1.26.98

Call: 6:30 AM

Making Cherry
a romantic comedy starring Shalom Harlow
"The past is prologue with Clinton. Sex, in this case, is not a metaphor for character--it's the main expression of it."
--David Maraniss
You've Got Questions? Cherry Has Answers
castbutton.gif (2024 bytes)
cherryNAVmenu.gif (1546 bytes)
Locations:
Leila's Apartment

Bedroom, Kitchen

Principals:
Leila, Mammy



December

S
M
T
W
T
F
S
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
 
 
 

January

S
M
T
W
T
F
S
 
 
 
 
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31

February

S
M
T
W
T
F
S
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28

Dog Day Afternoon

Steady as she goes

Before I forget, the quote of the day has nothing to do with filmmaking, per say. It's from David Remnick's story in this week's New Yorker, and it reminded me of something Terry Reed said to me about Leila.

That is, she's a virgin as an externalization of her internal state. That isn't Clinton's problem, of course, but the the congruency is instructive, I think.

Anyway, to get to the matter at hand, I didn’t intend to write about Marilyn again quite so soon.

You may recall last week’s story, "Marilyn is a Dog," in which the mocha dog with wavy hair and an ever-wagging tail was being shot both in and out of a scene in which Leila leaves her house to go to Uncle Ernest and Mammy’s. If you didn’t read it click here… but then come back, because Marilyn figures in today’s story, too.

Actually, the big deal on this day is the steadicam, which is a gyroscopic gizmo on which a camera rests that enables a man (or woman) to walk and yet still hold the big old 35 mm camera steady. If memory serves the first Hollywood movie to feature the steadicam (which should probably be capitalized and most certainly is trademarked and patented) was Hal Ashby’s Bound for Glory, the Woody Guthrie story.

steadicam.jpg (8512 bytes)

The Steadicam

That year the Steadicam (yes, that’s better) won an Academy Award for technical achievement, which was demonstrated in the film by a lengthy walking shot through a dust bowl migrants camp. I think it’s safe to say that the Steadicam has proven to be a breakthrough technology that has significantly changed the way movies look.

The famous walk from the street to ringside at the Copa in Scorcese’s Good Fellas is a Steadicam shot. So is the opening of De Palma’s Bonfire of the Vanities, which is impressive in service of a less successful film. Boogie Nights, which strikes me less as a movie than as an elaborate tribute to the wonders of camera movement, features the Steadicam throughout. And the awesome final shot of Antonioni’s The Passenger is an elaborate bit of Steadicam bravura, all seven minutes of it.

The Steadicam is a remarkable device, and as such is a costly "toy," as those in production call it. Which isn’t to denigrate its usefulness, but is rather to indicate that it can be looked upon as a luxury. In a big budget picture you might just use the Steadicam whenever you want, the way you would a dolly or even a bit of blue gel. On a low-budget picture, however, you’re more likely to schedule one day of Steadicam shooting and jam all your setups in as best you can.

That’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. On Cherry Monday was that day.

In the scene they were shooting in the afternoon Leila (played by Shalom Harlow) is to wake up at her house. This is the first scene in the movie that isn’t a flashback. She exits the bathroom and she asks her dog, Paxil (played by Marilyn), if she wants to go to the park. Paxil barks, which we assume means yes.

Leila takes a towel and wraps her hair, picks up a Post-It with the word "brunch" written on it and heads off to the kitchen. There she picks up a bottle of vitamins, pulls a carton of milk from the fridge, and hits the play button on her answering machine.

As the answering machine spews her messages, she pours her milk, takes her vitamins, rifles through her mail and, when Paxil shows up on the stool at the counter across from her, she pats her head. She then heads off back to the bedroom to dress.

The Steadicam is to start in the bedroom with a medium shot of the doorway into the bathroom, with Paxil sitting on the bed. Then, as Leila makes her way through the apartment to the kitchen, it will lead her forward. It isn’t the most complicated of choreographies, but it is complex enough to present the standard difficulties and then some. And what everybody knows is that Marilyn, no matter how marvelously she performs, will be the key to getting out quickly, or slowly.

Setting Scene 2.jpg (8962 bytes)

Phil and Shannon

First, the scene is blocked for camera, with Shannon, Shalom’s stand-in, walking through the movements, and a stuffed version of Paxil sitting on the bed.

Then Marilyn is brought down to rehearse. She sits on the bed and Barbara, Marilyn’s handler, gives her a treat, then disappears into the bathroom nearby.

