II. ON THE EDGE

(PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY)

Week 6

Monday, July 11

The good news is that shooting is proceeding briskly today, per Tom's shot list, with many shots being achieved in one take. The bad news is that our wrap party, originally scheduled for this Friday, and for which I am providing some of the entertainment (slide shows), has been moved to Sunday the 17th, when I will be out of town. Oh purge.

I've turned Tom's office into edge fly painting headquarters, where Andrew and I start knocking out the finished flies (someone, in fact, actually dubs me "Lord of the Flies"). Just when I have sticky, wet edge flies spread out all over everything, the request comes in for another rewrite, meaning I have to find enough space for my typewriter. Tom wants to rewrite the edge walk sequence again (almost a daily occurrence at this point), both changing sequence of events and dialogue. Joey's character, in particular, has evolved so much that his original dialogue no longer works - once just Billy's bratty friend, Josh Miller has made him into an 'edgewise' and apparently homeless delinquent, and so all former references to his parents are now to be deleted.

Speaking of young Josh, he ends up staying late this evening to practice on the Splat Spray launcher until his skill surpasses even Matt's - he can do it one-handed, backwards, and with his eyes closed!

Early this evening we see the footage of Saturday night's tube shot, and discover that although the tube looks fine, the focus is nonexistent in all the shots. Marvin knows how to correct this, though, and once again tonight it becomes our final shot. This time Marvin brackets his focus possibilities with 9 takes, and we wrap about 12:30 with a huge round of applause for Nancy Mette, who is now finished. She's given flowers and a lot of hugs, and in return she tells Tom and I how much she loved the script and how good she thinks the film will be.

Earlier in the evening, in between shots down the tube, Tom, Pippa and I had a chance to talk and reflect. Seated in the middle of the Hollowhead living room, I was thinking back to the first time I sat there, now so long ago, and felt my script coming alive around me. Then Tom startles me by mirroring my thoughts, and we talk about what an experience it's been to see this all come to fruition. I'm also surprised to hear Pippa comment that my feeling after the first day of filming of something having been taken away from me, something that had been just mine, is actually an extremely common reaction from writers.

Finally they call out that the next shot is ready, and by 1 a.m. I'm home, hoping to get in a few hours sleep before the 9 a.m. dailies.

Tuesday, July 12

We see dailies this morning which include the toads, the toad slicer and the "Specials" being prepared, and I'm pleased to say it all plays.

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Then back to work, picking up shots for Tom and the crew, and edge fly painting for me. I do take a break to watch filming of our musical number, a complicated scene involving playback, effects (Bud's instrument), and working in the cramped environs of Bud's room - for all of which precisely 2 1/2 hours have been allotted. Because of this time consideration, the dialogue - originally a page and a half of brother-sister banter - has been cut to about five lines, giving by far the bulk of the time to the song.

As soon as the scenes in Bud's room are completed (about 3 p.m.), the art department immediately moves in and begins dismantling the set in preparation for transforming it into Billy's room, a task which must be completed by Thursday morning. Tonight after filming is completed, our special painters will come in to turn Bud's tan walls into Billy's blues, and the grips will lift out the wall sections to change the carpet, leaving the set ready to dress tomorrow.

The filming goes very well for the remainder of the day. Operating a SteadiCam himself, Marvin pumps out the hallway shots in rapid succession, and we actually wrap by a very reasonable 10 p.m. We stay a few minutes after, though, as I have involved Matt Shakman, his mother Inez, and production accountant Merry Jo Gumina in edge fly painting. Tom gives Matt some quick lessons in shadowing and highlighting, and Matt becomes so good we decide to feature his edge fly up front.

Wednesday, July 13

We see Monday's dailies at 9 this morning, and I'm happy to see that, despite the way the shots were cranked out, we haven't compromised the quality at all.

We arrive at the stage to see that our construction coordinator Bill Acedo has spent all night working on the edge (sets, I mean), but he doesn't stop there! He continues to work most of the day, as we wonder how he does it.

The final touches have been applied to Cindy's room, which is absolutely stunning. If these guys decide to make a career move into interior decorating and home remodeling, they could make a fortune.

