|(If you click here you'll
go to the script pages of the scene they're rehearsing, reformatted for online.)
In real life the actors playing the characters of Leila, Menu Man, Customer, Evy
and Dottie are standing in the middle of the muffin shop. The actors who are playing Gary
and Darcy are still down the street getting their hair done. In a few minutes a rehearsal
of scene 75 is about to begin.
Actually, Gary comes into the room a few moments later, his once long and flowing hair
now neatly bobbed.
"She cut it off," he announces to no one in particular and everyone at once.
The actors take their marks: Menu Man behind the griddle, handing a plate to Darcy, who
is being played by 1st AD Elizabeth until Aleksa gets back from her hair
appointment. Dottie stands at the counter and Leila, Evy and Donald are grouped at the
I stand with Joe and Phil
at the end of the room near Menu Man. This is about where the camera will end up in the
master shot, which begins with a dolly shot through the store. Joe pores over his notes,
while Phil looks intently over the room, checking out all the possible angles.
"Action" Jon calls and the scene begins.
Elizabeth is excellent, kicking it off energetically, but after that there is a torpor
about the scene. A somnambulant rhythm guides Leila, Gary and Evy through the shop, as
they hang their coats on the coatrack and then gather at the counter near Menu Man and his
They play the scene up to Garys entrance, to Menu Mans line about not
knowing how to price Supermans meal, and when they are done Jon springs up from his
booth and faces Laurel, who is playing Evy: "Do you want to dawdle at the front door?
It seemed you were strung out back here, waiting."
"No, Im fine," Laurel replies. "Im hanging up my coat and
scarf and coming over to the display, where she (meaning Evy) gets a muffin and then she
goes over to sit by Gary."
"She would get a muffin, wouldnt she
"Because shes Leilas sister? Right, she would."
Joe suggests that when Evy sits at the counter Isaach, who as Menu Man has the bulk of
the lines in the scene, should give her a plate.
They play the scene again, and the plate business is excellent, but this time Jon
notices that Aleksa, who has arrived and is now playing Darcy, is just hanging out in the
middle of the counter.
"Im fixing things up," Aleksa says, patting a napkin dispenser, but
clearly shes just trying to look busy, which isnt even in character.
With vague instructions to do more, and to add "pace
is all repartee
" the actors play the scene again. This time there is a definite
improvement in the energy, especially from Isaach and Shalom. Suddenly their characters
are alive and the lines seem to bubble out of an organic place. They are believable. But
Darcy still doesnt have anything to do.
Jon suggests that rather than having Menu Man serve the egg to her, Darcy should fetch
it from the griddle. This, it is hoped, will give her reason to come down to that end of
the counter to deliver her line, "Say yes, boss."
While Jon, Joe and Phil work on the camera angles, Shalom and Donovan work on their
dance moves. Shalom has mastered the 360 degree spin with a King of Pop-type energy and
grace. Donovans lanky frame is similarly suited to the move, though he hasnt
yet quite mastered the balance. Still, it is easy to imagine these two friends out on the
dance floor yukking it up playfully, like frisky young thoroughbreds in a green Kentucky
When Jon, Joe and Phil are done, the actors perform the scene yet again, with more
improvement. Now Heather, playing Dottie, is asked to step back and forth from counter to
booth and then back again, twice. With each run through the blocking becomes more complex,
the interactions of the characters more energetic and feeling. It is as if the emotion of
the scene is contained in the way the characters move more than in the words. As their
movements begin to include multiple planes of action their words take on greater import. I
guess this means theyve become believable.
Joe and Phil are hard at work, too. Their extensive shotlists are a fine guide to the
scene, but with each change in the blocking the camera angle has to adapt. Evys
little walk down to the display case, seemingly inconsequential, means that the camera is
going to have to move up to the other side of the room to cover it. It means extra time
shooting, for sure, but all agree it is necessary. And now is the time, everyone tells me,
to figure that out.
"I cant imagine doing this the morning of the shoot," Joe says.
"Weve spent almost an hour now on just this one scene," Elizabeth adds. "It just wouldnt work, what
with setting the lights and everything else."
Aleksa suggests that perhaps Darcy should be smoking a cigarette while serving.
Wouldnt it be funny if the ashes were raining down on the customers food?
Laurel has a better idea: Darcy is smoking, all right, but Menu Man should take the
butt from her mouth and stubb it out. "Hes in charge now, isnt he?"
Jon and Joe go for it and everyone gives the scene another go.
When Darcy arrives she has the cigarette in her hand rather than her mouth. Isaach
grabs it anyway, fumbling it away from her and stubbing it out sternly. Aleksa plays the
scene as if its her own cigarette that Isaach has stubbed. She looks pissed, which
plays very funny. Some bystanders laugh out loud. The transformation is complete and
The scene plays, in every sense of the word.
When it is over Aleksa takes Isaach aside. Smiling, she says: "You can just play
it, you dont have to stubb it out." Isaach looks at her curiously.
"Thats my cigarette," she says, emphasis on my. He nods, smiling
too now, understanding.
Jon announces that the blocking was good, but now is the time to put pace on the
playing of the scene. The last few takes have had increased energy, but he is looking for
more: He wants the lines to play like patter.
"A lot of that is going to be up to you, Isaach," he says.
The actors take their places and launch into the scene. They step faster, undress
faster, move through their lines faster. This is patter, but it doesnt quite
connect. The scene takes on a sort of abstractness, the corners dont quite square.
The energy is up, the coherence is down.
During his speeches, Isaach blows a line, and then another. Each time he crinkles up
his heavy, handsome features, somehow remarkably making his face seem like a video in fast
motion, and emits a high-pitched "eep." He then picks up right were he would
have been if he hadnt made the mistake, skipping ahead. Its as if he has
fast-forwarded past his faux pas.
Apart from the blown lines the scene is done. The oddity of the faster pace will be
worked out on the set, during the time that the actors are waiting for the camera and
lights to be set up, just before the scene is shot. And anyway, Donovan, who is playing
Gary, is scheduled to leave in 20 minutes and they havent yet got to his part of the
Which they proceed to do.
The problem, Jon and Joe realize, is that if Dottie isnt standing right by Leila
and Gary, her lines arent going to play. To solve this they move the Old Man extra,
who has been sitting up in the front of the shop, to a table in the back. Now, when Dottie
serves him his eggs, shes right beside Leila and Gary.
They read through the scene. The first time Heather doesnt have her script and
doesnt know her lines and the whole thing falls sullenly apart. But then she
collects it and they have another go and it seems to work just right, which means
its time to move onto the next scene. Outside.
"Is it raining," Jon asks.
"Let me use the old-fashioned method,"Elizabeth says, hopping
up from her chair by the door. She opens it and steps outside, then extends her arm out
with palm upraised. She holds this pose for a beat, then comes back in.
"Nope," she says. "No rain."