I. APPROACHING THE EDGE
Monday, May 30
It may be Memorial Day to the rest of the nation, but for us itís the beginning of the last week before shooting starts.
The art department boys are working feverishly today, setting up the platforms that the kitchen and dining area will rest on, and some of the basic wall sections are up. Pedro Valdez and Angela Contreras, both from the Burman Studio, have been brought in to work on the couchís upholstery, gluing the sheets of blue polka-dot painted fabric around the foam cushions. Overhead, Neilís crew has already hung the "greenbeds", or catwalks which support and connect the complex lighting grid.
It must be looking pretty good, because my dad and stepmom are in town, and are knocked out when I give them the royal tour.
Hereís hoping it continues to go smoothly.
Tuesday, May 31
Famous last words from yesterday, as our first major set disaster occurs:
Marvin, seeing the sets for the first time today, takes one look at the paint job in the living room and pronounces it unusable. When asked why, he demonstrates Ė he throws a strong light on the wall, and it goes right to white. After a brief moment of panic, Mike Stuart suggests the hiring of an acquaintance of his who specializes in unusual paint jobs. The producers quickly agree, and arrangements are made to start her tonight.
Tom begins rehearsals with the actors today, and during breaks he confesses itís taking a little getting used to.
The effects are proceeding well, although there is mounting concern from Linden regarding them. They want to see the lantern and glow-worm, since Marvin wants to shoot a test; unfortunately, this is the effect which is still farthest from completion, since itís scheduled to be shot on the very last day. I agree to come up with something, though.
But then Iím hit with the real bombshell: Script supervisor Jesse Long, who has been sitting in on the rehearsals and timing them, has concluded that the script currently amounts to 77 minutes of actual play, and thatís when they read as slow as they could.
Iím flabbergasted. Normally you figure a minute per page, and we have a 105-page script! I question this timing -Ėdid they take the action properly into account? They say they did.14
What it amounts to is that we need at least ten new pages, and we need Ďem overnight. At a loss for ideas, the only thing I can think of is to go back over the very first draft and see if thereís anything I can plagiarize out of that.
Fortunately, I am able to steal some extra dialogue from the early draft Ė but no more than 2 pages worth. I comb the current draft with a fine-toothed mental comb and do come up with some gaps that could use filling. For one thing, thereís no explanation as to whatís happened to Budís chicken at the party, so I add the chicken to the scene where he returns home, both he and the chicken smashed. I also add two more scenes for Spike, the first involving Spike showing up with Crabneckís fingers in his mouth while the cops are there, forcing Henry to wrestle them out of his mouth as quietly as possible; the second is no more than a shot of Billy sneaking Spike food under the table in the finale.
I manage to come up with ten pages of new material that fits in surprisingly well, and I even have time left over for sleep tonight.
Wednesday, June 1
I show up proudly with my ten new pages in hand Ė only to be told that we need yet another ten pages to be really comfortable.
Now Iím mystified. Provided that I can come up with ten more pages of material that donít read like padding, how do they propose to fit it into the shooting schedule? We are increasing the script length by 20%, but without a proportionate increase in our 24-day shooting schedule. The answer is that there were already "light" days in the schedule anyway (oh really?), and weíll add to those days. Iím given a run-down of the scenes shooting on the light days, and begin trying to lengthen those scenes. Two of the light days were our location days at the pumping station, but Iíve already expanded that section with the inclusion of scenes showing the activities of the ream gang, and the reamers chasing the boys. We currently have only one scene schedules to shoot in the bathroom, and because the art department guys have all begged me to come up with more scenes to utilize in that set, I add the scene of Mr. Crabneck snooping through the bathroom, spied upon by Billy as he lingers over a lacy undergarment.