Filming begins this morning with the shots for the section of Cindy's montage set in her bedroom. We use a click-track again, so Juliette can dance around in her various outfits. A surprising choreographer proves to be Pippa, who actually shows our 15-year old star a few new moves.

We also call Nancy back for the infamous tube shot one more time. Apparently the nine takes we did Monday night still didn't cut it, but Marvin has solved the last of the problems now, and so Nancy will be brought back for one last hour to get the shot.

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My problem today is figuring out how to attach the wings, now painted and 'veined', to the edge fly bodies. After considering hot glue, Krazy Glue, straight pins and wires, it takes Tom to come up with the obvious solution: Make a small slit in the body and just stick the wing in. Then, of course, I can't find anyone on the crew with an exacto or razor blade (we've been pretty well wiped out of a lot of supplies and tools), so I resolve to wait until tomorrow, when I can bring in my own blade.

The dressing of Billy's room is going well, although the guys are figuring on another all-nighter.

The practical jokes continue at lunch today, as a pie is prepared for the exit of first assistant director Matt Hinckley - and then hurled into the unsuspecting face of John Chavez by Joe Grace. This one really does break up the tension - maybe a little too much.

I miss dailies tonight when I get tabbed for yet another strange job: As the only person around who might actually be able to fit into Joshua Miller's clothes (which it turns out I can), I end up becoming Joey for some camera and lighting tests for the edge. I'm shot walking back and forth carrying the lantern under five different colors of light (mauve, indigo, and three shades of green), so the final color can be chosen according to what proves most effective on film.

Thursday, July 14

We move into Billy's room just as our exhausted art department is moving out (to crash in their favorite unused dressing rooms).

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The day starts badly: First, somehow everyone neglected to consider that Billy's room is not in the same area of the hallway that Bud's room is, and so we lose forty-five minutes changing the hallway wall sections around. Next, it turns out that the large ping-pong balls we'd originally planned to use as the standard game ammo don't match the paint pellets prepared by the effects men, so an emegency run is made for gumballs. Then we have trouble with paint pellets and filled ticks exploding on our young stars (fortunately never on their costumes). The first shot was scheduled for 11:30, and we don't get it until almost 1 p.m.

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By lunchtime, we are a full two hours behind on the Splat Spray game sequence, necessitating some emergency rescheduling. If we move two hours in Billy's room to tomorrow, that means we have to lose something from the edge, and so the scene with the two gossiping women, Mrs. Lumbago and Mrs. Syzygy (for whom we'd already hired two actresses) goes, along with Joey's dialogue about how they wanted to send him to 'purgative' for 'rectification'. I'm forced to take time out from edge fly wing attaching to type the new pages.

Just as I've finished attaching all 36 wings to 18 flies, Tom walks in and claims the wings are all on backwards. I can only assume he's kidding. He does, however, want legs on them as well, and won't settle for just painted pipe cleaners - the pipe cleaners have to be dipped in latex rubber, my new task for tomorrow.

Or it was, until I find out the new schedule calls for them to now be in the first shot tomorrow.

I find this out about 8:30 p.m., so it's out to the Burman Studio, with a stop first to buy 100 pipe cleaners (which I'm thankful to the drug store for having had). I'm at the studio until 11:30, dipping pipe cleaners in black-tinted rubber latex, then baking them, and planning an early rise in the morning so I can have time to attach the legs and prepare the flies before the 9:30 a.m. shot.

Friday, July 15

Well, here I am bright and early at Ren-Mar - and also quite alone, locked out of the office where the edge flies are. The guard doesn't have a key, and when I find a call sheet I discover the first shot was moved up to 10:30 a.m. after I left last night. I try a few phone calls, find no one home (or at least answering), so I can only sit around and wait for about two hours until someone shows up.

There are a few people on the stage - the all-nighters, of course. Bill Acedo and Ed have been up all night, preparing the tube forest, and they're still painting the floor black. Meanwhile, our grips, led by Kevin Kuyper, are trundling the set pieces off to storage. As if they didn't have enough to worry about, the art department has also been striking the sets for the last few days, to make room for the edge. At this point only Billy's bedroom is left. It's kind of sad.

