II. ON THE EDGE
Tuesday, July 5
Everyone comes back from two days off in a condition that can best be described as sluggish. The first big shot of the day is Miriam on the phone, followed by Billy’s entrance, and although the scene is long and involves a few camera moves, it really is not that complicated a shot – but by lunch at 1 p.m. we’re just finishing up take number eleven.
It’s a combination of elements slowing us down – working in the cramped kitchen space, the actors’ unfamiliarity with the bizarre props, etc. – but blame is once again laid at the feet of the effects team and the art department. I’m ordered to make a run to the Burman Studio so that all the remaining effects can be brought over to the stage (which we’ve held back from doing up to now because when effects have been left out on the stage, they’ve been played with until they were shredded).
We start assembling all the effects and major props for demonstration in a production meeting after we wrap tonight, and we discover two that are especially problematic: The toad slicer won’t work properly, and we’re missing the gelatin tentacle that was made to be sliced out of the wall. A little detective work locates the tentacle, and the toad slicer soon proves functional, even upon repeated takes, with a few minor alterations...but it doesn’t stop a major confrontation between the producers and the art department. I am, again, puzzled by the whole thing, especially considering that we have just demonstrated every prop working, including the difficult process of putting one of the toads into its suit (which I had to do – do you think I was happy about that?). Tom is pleased with everything, but the producers remain intractable in their displeasure. I finally chalk it up to tempers boiling under pressure, enflamed by the slow day.
On the plus side is a little celebration: We’ve just shot our 100,000th foot of film. This makes me smile wryly – when Tom and I were going to make this movie for $350,000, we budgeted for 50,000 feet of film, and here we still have two weeks to go.
In dailies, we see the beautiful handheld shot Marvin did following Henry and Miriam around the kitchen...in fact, we see it again – and again – and again. They did nine takes of this one shot.
No wonder we’re slowing down.
Wednesday, July 6
The slow speed picks up slightly this morning, until poor Matt becomes so ill he nearly passes out on the set and has to leave to go lie down for a while. Although a doctor quickly assures us it’s nothing more than a flu bug, it takes the poor little guy out for a few hours, although he later works most of the afternoon.
We also start in today with Joey, played by Josh Miller, and finish the shots with the leech, carried over from yesterday. One particularly imaginative shot involves taping the mouth of the leech tube right on to the camera lens, and doing a p.o.v. of the leech sliding right down at us.
Tom and Josh have also worked out some very funny actions in the kitchen, involving Joey eyeing Miriam in a way no 13-year old should (so you can’t blame me for that one).
After lunch, we start shooting Miriam and the tentacle – and we keep shooting it until 10:00 tonight. Originally, we were supposed to get to the toads today, but now we have both toads and the dog scheduled tomorrow, meaning I get to spend my day trying to wrestle various non-human animals in and out of rubber suits.
In a slightly dismayed sidenote, I hear a lot of our crewmembers talking today about the jobs they already have lined up to follow this one (provided this one ever ends), and I realize that I have nothing whatsoever after this ends, with only enough money from this job to live on until October or so.
I don’t think I can be a secretary again.6
Thursday, July 7
The first shot of the day is the big one for Shnutz Burman, his time in the limelight – to say nothing of the rubber. Although getting him into the suit turns out to be unexpectedly easy – he ran away last night and tired himself out, actually a blessing for us – getting him to walk in it is an entirely different matter. Once his head and body are encased in the foam rubber suit, he becomes disoriented, and tends to freeze; to make matters worse, they’re taking seemingly forever to set up the shot, and, knowing the suit is hot, we try to use a fan to blow air down to cool the star off. When we get to the shot, Tom manages to persuade him to walk across the living room by calling him from off-camera, but even so the poor pooch can’t negotiate the stairs leading up to the upper area. We force Shnutz to endure five takes (although I suspect it’s harder on me than it is on the dog), then fake the remainder of the shots with the dummy dog.
Fortunately, the articulated dog puppet works flawlessly. Andrew does a splendid and very funny job of puppeting the head, while I control the cables which provide eye, brow, nose and lip movements.
The last shot of the day is not so simple. It’s Bud’s entrance, when Miriam is cooking the tentacle sections, and one problem after another finally brings us to our new record number of takes one shot – 17. Getting the steam and the strobes to synchronize both with each other and with the motion of turning the cooker on proves nearly impossible, and Lightfield Lewis, in what amounts to his first big dialogue scene, is having trouble with the lines.
We wrap around 10:30 (saving the toads for tomorrow), then it’s on to a production meeting, our second this week to discuss the edge walk. I’ve rewritten the scene, both to build to Joey’s tale of having heard someone fall off the edge once, and to include the new idea of a "tube forest", and Ed has provided a shot-by-shot storyboard of the revised sequence, so we can begin to figure out how much of the stage we’ll need to drape in black Duvatyne (we dismissed the idea of using a treadmill some time ago), where the camera will be set, what kind of lens to use to compress one long shot, etc. This has turned out to be another case of a sequence that Tom and I thought would be one of the easiest, and which in reality will be one of the most difficult. We end the meeting tonight deciding that we’ll need to drape 100 feet of wall, and will have to strike most of the other sets to make room.
Friday, July 8
The morning starts with 9:30 dailies, since we went too late last night to see them. They are certainly well worth the wait, though – the whole tentacle cutting thing is hysterical, and the effects wonderful, as are the leech shots. It puts everyone in a good mood right at the start today, something we’ve been desperately in need of these last few days.
