Cosmo's big moment

Scene #21R

Scene #37

Scene #39

Scene #6

Scene #1

Today's schedule was the result of a weekend realization that we could never finish Carla & Victor's scenes in two days as originally scheduled, and that completing the Donald/Mather coverage (day and night exteriors) in a single day was also impossible. Fernando and Tim and I met on Sunday and shuffled the schedule around until we had created an extra day for the above scenes. I was right, of course. The previous days at both locations were plenty full, so this made it possible for us to succeed in making our days, an important morale booster on a film set.

Today was also the day we picked up Sc. 21, one of the scenes that was unusable due to loss of light on Day 1, the "Day from Hell." The reshoot was hardly easier, though. We showed up at the Mural wall in a steady downpour. Fortunately, the location provided an awning for the featured "I'm a Thief" boy (Cosmo Inserra) to stand under. I had the Bills wear their SLPD jackets that Yvonne thoughtfully provided, so they wouldn't get soaked on their way to talk to the boy, and so that they'd appear to be prepared for rain in the film.

Cosmo paces

The scene calls for Morning to walk over to the boy, who wears a large sign around his neck with "I'm a Thief" scrawled on it. Throughout the story we see various characters with similar signs. This is the scene that provides some exposition on why they wear them. The inspiration for this theme is Judge Ted Poe of Harris County, Texas. Judge Poe is known for creative sentencing and has, on occasion, sentenced criminals to wear signs proclaiming their crimes in a sort of modern day version of the public stockades of Puritan times. He says it works great. "I don’t want people in my courtroom to get confused and think they’re in New Jersey," says the Judge.

The original

Back to the scene: Morning approaches the boy and grabs his hat, saying "Judge says no hat." We infer from this that he wears the sign as some sort of court ordered penance. Meanwhile, the Mural kids are busily whitewashing the graffiti in the background, prepping it for the Mural.

The rain pissed down on us all morning, causing the scene to take twice as long as it normally would have.  Today was one of our rare Fisher dolly days, which meant there was that much more equipment to keep dry. Everyone was in a bad mood, but we managed to fight through the scene and dragged our sodden selves over to Carla & Victor's house, where we could look forward to all interior scenes and a respite from the rain.

The grip truck took longer than usual to arrive at the next location. I was soon informed that the reason was -- another car accident! Apparently, a car tried to pass the truck and ended up ramming it instead. The truck sustained only minor damage, but the car was totaled. More ambulances, tow trucks, fire engines and broken glass to be swept up. And another delay.

While we waited for equipment and actors to arrive, I had another chat with Sid (not his real name), stunt guy #2. The scene we were tackling first was sc. 37, which as you recall, is the scene where Morning hog-ties Victor. I told Sid that the Bills and I had established a good working relationship and that we had also worked out many of the specifics of how Bill S. would accomplish the hog-tie. I asked him to watch as we worked and step in if we got into a jam. Sid's reaction was not altogether promising; he said he could just as easily wait in his car if we weren't going to make use of his knowledge and experience. My attitude warning flags went up, but I said something soothing and left it at that.

Once we got underway with the scene, there was again disagreement about how to make the action work. The Bills drew on their experience in Police Academy training to figure out how to bring Victor to his knees in preparation for hog-tying. Sid had a different idea. I watched both and again decided that I liked what the Bills were doing better; it looked natural and real (because it was). In a conciliatory gesture, Billy D. tried to demonstrate on Sid what they learned at the academy. Sid helpfully locked his knees and said "You'll never be able to take me down." This prompted Bill S. to ask if this was about penis size, and if so, he'd be happy to whip his out for comparison. Sid replied that Bill would definitely lose.

Sensing that the relationship, such as it was, was rapidly deteriorating, I asked Sid if he would step outside with me and the 1st AD. I told him that things didn't seem to be working out and that I thought it would be best if he left. After explaining to me that the hierarchy on set was "the director, the stunt coordinator, the cinematographer, THEN the actors," he stomped off. That ain't how it works on my set, pal. Bye-bye Stunt Coordinator #2.

We never did find a replacement stunt coordinator, which was just as well. Both the Bills had enough cop training and enough good sense to make all the action stuff look very real, without hurting themselves or any of the other actors. And besides, this was not about crashing cars or jumping off buildings, just a little rough arrest here and there. Piece a cake.

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Our second company move brought us back to Donald's and Mather's for the night exteriors. Tim got to play with big lights for the first time, and the hour + of set-up time paid off; the locations looked great. The scene at Donald's house was the one in which he complains of beer cans in his yard, which he suspects come from the neighbor (Mather). It's a montage scene, and the first to establish this growing conflict between Mather and his dweeby neighbor (sorry Greg).

Scene 1 takes shape

The final scene of the day was scene 1, the first scene of the film. It was not original to Mike Jones' screenplay; I added it after arriving in San Antonio. We open on a tight shot of a Texas license plate. An engine revs, and the plate pulls away from camera, revealing a black station wagon, which we ultimately discover is Mather's car. We later see it smashed up as a result of a hit and run accident that plays a pivotal role in the story (see the first couple of paragraphs of the pre-production journal entry, Carol). It's a simple and entirely visual scene, but it immediately establishes the place (Texas) and the tone (foreboding).

Felix drives Mather's station wagon

As simple as it was on paper, it was not the easiest to execute; a car speeding away from the camera, starting on an almost macro shot of the license plate is a challenge for the best focus pullers. Matt stands tall among them, but we had to do in excess of 10 takes before we were satisfied that we got the shot.

The real heartbreaker was the discovery, some days later, that the film stock we used for all of today's night scenes had been mislabeled by the company that provided it. It was recanned stock, meaning it had been opened and loaded previously by another production. There is nothing inherently wrong with recans, but it has to be tested to be sure that it matches it's label and has not been exposed to the light, etc. (not an issue with fresh stock). Of course, the company's literature said "tested" -- obviously a lie. The film stock was so wrong that the footage from that night appeared almost black and consequently was completely unusable. Damn. Another step back...and a hell of a long day.

- Joseph Pierson


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