DAY 9 - THURSDAY  MARCH 15, 2001


The Burnt House

Scene #31

Scene #54

Scene #55

Tim looking very cinematographerish

Tim and I talked at great length about the importance of planning ahead for the Burnt House scene. Our goal was to shoot the whole scene within a 45 minute period at dusk. On a big budget film we would have shot 45 minutes a day at dusk for several days until done, but we didn't have the luxury of spreading the work over a period of days. We had an hour, tops.

Crew call was 3 PM, providing ample time for rehearsing with the actors, positioning police cars and the fire truck and testing the smoke effects. My first mission, though, was to find a cup of coffee. I'm not much of a coffee drinker between films, but can't survive without it on  set. The nice craft services lady said she had none. More low-budget blues -- I have never been on a film set before where coffee wasn't automatic, hot and constantly flowing, especially at crew call when everyone is all logey and stupid.

As the sun began to inch toward the horizon, I got the police cars where I wanted them, chatted with the actors about motivation and blocking and briefed the SAPD officers and firefighters who were working as extras. Ron Allen, our special effects guru demonstrated his smoke extravaganza, impressing us all with the wafting billows of dense particulate matter. Satisfied that we were pretty darn well organized, I reinitiated my search for coffee. Still no luck.

Finally, the sun was at just the right angle. Tim took a last meter reading and said he was ready for action. I told the 1st AD to have the actors fly down to set. The Bills appeared, but Winston (Jace Phillips) and his wife didn't. Five minutes passed. No Winston family. Ten minutes, still no Winston & wife. The ADs had managed to lose the principal actors.

Tim was starting to freak out, as was I. Hadn't we discussed the importance of moving fast when the light was right? Finally, the actors showed up. It turns out they were in the make-up trailer the whole time. Lord knows where the AD department was looking.

Action smoke effects, fire hose. Background action. Action patrol car. We pan with the car. Morning parks, he and Francis get out, the hose shuts off. Cut. The first shot was nearly perfect. Time for one more take before moving on. I only noticed later that Mather, who makes his second moody appearance in this scene, was not where he should have been in the shot. No one else will notice, because they won't be expecting to see him. Still kind of annoying.

Coffee finally arrived, although I hardly needed it at this point; I was pretty jazzed up. The second setup was a hand-held shot of Morning taking custody of Winston. As the scene unfolds, we realize that Winston is an ex-cop who inexplicably has set fire to his own house. His distraught wife attacks him just as Morning escorts him to the patrol car. She is gently pried away by one of the SAPD cops we employed as an extra. Meanwhile, Francis shoos away the sullen teenaged boys who watch and smoke. Mather is among them, notable for his especially dark aspect and defiance for the law.

The second setup took us right through to the end of the scene, as Mather strolls away into the sunset. We had planned more shots, but the choreography was working in our favor, so we did it all in one. This, in turn, enabled us to shoot a few more takes that we had planned, which was good.

We finished by shooting some cutaways of Morning moving Winston's handcuffs from behind his back (a gesture of respect for an ex-cop) and Francis telling the boys to move along. When you cover a scene in a master shot, these kinds of cutaways are essential. They allow using the beginning of one master and the end of another.

As the smoke cleared and the sun finally dipped below the horizon, Tim and I took great satisfaction in completing the scene. It was a battle, but we did it. The rest of the day would be a picnic by comparison.

Ready-made props!

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On to the next location, the Abandoned Street, where we would begin filming the Carol scene. Today we tackled the shots leading up to Francis and Morning's arrival at the scene of Carol's traffic accident. First up was a panning shot of the patrol car driving down a desolate street. As we got the camera and lights set up, Bill Sage helpfully began directing traffic. With his SLPD uniform pants around his ankles. I can only imagine what the neighborhood thought of that. I thought it was pretty damn funny.

Next up was a shot from the back seat of the patrol car of the boys silently approaching the scene of the accident. This was an interesting shot because I couldn't fit in the car, so Tim called "action" and assured me that it was great. I hung around at base camp, smoking excessively and listening to the scores of barking dogs in an otherwise completely abandoned neighborhood.

The last shots of the night were coverage of Francis and Morning as they arrive at Carol's pick-up truck. Our video tap was really crappy, so at night I was barely able to see what the actors looked like during a take. For most night shots I simply watched the action live, but when we used a car mount for the camera, there was no alternative to looking in the video monitor. At one point I asked Bill Dawes to play the scene for me between takes, just so I could get a sense of what he was doing. Sound only tells part of the story.

I ended the day with thoughts of all those dogs ruining tomorrow night's shoot at the Abandoned Street. We would be outside on the street for the entire night. Of course, the dogs proved to be the least of our problems.

- Joseph Pierson


Copyright 2001 Cypress Films, Inc. All rights reserved.