Saturday, January 3, 2009

DAY FOUR - “Percepto-Vision,” or “The Bugman Cometh”

Today is "Percepto Day." We have to shoot all of the scenes involving the villainous criminal mastermind Percepto today, as his alter-ego, actor David Santiago, is only available for one day. And that's a lot of scenes. This means that for time-saving purposes, we must split up one key sequence in which Professor Jack and his crew confront Percepto and his giant robot (or "robut," to use the proper 1940s pronunciation. And we do). So today we only shoot half of the scene: the half that includes shots of Percepto and his dimwitted sidekick Bigsby, played to the hammy hilt by Richard Melvin. We'll shoot the half that involves Jack and his team next week, and the two halves will be combined in post so that all of the characters will appear to be in the same room at the same time, even in the same shot. That's one nice advantage of shooting against a green screen. Shots can be combined, overlapped, blended, shrunk - you name it - so that everything fits together in a way that looks like the actors are really standing together and talking to one another, as opposed to standing alone and talking to, well, me.

Since the other actors aren't actually here today, I end up reading most of their lines offscreen while David looks off into nothingness and pretends to be trading quips with them. Percepto's dialogue is a bit tricky, as the character speaks in constant alliteration. A typical line: "Primarily, a precautious person would perpetrate a plan to deny the opposition permittance onto the premises." David does a great job with this material, and is an excellent sport. I knew he'd be agreeable when he emailed me last week stating, "10 a.m. is a very civilized call time." And Percepto is a very civilized villain, although we mustn't forget that beneath the gentlemanly veneer is pure evil, as cameraman Aaron reminds us later in the day. As we shoot a scene in which Percepto is in his prison cell and the wall crumbles away behind him, David wonders why he wouldn't turn around to see his escape route before erupting into laughter. Could be because we're running behind and don't have time to set up a reverse shot. But Aaron's answer is better: "Because you're so evil, you don't even need to turn around."

Aside from his innate evilness, Percepto is also characterized by his metallic eyepiece which shoots out a red beam when he is feeling particularly evil. Ironically, this eye covering causes Percepto to lose his depth perception. David gets around the set just fine, through, laughing all the way. In fact, Jeff likes David's diabolical laugh so much that he wants it to run on a loop over the entire end credits. We'll see.

Today also sees the first appearance of the "Bugman," as played by scenic and make-up guy Chuckie Hendershot squeezed into a custom costume designed and built by Steve Tolin. At the producers' request, I cannot post any photos of the bug suit at this time. So you'll have to settle for a picture of Chuckie in more casual attire (above). He is quite possibly the skinniest man I've ever met, which makes him ideal for slipping in and out of the rather constricting monster costume. I suspect that Steve keeps Chuckie locked in his basement, feeding him only scraps, lest he gain a couple of pounds and no longer be able to fit the suit.

But Chuckie's miniature size isn't the only reason he's perfect as the Bugman. Once inside the costume, he is every bit the actor as anyone else performing in front of the cameras. He creates the distinct walk and the head and arm movements for the creature, which add much character and menace. One feature of the costume that Chuckie can't control are the jowls or mandibles, which Steve operates by remote control, like a radio-controlled car. However, today there seem to be some conflicting signals in the air: at one point the creature's jaws go haywire before Steve can even press a button. We wonder if the studio managers upstairs are turning radio knobs and having a laugh at us.

Chuckie isn't the only crew member to suit up and jump in front of the camera today. The actor originally cast as the deranged scientist Dr. Haskin can't make it this evening. So Joe Tolin, our key environmental design artist, steps into the character's shoes (as well as the rest of his costume) to play the spaced-out doctor.

An article about our shoot appears in today's edition a local newspaper called the McKeesport Times. Yesterday, a mild-mannered reporter visited the set, took a few photos and interviewed Jeff, Nathan and Steve about the movie. And today, his article misquoted them all. Actually, he just really oversimplified everything. To say that the piece was written in layman's terms would be an insult to laymen. As Jeff put it, the article "was written for people who've never heard of movies." And to use some more '40s vernacular, see you in the funny papers.

1. Percepto, a.k.a. David Santiago
2. Percepto on his throne, as soundguy Chris lowers the boom
3. David and Jeff discuss how tall Percepto's giant "robut" will be.
4. The hapless homeless henchman, Bigsby.
5. "Chuckie," out of uniform
6. Joe Tolin as Dr. Byron Haskin