II. ON THE EDGE
Monday, June 13
After spending most of my day off sleeping and cleaning (my apartment and myself), itís back to Ren-Mar, where weíre moving into the dinner sequence. Johnny Logan has been working all weekend preparing "edge food" (I enrolled Johnny, an excellent and creative cook, to the job when I realized it was beyond me), and he has assembled lovely platters of cooked gelatin, colored rice and dyed "agar-agar", a Japanese food.
In discussing the weekend, we find that we have come up missing several items, among them several reels of unexposed film, costumes, and even a finished roll of black-and-white still film from my camera (on which I had covered the entire first week of shooting3). We all decide itís time to tighten the reins security-wise.
Obeying the request to stay clear of the set unless needed, I only peek in from time to time today, busying myself with other tasks. By the time we break for the night, theyíre well into the dinner, Miriam having shed the apron to reveal Eduardoís stunningly simple blue gown. The day has gone wonderfully for Tom who, at 3 in the morning, woke up with the inspiration for the one thing he felt heíd been lacking as a director Ė in-depth character motivations. Up until now, if one of the actors has asked him about his or her characterís motivation behind a particular line or action, heís been at a loss; now heís gone through the entire script, and noted next to every single line why the character is saying that. The difference is noticeable on the set, too Ė Tom is now relaxed and confident, in command.
Tomís increasing grasp of his new job is also demonstrated in the dailies, where he notices not only the footage that already looks great, but also where he needs to re-shoot or add more coverage.
The dailies are not only great tonight, theyíre a vindication in several areas. First, Chuck Connorís performance as Oliver Digits, which had everyone worried on stage, is often hilarious on film. Secondly, not only does all the footage at the cannery look (and sound) marvelous, complete with deliciously scary performances by the Ramseys, but Tom and Marvin also got more footage for the reamer chase than anyone realized Ė we lost virtually nothing. And lastly, we see the supposedly-unusable footage the second unit crew and I shot for the opening sequence Ė and not only is it usable, itís exquisitely dreamlike, even (as Pippa notes) elegant. Everyone turns to stare in bewilderment at Carl Kress, and we end up chalking it all up to some misunderstood communications. All is not lost, however, in having already started Mike assembling a model, as Tom would like a few more shots to extend the scene, so everyone is happy. I make a note to find Joe Chess, our second unit cameraman, tomorrow and tell him our honor has been restored.
Tuesday, June 14
I donít have to look far to find Joe Chess Ė heís on hand today to shoot the live action plates for our opticals. Marvin has already passed the good word on to him, praising the shots as being stylish and moody, and I add my own congratulations to Marvinís.
Iím surprised that I didnít find out they were shooting the live action plates until I arrived this morning, and then I discover that everyone else is as surprised as I am. The plates obviously require backdrops and small sets, none of which has even been started. The bewildered (and, after the cannery, massively overworked) art department starts working frantically, sending me out because they donít even have enough paint on hand. Tom is able to get a few shots from our regular schedule in between the optical shots, but itís difficult because of the noise of set construction going on all around us. Also, Marvin is needed to light the optical scenes, and when we wrap early at 6:00, weíve lost an entire day.
The highlight, though is when Glenn Jordan drops by to deliver a cassette of the rough musical sketch for Cindyís song, which she sings as Bud plays his instrument. The song, called "I Feel Good About Myself", gets a 99 on my scale because itís got a good beat and you can dance to it, and it has wonderful lyric possibilities.
The dailies tonight are the lead-in to the dinner scene, and all those present agree that much of it needs to be re-shot. It plays too dark, culminating in an outburst from Henry which is so intense itís scary. Tom agrees, and decides to start tomorrow with a new master of the scene.