While I wrack my brain, things are going wrackingly elsewhere as well. The new paint job on the living room walls is a case of "good news-bad news": The good news is that not only is the color better, the painter is also aging the set as she goes, and it looks wonderful. The bad news is, weíve realized thereís absolutely no way the blue-polka-dot couch is going to work in there. Johnny Logan goes emergency shopping, comes up with an excellent fabric to replace the polka-dot monstrosity, and sets Pedro and Angela to the task of un-upholstering and re-upholstering the couch they had completely finished yesterday.
And no sooner have the swinging doors been added than Tom examines the living room and announces the need for another major addition, a bar. Mike is tearing his hair out Ė these additions are throwing him way off schedule Ė but he immediately starts converting a left-over wall section into the bar.
On the plus side, Tom has finally gotten into the swing of directing the rehearsals, and is ecstatic with the progress. An unexpected discovery during rehearsals today was Julietteís singing ability, and plans are immediately instituted to include a singing number for her. Iím a little dismayed Ė how in the world are we going to fit this in?! Ė but after going over the script for a while with Tom and Pippa, we figure out a way to make it work.
I go to bed that night hoping my dreams will be good for about another seven pages.
|Rehearsals: Script Supervisor Jesse Long stands in for Oliver Digits as Tom and Richard Portnow look on||Rehearsals: Pippa (right) watches Matt and Richard|
|Reherasals: Marvin (in background) plans a shot as Tom works with Matt Shakman||Rehearsals: John Glover, Matt Shakman and Richard Portnow|
|Rehearsals: Bari and Juliette (who still has her hair extensions)|
Thursday, June 2
Fortunately, I wake up this morning with an idea for extending the edge walk sequence, involving the boys walking past two gossiping women, Mrs. Lumbago and Mrs. Syzygy, with the former hopefully to be played by Pippa! Typewriter in hand, I show up at the Burman Studio Ė
- and, of course, spend the morning working on everything except the new pages. Tom is there until noon going over the effects, primarily the aquarium creature. Ever since receiving the plexiglass aquarium itself several days ago, weíve worried about the size of it Ė itís bigger than anticipated, and the guys have prepared enough "guts" to fill only 2/3 of it (and thatís taken weeks and weeks). Tom offers a wonderful solution by suggesting that we sculpt a huge sheet of guts onto a sheet of plastic, which can then be molded and cast to form a central background to the guts, and provided a hollow center. The guys begin sculpting, while I dummy up the lantern and glow worm to take over this afternoon. I somehow also manage to find time to type up what I hope will be the last of the new pages, including the addition to the edge walk and a surprise appearance by a bewildered young reamer in the Hollowhead kitchen during the fight.
I arrive at Ren-Mar about 2 p.m., and am immediately hustled into script conferences and emergency rewrites, which occupy my time until almost 7 p.m. The actors have discovered that the order of several major scenes needs to be rearranged to achieve maximum dramatic impact, and then we discover that somehow I was never given the last draft of the actual script, so all the additions Iíve typed in the last two days (18 or 19 pages worth) donít correspond to the current version, and of course they need them now. The much-touted computer cannot, for some reason, incorporate single-page changes or additions into the script without reformatting the entire script, and the only typewriter in the office is like nothing Iíve ever laid hands on, so itís time for cut-and-paste. I eventually get it all straightened out, and when I confer with Jesse, our script supervisor, I find out that yesterdayís additions brought the script time to 91 minutes, so hopefully todayís will finish it. At this point, the script is like an overpacked suitcase Ė we can still just barely close it, but one more thing added and it wonít happen.
Just as Iím starting to relax and catch my breath, the lantern and glow-worm rears its ugly head again. Everyone is of the opinion that the lantern weíd cobbled together is unworkable, since it consists largely of a one-of-a-kind glass jar, and would be very likely to break. Marvin, Ed, John and Joe take a quick trip down Melrose Avenue, the high-tech center of the universe, and find a wonderful plastic lantern which is usable almost as is. We just decide to turn it upside-down and let the kids carry it by a pole, like a torch, rather than by the topside handle it come with; our talented special propmaker Steve Johnson agrees to undertake the necessary re-construction.