Then it’s time for the toads, and I get roped into the job I’d most hoped to avoid: Stuffing the poor, slimey little creatures into their rubber suits. Although I’m not exactly overwhelmed with offers of help at first, people see the first one suited up, decide it’s cute, and soon I have more assistants than I know what do with; even Tom gets into the act, helping Andrew and I tack the suits on the toads with a light adhesive. Finally the toads are ready to go, and they perform well, although their legs tend to slip out of the costumes between takes. The worst part is the wait between lighting set-ups, when the camera moves from behind the set looking through the back of the drawer, to the front looking down into it; obviously, the little amphibians would like to be just about anywhere else in the universe but in those rubber suits. I’ve learned how to pacify the diminutive stars by cupping them in the palm of my hand, but unfortunately there are three toads and I only have 2 hands. Finally, though, the last take is done and the toads freed, for return to their swamp homes.
At lunch, an effort is made to lighten the crew up by arranging a pie in the face for second assistant director Bruce Franklin (who leaves us tomorrow), but it doesn’t last long. An hour after lunch, the producers are again charging the art department (including me) with single-handedly holding up the entire show.
Several members of the art department threaten to walk. And I wouldn’t be far behind them.
I indulge in my first heated argument, finally retreating to go over next week’s schedule to see where they think we’re behind. Upon examining the schedule, I discover that the schedule has been altered radically, and that no one has bothered to check the schedule out with the art department, or even inform them of it. Among other things, this schedule calls for Bud’s room to be converted into Billy’s room in approximately 36 hours (in my first schedule, I had allowed a week for this). After some debate, Mike, construction coordinator Bill Acedo and Johnny reluctantly agree that it can be done – if they basically work the 36 hours straight. For their part, the producers agree to back off the art department in the coming week.7
As the toad slicer works beautifully take after take, we try to solve two other prop problems: The Splat Spray game, and something indicated in the script as a "doughy substance" which belches and steams. After firing a variety of test projectiles at the Splat Spray target, we finally decide on a combination of elements: Paper balls soaked in red liquid fired at the fan, with someone squirting water from the side for the ‘spray’. Joe Grace’s salsa wrapped in paper towels and Mike Stuart’s bing cherries get honorable mention, and I get the task of cleaning up the splatted target.
As for the doughy substance, our physical effects guy has been working on it for the last day and a half, but his results are still less than spectacular. Another effects man is called in to assist, and they begin trying to figure out some way to do it by tomorrow morning.
In another corner of the stage, Marvin is starting to set up the complicated rig he’s had constructed for the opening shot wherein we travel down the inside of a tube to Miriam’s mouth. Basically, Marvin’s apparatus consists of a tiny "Pogo-Cam" (a camera which holds only 100 feet of film, good for about one minute of shooting), attached to the end of a long arm, which will propel the camera down a 30-foot length of tube, cheated at the end to narrow down to a tube small enough to perfectly encompass Nancy Mette’s mouth. The shot is planned for Monday.
Saturday, July 9
Experimentation continues today, with both the Splat Spray launcher and bubbling goo Miriam fixes in the kitchen. On the former, the special effects men begin casting up liquid-filled ticks from the Burman Studio tick mold, and on the latter they come up with a green methylcellulose mixture, rigged with air tubes and hooked to a compressor and chunks of dry ice. It all works wonderfully, and shooting proceeds at a good pace.
Outside the kitchen, the art department boys are working on Cindy’s room and the edge. I spend much of the day making ropy ‘tentacles’ out of strips of canvas bound with masking tape, which will be painted to adorn the picket fence Mrs. Lumbago and Mrs. Syzygy will gossip over. Huge sheets of black Duvetyne are being strung up from the rafters by the grips, and the leftovers from Grandpa’s room are being sorted through to see what we can salvage for the ‘tube forest’.
Shooting in the kitchen continues until eleven or so, and then we move on to the last shot of the evening: A test on Marvin’s complicated tube travel to Miriam’s mouth. The tube itself has been a center of attention all day; mike was given the task of opaqueing it and aging it, which he spent most of the day on. We ended up realizing it would work better if the clear plastic corrugated tube was covered with material, rather than painted, since it would be more uniform and allow just enough light in. After purchasing some cheap yellow cloth and covering the tube with it, Mike then used a spray bottle filled with rust-brown liquid to squirt around the inside of the tube. Lastly, he worked with the gaffers to light the tube just right.
Unfortunately, even this shot is not without is minor catastrophe: A laser set up at the far end of the tube to center the camera has suffered the same fate that some of the effects have – it’s been damaged from being played with, and so Marvin and crew end up operating solely on intuition. Nancy Mette is carefully placed at the end of the tube, and five uncertain takes are done.
Sunday, July 10
Activity is centered at the Burman Studio today, where Tom is preparing a very concrete shot list which will be the bible for the next week – anything on the shot list we haven’t gotten to by our last day, Saturday, won’t be done. Meanwhile, I start painting edge flies; Tom has requested two dozen for the tube forest sequence, and now that Pedro has cast up the additional 18 needed, it’s fallen to me to paint them, which is interesting, since I’ve never really done this type of painting before. But it’s actually surprisingly easy, and soon all 18 flies have their base coat of blue-green.
Mike Stuart it attempting to construct a motorized edge fly out of one of those flapping bird models and engine out of a battery-powered toy (donated from my collection). If it works, we’ll be able to place a rapidly-flapping fly on a monofilament and let it buzz around the kids during the walk through the tube forest. He also is trying to come up with a finish for the lantern, which came in just plain black plastic. After trying a spackle granite look he adds a copper color and Voila!, a lantern is born.
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