DAY 14 - Thursday, MARCH 22, 2001


Scene 106 pt.

Scene #83

Scene #84A

Scene #84

Scene #85

Scene #86

Francis & Jessica have a date

Our first task today was to pick off another piece of the last scene of the film, 105/106. The scene is set at dusk, but in contrast to our other dusk shots, we are tackling the shots for this sequence one at a time. The difference is that these are shots that require more attention to lighting and composition, as opposed to the Winston fire scene and the Ice Cream Street, which are all about the energy and whipping through the setups before it's too dark to shoot.

The part of the scene we shot today was Francis (Bill Dawes) and Jessica (Mirelly Taylor) sitting together in the restaurant. There's no dialogue, just looks. Curiously, it's harder than directing a real scene with actual chatting; there's less to grab hold of performance-wise. I was very tempted to do one take of everything and move on, but there were subtle differences in the looks and movement of the actors in the various takes, so I think my patience paid off.

After finishing our three shots in the restaurant it was time to move on to the tough part of the day, scenes 83-86 in the Food Mart across the street. These are the scenes where Mather (bad guy) tries to rob the place and ends up getting shot by Francis (good guy). We had 12 setups to do, which is not a lot by indie standards, except for the fact that most involved special effects of one sort or another.

Adjusting a practical light

Tim Orr (Cinematographer) and I decided to shoot the exteriors first, which meant that Bill Sage could go home early since he wasn't in any of the interior scenes. First up was the cop car arriving at the scene as Francis and Morning respond to a silent alarm at the Food Mart. Bill Dawes got to drive for a change and had the added treat of flooring it down South Flores with the bar lights on. No problems, but for my fear that some guilty motorist would pull over, thinking the cops were after them, and cause an accident. A couple of cars did pull over but we were spared a high speed fender bender.

Tim lines up the shot

Next up was the weird scene at the rear entrance of the food mart where Morning loses it. Morning goes "around back" while Francis creeps in the front entrance. We never find out what happened back there between Morning and Mather, but it's the beginning of the end for Morning. As such, it's a crucial scene and one which the Bills and I talked about constantly throughout production. Bill S. tried a few different things, but there was one take that was a clear winner for me. So, after five takes of Bill S. and five takes of Billy D. we were on our way indoors for the hard stuff.

Francis finds Morning

Morning breaks down

This whole special effects thing is completely new to me. The last real stunt I remember being involved in before EvenHand was when I was location manager on Five Corners and a scene called for a cab to jump the curb and ram a phone booth with a guy in it. The guy in the booth was a dummy, but the cab driver was the stunt coordinator, a total nut. I was terrified that something was going to go wrong -- it was a dangerous stunt -- and my confidence wasn't bolstered by the stunt guy's bug-eyed jacked-up caffeinated attitude. It turned out fine; no one was hurt, but it made for a stressful night.

So now, here I am directing a film with all kinds of action. Who would have guessed?

The Damn Lexan

The first thing I learned today was that nothing happens without the Lexan. Lexan is a big expensive sheet of plexiglass that sits in front of the camera and related personnel. When you do anything involving ballistics, squibs or flying debris in general, everyone gets behind the Lexan. The Lexan has to be positioned to protect the crew and it takes forever. The tiniest reflection betrays its presence on camera and we discovered that a house of mirrors is slightly less reflective than a mini-mart. The Lexan also scratches if you look at it wrong. Even the lens tissue used to clean the expensive camera lenses leaves marks and by the time you get to paper towels you're gouging divots in it. And after you've used it one or two times you might as well throw it away because you're never going to get it clean without making it opaque. As if that's not enough, it takes on a massive static charge as soon as you haul it out of the truck and attracts dust motes, hair and an assortment of small rodents.

So, the grips bring it in, slap some big suction cups on it, hook those onto some grip stands and then adjust the damn thing endlessly. By the time they're done, there is black duvetyn on all 5 remaining sides of the camera as well as above and below the slit left clear for the lens. Then we get the shot, which today meant one or possibly two takes, depending on how complicated the special effect happens to be. The grips then dismantle the whole rig and we get set up for the next shot. It's a hugely tedious process, especially when you have to do it eight or ten times in a night, and it makes a normally inefficient way to make a living grind to an almost complete standstill.

Francis finger-shoots Mather (rehearsal)

The most fun and gratifying shot of the night was the bullet hit on the beer fridge. Ron Allen (Special Effects) spent days testing different ways to break a beer fridge door. The variables were: one pane of glass, two panes; with a layer of plastic film, without; using a ball bearing shot from a paintball gun (don't ask) or a complicated system of glass breakers and planted explosive charges. The final verdict was: single pane of glass, no plastic film and ball bearing with the glass breakers. Jessica crouched in the foreground, then after everyone yelled "Fire in the hole!" endlessly, we rolled camera. On action Ron shot the door of the fridge with the paint ball gun and Jessica screamed. It was a triumph! The ball bearing made a small hole which instantly spider-webbed the whole door. The bearing and the glass breaker combined to send frothy beer all over the inside of the cooler. It looked great to me and Tim, so we only did one take. Risky business, but on the other hand, why waste precious time if it works? We still had a ton of stuff to do. So, the glass shards were carefully picked from Mirelly's hair and we moved on.

Some definitions:
Sweeny Glass Breaker - a device with a spring-loaded arm that swings and breaks stuff.
Sparkle balls - You shoot them and they make a big spark when they hit to simulate a bullet hit.
Blanks - shells with powder and no slug (but you knew that).
Squib - A small explosive charge, often packaged with a blood bag and planted in an actor's clothing. When the actor is "shot," the special effects guy sets off the charge and a nasty spurt of blood flies out of the resulting hole in the actor's clothes.

Lexan - a big pain in the ass.

A good crop of spectators

We gradually made it through the night's work, but as it got later and later everyone started getting pretty testy. Fernando and I bitched at each other about the SAPD extras that we engaged fore the final scene in the sequence. I was pissed that they were all leaving before we even used them -- apparently they had to go to work at 6 AM. Fernando was pissed that it was 5 AM and we weren't done yet. I asked if it was really a shock to anyone that we were in overtime on this of all nights. Blah, blah, blah.

In one of the later shots, Billy D. had to run into the bathroom, pretending it was outside, in pursuit of the mortally wounded David Mather. After the second or third take, I called "cut" and heard a really loud "FUCK!!!" from the bathroom. I thought Jesus, he's bashed his knee on the toilet or something. It turned out that he was frustrated because he couldn't get his damn radio back into its holster. Yes, indeedy, it was late.

We finally got to the last shot of the night, in which Sgt. Leonard arrives after the dust has settled from the night of mayhem and asks Francis what happened. Francis is comforting Jessica, who's bleeding from her mouth (she bit her tongue). Billy D. was so tired you could hear it in his voice. It was great, though, because his weariness translated perfectly into the after effects of a really stressful night of police work. Once again, the nefarious director successfully manipulated his thespians into involuntary method acting. And not a moment too soon; the sun was on its way up.

- Joseph Pierson


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