2.5.98

Call: 12 Noon

Making Cherry
a romantic comedy starring Shalom Harlow
"At the cinema we do not think, we are thought."
--Jean-Luc Godard
You've Got Questions? Cherry Has Answers
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Locations:
Muffin Shop, Leila's Apartment

Weather: Rain all day, heavy at times. Hi: 42. Wind gusts from 40-50 mph.

Principals:
Leila, Jake, Kelly, Caleb
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The End

A real corker

Although there are five weeks of shooting left on Cherry, this past week they filmed the movie's final scene.

I won't give away all the details, such as what happens and why. The movie isn't really a cliffhanger, but part of the pleasure of a movie is the way it might surprise us. And so, while you may not get a chance to see the movie for months and months and would probably forget the ending if I told you, I'm not going to tell.

You'll just have to go see the movie and be surprised.

But it isn't spoiling anything to say that the final scene takes place in Leila's Muffin Shop. And that there is a wedding reception involved. And that all the characters who appear earlier in the movie turn up again at the end. That's called the battle scene. It's a standard structural device in a script.

And when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. At the end of a story we want to resolve the fates of all the characters we've come to know. The convention of the battle scene plays right into that desire.

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The last scene in Cherry starts on a close up of the wedding cake. Mammy cuts a piece and carries it the length of the shop. He is trailed by the Steadicam past Menu Man, who is opening a bottle of champagne and who then throws the cork over Evy and Donald's heads to the bartender. We follow the cork and then wend our way back, crossing over the counter and on up to the front door, past all the other guests and into the end of the movie.

And that's all I'm going to say.

Because the camera moves from one end of the shop to the other, and because it turns around and comes back, and because every inch of the store is seen along the way, the only crew on the set during the shot was the Steadicam operator and the focus puller.

The focus puller's job is to continuously adjust the focus of the lens, making sure the principal object in the frame at any moment is in focus. While on a regular movie camera the focussing ring is on the lens, the focus on the Steadicam is pulled by a remote control. To coordinate the focus on a complex shot such as this is a delicate dance that calls for an exacting concentration and confident rhythm.

The scene's complex choreography required that Joe, Jon, Janna, Elizabeth and even Phil, as well as the other keys and onlookers, couldn't be in the muffin shop while the camera was rolling. Instead they had to stand in the backroom, watching on the tiny video-assist monitor.

video assist We've featured that monitor here before. It is B&W, about six inches measured on the diagonal.  The point is, you can't see much on it's little screen. Nobody seems to know why the feed isn't color. It is small for convenience.

Seventeen takes were done that night, extending the shoot until 8 AM. Between each take the entire room had to be reset. The cake had to be put back together, the champagne recorked, everybody had to get back to their first mark. Hair and make up had to be fixed. And the Steadicam had to be returned to its first mark.

All of it had to be redone on each take. And every take, to be good, required that every actor hit his or her marks, on time, because to miss the cue meant going out of focus. By the end of the night there had been two lunches and there were many tired workers.

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The payoff for all this madness, or I should say the first payoff, is the arrival of the dailies. All the usual folks gathered Wednesday morning eager to see the fruits of their late night. Because of a special situation the dailies were being shown in the muffin shop rather than the Lodge, where the production is usually headquartered. The shop doesn't have as many comfortable seats as the Lodge, but it does have a great atmosphere.

Susan introduced the video and everyone watched. They'd "printed" a number of different takes of the scene, and while each had it's good moments, there was something else that went awry. That's why they did so many. With a long shot like this, where all the action takes place in one continuous motion, there are no cut ins, no places to excise a mistake or replace it with a different take.

In general, only one take can be used, all the way through. That's what caused the problem.

On each take, when Menu Man pops the cork from the champagne, he throws it across the room to the bartender. And in nearly every take, the bartender took the cork and put it in his eye, scrunching his face up like Popeye or Colonel Klink. That is, as if the champagne cork were a monocle.

It is an awkward gag, made all the more so because it was an ad lib. The actor made it up, and Jon hadn't noticed it during filming because he was watching on the tiny monitor and couldn't see it. Because the monitor is black and white and so small. Which meant that there was no one to tell him that it was a bad idea.

Which meant that he kept on doing it, because he thought it was a good idea.

Jon was upset. The best take they saw, the perfect take they thought, the take they would have used if they could have, they couldn't, because of the monocle. For Jon, the culmination of an incredible amount of work by an incredible number of incredibly tired workers was a bad gag that spoiled the moment of the scene. Spoiled the scene, actually.

And raised the question, "What are we going to do?"

Susan rewound the tape and they went through all the takes again. And as they did some other ideas developed. Although he put the cork in his eye on every take except those in which he didn't catch it ("And he's a good catcher," Jon said.), in quite a few he was actually blocked from view while he put the cork in, which de-emphasized the gag.

It would be possible to miss in in all the hubbub of the rest of the action.

Janna said: "In the context of the scene, where everyone is acting a little crazy, it could be seen as funny."

More importantly, with each take the performances got stronger and stronger, until the final take, #17, rolled across screen. The bartender still stuck the cork in his eye (Jon groaned), but as he did so Uncle Ernest walked in front of him. It was barely noticeable.

"That plays," Susan said. Jon grunted.

The camera moved through the room, and as the scene ended we got the best performances yet. Shalom and Jake are touching, warmly funny, tender, and riding on their presence, on their strength, the movie ends gracefully.

"Nice," Jon said and everyone else grunted their agreement. Crisis averted.

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Note: The pictures here are from Laurel Holloman's bridal fitting with Yumi Katsura.

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Peter Kreutzer  

 

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(c) 1998 Peter M. Kreutzer