Well, it's 9:30 before Joe Grace is the first to arrive, giving me what may be one hour to finish preparing the 18 flies.

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Fortunately, that's not the first shot of the day - the tube forest from a fly-less angle is - and I've just finished painting and detailing Mike Stuart's flapping edge fly when they call for the flies on the set. Twenty minutes to tack them up, another forty to get the shots, and just over an hour after I finished them my week's worth of work is done.

Just before lunch, we pick up the more gruesome shots of Joey and Billy playing with the Splat Spray game; then we are treated to the sight of Matt Shakman eating lunch covered with gelatin blood and tick goo.

Now that all the sets have been dismantled except for Billy's room, the art guys must immediately begin boxing up all the props and effects, so we can get them into storage before more of them mysteriously disappear. As with the sets, it is sad, but exhilarating, too - as when Tom turns to me and says, "Well, we did it!"

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The rest of the shots of the edge go smoothly, including the close-ups in which Andrew and I puppet the glow worm, and Tom does his 'Hitchcock' as the crazy man on the tube. I, meanwhile, get kidnapped by Bari to serve as the victim for a test zombie make-up. When it's done, everyone likes the way I look so much that they decide to put me in the film tomorrow.

We wrap with some inserts (the chicken crowing, the whistle blowing), and I'm actually home by a reasonable hour…although I find it difficult to sleep tonight, thinking not about what's to be done (a subject which caused Tom to lose sleep in the beginning), but rather what we have done.

Saturday, July 16

I see the first dailies I've seen in several days this morning (and, coincidentally, the last dailies I'll see on this film), and they were worth the wait. The Splat Spray game is hysterical, with Josh Miller's feverish performance a favorite for me. We also see the first edge material from yesterday, rushed through our lab so we could be sure it works on film before we continue shooting - and it does.

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Back at the studio, it's into make-up for me and my fellow zombies, Joe Grace and sound designers Mark Mangini and Jon Pospisil. The four of us are divided up between our regular make-up artist Cathy Shorkey, Bari and Johnny Logan, then turned over to our hair person today, Kelsey. The mood in the make-up room is partytime, and oon they all really start going wild on me: Eduardo has given me a funky, sort of pseudo-pillbox hat, and Kelsey proceeds to rat my hair straight up over the hat. Then I'm turned over to Eduardo and Parker, who delight in making up a costume for me out of all the stuff they didn't get to use - part of Mrs. Syzygy's costume, some of Cindy's jewelry, etc. I paint my nails black with some of the enamel they've already used on my teeth, and I'm ready.

Well, ready in one respect; what I'm not ready for are the reactions I invoke. Strangers passing me on the lot stop to proposition me, crewmembers howl and want their pictures taken with me. Tom promptly dubs me "Edge Hooker", and begins devising a scene between me and the kids (I suspect he's putting me through some kind of test here).

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The three other zombies shoot, then I'm up. They decide to use me at the black picket fence Bill Acedo originally constructed for our two gossipers, and Josh and I quickly work up a bizarre exchange of sign language and gestures. We get the shots in 15 minutes, and my moment of screen glory is over.

I start getting ready to leave - Mike Stuart and I need to leave the stage by 6 p.m. to catch a 7:30 plane for Phoenix, Arizona, where we're taking a week's vacation to participate in an archaeological dig five hours northeast of Phoenix (another dream come true for me this year, as this is something I've wanted to try since I was about five). I clean out my half of Tom's office, and head over to the set, where filming will continue for several hours yet. It's going so well that there's now some speculation that we may have time for the Mrs. Lumbago and Mrs. Syzygy scene, and so, since the actresses we'd hired have already been dismissed, Pippa busies herself learning the lines, with Bari on call to play the silent Mrs. Syzygy.

I exchange hugs and goodbyes with all involved, especially Marvin (who I vow to work with again), Pippa, Joe, John, and my two favorite edge kids Josh and Matt, the latter of whom I especially adore beyond the fact that he happens to be only 12.

Last, of course, is Tom. Then I'm off for Arizona.

A few hours later, Life on the Edge has wrapped principal photography.

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