I. APPROACHING THE EDGE
Monday, May 16
We start off the new week with a round of editor interviews. The whole gang is there Ė Pippa, Joe, John C., Neil, Tom, Bari, post production supervisor Ken Hall, and myself as we grill one candidate after another...until number 3. Steve Kemper could be the one weíve been looking for, the editing equivalent of Marvin Rush or Ed Eyth. His experience will satisfy the bonding company (heís just cut his first feature as the lead editor), and his intuitive grasp of the script more than satisfies us. After heís left, as we watch the next applicant approach outside, Neil voices the thought we all have: Why are we even talking to anyone else?
I have lunch in Westwood with Randy Robinson, who is both Lindenís head of development and my co-associate producer on Life on the Edge. Considering Randyís two hats, itís no surprise that the purpose of our lunch is also two-fold. First, weíve only spoken to each other briefly in passing up to now, so since we are sharing something so intimate as a credit, we decided we should get to know each other. Randy turns out to have a fascinating background, including a production supervisor job for two years on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, and line producer of CBSí acclaimed Signature program. Itís also interesting to hear about the genesis of Linden through Randy: He had been freelancing around New York for a couple of years, and finally decided to give L.A. a try. Thus it was that he flew out, intending to stay with his old college chum Joe Grace just for a week or so, and on the plane he was seated next to Ė who else? Ė Pippa Scott. By the time theyíd landed in L.A., Pippa had offered Randy the job in her new company, and a few months later Randy brought Joe in. Coincidentally, Linden was born in July of 1987, the same month the first draft of Life on the Edge was completed.
The second part of our lunch is not about Life on the Edge at all, but rather a television pilot script I gave Randy to read. Nothing is harder to sell in this town than a pilot for a dramatic one-hour television series (and one with science fictional elements at that), but Randy likes the script enough that he asks to keep it, in case he should develop any good contacts in one-hour programming.
The rest of the day is spent in small errands and working on edge toys. The effects are proceeding well: Rob almost has the basic foam pieces for the dog done, Barney revises the "frog suit", Adam is still cooking up sections for the aquarium creature, and Mike E. has now articulated the leech, and is working on Budís chicken.
Three weeks left for effects and props, one for sets.
Tuesday, May 17
The continuing search for the perfect editor has run into yet another snag: Steve Kemperís agent literally laughs at the money weíre offering. Oh well...it gives our producers some practice work for their negotiating skills.
Also on the editing front, we more seriously consider an electronic editing system called Touchvision when Tom gets the sales pitch and comes away every bit as impressed as John C. and I had been earlier. In contrast to the usual mode of editing, wherein the editor (and director) sit before a flatbed or Moviola, selecting from rolls of film and viewing them on the tiny screen, electronic systems such as Touchvision employ up to 20 video tape recorders and 7 monitors, allowing for more freedom in instantly viewing takes and edited sequences (the Touchvision derives its name from an additional plus, wherein the various computer commands are displayed on a screen which reacts merely to touch, negating the need for learning how to operate a computer). The advantages are speed and money savings; the disadvantage is mainly unfamiliarity with the equipment and the system. Nevertheless, John C. begins investigating the possibility of negotiating a good deal for us with Touchvision.
Two small hurdles are cleared today: First, Johnny L. has figured out an easy way for us to do our own upholstering, using nothing more than hot glue (in addition, Johnny has also airbrushed a polka-dot pattern into the material, all by hand); secondly, weíve discovered that Shnutz Burman, the unlucky Queensland Heeler playing Spike, actually will wear his foam suit without panicking or trying to shred it. Lots of patting and reassuring, and a treat or two later and heís fine. A lot of human actors arenít that cooperative.
Speaking of human actors, we have our least readings today for Billy. The four leading contenders read three scenes for us, and we soon realize there are really only two we want to consider. However, deciding between those two... Tom interviews one of the boys, and is concerned that his grasp of the transition Billy must undergo is not entirely clear. We set up an appointment for Tom to sit down and chat with boy #2 tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 18
I finish my edge toys today in preparation for the next two projects: Writing the script for the "making-of" video documentary, and typing up some rewrites. The rewrites have come about partly because of the demands of our sets, partly because of Tomís thorough breakdown of the script in terms of continuity and flow, and partly because of initial input from some of the actors.
Then I finally get my chance to personally visit the cannery location which will become our pumping station, and Iím pleased to report itís everything Tom said it was: Vile, indescribably filthy, reeking beyond belief...all in all, one of the most wonderful places Iíve ever been to. It seems to ramble on and on, endless rooms and gloomy hallways and tanks and pits Ė at one point, in fact, Neil sends out a search party when he realizes Pippaís been missing for 20 minutes. Pippa and Mike Stuart, it turns out, have discovered an old tool supply room; seems that when this place was abandoned, it was really abandoned Ė nothing was taken. We even find lockers with old shoes and calendars dating to November, 1977. Itís all a little spooky, and I canít help but mention that we should actually be filming a ghost story here.
In an hour-and-a-half, weíve mapped out five principal areas where weíll shoot, Neil has compiled his list of what weíll need to have at the shoot, Ed has noted revisions to his glass paintings, Mike and Pippa have collected a small mountain of potential props and set dressing, Marvin has charted his shots, and Iíve decided to take up pipe smoking for the two days we actually shoot here (the most fragrant tobacco they make might block out some of the smell).
