The fourth day of shooting started with me driving the â€˜Sclade to the alley behind Tedâ€™s house â€“ yes, that same Ted that appeared in Day 1. He had generously offered to allow me to shoot in the alley behind his house, because itâ€™s pretty photogenic â€“ well, for an alley â€“ and it has a slight incline and a leftward curve at the end of it that read well on camera.
It allowed me to cheat my picture car at the end of the alley so that it matches up well with the footage that I shot on Day 3 in the alley by my house. I had originally wanted to use an alley that I scouted that is just south of Pico Blvd., but that would have involved a helluva lot less time on set â€¦ if I had shot this project as originally envisioned, that wouldnâ€™t have been such a big deal. But the script was re-written at least twice in the week leading up to this shooting day (which apparently prepares me perfectly for working on higher-budget shoots â€¦ as below, so above, apparently).
As I was driving west on the 10 freeway in the Escalade, tunes cranking, worrying about what shots I was going to try to get first, I had the compulsion to just keep driving past the Overland exit. Do a Thelma&Louise â€¦ just keep going all the way to the Santa Monica pier, crashing through the steel safety grate in this unstoppable behemoth of a car, and then down the pier at 80 mph and finally off the end to hang in the air, suspended and being captured by thousands of tourists who packed their cameras for just such an occasion, before crashing into the ocean and blessed oblivion.
The weight of anxiety was starting to get to me.
I felt that each day that I managed to survive in this
production was some kind of a trick. That I had somehow managed to fake it through to the end and safely escape â€¦ but then the next day, I would awake and find that I now had to add another deck to the house of cards that I was constructing.
Add another deck, and then move everyone else in the cast and crew onto that flimsy waxed-paper flooring and move around and perform and do our thing.
All the while trying to banish from my mind the sheer certain knowledge that we were all standing on the flimsiest excuse for footing, and that it was sure to come down around my ears at any second.
And yet. And yet. It didnâ€™t.
Although the beginning to this day certainly seemed to augur that way. I arrived on the set to find that not only were we totally socked in with clouds, but that it was beginning to drizzle. I immediately saw the future â€“ the storm would roll in off the Pacific, we would sit in the backs of our cars with the trunk gate open, chatting to kill the time, and every so often someone would stand up and shout out that they thought they saw a break in the clouds, and weâ€™d all get excited for a minute â€¦ and then the rain would really start to pour down again.
Hey, I lived through a shoot like that â€“ a Nissan shoot where they had a poor guy in an animatronic lion head costume in a tux, shooting on the Bel-Air mansion of the strange Persian family that owns the B____ chain of high-end fashion stores. The rain kept pouring down, the Japanese video crew got desperate, so they sent the guy out there in costume, and the rain started shorting out the little motors that were supposed to move the eyebrows and mouth and started shocking the guy inside the suit, who started screaming as smoke began to pour out of the outfit and they tore at the buckles and belts to get it off his head before it electrocuted himâ€¦
Meanwhile, the actresses were around the front side of the house (I hadnâ€™t been able to put up the sign yet telling them to come around back) and calling the phone that I had forgotten back at my house in my rush to get out the door.
Eventually, it lightened up a bit and I began by shooting the whole Jamie and Mandy get honest with each other scene.
This is a really intense bit of acting, because it is when the two women drop their pretenses and tell each other whatâ€™s really on their minds. This takes them from contempt to anger to shame to defiance to resolution. And then at the end, the Jamie character is left amidst the garbage, with a
choice to make â€“ whether she chooses to stay there amidst the place where her choices have led her or to make a new choice and try to get out. And just as sheâ€™s come to a realization that she has to make a change in her life, that she canâ€™t keep living this way, exploiting other peopleâ€™s pain for money â€“ that choice is taken out of her hands.
No good deed goes unpunished. The one person in the story who makes a choice to live honestly and with integrity winds up being the one who gets screwed the hardest.
Hey, folks, it may be a comedy but itâ€™s based on what I know and what I saw when I was working at the tabloids. Virtue is punished. Sin is rewarded. Thatâ€™s the way it is.
