I. APPROACHING THE EDGE

(PRE-PRODUCTION)

Week 8

Monday, May 23

Tom and Bari are out of town on an errand today, so of course I am besieged by calls from Neil and Bruce Franklin, the second assistant director, wondering where Tom is, or specifically, "Why isnít he on the stage?!" Today was the day we were to move onto the stage at Ren-Mar, and they have even set up an office for Tom. If I was in a particularly nasty mood, I would answer, "Well, the sets wonít be ready for the stage until the end of the week, so whatís the rush?" The truth is, Tom intends to work out of the studio as long as possible, so he can assist as needed with the crucial finishing and painting stage of the effects.

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Itís also true that the sets arenít ready to move, and wonít be for some few days yet. Which leaves the art department boys with an unexpected gap in their schedule, and they begin trying to fill it by working on the smaller props and set dressing. Ed Eyth is constructing the dining room chairs (from work stools he bought out of a mail order catalog for industrial supplies), Johnny Logan is out buying fabrics to dress the sets, and Mike Stuart is supervising the wrap up at Lexington.

Weíve finally received the shooting schedule from Linden, and I break it down so that the effects crew and the art department can see easily what works when. Luck is with us on the schedule. The only effect we need for the first week is the aquarium creature, and the only set is the living room/dining area. It gives us almost an extra week.

My big worry today (aside from the move onto the stage) is, again, publicity. I call Joe Grace, who had someone handling the writing of our press releases, and discover nothingís been done. Also, no arrangements have been made to have journalists visit the set during principal photography. Fortunately, I have some friends who are excellent journalists, and Joe agrees to set aside some time later in the week to discuss the issue.

Tuesday, May 24

Tom has supplied me with notes for yet another rewrite of Life on the Edge, which I start working on. This rewrite comes as a result of two things: 1) Changes necessitated by the demands of our sets, location and props; and 2) input from our actors. Itís getting real hard for me to dredge up any enthusiasm for typing these pages again, especially when creativity is replaced by almost-mathematical problem-solving and piecing together. I do get some motivation on it around 3 p.m. Ė thatís when Tom informs me that Linden has told him the completion bonding company wonít work with us unless we lock down the script now. I promise to have it done by tomorrow, and redouble my efforts.13

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Tom spends the day at the stage, getting used to his office, the facilities, the crew, etc. He gets angry at one point when they try to embroil him in money conversations with a sound man, but on the other hand thereís good news, too: The sets actually are being moved to the stage today, more or less on schedule.

That evening I accompany a friend to a screening of a low-budget feature which has been produced by some mutual acquaintances, who have been touting this film for months. The films, which shall remain mercifully unnamed (youíll never hear of it anyway) has not found a distributor yet, and itís swiftly easy to see why: Itís so mind-bendingly bad that half-an-hour is all we can handle. It leaves me feeling both insufferably smug Ė and a little worried, too. I mean, these guys tried to convince us they were making art.

I can only hope Iíll never come to the point where I lose my objectivity in such a demonstrable fashion.

Wednesday, May 25

I type all morning, taking only enough of a break to run over to Eduardoís shop to check out the costumes. Although barely begun, they already look fabulous, again far surpassing what Tom and I had originally imagined when writing the script, and later doodled. Iím particularly fond of Crabneckís suit, with itís purple-pinstripe-pointed-toe-shoes pimp-gangster look, and the fluorescent colors and frills of Cindyís garb.

I barely finish the script in time to get a couple of copies run off and head over to the stage for a 2:45 casting meeting (for Cop #2). We see some very funny guys in the next hour, then I finally get over to see the sets on the stage itself, Number 8.

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Itís not exactly the thrill Iíd been hoping for, because so far the various wall sections and components of the set havenít been fitted together Ė theyíre just standing randomly around the stage, looking silly and dead. For a moment I get this sinking feeling Ė you know, the "oh shit, this is never going to work" one Ė until I overhear the comments of our casting directors, who are seeing all this for the first time (theyíd never been to Lexington). Theyíre knocked out, and keep commenting that the sets will look like you could actually have them in your house. Itís true, the yellow-gold paint on the kitchen sections and salmon on the living room walls does add a new dimension...and I decide maybe this will work after all. Maybe.

I finally get a chance to hand Pippa the new script, and just as I do she tells me she had a chat with Nancy Mette, who suggested some more changes. Iím about ready to get out the razor blades when it turns out Nancy had already relayed these thoughts to Tom, and theyíve been incorporated into the script. Pippa will read the new draft tonight, and if she approves itíll be locked in. If not...well, Iíll keep the razors handy.

Thursday, May 26

A day of one tiring minor setback after another...

edge36.jpg - 12378 Bytes Tom finds notes for yet another new scene for the script, which I frantically try to type in time for an early meeting he has at the stage today (to prepare his shot list and discuss the plans for coverage of shots). After that, Iím in charge of the studio while the wrong people are gone and others never show up. We get a cloth suit for Shnutz to wear as practice, and heís doing fine until we forget about him Ė and the guys hand me a wet suit to wash out. The effects arenít coming out properly, and the sets are behind. I donít get around to lunch until 3 p.m., and then find I canít eat. So I head over to the stage...

...and find Iím bombarded on one hand by those who want to kill me for handing in another draft of the script, and those who want yet another now. Finally by 7:30 that night, weíve compromised on the script, and I drag home so mentally and physically exhausted I can barely fall into bed, and yet I canít help but feel like itís all for nothing Ė Iíd be hard-pressed to say what I accomplished today.

