’ve talked to have given us the impression that they think we’re making a science-fiction film, even when we’ve gone to great lengths to assure them we’re not.

So here we are checking out another facility Tom’s contacts have recommended, and this one is gigantically impressive. A huge warehouse occupying some 38,000 feet, they seem anxious to work with us, as they’ve primarily supplied costumes for plays up to this point, even amusement park attractions, and they want to break into film. We leave feeling that we may have a strong contender.

edge16.jpg - 22800 Bytes We return to find the art boys have just would up yet another wildly successful scavenging, and the side lot is filling up with every conceivable sort of tube, pipe, kitchen utensil and general geegaw.

That afternoon, it’s west to Westwood to convene with Pippa. Again, her intuitive perception of what does and does not work for the script is most impressive – and I do not say that just because she happened to agree with us almost right down the line! Within an hour or so, we’ve essentially agreed on the entire script, with the exception of one scene we’re still all uncertain about: The one in which Cindy, while practicing routines for the upcoming party, is spied upon and blackmailed by Billy. Stanley suggested a cheerleading routine, followed by Cindy holding an imaginary conversation with her favorite "effluvia" athlete. Although I like Pippa’s idea that this points out Cindy’s naivete (which we all know won’t last long), I have a problem with it that Stanley couldn’t possibly have known about: I can’t see Juliette Lewis, who we’ve already cast as Cindy, performing the cheerleading bit. Tom suggests we turn the cheer into a song, and we find this idea met with satisfaction all around. Tomorrow I will return to Linden to type in the script on their computer.

Tuesday, May 3

I arrive at 9 a.m. at Linden’s offices, two hours later than we’ve been starting every morning at the Burman Studio, but still, it turns out, an hour too early for Linden.

It’s not until almost 11:00 that I’ve finally been set up on Linden’s Mac computer to clean up the script. There’s a real reason this event is of particular note: I’m well-known among my friends for my stubborn resistance to computers7. At least one tech-head a week tries to convince me that I must start writing on a word processor and I always politely (okay, maybe not always politely) inform them that in the time it takes to pull up a program, type in the material, store and format the file and then run it through the printer, I can have twice as much done on a good old-fashioned typewriter (and besides, a computer, contrary to popular belief, has never made anyone a better writer). So here I am, forced to computerize, while the good folks at Linden stand around telling me that by the end of the day I’ll never want to use an ordinary typewriter again.

Wrong.

It takes me most of the day to clean up the script, and I still haven’t finished by 5 p.m. As usual, there’s a deadline (tomorrow afternoon), so I rush to finish, then we decide to print the script out immediately so I can take a copy home to proofread (and so Pippa and Tom can suggest any final alterations).

The printer inexplicably stops on page 100, refusing to print the remaining 5 or 6 pages.

Finally, about 7 p.m., we have a printout of the entire script, although I don’t think anyone can really explain how we finally got it.

I return to the valley to find Tom, Bari and Johnny L. still working at the studio. We decide to all go out and celebrate; what we’re celebrating is the construction of the sets at the Lexington facility, well underway now and which Tom saw for the first time today.

He’s been a babbling idiot ever since.

He also, apparently for the first time, actually realizes we’re honestly going to make this movie. I think I need to see these sets, because I still don’t believe it.

Wednesday, May 4

Tom and I meet at 7 a.m., so we can have an hour or so to go over Cindy’s mirror scene before it’s all locked down. Tom has written elaborate rhyming song lyrics, but likes my suggestion that the lyrics should not rhyme but sound like something Cindy is making up as she goes along – a little clumsy and silly. The last thing we add is the "stereo musictube", and we’re set.

At 9 a.m., we venture into Hollywood to check out Ren-Mar Studios, the current frontrunner for our stage facilities. Long ago, when this was a $350,000 movie, Tom and I had thought we would cut costs by renting some big cheap warehouse somewhere to shoot in. It took Neil Lundell, our new line producer, to point out to us the sound problems inherent in a non-soundproofed warehouse, as well as things like the lack of lighting grids, dressing rooms and general conveniences. Since we started shopping for facilities at the time of the writers’ strike, we thought we might have little or no trouble finding stages, but soon discovered that commercials had taken over most of the less-expensive facilities. Occasionally we’d find a stage that would make us a great offer on the stage rental fees, only to discover that they’d try to gouge us on a mandatory lighting package (Neil had already negotiated a lighting package). I learned more about negotiating watching Neil and John C. in operation with some of the stage owners and managers than any yuppie learns in a boardroom.

We’d been through nearly 20 when Ren-Mar’s name came up. Ren-Mar Studios is not, unlike many of the others we’ve looked at, one little stage used primarily for video or effects shooting. It’s a real, honest-to-goodness movie studio (we later saw it double "Maroon Studios" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?), and is, for all of us assembled this morning, I think, love at first sight. The boost to crew morale is a major consideration, and the deal is excellent. Neil has already negotiated a fantastic camera package as well as lights, and now he sets about trying to complete tying down Ren-Mar for us.