Upon returning from the cannery, we discover a small disaster has arisen at Lexington: The wall sections must be ready to be painted by tonight, which means any decoration weíre going to add to them (meaning tubes) better be added quick. I end up running back and forth between the studio and Lexington all day, sometimes borrowing Tomís truck to ferry over tubes. I end helping out at Lexington until ten tonight, when the last tube is finally hot-glued to the last wall section.
Thurday, May 19
I am, as I write this, exhausted from a back-breaking day of running back and forth to Lexington, moving furniture and huge boxes of leftover tubes, and Iíve also been inducted as a painter today (the first coats of primer have been applied to the sets and couch sections). Being quite often the only one at the studio whose arms are not buried in clay or rubber up to the elbow, and who can drive Tomís truck, I seem to get all these fun (?) jobs.
Before the craziness set in this morning, I had a chance to talk to Tom about the decision he has reached on Billy: After discussing the role and the film with both the top two young actors and their parents, he has chosen 12-year old Matt Shakman. Matt, aside from being a naturalistic young performer whoís been at it for nine years, is also an aspiring make-up effects man, and this is a dream come true for him.
While Iím out, Tom interviews an editor named Karl Kress, a man whose experience includes winning an Oscar for cutting The Towering Inferno. There was, it turned out, no way around the money problem with Steve Kemperís agent and Tom, who likes Kress, asks him flat out if weíll have a similar problem with his agent. Kress suggests that his agent can perform an anatomically-impossible sexual act, and Tom hopes heís finally found his editor.
That night I go out (staggering, I might add, and flecked with paint) with John C. and a mutual friend, and I hear, for the first time, Johnís full version of the sale of Life on the Edge. John says he remembers the exact moment when I first told him Tom and I were writing "Father Knows Best meets Eraserhead", and that brief description intrigued him instantly. Joe Grace, who John had met perhaps a year earlier and at one point had almost partnered with, had been telling John about a low-budget rockíníroll-horror movie Linden was thinking of producing, but when John read Life on the Edge he told Joe, "Wait until you read this Ė itís better, weirder and cheaper." Joe did read it, agreed, and the rest is film history.
Just think: In a different universe, you might be reading the story of the making of a rockíníroll-horror movie right now.
Friday, May 20
A day consisting mainly of illness, heat stroke and technical setbacks. The illness is both Barneyís and Tomís Ė they call it flu, but I call it exhaustion. The heat stroke is mine Ė the temperature is extreme again today, and after spending three hours moving furniture and boxes back and forth between Lexington and the studio, I go home and collapse for an hour. The technical setback belongs to the foaming technicians at Lexington: Theyíve run out of hard coat, the final process in the foaming application, and they wonít have more until Tuesday Ė the day weíre supposed to be on the stage. Although it sounds like a disaster, Mike, Ed and Johnny Logan manage to turn it to their advantage, since it allows them an extra day or two to polish up the sets.
The good news of the day is the signing of both Matt Shakman as Billy, and Bobcat Goldthwait10 (who met Tom and Bari on Scrooged) as Cop #1.
Tom manages to make it in long enough to meet with Nancy Mette, who has some wonderful suggestions for the script, including using the tube slang for endearing terms as well as derogatory.
Because of the hard coat situation, itís actually an early day for the Lexington guys, and Johnny Logan and I take advantage of it by going to a movie. Funny how everything we see makes us think about Life on the Edge Ė will our photography look that nice? Will our trailer be that good?
Afterwards, weíre discussing Lifeís chances for success. We both see it being well-received critically, but doing only moderate box-office, overall a reception akin to that which Blue Velvet had.
I hope we look back on this conversation and laugh. 11
Saturday, May 21
My first discovery of the day is that I lost 6 pounds yesterday. Think Iíll write another book and call it The Lexington Diet.
Itís strange that the closer we get to our D-Day of June 6, the slower things move. Today, Iím the first one at the studio (the others show up about 9, poor sick Tom about 10), the Lexington boys knock off about 1:00, and nobody answers at Linden.
I spend the larger part of my day "seaming", or trimming down the large seam lines on the various foam rubber pieces cast so far. The work is tedious and time-consuming, but necessary. I also ask the effects guys to resolve once and for all what kind of credits they want, and I request that they have it done by Tuesday, since Linden has been asking for the Burman Studio credit list for two weeks.
We also set up a firm feeding schedule for our kitchen stars, the toads. Pedro Valdez, a wonderful young man who has worked for Tom since he was 14, has rounded up ten more toads (or "sapos", as we fondly refer to them), giving us 11 altogether. Weíve discovered our temperamental performers have a fondness for crickets and sowbugs, and agree on a daily feeding schedule so theyíll be good and fat by the time we need them (only a couple are large enough now). Studio personnel have become quite attached to them, and plans have already begun for various adoptions after the big shot at stardom.
Sunday, May 22
Only real activity on Life today was going over the latest rewrites with Tom in preparation for typing them up.
Since we had a free day, John C. and I went to see Willow, which had opened Friday, and I must say the film left me puzzled. Hereís a 35-million-dollar spectacle with plot holes you could push the state of Texas through, while on our tiny-budget project everyone panics at a typo; all those assembled so far, from the actors to the assistant directors Neil has hired have scrutinized this thing to death for gaps in continuity and action. What happens with these dinosaur-budget films? Is there some kind of prevailing natural law that says thereís a direct ratio between logic and money both flying out the window?
I keep wondering if we arenít unusual in actually giving a damn about our movie.12
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