Iíd like to take a bit of space here to discuss my feeling on rewrites. I had a friend once refer to me jokingly as "One-Draft Morton". My approach to writing is to plan it in my head first, then when I commit it to paper, I do the best job I can the first time, finish it and move on to the next project. Every one of my first drafts invariably elicits the comment, "Wow, this doesnít even need to be rewritten!" Yet they always are. Ad nauseum. I was perfectly happy with the second draft of Life on the Edge (the first draft had been the one that followed the kids to the party). Today I handed in number ten. The worst part is it can make you hate your own script. And I know itís lost something along the way...but maybe itís gained, too.

I canít tell any more.

Friday, May 27

I start off the day with my favorite form of (occupational) therapy: Hitting the typewriter keys with something I havenít already written, in this case to script out the making-of video documentary. Iím already starting to feel better when I run an errand to Eduardoís costume shop, and end up spending nearly an hour there. Originally I was going to request alterations to the "dog suit", a suit made of stretchy Lycra to which we will attach the foam rubber pieces comprising "Spike". Pippa shows up while Iím there, and we both marvel over the journey through the costume wonderland.

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From there itís on to Ren-Mar, where the sets are finally beginning to take shape. One minor problem has cropped up: We suddenly realize we need swinging doors leading into the kitchen, something mentioned in the script but for some reason hitherto unplanned for the actual sets. Ed begins designing, and Mike Stuart begins considering who will build them and how. Ed has already designed Oliverís corsage, and I get nominated to make it (with helpful suggestions from Tom).

The last few words of contention regarding the script are put to rest, and the final (oh sure) script is locked down, to be copied and sent out to the actors later today. Now that itís all done, we are informed that, due to requirements of the bonding company, no further changes can be made, unless they are submitted to and approved by said company. Gee...kinda wish somebody had told me that before. I mightíve fought harder for lines I thought we could just change later Ė although chances are thatís exactly why no one told Tom and I before.

A brief discussion on publicity ensues. Marvin has already shot a fair amount of footage for the documentary, including set construction and interviews with Mike Stuart and others. Since I am something of a publicity buff and know several good journalists, itís decided that I will outline some proposals for article placement, promotional appearances, etc.

Back to the Burman Studio, then, where Matt Shakman is just arriving to have his head cast taken (for the scene in which Billyís black eye is healed). Matt is obviously in seventh heaven, and spending a few minutes with the bright, curious 12-year old is enough to more than convince me we made the right choice for Billy; in addition, Mattís mother, Inez, is a charming lady who is wonderfully supportive of both her son and his new role. Interestingly enough, when she first read the script, her immediate reaction was revulsion and a refusal to let Matt read for the part (we actually didnít see Matt until the callbacks for Billy had started). However, the casting directors advised her to read the script again, as a comedy this time, and she came away with a whole different response, which, fortunately, included letting Matt read.

Overall, the effects have really gone far in just this one day. The outer metal framework of Budís instrument is almost complete, the gelatin toad Mom will slice has been created and looks incredible, and the other pieces are starting to come to life as theyíre painted.

Boy, Iíve gotta say that Iíve never been subject to wild mood swings, but going from yesterdayís anxiety to todayís delight is enough to make a manic depressive out of anyone.

Saturday, May 28

Until 11:00 a.m., I work on assembling a package of publicity ideas to present to Pippa in the hopes of convincing her that we need at least some journalistic coverage of the set. She and Joe show up for a meeting shortly, and, besides being delighted with the progress of the effects, they both seem open to my suggestions.

I spend the remainder of the day working on Oliverís corsage Ė Ed has given us a selection of six color designs, Tom has chosen his favorite, and Iím making it by repeatedly dipping lengths of tubing into a drum of rubber latex. Iím working near Sandy Korrala, a 19-year old airbrush wiz whoís been brought on board to paint the effects pieces. Today heís working on the 20 or so separate "gut" sections which comprise the aquarium creatures. Heís already roughed in the paint on Spikeís head and the edge fly which, with a few finishing touches from Tom, is soon our first finished creature. Meanwhile, Mike Earnest is welding brass pieces to make the most confounded contraption youíve ever seen Ė Budís instrument. Unfortunately, Mike has taken another job which begins next week, so he decides to take the instrument home to finish it. And the rest of us are already fighting over who gets to keep it after the film.

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Sunday, May 29

Itís an early morning trip down to the cannery location for Tom, Ed Eyth, myself and Marvin, who meets us there in his helicopter. The purpose of todayís trip is to plan out the shots to be done here in detail, and it takes us over three hours. We also do a little scavenging, coming up with not only some gauges and gadgets for the kitchen, but also the solution to the problem of what the kidsí lantern should look like during the edge walk sequence Ė itís a wire-enclosed work light we break off an old machine, tall enough to fit the glow worm, which is already roughly finished, but not so big as to make it too heavy for the boys to carry.

As we finish, Marvin welcomes his gaffer, and together they retrace the shots weíve set up, to go over the lighting, Iíve taken a roll of tape, which I use to mark all of the camera positions Tom and Marvin have chosen, so weíll hopefully have to spend as short an amount of time as possible here. After dealing with the stench of 70 years of rotting fish again today, Iím convinced thatís a pretty good idea.

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13. Rewrites don't bother me so much nowadays - but then again, they no longer entail virtually retyping the entire script.

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