I. APPROACHING THE EDGE
Monday, May 9
Today is the day of the "page-turn", the meeting of all those brought on board so far in which we read through the entire script (description only, no dialogue), to be sure all the various departments are clear on what their involvement is, and to be sure that everyone locks into Tom’s vision. During the page-turn, which ends up taking nearly seven hours, some interesting points are brought up, including:
What do their paper and pens look like?
How will we do the "featureless corridor" the boys walk through on their way to the pumping station (i.e., location or set)?
Do we want strange lightning effects in the kitchen? (Marvin suggests using electrical arcs or flashbulbs, especially during the fight with Mr. Crabneck).
Do we give away the ending too much, insofar as the audience figuring out why they’re going to feed Grandpa at the end?
Do we want to shoot two endings? The original involves the moral of this story being that if you’re a lech, watch out or you may find yourself trapped with Grandpa forever in heavy-petting hell; however, Pippa is pulling for an ending ala Halloween or Friday the 13th, where the final shot will be on an empty chair, revealing Crabneck and Grandpa have escaped.
Last point: What will "edge food" look like, and who will prepare it? The art department boys already have their hands full, so this delightful job is passed to me, the person who actually forgets to eat quite often and is occasionally even repulsed by food. I make a mental note to enroll someone who actually cooks for the job.
One other interesting fact is uncovered in the course of the day: Meaghan Fay has passed on the film, and so John Glover has suggested one of his friends for the role of Miriam, actress Blair Brown (whom I like very much). I’m thrilled, even though I recognize the chances are about a zillion to one she’ll do our film.
For some reason the page-turn is probably the most exhausting day yet for all of us, and that night I fall asleep about 9 p.m., dreaming of edge food.
Tuesday, May 10
I spend the morning running errands for the studio and wracking my brain for edge food ideas – blue oatmeal? Weird shapes of jello? Nerf balls?
Tom spends the morning checking out the pumping station location, and returns around three that afternoon to report that the abandoned cannery they toured was rusting, filthy, smelly beyond belief, in general totally revolting...perfect, in other words. Neil begins negotiating a price.
We meet with our costume designer Eduardo Castro, and realize again what a wonderful find he is. Eduardo is full of ideas and enthusiasm, and in under an hour we have the whole clothing look of the picture in place. Eduardo leaves, planning to return in a few days with more concrete sketches.
We see some 20 kids in the afternoon casting session, including Joshua Miller of River’s Edge and Near Dark (who plays a delightfully bratty Joey), and Barney Burman, who gives an adorable reading as Bud, but is hampered by not fitting the rest of the family physically. We also see Lightfield Lewis, brother of our Cindy, Juliette, and Lightfield turns out to be almost as natural as his sister when he reads for Bud. We end the session narrowing down the kids to our favorites, who we’ll see one last time tomorrow, after which we’ll make the final decisions. The casting directors also bring up a slightly tricky issue: They’re still worried about the amount of gore described in the script, and ask me to tone it down. It seems that most of the kids haven’t actually read the full script, only the "sides", or excerpted scenes, and they’re afraid of making an offer to a boy whose parents turn the film down when they read the full script. Well, I’ve got my work cut out for me tomorrow – toning down on the blood on one hand, and coming up with edge food on the other.
It’s a living, I guess.
Wednesday, May 11
I spend the morning manning the studio office (Tom and Bari are out), and pounding out the new "gore-free" pages. Around noon the set builders at Lexington call to ask if I can make an emergency run out there to bring them supplies. When I arrive, I am again amazed at the speed with which our sets are progressing. I also see, for the first time, one of our wall sections (they were out being molded before this, so we could easily produce more sections by casting out of the mold). I stand there gaping up...and up...at a huge setpiece, only to be told it’s the smaller of the two basic sizes of wall section (10’ and 14’). The 14-footer is outside, occupying most of the parking lot.
