DAY 18 - Wednesday  MARCH 28, 2001


Scene #52

Scene #53

Scene #46

Scene #7

The overturned Dodge Daytona -- on location



Today was another one of those days when I was just dying for a doughnut and not a one was to be found. At the beginning of production, someone sidled up to me with a pad and pencil and deferentially asked what I would like to see on the craft services table every day. I thought that was such a nice gesture, to ask the director what his preferred snack items were. Not wanting to appear frivolous or extravagant, I quickly eliminated the entire repertoire of Little Debbie snack cakes (yum) and baked brie. I'm not sure Little Debbie has even been invited to Texas. My answer, then, was "doughnuts in the morning, M&Ms and carrot sticks." Both M&Ms and carrot sticks are excellent walking around food. Both also come in small sizes, a plus for those favoring the comfort of continuous eating for long stretches when not much else is going on. The doughnuts are simply an essential and nutritious breakfast food.

Throughout production there were usually M&Ms in a little styrofoam bowl on the craft services table. Carrots were frequently found lurking somewhere nearby. Doughnuts, on the other hand, were always in short supply. Instead, there was usually a cooler full of a horrible invention known as the "breakfast taco." I love Tex-Mex food, but lukewarm, damp breakfast tacos suck.

Whenever I bothered to ask about the absence of doughnuts, the answer was always something vaguely evasive like "Oh, the bakery wasn't open yet." I thought they usually opened at 5 AM. None of this is rocket science, but I guess that explains why NASA doesn't do craft services.

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The first order of business today was the Interior Projects, scenes 52 & 53. This is a scene in which Francis, responding to a call, runs frantically through a housing project corridor. He eventually finds himself face-to-face with a boy holding a gun. Francis tries to talk the boy into dropping the gun, even going so far as to holster his own, but the boy, really agitated and backed into a corner, pulls the trigger. His gun misfires, but Francis understandably finds this to be a profoundly disturbing experience. This scene immediately precedes the reprise of the Carol scene and helps us understand Francis' apprehension during that scene.

The boy who plays the gun-toting kid was a nice, sweet-faced lad, which was just what I wanted. He was a bright kid, too, but had some difficulty getting worked up to the state of agitation that I felt was appropriate for his situation. I finally made him do jumping jacks before each take to at least get his heart rate up and stimulate some panting. The final result will be a triumph of virtuoso editing and Joel Goodman's finely tuned accompanying score.

Doughnuts miraculously arrived before the scene was done, boosting my energy, if not the boy's.

Every EvenHand day must apparently have a completely absurd moment and today was no exception. During part of the scene where Francis runs through the hallway, he stops and asks a resident for directions. The extra that showed up on set when we were ready was a very nice looking woman with white hair, neatly coiffed, wearing a cardigan sweater and gold-rimmed reading glasses on a chain around her neck. She didn't exactly shout "projects" to me, so I dismissed her on some pretense and cast about for other options. Almost immediately, a fabulous old Latino man with a cane appeared. He was apparently completely unaware that we were making a movie in his hallway, which seemed perfect to me. He also spoke no English, which was fine, too. He was agreeable to appearing in the film, so I positioned him in a doorway and instructed him to point down the corridor when Billy D. runs up and asks him "Donde?"

Francis asks directions

Who could have imagined that such a simple task could prove to be so daunting. In direct contrast to the joy I expressed the other day about using non-guild extras, this is the flip side of the coin: you would be amazed at how ridiculous an old guy with no acting experience can look pointing down a corridor. We did seven takes, and I'm pretty sure that at least one will be acceptable in the context of the scene. When Tim and I watched the dailies, though, we were laughing so hard we were rolling around on the floor. Pretty scary stuff, when this is meant to be a scene with profound emotional resonance.

Next on the day's agenda was Scene 46, in which Toby comes to Ronald's door in handcuffs. Ronald is presumably some sort of drug dealer, so William Luke, who plays Ronald, showed up on set after a visit with the wardrobe department sporting a velour sweat suit and several massive gold chains draped around his neck. It all seemed a bit too clichéd to me, so we got rid of the chains. Better. After a brief visual assessment, I asked William how he felt about playing the scene with no shirt on at all.  Ronald is comfortably at home, after all, and I don't know about you, but shirts just seem to be too much of a bother when you're not expecting company. The result was much more convincing, even though I was rapidly becoming the wardrobe dept.'s least favorite director due to my penchant for stripping the shirts off of as many actors as possible. The male ones, anyway.

Matt measures in the purest environment available

After Ronald dismissed Toby we shot the final piece of corridor running for scene 52 and broke for a nutritious meal in the building lobby. After lunch it was on to Scene 7, the final scene in the montage sequence (see The Crush).

The crushed Dodge Daytona arrived on the flatbed trailer and was flipped over onto the sidewalk. Mark Sullivan, our resident McGuyver, got to work hooking up the cars headlights. As always, he was anxious to go the extra yard and have the wheels spinning as well, but I assured him that we would never see such a lovely detail in the shot.

Mark fires up the headlights

Lighting was pretty involved for this setup, so I killed some time in the Billmobile. When we were finally ready to rehearse, I got in the back of Ron's camera truck and the Bills took their position in the patrol car. The goal was for the camera truck and patrol car to drive together at the precise same speed for a hundred yards or so, then separate when the patrol car turns the corner to arrive on the scene of the overturned car. The camera continues down the street until we find a man with a sign: "I sold drugs near school."

It became clear in the rehearsals that this was a very ambitious shot that might or might not work. At issue was the ability of the two vehicles to drive together at the same speed with enough consistency for Matt to retain focus on Bill Dawes. Tim eventually felt we had rehearsed enough to have a reasonable chance of getting the shot, so we started shooting.

The overturned car, ready for action

After several takes, we had to stop; it was past 2 AM and even though we had a late call, there was a limit to how much more I could push the crew. For insurance, we shot a couple of takes with the camera locked off at the end of the street and called it a night. On reviewing the footage in dailies a few days later, I was pleased to see that the shot turned out pretty much as I wanted: moody, mysterious and evidently in focus. 

- Joseph Pierson


Copyright © 2001 Cypress Films, Inc. All rights reserved.