After our difficult and volatile day two, we were all happy to return to our home base. After all, nothing majorly went wrong on the first day, right?
Of course, one has to make it to home base first. I arrived on set on time and ready to forget yesterday’s problems and start the new day fresh when I quickly learned of our latest setback: the grip and electric truck broke down on its way to set. On The 101. I heard grumblings about an alternator needing replacement, and a P.A. was on the way to pick up the crew (who were stranded on the highway) and any “essential” equipment that can go from a large truck to the trunk of a car.
What constitutes “essential” when everything gets used on a near daily basis? And how long was this going to set us back?
We didn’t have the luxury of time to figure that out. Even though we were home it was a complicated first scene. We are dealing with four actors, and a group of “sextras.” More on them later. As we learned yesterday, time is too precious for us to wait. We can’t afford to lose a half day. Or an hour. So what do we do?
Improvise. Our art department quickly stepped in, raiding their own supplies and taking down curtains to become an impromptu grip department:
Amazing. It wasn’t perfect, and the color might be off in some of the shots, but we were well on track when the real G&E team showed up on set. Almost back on schedule.
“Get to the sex orgy, Goldberg!” Ah right, of course. In the first two days I dealt with two actors at a time, or in one scene four actors, but the blocking was mostly simple and the two additional guys weren’t doing much talking. Today, for the first time, I’m dealing with a complicated scene (on a small indie film, not as complicated as this). This scene involves four principal actors. And five sextras. Nina leaves her apartment to discover the neighbors Jack and Prudence in a fight. Prudence is leaving Jack, bringing her luggage to the curb. He struggles to find out why, all the while Yasmina provides positive “energy” via chanting and incense for Prudence’s journey. Lots of movement back and forth, different setups, and then at the climax of the scene, a blacked-out van appears to whisk Prudence away. And inside the van, a rolling sex party.
After conceiving (yep, a deliberate word choice) this scene, I knew I would need help. I can manage my principal actors and getting the shots I need. But casting and choreographing a moving tableau in a van, where it looks like people are having sex without looking pornographic (meaning, show the sex without showing man and lady parts) is a challenge. Fortunately, I knew where to turn for help. I’ve known Yehuda Duenyas since college and followed his remarkably varied career, which included being part of a sensational off-Broadway theater company, working at Disney’s Imagineering department, creating award-winning commercials and virtual entertainment experiences, and serving an interesting niche as a sex choreographer on Broadway. Also, he lives just a few miles from me in L.A. Weeks prior to shooting we met for lunch and discussed how to make it happen. We had no line item in our already thin budget to hire him, but I pushed Beau and Steve to find a little bit. They did, and he came on board.
And it saved the day. While I was focusing on most of the scene with our principals, Yehuda guided our extras, made them comfortable, and staged exactly how it would work. And when we were ready for them, they were ready for us. And it was fantastic. One of the first times in the process where we made something look how I envisioned it when I wrote it.
The scene may have taken an entire half day, setting us behind, but it was worth it. We played catch up for the rest of the day, and rushed to an outside location to shoot footage of two characters on a foot bridge, then a car sequence where Nina follows Iskandar, who she thinks will lead her to her sister. A simple shot when you watch it: side view of Nina driving. But practically, another matter. Senda sat in the passenger seat, lugging her camera. In the back seat I was in the middle, wedged between our sound guy (with his pack in the trunk) and Brieana, our first A.C.
Who would have thought my years of improv training would actually pay off in a real world situation? If you can’t adapt quickly, you will quickly fall behind. The shots need to be made, no matter the obstacle. And if it means contorting your body to keep a camera steady, or taking down part of the set to create makeshift grip gear, so be it. That’s the attitude we need to make our days. Let’s hope we can continue like this. But, let’s hope no more vehicles break down.
Coming up next: A big dinner, and a big farewell to one of our principal cast members.