That afternoon Marvin Rush, our director of photography, shows up to begin going over shots with Tom. When John C. mentions that we’re still looking for both equipment and crew for the video documentary on the making of Life on the Edge, Marvin promptly excuses himself, and returns an hour later with a complete Betacam set-up; seems he used to make ‘behind-the-scenes’ documentaries for a living, and has shot hundreds of them. He tapes the lab guys working on the make-up effects, which, unfortunately, are at the least-interesting stage visually right now – the sculptures are being molded. Then that night after casting he tapes the first interview with Tom8. His questions are as sharp as his shots, and on his part Tom confides to me that he thinks Marvin Rush may turn out to be the one guy who puts this movie over the top – Marvin’s energy, creativity and technical knowledge are all boundless.
We have our final casting session of kids in the late afternoon. The session opens with the news that Blair Brown has passed, and the part has now been offered to Nancy Mette, a delightful actress who read for us and who had virtually tied with Meaghan Fay. We now await her answer with bated breath9.
The first two of the day are Lightfield Lewis, returning, who we all quickly agree is Bud, and Chuck Conner, also returning, who is Oliver Digits (Chuck, a master puppeteer, is a former employee of Tom’s who we more or less wrote the part for).
Then we start parading the Billys and Joeys through, pairing them off two by two to see where the chemistry works...and by seven that night we’ve split into two camps, those who prefer the funnier, more truly "kid" kids, and those who prefer a slightly more idealized approach. Finally the director wins out on the idealized approach (happily, I favored this as well), and we have our top choices for Billy. One other consideration is who works best with Joshua Miller, far and away everyone’s favorite for Joey.
Well, that’s it: We’ve made our selections now on every major role in the film. All that remains casting-wise is to see if our offers are accepted.
Thursday, May 12
Now that we’ve had a night to mull over our Billy’s, we’re not so sure. We end up coming back to three choices, three talented boys who each embody some aspect of Billy perfectly, but we’re not sure that any of them captures all of Billy. We call Irene Cagen and ask to see samples of work on tape to aid in our decision.
The rest of the 100-degree-plus day is going well enough – more successful scavenging, a meeting to examine yet another amazing new editing system – until a meeting with our make-up effects guys, when we discover just how far behind we really are. The creative part of the creature effects – the designing and sculpting – is over now, and so we bid farewell to our wonderful sculptor Brent Armstrong; what we need desperately now are expert moldmakers and lab technicians, and everyone we call is unavailable. I volunteer my meager services (since I occupied much of my time today making "edge toys" for Cindy’s room, I’m available), and I get assigned to do the basic clean-up work starting tomorrow. Rob Burman and the rest of the crew also agree on another new working condition: At least 12 hours a day, 7 days a week (the art department boys ensconced at Lexington have been putting in this kind of time for a week already).
With 25 days left to principal photography, we’re looking at a lot of late nights.
Friday, May 13
A surprisingly lucky day, after a strange night for me – I woke up at 4:00 in the morning, worrying about our effects. Fortunately, it was a constructive worry, because after thinking the situation over for a while, I came up with ways to help motivate our effects guys, beginning with telling them what a great job they’ve already donw, but if they wanna be really famous...
Tom and Bari agree with my ideas, and I become the new motivator for the Burman Studio.
I spend the morning performing hands-on type work with the effects crew (scrubbing clay out of molds – very technical work, this), while Bari, in the process of further interviewing, discovers a wonderful mechanical effects man and hires him on the spot.
The best news of the week, though, is that we finally – FINALLY! – have our Miriam: Nancy Mette has accepted.
With this announcement, our casting directors also bring us tapes of our top four Billy candidates, including one boy who had always read only for Joey, but whom Tom had insisted was actually a Billy possibility. We had all questioned this until we saw both the young actor’s tape, and a reading as Billy – and we all learn never to question the man’s instincts again. He moves into the number one position, and we set up a meeting Monday afternoon for Pippa and Joe to check out our choice, as well as the runners-up. We can finally look forward to being able to assemble the entire Hollowhead family.
