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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Notes From The Underbelly – Part Two

Continuing our conversation, Jeremiah and I talk about shooting specific scenes in the film, The Face of the Earth. To repeat, this dialogue makes reference to scenes in the film so if you haven'’t seen it you can download it on the sidebar in a large or small Quicktime file format.

Part Two:

Pre-production: What were some of the things you learned at that stage of the game? You had to deal with SAG paperwork, workers comp, insurance. A lot of paper.

Yeah. Lots of paper. I think what I walked away with was the real need to have a great team and that they really want to see it happen. The ones that don't can really throw a wrench in the works.

You also had to deal with very unique personalities. Even in the very early stages, I felt like our characters were coming out. Joe Reider (the production designer) was very passionate and hyper. Dave Castillo (the cinematographer) was incredibly busy with his Canon stuff and sometimes difficult to pin down. Would you have done anything differently during that pre-production time if you had it to do over again?

That's filmmaking and it's part of being a good director. Knowing how to capitalize on those personalities and make them all work for you and the film.

Differently..sure. Any filmmaker that says they wouldn't change something about their film or the process of making it is lying.

How many times did we go out for location scouting?

We probably went out about 4, maybe 5 times.

Do you remember anything in particular from those scouts?

I just remember being frustrated because there were shots I wanted and there wasn't enough light. I would explain to Dave (cinematographer) that I wanted to get a shot of the car coming off this bridge and he would say "Can't do it". There was a lot of that.

Our first day of shooting was in that pay-by-the-hour hotel, right?

Yes. Ohh yeah. That place was a trip. There was another one I really wanted in the Bronx right of the Hutchinson River Parkway but they said no way.

It felt like you had already rehearsed with the actors quite a bit. That was the one part of the evening that seemed to go right. I remember several things about that night. First, I remember we kept jumping back and forth from one side of the room to the other, so Dave and Steve would light an area, then break everything down and light another area, then break everything down and re-light the first area. I finally said we had to shoot out one side of the room entirely, then shoot out the other part of the room, because we were wasting lots of time. I remember you, me and Dave had our first intense pow-wow when we were filming an improvisation scene.

Doing it that way was all wrong. It was poor planning. That was frustrating as hell and really set the tone in my mind.

I still think the improv idea might have worked if we had conceived it differently -- like a two-shot of the guys talking or maybe a hand-held going back and forth. I like those kinds of scenes because they feel fresh and can tap into something emotionally true. But our team wasn't equipped for that kind of spontaneity, and as it was we had a hell of a time covering the script pages without improv.

The first day is tough enough and when you are not communicating with your DP it makes it even tougher. I wanted the whole motel scene to be handheld, that was original conception.

How did your nerves hold up that night? You didn't lose your temper like Dave and I did sometimes but you looked like a slow burn. How far did the project move from your original conception? I don't mean the finished film being different than the script, or the scenes we did not get to shoot. I mean how far did the scenes we shot move from your original idea of how you wanted them?

Not as a whole but elements changed out of necessity. I really wanted certain shots that we just couldn't or didn't get. Not to mention scenes that didn't even get shot.

How long were we in that motel? 18 hours?

18 hours. I felt the tension at the end to. Another thing we didn't get was the scene when Cicci is devastated after he sees his friend dead. I wanted to allow Jack Caruso time to find that moment.

Was that because we were rushed and tired at the end of the night?
Or, I should say, the dawn?


Yeah, I knew everyone was dying. It was about 120 degrees with the lights. I couldn't push more than I did already. I felt like a total failure. I knew everyone was chomping at the bit to get out of there.

One thing we should talk about is the bathroom scene where John decides to shoot himself. I remember Joe splattering blood and fake brains and hair and all sorts of shit all over the wall. Dave had to shoot in there and was getting physically ill. It was like he could barely stand up. If I remember correctly, you asked Joe to make it less bloody in there because it was looking like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and shit.

Looking back it's hilarious but at the time Joe was just a little too into his job. I didn't want it to be graphic but it turned into the end of The Wild Bunch.

What was the second night of shooting? Outside the Irish-American bar?

That was pretty crazy too. Really got the tone of the neighborhood. Babies screaming in the street at 11:00 at night. That was something we just captured in some off moment and when I was editing I found it and dropped it in under the opening tracking shot.

Did we have the cops there helping us on that day? I don't remember if we closed down the street or not. All I remember are the local drunks who wanted to be in the movie. And the crazy alcoholic women hanging off of our Production Assistants and flirting with them.

"We" closed the streets down not the Mayor's Office cops. We couldn't get them that day for some reason and I was paranoid that we were going to get shut down. We got some of the local talent in that opening shot but that was it. Again, if the production could have handled the improve moments it would have worked for us. I think one of the PA's actually took the train up and started drinking with the regulars before we started shooting.

This is like DVD commentary without the DVD.

What about all the hardships you had getting that car? Didn't you get the car from some Trustafarian kid?

That was insane. This guy got in touch with me from craigslist and it sounded cool but it became harder and harder as time went on. I always paid the guy but i think he saw that he had me because we shot all this footage. He had the balls to give me shit because his lighter was missing from this huge, 25 year old boat. He said we broke his seat. There were so many problems with that car to begin with.

I remember we went over schedule that night. Man, that was a tough one.

I think at one point we were looking to grab another day and he wanted $400. I told him to fuck off.

Was it the third day of shooting where we got rained out? We had a torrential storm coming down. That was the day when I thought to myself, "What did Billy do in his past life to deserve this?" It was like your production was the Book of Job!

That was actually going to be the first night. Dave was concerned with the lights and the electricity.

The next night, Dave showed some can-do ingenuity by putting up the tent.

All I have to say is every film from here on out better be a cake walk...

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