Tuesday, December 23, 2008

DAY THREE – “Brother, Can You Lend a Handmaiden?,” or “What’s That Russelling?”

Today sees the first appearance on set of Nathan Hollobaugh, star of "It Came From Yesterday." He looks and sounds like he's recovered fully from his ailment, and gives a spot-on performance as Professor Jack's older brother, James. We shoot a scene in which James mentors Jack in the ways of fencing and wooing damsels. Jeff can't seem to say the word "handmaiden" without raising his hand and spastically shaking it, as if possessed. When I point this out, he becomes even more grandiose with the gesture. That's one thing about Jeff as a director: whenever an actor does anything odd or absurd in performance, he will usually exclaim that he loves it and have them play it for all it's worth.

I get to play my first scene as the evil Thorn today as well. Three hours in the chair surrounded by our full battery of make-up artists (Midian, Rachael, Steve and Chuckie) and I emerge as the hideous Druid warrior with an appetite for destruction, which apparently leads to severe tooth decay if you eat too much of it. Part of my make-up is this black and yellow gunk they put all over my teeth to make them look rotten, so I must remember to smile for the cameras. Midian also draws some lines on my upper lip, a process that is extremely ticklish, and I try very hard not to burst into laughter and ruin the job she's doing. Midian senses my "pain" and starts laughing for me - or at me, or a little of both. I was nervous about what I would do for Thorn's voice, but after getting a resounding howl of approval from Steve Foland the previous night as I half-jokingly recited my lines in a throaty growl, it became as simple as that. Although I'm not convinced Jeff won't entirely replace my voice in post, a la James Earl Jones.

And on the subject of thorns, our sound guy Chris has discovered a new one in his side. As if the clatter of the trains and traffic outside the studio were not enough, he must now contend with a disturbance from within. The source of his aural dismay is none other than our grip Rasul (which most pronounce as "Russell," though he has become known on the set as Ra's al Ghul, after the Batman villian.) It's cold in the studio, and Ras has been wearing a coat that sounds like it's made of aluminum foil. It wooshes and crackles at even his slightest move. And it doesn't help that the owner of this rackety rag is the one guy on our crew who can't manage to stand still for even a few seconds. I'm not entirely sure how to pronounce Rasul's name, but "Rustle" certainly fits the bill. His coat is hereby banned from the studio.

Today also sees our first crew casualty, as our grip Dennis becomes ill and has to make a b-line for the bathroom. He blames the food for his belly woes, and he may be on to something there. The lunches we've been getting from the catering company have been good and bad: good in that Jeff over-ordered and so we always have extra food to reheat for later; bad in that we usually have to reheat it the first time. Yes, the "hot lunches" we were promised have thus far ranged from "lukewarm lunches" to "frostbitten lunches." Furthermore, the odd combinations of items have been either inspired or puzzling, depending upon your tastes. Today we got cold sausage thrown in with a salad. Another day our key grip Chuck found a brownie hiding under his tilapia, and generously offered it to Jeff. This fish-flavored brownie almost landed our director on the disabled list alongside Dennis. I once had a professor who warned that working in the film industry required a strong stomach. Never have his words rang so true.

1. The Brothers Cranston in action
2. The Brothers Cranston, inaction
3. Yours Truly in my "Thorn" get-up
4. Doing my Batman impression, as Ra's al Ghul looks on in awe
5. Dennis and Chuck: only one will survive today's lunch

Monday, December 22, 2008

DAY TWO – “An Annotated History of Penny de Precious,” or “Corporal Cretin Speaks!”

Today is our first full day of shooting, and the first day we have a substantial number of cast members on set. Most manage to find the place okay; in fact, Bill Sewak (a.k.a. General Adams) is already sitting in the green room waiting for us when we enter the building promptly at 10 am. Nayli (a.k.a. Penny Precious) was not so lucky. Earlier in the week she had assured Jeff that her trusty GPS would guide her to the studio with no trouble. So this morning on our way to the set, Jeff gets a call from a very lost Nayli. "How are you?" he asks. "Prettty baaad," she intones. The GPS was not living up to its hype. Later in the day, when we are shooting a scene in Jack's car with Penny behind the wheel, Jeff is tempted to make a GPS joke. He thinks better of it upon learning that Nayli is an orange belt in karate.

Nayli has written up a rather entertaining backstory for her character Penny. She reads some of it to me from the make-up chair while Midian and Rachael work on her fabulous '40s hairdo. Here's an excerpt:

"Penny Precious was born in Yucatan, Mexico, the third of four children of pilot Antonio Precious and Maria Conception Garcia de Precious. She was a solitary and independent child, and a tomboy. She was close with her father, but had a difficult relationship with her mother.

"Penny completed her secondary education at Dr. Valentin Gomez Farias High School in Oregon. She is said to have discovered Dr. Jack Cranston's book "The Inter-Dimensional World" in the high school's library and to have been inspired by it. Her mother resisted the idea of higher education for her daughters, believeing that it would make them unmarriageable."