Wednesday, June 15
I wake up this morning with song lyrics in my head, and although Tom likes them once I present them for his listening pleasure, he notes that Glenn and post-production supervisor Ken Hall have already begun writing the lyrics. So much for my songwriting career.4
After a relatively early wraps last night, everyone is rested today and ready to dig in. The dinner sequence is back on track, and of particular note is the slightly-revised performance of John Glover Ė heís got crewmembers holding hands over their mouths to keep the laughs from escaping during takes. At one point in the filming, it is decided that Billy sits too high, so the legs are cut off his chair, putting his chin level with the top of the table. Also, as they approach the parts requiring the actors to actually eat, they stare perplexed at the day-glo "food" as Tom tries to assure them itís all perfectly edible. Marvin dives right in, trying a little of everything, to prove the point; Matt Shakman, being the expert on make-up effects that he is, at first says that heís not putting that stuff in his mouth, although he ends up not only eating but enjoying it. However, for the more discriminating actors, we use a trick often employed in food commercials, where some buckets are brought in, should any of the cast decide to rid themselves of an untasty bite once the camera is off them.
The two Eds are busy today: Eduardo has been told that the cops shoot Friday, and heís been frantically trying to finish designing and manufacturing the copsí uniforms; heís just discovered heíll be going over-budget to do so, and will be paying somewhere in the four-digit neighborhood out of his own pocket (this has also been true of the Burman Studio and the make-up effects, although their out-of-pocket expenses are closer to the 5-digit area). As for the other Ed, Mr. Eyth has learned only today that due to scheduling changes, Budís instrument shoots tomorrow, and because Tom has just changed his conception of the instrument to give it more of the "one-man band" look, he must design the instrument in a matter of hours. However, a happy compromise is reached: The scene being shot tomorrow is Budís drunk scene, and heíll show up with only the chicken, as if he forgot and left the instrument itself at the party. This new scheduling, however, present other problems as well, namely that weíll be throwing Lightfield Lewis, who hasnít even worked yet, into his toughest scene with no rehearsal. Also, originally, Iíd hoped he and the chicken could be cawing a slurred version of the song Bud has done earlier with Cindy, but since the song hasnít been really locked down yet, this doesnít seem possible. And to further complicate things, we receive the chicken from the Burman Studio in damaged condition (due partially to an almost-irresistible urge on the part of everyoone who sees it to play with it) Ė the mechanisms within have torn small holes in the neck and head. Johnny Logan takes over the emergency "surgery".
Itís an interesting day for visitors. Richard Portnow has two friends come by, one of whom is from South Africa and is experiencing some definite culture shock (so what do they do to make her feel more comfortable? Bring her to the set of Life on the Edge). A filmmaker friend of John Chavezís stops by, and tells us of a Russian-American co-venture heís working on, suggesting that he might bring the Russian delegation by the set for a visit (providing yet another warped view of America to a foreign guest). And lastly, although I knew we were on the lot where they shoot the television show Beauty and the Beast, itís still a surprise to catch the Beast himself, Ron Perlman, touring our sets, and going unnoticed by most of our crew, who castigate themselves later when they find out.
We wrap by 8 p.m., but I have to forego tonightís dailies to drive out to the valley and help Johnny repair the chicken (actually, he does the work Ė Iím just there for moral support). Johnny patches the holes and adds more hair, and the chicken finally starts to come to life for me.
Thursday, June 16
I arrive in the early a.m. to find that they are shooting close-up inserts of the edge food, in order to get some shots in before the 8:30 set call for the cast (in fact, the practice of getting insert shots in before the cast arrives is one that we carry through for the rest of the shoot). Tom tells me that he saw the entire pumping station sequence cut together last night (by Carl Kress), and was totally amazed Ė and relieved.
The rest of the day is all downhill from there. Richard Portnow is very sick today Ė possibly from the few bits of "edge food" he consumed yesterday Ė and although heís here and working, heís out every 15 minutes to the restroom and obviously his energy is down considerably. Although we had originally planned to finish the dinner today and move on to Budís drunk scene, it soon becomes clear that we wonít make it.