Now comes the fun part. The actors have moved to the set for the last 3 hours of their rehearsal today, and I finally get over to the stage to watch. The sets are really coming together now Ė the new paint job looks phenomenal, the first few pieces of set dressing have been placed here and there, and the living room has been lit. The actors are in place around the dining room table going through the dinner sequence, and Iíve been laughing along with all the other spectators, when it hits me Ė My god, I wrote a lot of these words! On one hand, I almost feel no connection to what Iím seeing and hearing, but on the other hand I feel like Iím living inside of one of my own dreams. Itís startling, and unexpected, and wild beyond description, especially when they start trying out new lines I wrote only a few hours ago, and asking me how I like it. I tell Richard Portnow that, for a change, the writer is speechless.
|The dinner in rehearsal|
Iím also elated over Tom. Not only is the man obviously floating, heís also doing a damn nice job of directing. His instincts for blocking and movement are as true as the storytelling and casting instincts heís already proven, and Iím starting to feel a potential greatness in this film; or, should I say, the potential for greatness Iíve always known was in Tom is being unquestionably confirmed. I call my journalist friend after the rehearsal, and tell him I think heíd better start covering Life on the Edge now, because it could just be huge. Even the studio guard is telling us that now.
The pedestal which will hold the aquarium has been placed on the set, and I wait until everyone else has cleared out to crawl inside and test it out. It turns out to be large enough for me to even sit inside, and theyíre providing easy access for me, so all-in-all I think it will be a reasonably comfortable experience (probably famous last words).
The days last minor disaster concerns one of our 14-foot wall sections unexpectedly toppling over, to hit two people on the heads Ė one of whom is me. Fortunately, my head is harder than the foam, and my taller co-victim absorbs most of the impact anyway, including putting his head right through the foam. Iíve caused only a dent, and received a small headache in return.
As I write this now, itís 9:58 p.m., and Iím sitting alone on the couch in the Hollowhead living room. Behind me are the music and power tools and shouted instructions of the all-night set construction crew, but for the moment I have the living room all to myself.
In these few minutes, itís all worth it.
Friday, June 3
The producers are suffering from serious panic today. Not only are the effects behind schedule, but the sets are nowhere near completion in terms of decoration and dressing. Neil is tearing his hair out now (there could be a lot of bald people by the time this film is done) over the prospect of losing what amounts to a day-and-a-half of lighting (because the sets are not complete, they canít properly light them), and at this point no one can guarantee it will be finished by Monday. Tubes have not been hung from ceilings, the kitchen vats are not ready to bubble, and there are no wall decorations up. When I ask Ed Eyth about the last point, he tells me the painter heíd enrolled to provide the Hollowhead homeís art has not even started yet. I suggest that, as an emergency measure, we buy some existing prints or paintings and alter them to fit our peculiar world. He likes this idea, we take a run to Aaron Brothers, and buy a print of sailboats which, when enhanced and turned upside-down, becomes the piece hanging by the front door in the living room.
The effects are another matter. The Burman Studio crew is surprisingly enervated and unconcerned. The major problem creature-wise right now is the aquarium creature, which, resting as it does in a huge, highly-reflective tube, presents a particularly nasty lighting problem. Joe Grace, in fact, is so upset that he wants to can it altogether; however, I argue that Tom plans on using the aquarium creature as a major device for transition and reaction shots, and that itís 90% done anyway. We strike a deal: If we can deliver the creature by noon tomorrow, Marvin can at least look it over to get an idea on the lighting (the lighting crew will not work this weekend). I know the creature wonít be finished by the noon deadline, but Iím hoping an assembly of the basic components (which we can provide) will be sufficient.
The tension on the set is broken for a few moments when the cast appears on the set in full costume. Each one of Eduardoís creations brings a fresh round of gasps and exclamations, culminating in the appearance of Nancy Mette in the stunning blue-and-white dress Eduardo has designed for her. Then the cast is hustled off so Eduardo can take the costumes back for the last few alterations.
|Our first look at the actors in Eduardo's costumes|
I finish the evening typing up the last few new pages, of the Bud-and-Cindy musical number, which I slide under the door to the production office about 11:00 p.m. before heading home to crash.