Even Jeff had no idea that Professor Jack had written the afore-mentioned book. Let's see, if it had been published while Penny was just in high school, then the professor would had to have written it when he was only nineteen years old. I suppose that's not too unreasonable. After all, I wrote a book about inter-dimensional worlds when I was only nine. It was written in crayon, and I am sad to report that the prospects of publication remain bleak.

Today also sees the debut of Corporal Cretin, as played by our second cameraman, Aaron Bernard. Aaron got the job after I steadfastly refused it. The description of Cretin in the script is that of "an oafish looking fool of a man holding a stick of dynamite." And as much as I appreciate Jeff's faith in my ability to portray such a person (hmmm!), I did not relish the prospect of having my first-ever acting credit be listed as one "Corporal Cretin." Jeff even offered to promote him to Colonel Cretin as a consolation, but I just wasn't having it. Luckily Aaron, a seasoned comedic actor, was willing to assume the role. Although I later found out that Jeff had conveniently forgotten to mention the character's name when offering him the part. So when I saw Aaron at our production meeting and remarked that he'd be playing Cretin, he gave me a bemused stare and replied, "Oh, that's his name?"

After shooting the big Cretin scene, we work through a number of the vehicle sequences. Since all of the vehicles will be built digitally around the characters in post-production, the actors have little more than car seats, green boxes and their imaginations to use when driving their cars and piloting their planes. And for his scenes in the cockpit of the biplane as Flyboy, Andy Blood (yes that's his real name) gets a little help from prop guru Chuckie, who uses monofilament wire to flap his scarf around as if it's blowing in the wind. Intensely pretending to be locked in a fierce dogfight while not actually moving, Andy looks a little like Snoopy in pursuit of the Red Baron.

That is hardly to say that Andy is a "dog" by any degree. In fact, Nayli is already campaigning for a subplot in the sequel in which Penny has an illicit affair with Flyboy!

1. Nayli as Penny in the car, happy there is no GPS in 1947
2. Aaron Bernard behind the camera...
3. ... and as his alter-ego, Corporal Cretin
4. The "vehicles" of the movie: green biplane cockpit and car seats
5. Andy Blood a.k.a. Flyboy gets his scarf tugged by Chuckie

Saturday, December 20, 2008

DAY ONE – “Off To A Light Start,” or “Who Says There’s No Such Thing as 8 Free Lunches?”

Professor Jack himself (a.k.a. our director, Jeff) gives me a Day One wake-up call, and soon afterwards we climb aboard the silver Hyundai and make the first of many long drives together to the soundstage. We will be shooting this movie at a place called Mogul Mind Studios, which is located in the sleepy little town of Glassport, PA. It is a sufficient facility, though not without its problems, the most notable of which being its lack of soundproofing coupled with the fact that it is located right next to the railroad tracks. The noisy trains lumbering past will soon become a daily bane to young Christopher, our sound guy. But more on that in the entries to come.

Speaking of sounds, Jeff blasts various versions of the James Bond theme during our drive to work. As I check the rear view mirror for any sign of Blofeld's henchmen in pursuit, we roll across the bridge into Glassport, a depressed little ghetto replete with boarded up storefronts and long-closed businesses. It looks as though we've driven through a time warp which deposited us somewhere in 1970. The relatively new Rite Aid at the end of the main street feels like an anachronism here. Also of note is that the town's police station, public library, and a thrift store all share the same small building. So, you can check out a book and get booked all in one trip.

Jeff, Steve, and our Director of Photography Dave Cooper spent all day here yesterday hanging the green screen in the studio, so this morning we are set to go. But wait! We seem to be missing one thing... the lead actor. Nathan Hollobaugh, star of our little movie, is sick today. When I spoke with him last night he sounded as though he'd just had a tracheotomy. Pretty cool if you're Tom Waits; not so good if you're supposed to be a 1940s swashbuckling hero. So we gave Nathan the day off to recover, and after some hairy last-minute rescheduling (I had to shave afterwards) we ended up with a pretty light load for our first Monday on the set. Just a short scene between Professor Jack and Stan Maxx in the nightclub, then a few shots of Jack by his lonesome.

At the end of the day, everyone is grateful for the slow and easy start. Plus, with such a small cast and crew onhand for day one, there are plenty of extra lunches left over. I wonder if I should fill up on the extra food tonight, as I foresee several days ahead where I'll be too busy to stop and eat. We've got an intense shoot ahead of us... twelve days to shoot 88 pages. Today we just got our feet wet. Tomorrow we dive into the deep end of the pool.

1. Jeff arrives on the set
2. Grips Chris and Rasul keep Jack's and Stan's seats warm
3. Dapper Stan Maxx, as portrayed by Steve Foland
4. Rachael Ryan, make-up artist, with Steve Tolin, Producer etc.
5. Jeff with a late-night snack, our leftover lunches