I spent the holiday weekend traveling. First, to my
step-sisters in Bronxville, where my dad and his wife were staying. Then on up to
Schroon Lake, in the Adirondacks, where my aunt and uncle live and where my mom and
another aunt and a couple of cousins and others were visiting. We ate a lot and worked
some of it off snowshoeing in the mountains.
Amazingly (I say facetiously), I
didnt spend much time over the long weekend thinking about the Tech Scout, those
glorious days the week before last when all the production keys visited all the locations
and conferred with one another about what would be needed to execute all the listed shots.
But now its Monday again, two weeks before shooting starts on Cherry, and
Im looking through my notes and I cant help but think of the Tech Scout. Here
are some of the other items that were discussed:
Leilas Muffin Shop is a long and skinny room. There is a counter down one side,
in front of the shelves that line the wall. The counter top has just been painted in a
marble pattern, trompe loeil style, though the swirling greys in a creamy
field, which really do trick the eye, havent been sealed yet. During the scout a
number of people, fooled, set pieces of paper down on the still delicate counter to write,
and are chased by the prop master, Lee, who protects the
Scenics fine work.
"We need to get this sealed," Lee says to Sherri,
who says she will make sure the Scenic gets at it that afternoon.
On the other side of the room there are a series of booths. Between the counter and the
booths is a space of little more than three feet. Phil
calls over Aaron, the Key Grip, whose job it is to provide
the means to make dolly shots, among other things. Phil tells Aaron that a number of dolly
shots running the length of the room are called for. Aaron walks the floor, sensitively,
as if he were a dancer testing his footing before launching on a particularly athletic
"Theres quite a bit of roll here," Aaron says. "What Id do
is lay sand out here on the floor and then put plywood down on top. The sand will smooth
our the rolling."
"But all the scenes here have dialog. Wont the sand make noise?" Phil
"Sure, sure. Some, but
"I dont think thats an option."
"Well, we can lay a dance floor without the sand," Aaron says. "It will
take more jiggering, but we can get it kind of smooth."
A dance floor is a specially smooth path made, usually of plywood or some other smooth
surface, for a dolly to "dance" across during tracking shots. The object is to
remove any extraneous motion during the dolly.
Phil and Aaron debate the merits of various dollies ("It isnt bad, but its
low isnt low enough and its high isnt high enough," is typical), and
agree to order pneumatic wheels for the dolly, which will help take some of the roll of
the floor out of the camera moves.
They also agree to use masonite for the dance floor, and have a scenic paint it the
same color and pattern as the muffin shops wood floor, so that they dont have
to worry about framing the floor out of the various shots.
"Done," says Sherri and Lee. And its on to the next question.
There is a protracted discussion between Eddy, David, the Gaffer, Joe Sevey and Liz about whether or not the building can be rewired. There
isnt enough electricity coming into the building to power all the lights, and the
prospect of putting a big generator out in the street, belching smoke and hammering away
all night, seems like an invitation to provoke community dissent.
"Wed really rather not get everybody mad at us, would we?" David asks.
This is his first visit to the location. Sevey and Eddy have worked on the electricity
problem for months and it has been deemed simply too costly to rewire the building. But
David has another idea, and in the next hour, before we move on, a plan is hatched to get
the local utility to replace the old inadequate wire coming into the building with as big
a wire as can be had. Most of the cost will be absorbed because the wire had to be move
anyway, to make way for the films closing crane shot.
"Its just another type of tie-in," David says, meaning that it
isnt necessary to power every outlet in the building, so long as the production has
enough juice to power its lights by running its own lines through the hallways.
Eliminating the need for a generator promises to save money, and reduces the
productions impact on the neighborhood.
"If it works, Im pleased," Eddy says. "Very pleased."
But back in the muffin shop, there are still questions.
"Is there room for the dolly shots?" Phil asks.
Between the booths and the counter there is perhaps three feet. Behind the counter
there is only two feet.
"We dolly both in front of the counter and behind it," Joseph Pierson points
"No problem," says Sherri. "We have these stools, out here in the aisle,
but they can be moved." She picks a trio of stools, fixed to a single board, up
easily. "Everything can be moved. When we dolly in here we can move the counter up
against the wall. And when were behind the counter, it moves as far away from the
wall as we need it to go."
"The booths are completely moveable, too," Sevey says, pushing on a
banquette, which slides across the floor.
"It doesnt look like well have a problem," Phil says.
"Can I drill holes in the ceiling?" Aaron asks, pointing to the old,
beautifully finished (by the production) tin ceiling. "You know, to hang the
Phil and Sevey look up.
"There are holes in there now," Aaron points out. There are, though
theyre not really noticeable unless youre looking for them.
"Ill have to find out," says Sevey, "but I dont anticipate
there will be a problem. Unless you want to rip holes up there."
"Not at all. Good. Then we can fly lights from up there. Thatll be much more
Joseph Pierson takes me aside: "The beauty of these locations is we get the look
of an actual space, and the flexibility of a studio. Its the best of both
The two locations in this building, the muffin shop and Leilas apartment,
upstairs, have been designed solely for the movie. The building is for sale, and has been
vacant for some time. The owner has been happy to get monthly rent from the film company,
and still be able to show the building to prospective buyers. The film company has been
happy to have more flexibility than usual for its most important locations.
When Joseph joins back up with Phil, Aaron and David,
I sidle over to Sherri, who is standing behind the counter.
"Its funny," she says. "Joe has great taste, but he brings to all
this the sense of somebody who has done real renovations. He wants everything to be
She takes me through the room, pointing out that which is real and those items built
for the shoot. The tables were bought, the banquettes were built and upholstered in a
favorite fabric of Sherris. The elegant, dark wood display cases in the back of the
room, which I would swear are 60 years old and the work of a fine French woodworker, are a
knockoff of a display case Sherri saw in a photo of a bistro in travel magazine. The
surface is solid, elegant, but behind it is the bare minimum of structure to keep it
standing up during the shoot.
The tin walls, which were in terrible disrepair, have been repainted, with a pattern,
to accentuate their texture and minimize their flaws. The effect is beautiful. In fact, in
spite of the disarray in the room, and the masking tape demarcating the edge of the
marbleized finish on the counter and the sawdust everywhere, the entire room is beautiful.
It makes you wonder how a muffin shop with so much character could have so few
It must be the muffins. Oh, and the service. Maybe.