PRODUCTION JOURNAL


DAY 1 - MONDAY  MARCH 5, 2001

THE DAY FROM HELL


INT. MOVING PATROL CAR - MURAL STREET -- DAY
Scene #12

EXT. LAWN -- DAY
Scene #23

EXT. MURAL STREET - WHITE WASH -- DAY
Scene #21


On paper this didn't look like a terrible day. It was a reasonable page count, 2 7/8, well below average for a 26 day shoot. But, it was also the first day with a new crew, and my first production day since we shot Cherry.


Scene 12 is the first to feature the mural wall

We started by setting up for scene 12, Morning and Francis on their first drive together. This involved mounting the camera on the side of the patrol car and towing it around. Car mounts take a while, just because there is a lot of hardware involved. A 60 pound camera has to be securely fastened to first one then the other side of the car, sound has to hide a mike somewhere, the camera must be set up with a remote switch and numerous cables need to be run from the tow car.

The first screw-up of the day involved Morning's nameplate. It arrived a few days before production with "P. Morning" engraved on it. We had sent our order in writing for "T. Morning," but some clown had apparently yelled "T" across the room at the noisy nameplate factory and the guy at the engraving machine heard "P." We immediately put a rush on a replacement, but the correct nameplate had not arrived in time, so we were stuck with the "P." Morning's first name is Ted and I couldn't stand the idea of renaming him "Patrick," so we agreed to live with the wrong nameplate for the day. Minor, but annoying nonetheless.

While the grips were busy building the camera mount, a lanky guy in a satin Teamster jacket, cowboy boots and wide-brimmed hat got out of his Cadillac and asked of no one in particular, "Why do ya'll have a car parked in my driveway?" Everyone thought he was joking (you know, Teamster humor), but we had, in fact, parked our second patrol car in his driveway. Of all the driveways in San Antonio, we had to choose one at a Teamster's house. What are the odds of that? I approached him and said we would move the car. His only response was to ask "Why don't ya'll have any Teamsters on this job?" I immediately had visions of big burly guys picketing our shoot. Shit. "We can't afford Teamsters," I offered. He looked around at all the vehicles, nodded, and said he was pretty sure we could. As soon as he went inside his house to call the hall I summoned Fernando over and told him to be prepared to deal with the situation. Fortunately, Fernando had already had a visit from some of the boys, who seemed satisfied that we couldn't afford Teamsters. Mercifully, nothing came of the incident.

Once we got rolling, scene 12 went really well. I hid in the back seat, operating the remote camera switch and slating the scene. The Bills were great together, establishing a good rapport in this, their first scene together. There were a couple of glitches, though. One was school letting out, resulting in a minor traffic jam on our chosen route. Another was cutting a corner too tight on one take, causing the camera mount to hit the curb. The camera was OK, but the mount had to be rerigged, which took some time. And that was the real killer on day one -- time.

After lunch we were getting ready to start up again, but our one scruffy motor home was nowhere to be found. The 1st AD said the driver had gone to get gas. But lunch had been over for a half an hour and he hadn't returned yet. And all the wardrobe for the Bills, make-up, etc. were in the camper. Hmm, maybe Teamsters weren't such a bad idea after all. They're expensive, but at least they know enough to gas their vehicles up at the beginning or end of the day (not that earth-shattering a concept) and bring the damn thing back when the crew's in after lunch.

After the motor home finally reappeared (I suspect it wasn't just the camper getting juiced up), we finished scene 21 and made a small company move around the corner to begin work on scene 23.


Joseph and Billy D. consult

Scene 23 was a total disaster, for a variety of reasons. The stunt coordinator (whom we'll call Sammy) was, in my opinion, completely insane, which meant the choreography for the belligerent man being arrested was a mess. The scene was not really that complicated: Morning was to chase the man (played by Tracy Westmoreland, owner of Siberia Bar in NY) across several lawns and then tackle and handcuff him. But it did require some thought; it needed to be as safe as possible and convincing for the camera. During rehearsals I had told Sammy to work with Bill Sage until they had a plan for how to do it.

The first problem was that Sammy showed up on set with a whole new concept for the take-down, something entirely different from what had been rehearsed. The second was that it was no good. The third was that he totally misunderstood the point of the scene (which is pretty clear in the script). It was not about the chase, but rather the smooth handcuffing. Sammy had spent hours setting up an absurd obstacle course of trash and discarded lawn furniture for the actors to crash into as they ran -- a total waste of time. The fourth problem was that the handcuffs didn't fit around Tracy's enormous wrists. Sammy was supposed to have brought larger cuffs, but that never happened.

As if all that wasn't enough, the Steadicam operator we had hired turned out to be far less experienced than either Tim or I had anticipated, and this was a tough scene for even the most seasoned Steadicam guy -- running at full speed after the actors across three lawns (covered with broken crap).


Tracy Westmoreland throws his weight around

Tracy was a total trooper, though, submitting to repeated handcuffing and tossing around by Bill Sage. Based on my experience in Siberia, I suppose it was just an average day for him. But, as the sun began to dip below the horizon, things still weren't coming together. And we had another scene to shoot. I finally had to end the fiasco and move on to scene 21, back at the mural wall.

By the time we got back to the mural we had a serious light problem. Tim said he was pushing two stops, which he had never done before. When I asked if the footage would be usable, he said he didn't think so. It was important that we shoot this scene early in the schedule, though, because it featured the mural kids white-washing the graffiti wall in preparation for painting the mural, so we kept shooting.

The end result was that after talking to Tim over a much-needed cocktail at the end of the day, we agreed that both scene 21 and 23 were no good. At that point I told him that I would not put anything in the movie that was unacceptable to either him or me. So, we agreed to flash the film (ruin it by exposing it to the light) and find a spot in our already crowded schedule to reshoot both those scenes.

I also decided to cut our losses by firing both the stunt coordinator and the Steadicam operator. We would just have to shoot all of the remaining Steadicam stuff handheld and find someone else to help choreograph the stunts.

The lesson for the day was don't bite off more than you can chew on the first day of production. The good news was that we only had one scene featuring the dreaded "P. Morning" nameplate, not three. Hooray.

- Joseph Pierson
 


              



Copyright 2001 Cypress Films, Inc. All rights reserved.