Tuesday was overcast, but at least it didn't
rain.You can see the forecast over on the left. Suffice it to say, nary a drop fell all
Which meant everyone was drier than they might otherwise have been. The
scene was actually written to take place in the rain, but the production team decided
early on to take whatever weather the day would bring. Things are hard enough without
scheduling a day of rain, and as it turned out this shooting day brought dry clouds.
They are heavy clouds, however, and cut the sunlight. As the crew rushes
to set up Scene 89 their opponent is the fading light. Actually, it isn't a do-or-die
situation. Scene 89, a philosophical conversation between Jack and Leila, could take place
in the dark, too, if it has to. But the more natural light there is the more detail there
will be in the pictures of the statue.
The wonderful statue, a tableaux of all the main characters from the tea
party in Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Such as, the Mad
When the trucks arrive on location a battalion goes to work. Around the
periphery Noah and Matt
lay sound cables for Video Village. Mike and the Matts,
along with Stephanie and David,
haul a big switch box and even bigger cables. Aaron and Nick bring up light stands and heads. And Damon and Wesley go to work
on the tracks.
Each length of track is 8 feet long, and is comprised of two round
aluminum rails, upon which the dolly rides, and a number of cross pieces that hold the
unit together. One end is shaped so that the end of another piece of track can be
inserted, and the two fastened tightly together by a hook assembly. As you might expect,
the other end of each piece inserts.
Fastening the track together is the simple part, like model trains or Hot
Wheels racecars. The challenge is to make the track lay perfectly flat, so that the dolly
doesn't roll or pitch as it rides the rails. The slightest disequilibrium is magnified
many times when processed through a camera lens and then projected onto a big screen.
Stability is everything.
To set up the tracks at the Alice in Wonderland statue, which is
surrounded by a sloping and stepped stone apron, Wesley and Damon use apple boxes, so
called because they look like the boxes that apples are shipped in. Apple boxes are common
on film sets, and have a variety of uses. Often they're the only things to sit on, besides
the floor, on a set.
But when laying the track the apple boxes, which come in a variety of
sizes: full, half, quarter and pancake, the last of which is about half of a quarter-sized
apple box, are used as rail bed.
Wesley and Damon work quickly. Their dialogue is minimal, but Damon does
offer suggestions, usually in concert with his own actions.
"Try a half," he'll say, as he takes a half apple box.
Wesley takes a half and slides it under the track on his side. Damon does
the same on his side. The track bows up just a bit.
"I think a quarter," Wesley says, and they swap the halves for
"Okay, and a pancake."
Meanwhile, Damon is inspecting the carpenter's level he has laying in the
middle of the track and adds his own boxes at the next joint. This process goes on for ten
minutes with not a cross word or any discussion, the two through trial and error
leveling the twenty five or so feet of track. The process is a minuet of communication and
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is directing all
the departments, attempting to coordinate their efforts for maximum efficiency. Team One,
the actors Shalom, Kelly
and Caleb, have been in their dressing room on the west
side of the park. She hears over the walkies that they've left principal holding.
"Team One is on its way," she says. "Five minutes 'til Team
One. Where's Magdalena?"
Magdelena, the stand in, steps up to the statue and gives Jeffrey, the new
DP, and the lighting guys something to shoot at. The turmoil is impressive, especially
because it is being measured against the encroaching darkness. Even if it isn't a matter
of life-or-death (what is?), the coming of nightfall is dramatic. What was visible becomes
invisible, unless, of course you're running your own lights.
When the track is level, the last step being the insertion of small
wedges, Damon puts the tracking-wheels on. These are made of two tin gutters with a series
of red rubber rolling balls fastened beneath them, designed to hold the wheels of the
dolly itself with stability and to absorb additional shock and roll.
Then comes the dolly, the heavy piece of cast iron on which the camera and
DP and focus puller sit. It takes the whole camera department and David, key electric, as well as Damon and Wes to hoist and load
the dolly onto the tracks. When they finish and step away Damon says:
"Thanks. You rock Dave Ford." That is an expression of
The actors have arrived and take their places on the statue. There is work
still to be done on the camera.
"Do you need the sideboard," Josh
asks. The focus puller, Tim, often sits on the sideboard, a
tiny seat on the dolly, to carry him along while the camera moves.
"No, I'm going to try to walk it."
"Okay," Josh says, quickly walking the sideboard as far away
from the dolly rig as he can.
Jeff has been directing the setting of lights and screens, gels and scrims
around the statue. He returns and announces, "We're ready."
Elizabeth announces: "We're waiting on a plane. As soon as it clears
we shoot. Give us a wave, Noah."
Another plane can be heard now. Everybody, after their feverish half-hour
of work, waits, as planes pass overhead and then a siren passes on the park transverse and
children nearby kick a soccer ball exuberantly. Just as their voices fade a helicopter can
be heard approaching. You can feel more than hear the crew's collective sigh.
Early in this century an American composer named Charles Ives wrote a
symphonic work called "Central Park After Dark." It is a piece of aural wonder,
a blending of the urban and the pastoral, a mixing of tumult and quiet. As we sit by the
Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, waiting for all the glory that is New York
City around us to quiet down, I think of Ives and his wonder.
They'll have to loop it, I think.
Ps. It takes seven tries, a few of them "not bad," Jon says, before there is
a perfect take.
"I don't know where she finds it," Jon says of Shalom, "but she
"She's remarkable,"Joe agrees, "and Caleb got it, too."
"He did," Jon says excitedly. "I only worry about the light. It's so
dark. We can live with the second one, but they all hit it on the last one."
"We printed them all," Joe concludes. "We've got it."
"It will be nice if we can use that last one," Jon says as we walk across the
park, as much to himself and the night as to either Joe or me. The codirectors are tired,
exhausted, and yet once again are excited by the possibilities. Now it's off to lunch, a
short break, and then to head on uptown. There is more to be shot before they're through..