I ran through this scene a number of times, and let the actresses really feel it out for themselves. Then I made a few suggestions â€“ such as to Brynn that she would be trying to sneak away, and would have gotten away clean, except that she heard the two girls discussing their relationships in a way that just outraged her, so she had to stop and comment. Like Hamlet not killing his uncle in the chapel when he had the chance, this pause was her fatal flaw.
OK, maybe not exactly like Hamlet â€¦ but you get the idea.
I also cautioned them to really let things build a little more before they started screeching at each other. And Kelly Kay Davis, as the neighbor/friend Rachel really did a lot with her role â€“ she brought this whole â€œbeen there-did himâ€ jadedness and yet smart and goofy sense of humor that fleshes out a role that could have been totally two-dimensional.
She was also patience itself â€“ I used her in the first
shots of the day and the last shots of the day, and in between, she had to do a whole lot of nothing, while I ran around fighting with the light and the noise.
The light and the noise and the heat.
Because, you see, about an hour into the filming, the sun started to come out. Patchy clouds at first, but soon, the sun was just burning down relentlessly. And all the nice even light that I was getting turned into patches of extreme brightness and dense shadows. Good luck making that match with the footage I shot the day prior. And then my actresses started getting sunburned from being out so long waiting for the light to get right. Both Brynn and Erin are very fair â€“ Erin started getting freckles on her face coming out and Brynnâ€™s shoulders were lobstering.
Meanwhile, every goddam plane at Santa Monica airport used the airspace overhead to take off, land and circle in. The light and the noise worked hand-in-hand.
When the light was good, the noise was bad. When the plane went away, the clouds opened up and the sun burned down. I couldn’t catch a break.
The raw tape of this period has much cursing and waving of fists at the sky on my part. I began to regret even bringing up the subject of Fitzcarraldo, because I felt I had jinxed the production.
So during lunch, I worked with the guys in the car. I got Chris to run down the alley. And again, as my other actors did, he managed to make what couldhave been a very flat scene into something interesting. He ran and danced and bounced around like Jim Carrey. Great physical comedy, very smart. At one point, he picked up a tree branch and carried it in front of him like camouflage. And then at the wall he kicked his feet, scrabbled for purchase, and then upon hearing the Mandy scene from Day 2, began humping the concrete post. Great stuff.
It was after lunch that things really started to get away from me. It was getting hotter than hell, and I was unable to get the one shot that I wanted, because one of Tedâ€™s neighbors had parked his pickup truck in the alley, pulled the whole freaking wheel off and was hammering on it. Right in the middle of my shot. So I had to try to improvise around it.
Luckily, Jon showed extreme courage and trust. He HUNG OUT THE SUNROOF OF A MOVING ESCALADE AND SHOT DOWN AT CHRIS AS HE GRABBED THE TRASH.
If any one tiny thing had gone wrong â€“ if Jay had twitched the wheel to send the car into a concrete wall, if Brynn had faltered and fell under the wheels, if a crazy kid had screeched into the alley from the other direction and caused a head-on crash that decapitated everyone â€¦
but it didnâ€™t.
Nothing went wrong.
The footage looks fantastic. Chris is triumphant. Brynn dashed out again, and again into the street, stopping right on her mark and screaming â€œNO!â€ in desolation and despair into the camera. Great stuff.
I am still missing a couple of shots. I need to get the garbage truck coming closer. I need to get a close-up of the bag oâ€™ trash in Brynnâ€™s hand.
And Iâ€™d like to get a shot of a garbageman laughing and smoking a stogie while operating the hoist. But these can come laterâ€¦
At the end, sunburned to within an inch of my life, tired of chasing after my clipboard of shots, sleep deprived, I sagged into a chair.
I wearily shook my head no.
I canâ€™t think of anything, I said.
He snapped it home, turned around and stuck out his hand.
â€œGood job. It was a pleasure working with you,â€ he said.
Same here folks. Same here.