Two more areas I start giving thought to are: 1) Set dressing, and 2) the "making-of" video. Although I trust our brilliant art department implicitly, I also know they’ve had some trouble thinking of how to dress the kids’ rooms with weird toys, sports equipment, wall hangings, etc. I threw together a "tube doll" for Cindy out of old odds and ends I found around the studio, and I think it inspired them. Today I head to Toys R Us and buy stuffed animals and model kits, which I intend to pervert as further inspiration.
As far as the "making-of" video, I’ve decided to approach Marvin Rush and propose that the two of us do it. Marvin could provide the equipment and tape segments during pre-production, while I will script it out, try to find someone Marvin approves of to man camera during production, and John C. will try to set up a deal for us to edit it.
A funny aside to end the day with: While shopping at the market (where I constantly wonder what would make good "edge food"), I see a rag sheet with a cover story that screams "GARGOYLES VANISH AND 4 ARE BRUTALLY KILLED". It’s a better 7-word description of our previous project Stone Cold Alive than anything I could ever have come up with.
I wonder what next week’s will read – "FAMILY OF 5 FALLS OFF MYSTERIOUS EDGE"?
Saturday, May 14
I spend most of today at the Lexington facility, giving a helping hand where needed with assembly of the couch. Just as we’re about to really dig in, the guys start looking at the big rolls of foam they plan to upholster – and, apparently for the first time, realize none of us know anything about upholstery. I contact our costumer, Eduardo, and ask if he can recommend an upholsterer. Wonderful man that he is, he says he’ll be over shortly with his assistant to assess the job. In the meantime, I ask around as to why we don’t simply try painting or dyeing the foam and gluing the foam directly to the frame, thereby avoiding upholstery altogether, and it turns out nobody had thought of that, either. Although it’s questionable as to whether the synthetic foam can be dyed or painted, we decide to try (and later find out it can’t).
About 1 p.m., not only does Eduardo show up, but also Tom and the whole Burman Studio effects crew (part of the motivation plan). Eduardo agrees to help us find an upholsterer, Tom will try (unsuccessfully) to paint the foam, and everyone departs duly impressed with the sets.
Later, we finish the basic frames of the couch sections and take them down to the other side of Lexington’s vast warehouse, where a specially-hired foam technician is at work on our sets. Ed Eyth and Mike Stuart had developed a relatively inexpensive (and untested) way of making the basic flats which would comprise the walls for the sets, involving making a mold from the first flat, then spraying quick-setting foam into the mold over and over to produce the rest of the sections. The foam specialists agreed to throw in foaming our furniture for us as well, and so we have them spray the couch sections. Our original intent had been to sand the stucco-like foam down once the sections had been sprayed, but when we see them we’re all so knocked out by the look that we decide to forget the sanding.
I have a brief conversation with Neil at Linden, who asks me to remind the guys that the sets must be ready to move onto the stage in a week.
I think we’ll make it.
After Lexington, I drop by the studio and discover two wonderful things that transpired while I was gone: First, the new mechanical effects man, Mike Earnest, who just started this morning, has already created all the mechanics for the edge fly, which we want to see flapping in the pumping station just before it gets smashed by Logan Ramsey. Secondly, Eduardo left his first dozen or so completed color costume renderings – and need I say they are stunning.
That evening, after attending an excellent play Barney Burman is appearing in, I meet with Barney afterward, who confesses that he’d love to go up to his dad and say, "Wow, everything is coming together so well – you’ve got an incredible cast, unbelievable sets, gorgeous costumes – now it’s all up to you, dad."
I tell Barney I think the idea’s already crosses his dad’s mind.
Sunday, May 15
Originally Tom had intended to go hunting for more toads today, but by 10:30 a.m. he still hasn’t called, so I head to the studio, which I find empty. I work by myself on edge toys until Rob and his roommate show up to run the foam pieces for the dog, so that Mike E. can start working out the mechanics tomorrow. They leave around four. About five, I finally hear from Tom, who has been delayed all day on family business. I close up shop alone at 7 that evening, wondering what happened to the commitment to work Sundays.
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