"Speak," Barbara whispers and Marilyn barks. Now Barbara leads Marilyn through the apartment into the kitchen and directs her to the platform leading up to the stool the dog should end up on. Iin the first run through Marilyn is a little energetic and ends all the way up on the counter itself. Barbara shows her where she should finish and gives her another treat: a small piece of chicken.

barbara carrying paxil.jpg (7512 bytes)

Barbara and Marilyn with Jon and Joseph
grinding their teeth in the background

They reset and run through the scene again. Marilyn barks wonderfully, but has a hard time making her way through the apartment. Unless Barbara leads her she stops and looks at her handler.

"If we clear the hall, Barbara," Jon says, "would it help if you called to her from behind the camera? Then she could come to you."

"Yes."

Video Village, the name given the video assist monitor on a cart--around which Joseph and Jon and Janna and everybody else who is able to fit gather to watch each take--is moved to the other end of the hall, to give Barbara a clear path.

"I’d like to do one more run through," she says, "and then we’ll be ready for camera."

"One run through and then we’re ready for Shalom," Elizabeth calls into her walkie-talkie. Shalom is upstairs, waiting in a room full of space-heaters. As someone says: "She has no body fat. She gets cold very quickly."

This time Barbara calls commands to Marilyn from the bathroom. The dog barks, then waits. When Barbara walks down the hallway outside the apartment and appears in the kitchen, instead of entering the bedroom, the dog looks confused. Until she sees her friend, the one with the treats. Her head then cocks excitedly. Barbara calls her and she leaps off the bed and runs into the kitchen. Although she is a bit hesitant going up the platform and onto the stool, she’d rather sniff around at Barbara’s feet, she does it fairly easily.

"Okay, let’s get ready to take one," Elizabeth calls.

 barbara coaxes paxil.jpg (12195 bytes)

Marilyn prepares for stunt work

Five minutes later the first shot is done. It goes well. Marilyn is a little late on her bark, and it looks a little funny to have her sitting on the bed in the background as Leila makes her way into the kitchen, only to later release and come running.

"If we tighten up," Jon says, "we can avoid that."

And it seems that Shalom, on this take, is just a bit slow reacting when Paxil does come into view.

That’s the way it appears on the monitor, which is what is being seen through the camera’s lens. What isn’t seen are Barbara’s heroic, coaxing efforts to get Marilyn to climb up the platform and onto the stool. But, everyone agrees, if it works on screen it doesn’t matter what happens offscreen.

Take 2 goes much the same way. The tighter frame avoids the oddness of Marilyn in the background. Shalom’s timing improves on Paxil’s arrival, and she seems genuinely warm with her. And though Marilyn barks a little late, it’s better.

Joseph says: "Everything more or less worked."

Which encourages them to go for a third take, to get it perfect.

On Take 3 the Steadicam bumps into the door jamb, tilting wildly up to the ceiling and then down to the floor. NG.

Take 4, Marilyn won’t bark. Take 5 the same. They immediately reset and go for take 6 right away. Again, no bark.

It isn’t that Marilyn isn’t barking, actually. Between takes she’s amazingly responsive. Her yelps and yips fill the air, causing nervous laughter amongst everyone who would like to get through this and move on. Trying to get her dog to focus, Barbara stands in the bathroom with Shalom, a bag of treats in her hand behind her back and rehearses while the camera and lights are reset. And on cue Marilyn barks energetically.

The crew works energetically, too.

early evening sky condors.jpg (14817 bytes)

Whart it looks like on the street

One of the problems with shooting in the winter is the sun’s low trajectory across the sky. It is a DP’s maxim that God is the master gaffer, meaning there is no better (or stronger) light than the Sun. Although the production has a host of lights sitting on condor’s outside the apartment’s windows, trying to control and augment the sunlight coming through those windows, the real sun is much stronger.

Which means that every ten minutes all the lights have to be adjusted, with new scrims and reflectors and gels to balance. The artificial light helps, but it isn’t doing the whole job. It is a humbling sight to see these big men, the grips and gaffers and camera crew, running up and down the stairs, making their way down the crowded hallway through the throng of other people who are doing their own jobs. But they do it assertively, energetically, carrying light stands and cables and junction boxes and reflectors and bits of other technology, obvious and arcane, that lets the production do its best to mimic the sun.

They do a good job.

For Take 7 the Joseph and Jon reframe the shot, so that it starts tight on Leila coming out of the bathroom. As she says to Paxil, "Want to go to the park?" we don’t even see the dog, which will let the sound crew dub in the dog’s bark later, if it needs to.

The change works splendidly. In fact, it appears to give us, at this early point in the movie, a better, closer look at Leila, one that leads into the survey of her apartment the Steadicam was meant to focus on. It is the trademark shot, the one that defines Leila’s world, that gives us a first impression of her character, and if it works as well as it appears it does, well, that will truly be something to bark about.

  Peter Kreutzer

Tuesday

(c) 1998 Peter M. Kreutzer