Budís chicken had arrived today in readiness for the scene, and in a surprise move Tom asks me to puppet it. I begin working with it, and soon can manipulate the cables and rods to make it do everything from sing to hiccough. I take it to Lightfield, and we spend a few minutes rehearsing with it, and I soon realize that due to positioning and everything else Lightfield will have to do in the drunk scene, heíll be almost totally unable to puppet the chicken, meaning weíll have to work out some way for me to crouch-and-crawl along with him.
As for the instrument the chicken is to fit into, it becomes probably the dayís major source of contention. At the beginning of the week, Glenn Jordan, on seeing the instrument, had suggested that we add more things to it, so it would seem feasibly capable of producing all the sounds in the song. Wednesday, Ed had provided a new drawing, and yesterday Tom okayed. The new design would be incredibly complex, with breathing bellows, a full keyboard, and two foot pedals to provide percussion. My immediate reaction to it is not good Ė Lightfield is a fun dancer, and this design would totally lock him into place. When it comes up in discussion today, though, the worry is even more immediate Ė whoís going to build it, and with what money? Joe instantly wants to throw the whole thing out Ė instrument and chicken Ė and just give Bud something like a strangely-painted guitar. Everyone else adores the chicken Ė hey, Iíd buy a ticket just to see it Ė and I manage to bring Tom and Ed several notches down on the design to where itís no more than a couple hours tweaking the one weíve already got, and adding pieces we have on hand.
The chicken is either the cause or another symptom, Iím not sure which, of a long production meeting held that afternoon, in which the producers express their dissatisfaction with the way the art department has been operating. The film is now considerably over-budget, and probably proportionately over-schedule as well, and the art department is held largely responsible. I myself am mystified by the producersí reaction; at this point, the key members of the art department are so overloaded with work they are literally living at Ren-Mar, sneaking off to unused dressing rooms to grab a few hours of sleep at night. It is, though, true that there have been some miscommunications, i.e., the set construction for the optical plates, and Neil suggests they need one person to organize them, and Iím again nominated for a job I wasnít prepared for. Thereís also a great deal of concern over the effects Ė Joe hasnít been happy with any of them yet, although we simply havenít seen most of them yet, which is part of the problem.
The cops work tomorrow, and activity is rampant to finish everything for them in time. Eduardo and his assistant Parker are ready to put in a long night on the costumes, and Ed Eyth is still making their badges and notepads. In a script discussion, because we know we can only have two days with Bobcat (due to his concert schedule), we decide to cut the new scene Iíd added with Henry trying to wrestle Crabneckís severed fingers away from the dog. This also saves me from having to rush the effects guys through finishing the dog, although it must be ready to work Monday in any case. No one knows, however, if the severed fingers are done, and I add that to my list of things to do tonight. The funny thing about all the responsibilities they keep loading on me is that...well, aside from my initial check in April, I havenít been paid for anything else yet. Maybe itís time to wage my own writerís strike.
The nightís dailies amount to over an hourís worth of footage, an amazing total for one dayís shooting, and every angle is usable. Iím just glad I donít have to choose which takes to use, because I think theyíre all hysterical.
Friday, June 17
I arrive with the rest of the crew for the 6:15 a.m. call, and find Tom already in rehearsal. Donovan Scott and Bobcat are already there, playing the two cops, and weíre all delighted (and a little revlieved) with Bobís straight arrow Dragnet-style performance as Cop #1. And Donovanís barely-disguised lust is an equal pleasure.
