Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hey, There's Rain In It. Part I

A couple of weeks ago, Scripty said I should write a post about rain. It turns out, I don't really have a whole post worth of talking about rain, but this story will have a lot of rain in it.

In 1995, I was the Production Supervisor on a movie called Mrs. Winterbourne. The first thing you should know is that Production Supervisor is a more or less made up job title. The reason I wasn't the Location Manager is because I couldn't have gotten into Canada if I was taking someone else's job. As it was, I ended up functioning as not quite the Production Manager overseeing the Location Manager. It's a funny business.

So anyway, Mrs. Winterbourne, if you've never seen it, stars Ricki Lake as Connie Doyle who finds herself homeless and about to have a baby in NYC. She tries to get on the subway and mistakenly boards a train bound for Boston. There's a big train wreck and in the aftermath, she's mis-identified as Patricia Winterbourne. The real Patricia had been living in Hong Kong since childhood and is taking a trip to the U.S. to meet her husband's wealthy family for the first time, so the Mother-in-Law has no reason to doubt that Connie is really Patricia (the husband was killed in the crash). Hey, it's a little less confusing if you watch it. (Note: I'm not really recommending it, but if it's on TV some afternoon and you have nothing better to do, go ahead and watch it. Besides, some people I like still get residuals from it.)

The movie is scripted as taking place all in NYC and Boston, but this was the heyday of running to Toronto because of the exchange rate. The plan was to shoot most of the movie in Toronto, then move to Boston for 8 days and to NY for two. Early in the movie, you see the train wreck, which sets up the whole movie. This would involve:

-A shot of Connie walking down a NY street as the rain begins (to be shot in NY)
-A confrontation between her (on the street) and the boyfriend who threw her out (he's yelling out of his apartment window)(to be shot in Toronto)
-Connie running down 42nd Street and entering Grand Central Terminal (to be shot in NY)
-Connie gets on the train (to be shot in NY)
-Connie's train ride prior to the crash (Interiors and Exteriors shot in Toronto)
-The train wreck seen only from inside a compartment on the train (Studio work in Toronto).

In that first shot, we're supposed to see the rain begin as she starts down the block and by the time she gets to the end of the block, the rain has built to a monsoon. In every other shot, you're supposed to see torrential rain. We were finishing the movie in NY, so we had scheduled to start the day in the afternoon at Central Park, then move to Grand Central Terminal to shoot the two exterior street scenes. We'd shoot all of the Interior Grand Central scenes the following evening.

A few thing happened that made this plan fall to shit. In the 90's, it was unheard of for the police to shut down a production just because they went longer than the permit said they could. Their supervisors routinely approved overtime, and the cops just stayed till we finished. On this particular day, one of the folks at the top of our food chain managed to piss off the cops enough that they told me we would be held to our permit which said we had to wrap by Midnight. These were cops that I knew very well and had a great working relationship with, but no amount of begging could get them to bend. (This will be important later in the story.)

You'll recall that we needed a generic NY street for the beginning of the scene and 42nd Street for when Connie enters Grand Central. The first street we planned to shoot was 43rd Street, looking away from Grand Central. The Special Effects Coordinator had been hired well in advance and his marching orders (from me), were to make sure he had enough people and equipment to prep both shots simultaneously. I told him that the only thing I wanted to have to move between the two shots would be the water pumping truck. With a schedule as tight as we had, this was not a day to pinch pennies.

So, we all show up on 43rd street which has had the effects people and a rigging crew pre-lighting all day and we're right on schedule. We broke for lunch and were all back and ready to shoot as soon as the sun went down. We decided to test the rain. The pumper truck didn't work. Nada. Effects dude tries to fix it. Nothing.

Remember that thing about not wanting to pinch pennies? I, being the genius I am, had followed my own advice. I'd hired an FDNY snorkel truck to be on set. I figured it might come in handy. So we brought the fire truck around the corner and hooked it up to Effects Dude's equipment and it worked great. Except for one thing. The valve that Effects Dude had created to make the rain start as a light shower and ramp up to a torrent didn't work. Left with two possible volumes of rain, (lots or none), we decided to forego the fancy stuff, so the scene plays more like the sky just opening up.

Now, all of this messing around has put us horribly behind schedule. and we have to be wrapped by Midnight. We move one block to 42nd Street and set up for that shot. We move the fire truck and hook it up to Effects Dude's equipment. We turn on the water.

Let me interrupt for a moment. To get this shot, we've got four huge cranes working; two for rain bars and two for huge lights. There are also rain bars and spinners on stands spread out all over the place. Our equipment is taking up two of 42nd Street's four lanes. This is a big fucking shot with 100 or so extras.

So we turn on the water...and the rain is just...wrong. Effects Dude says the wind is blowing it in the wrong direction. "Has the wind shifted since you started to set up?" "No." Now he wants to start shifting cranes all over the place which will take forever and we're butting up against our Midnight deadline.

I go to talk to the cops again. Just as I approach, they get one of those "Officer needs assistance" calls on the radio and suddenly, all of our cops are running like I had no idea they could run. This bought us an additional hour, during which the following happened:

-I suggested we see what it looks like when they spray water from the snorkel truck.
-We discovered that it didn't look bad at all, we could move it quickly if need be, and lastly, that the rain it created hurt like hell when it came down on you. Tough Shit extras.
-We also didn't get the shot.
-Oh, and I fired the Effects Dude. (Don't bother looking at IMDB for him. He's not listed and I'm not naming names.)

So, now it's 1:00 a.m. on a Friday night/Saturday morning. The cops are absolutely not going to bend...we got an extra hour and we are wrapped. And even if I could get a permit to shoot the exterior again the following evening, it would be too late to get any cops. In the end, we decided to shoot the exterior without a permit. We did have a permit for the interior and for all the truck parking that would go with that. We decided that if we came outside at 11:00 p.m. The cops headed to the precinct to go off shift would want to get home, so they wouldn't bother with us. The cops coming on shift would see a massive set already in full swing. They wouldn't bother us because they'd figure that nobody would have the chutzpah to do anything that big without a permit. Worked like a charm.

I'm realizing that this has turned into a really long story. I'll break off here and continue tomorrow.

P.S. If anybody from the film office is reading this, it was more than 10 years ago. I'm assuming there's some sort of statute of limitations on this kind of thing. Right?


Nathan said...

I've mentioned before how the cops here do not work for the production. One (count 'em, one), paparazzo showed up and was annoying the cast. Said, high-on-the-food-chain guy went to the cops and demanded that they remove him from the set...which was an entirely public street. Add to this the fact that HOTFC guy was a "close talker" who backed one of he cops up against a car and was making his demands from about 6" away.

The cop involved was a guy I'd known for about 9 years when this occurred and it was the first time I ever saw him pissed off about anything.

John the Scientist said...

Ooooh. Not a good idea to try to throw your weight around in a strange city. Was HOTFC guy from LA?

When I was reading, I was kind hoping that the fire truck would have blown rain bars and sprinkler heads all over the landscape due to pressure differentials. I guess your effects dude wasn't that incompetent...

Nathan said...

Yes to the L.A. part...and Effects Dude was incompetent enough!

Scripty said...

Yeah rain's a good one! Thanks!