Joseph and the SWAT cops

Scene #87

Scene #88

Scene #69

Scene #66

Scene #67

Today was a great deal of fun and a lot of work. The performers ranged from seasoned actors to San Antonio Police Department SWAT officers whose closest connection to the performing arts is probably watching TV. The featured location was Lisa Mather's house. Lisa is the estranged wife of David Mather, the bad guy.

Alsada Richardson as Lisa's mom

The featured thespians of the day were Bena Kratochvil and Alsada Richardson, who played Lisa and her mom, respectively. Their primary scene is one in which Francis and Morning come to their door looking for Mather, who has failed to show up for his court hearing. Lisa's mom answers the door and eventually summons Lisa to come talk to the cops about David.

Morning and Francis looking for Mather

The cool thing about the scene, beside how good both Bena and Alsada were, was that the Bills came up with a great ad-lib, which eventually became one of those minor strands that help to tie the story together. After the cops ask for Lisa, her mom tells them to wait and then proceeds to argue with Lisa behind the closed door. In the script, Francis and Morning just stand there, which works fine on the page. But, when it came time to shoot the scene, there was too much dead air, and nothing to cut to but a closed door. The Bills drew on their experience riding around with the real SAPD officers and suggested an ad-lib about a Dale Earnhardt model car. Apparently, after Earnhardt died, many of the SAPD officers tried to find the die cast models of his race car, which became quite scarce. When they'd see each other on duty, conversation would often turn to the car and their progress in finding it.

Once it was clear the ad-lib was working, the Bills and I discussed adding a couple of other Earnhardt moments to the script, making it a minor theme with a beginning, middle and end. That became a weekend project for me which eventually resulted in two other Earnhardt exchanges between Francis and Morning in the screenplay. They are natural and incidental and, as a bonus, I think they work nicely to flesh out the relationship between the two cops.

The SWAT Team raids Mather's house

After we finished the scene with Bena and Alsada, it came time for the SWAT guys to break down the door, looking for David Mather. By this point in the story, Mather has robbed Jessica's convenience store (using the gun he stole from Francis) and run away after Francis shoots him.

We enlisted the real SAPD SWAT Team and these guys were serious. They came with a solid steel battering ram, full body armor, helmets, assault rifles, etc. They also said that when they do the real thing, they throw a flash-bang grenade into the house after breaking down the door and did I want them to do it on camera? Hell, yeah!

I learned another lesson about non-actors today: don't assume that they know anything. The first take was kind of a mess. James said "Roll sound!" and the SWAT guys immediately smashed down the door and threw the grenade. It all looked great, but the camera never rolled. While the smoke cleared and the prop dept. installed our only other door, I patiently explained that after "roll sound" the 1st AD calls "camera," and then the director calls "action," and that's when the actors commence acting. Things went swimmingly after that, except for me never figuring out their names -- they all looked the same with their helmets and goggles on. I just called them all Frank and they looked at me as if I was a complete idiot.

The director works his magic 

Once inside, the SWAT team discovers the bodies of Lisa and her mom and, eventually, Mather himself dead in the bathtub. It was a regular bloodfest. It's a bit disturbing how much fun I had arranging corpses and sprinkling them with stage blood.

Dead Lisa

The final scenes of the day were of Mather in the holding cell after he has been arrested for the first time. We searched all of San Antonio for a traditional-looking cell with bars, etc. and found none. Larry Sanchez, our crack locations manager, did eventually find just such a cell in the neighboring hamlet of Alamo Heights. Before we could use it, however, Larry, Tim and I had to go visit the chief of the AHPD. He didn't look especially imposing, but he was very stern. He informed us that, since Alamo Heights is a small municipality (2 square miles), they have only one holding cell and if a prisoner arrived while we were filming in the cell, we would have to vacate the premises immediately. He also reminded us that "We may doze, but we never close." We nodded respectfully and assured him that we would gather our equipment and make a mad dash for the door if a prisoner was on the way. Like that would ever happen.

Because the Mather cell scene was a relatively easy scene to shoot, we didn't require the full crew, which was fine, because those that did join us were well into overtime. We set up quickly, took a short break for fajitas (the so-called "second meal"), then began shooting. The scene called for one off-camera line, which I was going to read, but there was a sergeant sitting there, so I asked him if he wanted the honor of saying "Lights out!" He seemed amused and agreed to holler the line on cue. I wasn't sure how he would react to Mather's reply, which is "Motherfucker!" but he behaved as if he had heard it before.

We were on the last shot of the night, when a call came in over the police radio that a prisoner was on the way. The timing couldn't have been more excellent. We finished the shot and were just carrying the last light out the door when the poor guy arrived. He was in his mid-twenties and his hands were cuffed behind his back, as is the custom in this country. Tears streamed down his face. Apparently he had been arrested for public urination. Back where I come from we give those guys tickets and let them retain some shred of dignity. I guess things get kind of slow up there in Alamo Heights.

- Joseph Pierson

Tim Orr (top), Henry & Matt


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