Thursday, March 6, 2008

I'll See You On The Beach

It occurs to me that even though I've never served in the Military, I have been the Logistics Officer on two Amphibious Assaults. Well, not really, but sorta kinda.

Omaha Beach

When we were shooting Paradise, in Charleston, SC, there was a scene where the family goes off for a picnic and to do some fishing on a beach. The director had fallen in love with one of the many little islands that are part of the Barrier Islands. This particular island even had a causeway running to it. Unfortunately, it turned out that the island was owned by some Christian organization that wanted nothing to do with us heathen Hollywood types and told us we couldn't use their roads which were completely private property.

Well, it just so happens that by South Carolina law, the coastline, up to a certain number of feet beyond the high water mark is owned by the state and is considered public property. The state told us, "If you can figure out how to get there, you're welcome to shoot there."

So, we rented and loaded ourselves six monster trucks full of equipment and loaded those onto three Higgins Boats we managed to find and assaulted us a beach! We had four Boston Whalers to shuttle the crew back and forth and we had two yachts anchored offshore for the stars in place of campers. For some reason, I was assigned to coordinating all of these boats.

So, basically, I spent 3 days running around with one walkie-talkie to be in contact with the crew. I had a second marine walkie-talkie to talk to the boats. And I had my 1989 era cell phone. I don't remember which one it was, but it was certainly bigger than the one I have now.
Now this was the middle of summer in South Carolina. So I'm running around in bare feet, in a pair of shorts and no shirt and 20 pounds of communication equipment on my belt. Falling into the water would not have been a good idea.

Oh, did I mention that there was only one stretch of the beach that the Higgins Boats could land on? And that where we were actually shooting was a couple hundred yards further down the beach? And that at high tide, these two beaches were cut off from each other? Yeah, everything had to be off the filming beach 45 minutes before high tide, or it would be stuck there for until the tide went out again.

One other fun thing happened during this shoot. We're talking the days when Don Johnson was still very hot from his Miami Vice days. So hot that some boat company was still giving him a new cigarette boat every year just so the hot would rub off. So, on the first day of shooting on the island, Don shows up at the landside dock in his big honking loud boat. He decides to impress Elijah Wood and take him out to the yacht in his boat. The A.D. says O.K.
Then Don can't start the boat again. For a half-hour, Don can't start the boat. He and Elijah needed to get out to the yacht and get into makeup and wardrobe or we'd have blown the day. Don was not at all happy with his inglorious ride in the prow of a Boston Whaler.


My next landing was for Spinning Into Butter. You may have never heard of this movie. There's a good reason for that. My understanding is that its pretty much unreleasable. As in...not good. At any rate, we were shooting this shortly after NY State and City had both enacted some fairly hefty tax incentives for films doing most of the work here. So, my assignment was to find all of the locations for a movie that was scripted as taking place on a Vermont College campus, in a quaint little town and some scenes in Chicago. And all but 4 days worth of filming had to take place within the 5 borroughs of NYC.

Genius that I am, I thought of Governors Island.

View Larger Map

Governors Island sits a couple of thousand yards off the tip of Manhattan. It has a rich history dating back to the Revolution, a couple of 19th century forts and best of all a bunch of colonial looking buildings. It was the East Coast Headquarters for the Coast Guard for decades. (It once had the only Burger King in the world that served beer.) At any rate, the Federal Government gave it to NYC a few years ago, so it was available as a shooting location...if we could get there.

Here, look at some pictures of the place. (That job was my first effort at posting location files online, so, please to give me a break.) We found three weeks worth of scenes to shoot there.

There is a Governors Island Ferry. One. If it breaks down, they have a tugboat, but you can't get vehicles on and off the island using that. Also, the ferry only runs from 6:45 am to 7:00pm. Also, the ferry has a clearance limit of 11 feet and we didn't have a single truck shorter than 12'6".

Well, we could just leave most of the trucks on the island for the 3 weeks, so they only needed to get on and off once. So, I hired a barge company in Staten Island. The only place there was a ramp to get the trucks onto the barges was at their headquarters in Staten Island.

On the Governors Island side, the ferry landing was too narrow to get the barges in. So we cut the railings away from one seawall and had to put a ginormous steel plate on the barge with the trucks...and a ginormous forklift to make the plate into a ramp when the barge got to the island.

Oh, and did I mention tides? You can't just send that barge out there anytime you want. If I remember, there was something like a 9' difference between high and low tide. You could adjust the barge somewhat by filling ballast tanks with water, but that only worked for the five hour period straddling high tide. So, we had to move trucks out there at midnight the night before filming began. And there was a monsoon that night. Fun.

Here's the ironic stuff. 1. I originally looked at the place mostly for the exteriors. We shot just slightly more than zero exteriors during our three weeks there. 2. I sold the Producer on the place based on how much money we'd save from being in the same place for 3 weeks solid. I spent about twice what we saved on boats. Oh well.

Please call me Commodore.


Janiece said...

I'm the Commodore. Just ask FooeyU.

"For some reason, I was assigned to coordinating all of these boats."

Isn't a boat a location? Just askin'...

Nathan said...

Isn't a boat a location?


O.K. Let's take a step back. I get scripts all the time that say INT. Car-Night. Well, the car is not a location; its a prop. The location is the street where the car is going to be shot.

A boat (in the maritime definition) would also be a prop if you were shooting on one. A ship or a yacht (once again, if you're shooting on it) is a location.

In both of the experiences related above, all boats, barges etc. were TRANSPORTATION. There's a transportation dept. on every movie, so they really should have been responsible.

neurondoc said...

Cool story. I am always fascinated at how things work or get made. One sees the finished product on screen, but the shenanigans that go on to get to the final rpoduct are way more fascinating. Thanks for the "backstage" look...


Anonymous said...

Pretty cool. Sounds like you could organize an invasion - say, maybe aliens at Jim's house? - any day.