Saturday, June 4
And the race to complete the aquarium creature is on...
First, however, I have an early morning breakfast with Ziggy, a publicist friend of Joe Grace who has kindly agreed to assist us. He, Joe and I meet at an otherwise empty trendy Melrose eatery to discuss what we want to accomplish with our publicity, what markets we hope to reach, what we should be doing now, etc.
Then itís on to the Burman Studio, where one of my tasks today is to do what I can to assist our new property master, Eric Roemheld. Through a strange series of events, we were left with no property master on Life on the Edge, which is not disastrous, since virtually every prop is already finished or at least well underway; our real concern, however, was who would be responsible for the props during shooting. Eric, a young man who came through the Burman Studio to work on the film for free, is ideal and obviously thrilled to actually be given a paid position. What I do to help him is get a property master-friend of mine to break down the script for him, so heíll know exactly which props are required for what scenes.
The aquarium creature makes it to the stage (sort of Ė itís in a lot of unfinished pieces) around noon Ė only to have us find Marvin has left already. Oh well Ė at least even in this unfinished form it looks terrific on stage, which is reassuring.
Itís back to the Burman Studio then, to complete the aquarium creature and other pieces as well. Weíve brought additional help in, and Iím starting to feel more optimistic about the chances for everything actually coming together by Monday...
...when I receive a phone call from my mother informing me that my stepfather has unexpectedly died.
Hjalmer, who I loved as much as either of my natural parents, was a healthy 66 who looked 50 and was the most vital person I knew. With no previous heart condition, he suffered a massive coronary in his sleep and never woke up.
I make immediate reservations to fly to Portland, Oregon, where my parents live, and I canít help but feel like Iím suddenly living in a very bad movie, one of those "great-personal-loss-in-the-midst-of-great-personal-success" things. And, of course, Iím frustrated as well Ė I want to give Tom my full support, and if Iím not there to operate the aquarium creature (which has been sculpted around a cast of my hand and custom built to fit only me), Iím afraid theyíll go ahead and scrap it. I know it may sound callous, but my entire life has been building to Monday, June 6, and now chances are I wonít be there. And if I am Ė I donít know how much good Iíll be.
Sunday, June 5
My mom and I have helped each other over the worst of it now, and she tells me that right now the best part of her life is me and my movie, and itís important to her that I be there tomorrow. I call, find out weíre on target to start shooting tomorrow, and I make return reservations that will put me in L.A. at 10 a.m. Later, I talk to Tom, who tells me of today's blow-out: He took the finished aquarium creature to the stage, set it up - and everyone hated it. Pippa complained that Miriam would never have anything like that in her house, John C. thinks it belongs in Billy's bedroom, Ed Eyth doesn't like the way it breaks up his set and Joe Grace dubs it "the abortion". Tom listened for a few seconds - then walked out.
I myself am as perplexed by this as Tom obviously was. How could we all have been working on this movie together for so many months now and they still don't get it? They must believe we're making some cute, funny, light little cartoon of a movie. Well, we are - but part of what makes it funny and cartoony is the juxtaposition of relatively attractive visuals with things that are comically-ugly. Tom tells me that, starting tomorrow, he intends to start demonstrating the control he may have lacked as a director up to now, while for my part I tell him that the first thing I'm going to do when I walk on the set tomorrow is exclaim over how absolutely fantastic the aquarium creature looks - just what the set needed.
Tom likes this idea.
Even my mom is astonished by their apparent lack of understanding of this film. We liken the aquarium creature to our dog, Trixie - other people think the fat little dachshund-boxer mix is grotesque, but we think she's adorable and not at all out of place in my mother's immaculately-decorated and pristine house.
I try to sleep, but it's not easy, caught between what has happened and what will begin tomorrow.
Pre-production on Life on the Edge has ended.
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