After Ren-Mar I go to Linden to finish the last corrections on the script. Suddenly the job has a new priority: Actress Meaghan Fay, our first choice for Miriam, has just been offered another part, and she now has a choice to make within 24 hours. Pippa’s plan to sway her to our side includes sending her a copy of the new draft of the script before the afternoon is out, and the rush is on. Finally, I finish about 2:00, and after reassuring everyone that this script is IT, I head back to the Burman Studio for the 4 p.m. casting session.

Today we see our first batch of kids – Billys, Joeys and Buds – and once again we’re amazed at how well the lines read. An hour later we have several good kid candidates, and one big kid firmly attached – the deal has just been closed for John Glover as Henry.

One interesting concern is expressed after today’s casting session: We seem to have no minority cast members. Tom and I had already given this issue some serious thought, but came to two conclusions: First, by having a sort of generic-looking cast, we hope to avoid introducing or answering questions for the audience about who populates this world; and secondly, the 50s sitcoms we’re still parodying were whiter than white. My feeling, also, is that our positive statement for women and minorities will be made on the other side of the camera.

Thursday, May 5

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Another day of small jobs and running errands for me.

Elsewhere, the push continues to lock down one of our last open key positions, that of editor. I’ve compiled a list of editors who have cut some of the better low-budget films of recent years, and John C. is in the process of checking some of those folks out, as well as asking for recommendations.

On the casting front, the suggestion made previously of Carol Kane for Miriam proves untenable, both because she’s tied up and because our original choice, Meaghan Fay, still hasn’t responded yet (we’re keeping our fingers crossed). The deal has been closed for Richard Portnow as Crabneck, however, giving us cause to rejoice.

That afternoon we take a good, hard look at the make-up effects – and discover that we are behind schedule, possibly by a lot. We restructure the effects crew and decide we all need to start working Sundays.

Friday, May 6

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Well, saw the sets at the Lexington facility this morning – and now Tom and I are both babbling idiots (although no doubt many would argue that’s no big change). It’s a strange and wonderful experience, seeing a personal fantasy take such impressive, undeniably real, 3D shape. The sets tend to make Tom a little crazy, because he looks at them and starts to realize he’ll be asked to direct a film in them, and precisely one month from now.

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The remainder of the day (and how could it not be anti-climactic after that?) passes quickly with a lot of small jobs, thinking and discussing. Tom is breaking down the final draft, in terms of beats and natural breaks in the aciton, and John C. is reading something and giggling hysterically. I ask what it is.

It’s the new draft of Life on the Edge.

Oh. Guess I don’t have to ask if I can read it when he’s done, then.

Saturday, May 7

The morning is non-stop interviews: Three costume people, an editor, a hair stylist, another special make-up effects man. I know it’s not normal on most productions for the director himself to do this much of the interviewing, but this is guerrilla filmmaking on a budget, and Tom also happens to have more years of experience from which to draw on various contacts and connections than virtually anyone else on the show. He’s put in calls to some of the top costume designers in the business and they all got back to us yesterday, recommending various assistants and up-and-comers.

It is now imperative that we lock in a costume designer by Monday, since on that day we’re having a massive meeting called the "page-turn", in which virtually everyone who has been hired so far will sit down together and go through the entire script page by page, so that all are locked into the same (Tom’s) vision of the film.

The costume designers are all equally adept, posing a difficult decision, until, that is, we see the final one – and he makes our choice for us. Eduardo Castro, a dapper young fellow who was recommended by costume great Wayne Finkelman (who just finished Scrooged), and who has provided the clothing designs for the last two seasons of Miami Vice, shows up with a portfolio that is hugely impressive – not the least reason being that he has already prepared initial sketches for Life on the Edge that knock our socks clean off. He is the first costume designer we’ve seen who is really in tune with us, and we offer him the job almost immediately.

The next thrill of the day is the appearance of location manager Michelle Bashe with the pumping station location. It’s an old cannery down on Terminal Island, unused for ten years, a conglomeration of pumps, vats, tanks – and the best part is that it’s about to be demolished, so we’ll be free to do whatever we want with it. We decide to all travel down there next week, since we need to make a deal on it as soon as possible.

After lunch with sound designer Mark Mangini, I journey out to Lexington again, this time in the company of Pippa and Joe Grace, who are seeing the sets for the first time. They are, needless to say, delighted, as am I – a tremendous amount of work has been done just since yesterday. It makes me realize, for the first time really, how much work is taking place that I have no direct connection with. It really is an immense undertaking, and I can’t help but feel awed at what I’ve partly helped set in motion.

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Sunday, May 8

Even though Tom and I had agreed not to come in to the studio today, we both do anyway, Tom ostensibly to finish off a project outside of Life on the Edge – which goes untouched, because he can’t resist the urge to fiddle with the creature sculptures. He spends some six hours on the face of the dog, which goes from looking like a "Spike" to a "Herb", sort of a canine version of every desiccated, sleazy Hollywood agent or producer Tom’s had to deal with. Me, I spend most of the day playing "backseat sculptor".



7. Here's proof that mother is always right: She always knew I was a technogeek, even when I was living in denial. Cripes.

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