I spend most of the day trying to wrestle the art department into some kind of manageable shape (preferably where they can manage themselves, since I expect more rewrites to demand my time). When I call all the guys together for a meeting, it goes exactly the way I suspected it would, with everyone looking at everyone else and saying, "I thought you were doing that". In an hour or so, though, we know exactly who is doing what and when, and they get back to work so I can start organizing all this stuff into some sort of easily readable shape. I opt for a day-by-day schedule, whereby I give each day one page, note what needs to be done by each person that day, and when major sets and props are due. I type up the 6 pages for the next week and run them off and distribute them to resounding applause. Itís generally agreed that if weíd had this schedule from the beginning, we would have been far better off (take note, future producers and designers!).5
We wrap at a timely 6 p.m., and head over for dailies. Theyíre late coming from the lab, and donít start until 7:30, then Ė and this is from one day of shooting Ė they run until 9 p.m. Itís all from the dinner sequence, covered from every imaginable angle, with close-ups ranging from medium to extreme.
Iím thinking if I was an editor, Iíd kill to cut this stuff together...which, oddly enough, is not our editorís reaction. He wants to kill whoever thinks he should cut this stuff all together. A confrontation ensues, which I walk out of in dismay.
That night, my last thought before I fall asleep is: I think Iíll become a novelist instead.
Saturday, June 18
I awake, well-rested and ready to go again Ė only to walk in on the middle of a blow-up that makes last nightís look like a day at the county fair. The subject this a.m. is a dispute which has been brewing between Bari and the producers for about two months, and Tom is so livid he is unable to focus on the directing. Heís one step away from violence, but does calm down enough to talk the problem out (I take off my proverbial hat to Pippaís negotiating skills here). Eventually, this crisis is smoothed over, only to give way to the next: Iím not the only one concerned over last nightís confrontation, and we spend some time discussing solutions. At least the art department, the favorite target prior to this, is out of it today.
We see Mr. Crabneck in his full burn make-up for the first time today, which Bari had done her usual splendid job of applying. When he walks onto the set, the crewmembers step out of his way fat Ė he can give Freddy Krueger a good run for his money. The shot heís needed for today is the one in which we see Crabneck rise up in the background behind the two cops, only to be knocked out again by the resourceful Billy. Since Matt Shakman is not here today (the shot of him giving dad the U.U. sign will be filmed next week), a stand-in to do the actual conking is called for, and I get the job. Iíve just crawled out of the aquarium again, and my arms are covered with the goop still dripping madly in there (no one can figure out why it has never dried), but thereís no time to wash up now. Iím handed a light plastic tube painted to look like a solid metal pipe, placed carefully off camera and told to hit Richard on the head. We rehearse, and I give him a light tap. He requests that I really bonk him Ė "Itís okay, I used to fight", he consoles me. The cameras roll, I grit my teeth, aim, wait for my cue Ė and still give him a pretty light tap. Everyone says it looked great, though, and itís a wrap. Richard, of course, plays dead on the floor, trying to cause me guilt, Iím sure, but I go along with it and tell everyone that I think I really hurt Richard. Nobody buys it. Later, I joke about wanting a t-shirt that reads, "I BEANED THE BOSS".
The dayís shooting goes quickly, as the crew gets many shots in two takes (a fact Iím particularly thankful for while in the aquarium tube). We also use a two-camera set-up today, so that for every two takes we actually are getting four.
I get a chance in the afternoon to rehearse more with Lightfield and his chicken. Lightfield quickly masters the articulated movements well enough for the long shots, and for close-ups we figure out a way for him to hold it so that I can crouch and crab-walk beneath and behind him to articulate it.
Iím enjoying Bobcat more as the day goes by. Heís easy to talk to, obviously funny and loves to pose whenever I turn my camera his way. And his improvised additions to the script ("He was all hopped up on that butt polish" is one of my favorites) are truly wonderful.
The day wraps early, and despite the bad start, Tom feels he got excellent work done.
Halfway through now.
3. The few pictures in Week 1 (except for the cannery photos) were actually pulled from other weeks.
4. I got my songwriter credit on my next film, Adventures in Dinosaur City.
5. I ended up doing this same job for a while on Adventures in Dinosaur City, and indeed things went a lot smoother.
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