Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Adventures In Movieland!

I know I've directed you to my IMDB listing before. Go there again. Bask in my awesomeness. I honestly don't know how they keep these listings current. I've gone on the site to update my listing, only to find that they already had me listed on a film. They usually seem to know everybody working on a picture long before it finishes shooting, so my idea that they keep some homeless dude chained in a basement taking notes while repeatedly pausing the credits on the DVD is apparently not how they do it. It's a mystery.

Having said that, they are not all-knowing. They've missed at least one classic that I worked on, namely Mortal Sins. I was the Unit Manager on Mortal Sins. Unit Manager is one of those made up titles that can mean a lot of different things. In some cases it's a glorified Production Assistant (who doesn't get paid any more, but gets a nifty title). Sometimes it's a kid who drives a small truck filled with all the miscellaneous production supplies that no one else wants to deal with. In my case, I was sort of an Assistant Production Manager whose job on a daily basis consisted of whatever the Production Manager didn't want to deal with.

I have very little memory of what the movie was about. Here's a review with a little backstory if you care. I do, however have a lot of memories about making the movie. Where to start?

There was the day we were supposed to shoot in a closed, derelict synagogue on the Lower East Side. The guy with the key didn't show up. First, we spent about a 1/2 hour sitting around staring at the chain and padlock. No one on this show had a cell phone or if anybody did, the guy with the key didn't have one, so we couldn't find out where he was or if he was on the way. Eventually, the Prop Master offered to open the door with the Big Yellow Master Key, (a bolt-cutter), which he proceeded to do. Now, none of this was done furtively and it's not like the 70 or so people standing around were trying to be inconspicuous, but the cops driving by decided they needed to investigate. Luckily, the Location Manager had a copy of our signed contract with her. Most Location Agreements say that we are going to "...take sole possession of the premises..." for the period of filming, so eventually, the cops agreed that as temporary owners, we could break into our own place. We only got started 2 hours late that day.

There was a bar we shot in for a few days. One of the reasons we chose the location was that the bar was located beneath the 12th Avenue Viaduct and the exterior scenes would take place in the lovely, gritty location. Here's a crappy picture I found on the internet, but it should be enough for you to recognize.

In the middle of shooting here, most of Manhattan, including our location suffered a blackout. No biggie for us; we were powering everything off of a generator anyway. However, things got interesting. Because of the fact that this location, on a weekend, was a deserted stretch on the very edge of Manhattan, the NYPD chose it as the place to set up their Command Post. So, our rinky dink little movie was shooting in a bar at the extreme south end of the viaduct and the remaining 7 blocks of this stretch was filled with thousands of cops and cop cars and mobile command centers and you name it. They really didn't seem to pay any attention to us at all until we came outside to shoot the exterior scenes. We had to scrap the shots looking north up the viaduct since there was no scene in the script with thousands of cops, but we figured we could shoot everything facing the front of the bar. So outside we went. And we set up our lights. And we turned them on. And thousands of cops cheered and applauded, thinking the blackout had ended. Um, not so much.

There was one particularly horrible day shooting in an attic apartment in New Jersey. First of all, it was August and I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that it was 4000º on the set. Really, it was. We were shooting a dialog scene between Nathan, played by Brian Benben and his girlfriend Marie, played by Maggie Wheeler (you may remember her as Janice with the annoying laugh from Friends). In this scene, Marie is cooking dinner for Nathan and the entree is going to be Calamari*. At one point, she holds up the whole squid with its tentacles draped down her arm and shakes it at Nathan to emphasize some point. Did I mention there was no air-conditioning? Did you know that squid only has to be exposed to un-air-conditioned atmosphere for a nano-second before it begins to stink? Did I mention that the Prop Master only brought one spare squid? Did I mention that this attic apartment had only two teeny-tiny windows?

Oh, and the other wonderful thing that occurred on this lovely day is that I sent a P.A. into Manhattan to pick up the paychecks. For some reason, when he got to the office, he locked the keys in the car...blocking traffic...with the motor running...on fumes. Between the lack of breathable air and the lack of being paid, the crew staged an impromptu strike for a few hours.

I could go on. I could tell you how hard it is to get all the vehicles off of a street...when that street has the HQ for the Hell's Angels in the middle of the block. I could tell you about trying to shoot the final romantic scene for the movie and being interrupted by a jogger headed east on the street meeting a pit bull traveling west on the same street and having the two meet, jaw to crotch right in the middle of our shot. I could tell you about one actress who hugged me enthusiastically when saying goodbye after finishing her last day on the film. She had one of the earlier versions of breast implants when apparently, the surgeons were still using rocks. Damn, did that hurt!

Instead, I'll close with two things that amuse me. First, when we shot the movie the working title was God's Payroll. So, our wrap gifts were these really crappy T-shirts that said, "I was on God's Payroll". Cute, huh? I wore the shirt once. I got half a block from my apartment when a woman saw me and said, "Hallelujah Brother! Praise Jesus!". I went home and changed.

Second, a few years later, When I was working on [Name of Movie Redacted], [Actor Name Redacted], who is in both movies shows up in the production office and I'm the first person he sees. We say hello. He says, "Don't take this the wrong way, but does the fact that we're both on this movie mean it's gonna suck too?" The answer to that, was apparently, yes.
* Yes, Anne's post today is what made me think of this in the first place.


Ilya said...

Fun post, man! Do more of these, please. Write a book, even :-)

Nathan said...

I'm glad you like them Ilya. I try to write about work stuff a few times a month, but I have to self-censor somewhat. I wouldn't want to post anything that might have a negative effect on getting future work (and more war stories), so I mostly stick to ancient history.

If you type "movies" into the search window (upper left), you should get most of the related posts.

John the Scientist said...

I knew that about squid. Back in the days when windshield defrosters were just two big holes cut in the dash and people often forgot to lock their cars, dropping a small squid in the defroster vent was a good way to get even with someone. Not that I ever did that, of course...

A less "now the victim can't ever sell the car" method was to drop a ton of punched holes from a 3 hole punch down that vent.

Unknown said...

I like how the cops cheer when you guys turned on your lights.

I watch behind the scene specials and I am always amazed by how the movie camera's eye can make a scene so "glossy" looking. There's like an extra layer of texture that you don't see if you film that same scene with an ordinary camera.

now what I mean?

Nathan said...


I've said before that even though I shoot a lot of pictures, I hardly rate as a pro photographer. What you're talking about, however, is achieved with filters and different film stocks. Also, if you pay attention, you'll notice that video looks waaaaaay different from film...even when you're seeing it on TV.