All that stuff I wrote last week about the highs and lows of the film making process-- well, there's been plenty more lows. On Wednesday, 5 days out from our first day of production, Frank Robert, our newly cast and rehearsed Deputy Tillis called to tell me he has a family emergency and will not be able to be in the film. He feels awful about it and I have no recourse but to let him go. I can't really say that I'm depressed, despondent or dejected because I'm just too weary of pushing this thing along with not much more that willpower and enthusiasm to feel much of anything. I know we'll find someone, but the process will be painful. Luckily, Frank called me 24 hours later with a recommendation. His good friend, Adrian Roberts (no relation) is qualified, experienced and available. I cast him over the phone without hearing him read a single line from the script. We'll meet for the first time at a costume fitting on Sunday.
Friday is my first day of full time movie making. I've been only available nights, weekends and the occasional phone call or fax during my day job with Adult Swim. I can't say that my brain is fully firing on all cylinders from the business and stress of the last two weeks and the cold that makes my nose and eyes run like a faucet. There's a production meeting at 11:00 AM to meet some of the crew and then go to our Atlanta locations. At the meeting is Arma Benoit Stephens, producer; Evan Lieberman, DP; John Swindall; gaffer; and Arma’s husband John Stephens, key grip. We talk schedule, mostly about what scenes Hector, the Latino Mechanic love-interest, can be written out of because our actor has some scheduling conflicts on the days when he's most needed on set. I dive into the final shooting script I rewrote two nights before and try to wrap my brain around that while the camera department talks in a completely foreign language of lighting and dolly and who knows what else. I scribble and work on my script but don't really get anywhere when it's time to head to our first location of the day, the garage. This is the location for our most demanding scene, where the Skunk Ape kidnaps Theodora in the middle of the band's performance. The garage doesn't have some things that we need so we improvise and come up with other solutions. I make John Stephens pick me up and carry me around like the Skunk Ape will carry around Theodora-- newlyweds-over-the-threshold-style. I think it's hilarious, but I'm not sure everyone gets me yet. We all start figuring out how we'll shoot this complicated scene and I go through it thinking out loud as we go. Many decisions are based on the fact that we can't find a special effects make-up artist to do a Skunk Ape face. We'll just shoot the creature over-the-shoulder or back lit. Later that day Arma and I come to the conclusions that all the compromises that we're making based on lack of money and time will only make the film better, more like the films we're trying to emulate.
Next location is a fabric warehouse where we're going to shoot our police station and doctor’s office interiors. The rooms are generic white (good for a Doctor’s exam room), but really small (bad for Police station). Matt, the assistant art director, shows us some of the older offices that are still in use and we hit gold. They're wood paneled with original 1960’s furniture-- perfect. We still don't have a police exterior or a doctor’s office exterior. We decide that we'll do without either of those locations, we'll just shoot ‘em as interiors.
The last location is Lenny’s, which is where we'll shoot the dive bar scene on Day One. It's the first scene where we see the all-girl garage rock band, The Violas, playing the theme song for the movie. Lenny’s is perfect and I run to meet the actresses for band practice and costume fitting.
One idea I wanted to explore was to try to record Claire Bronson’s voice on location to use when we mix the movie. I’d tape an iPod or something to her back and play the Catfight! theme song in earphones. That way she can just sing along with the song, but we'll be able to record clean vocals. We'd get one or two takes, then switch to shooting MOS (no sync sound recording) of the band playing along with the song. Claire hasn't ever sung publicly and this kinda freaked her out. At band practice Friday afternoon, the prospect of doing this was effecting her confidence and I killed the idea. While the Claire, Mary Kraft (bass) and Cynthia Evans (drums) are not quite ready to go out on tour, they'll be much better than any of the lip-syncing professional bands in the ‘60s beach party movies. Wardrobe Stylist Jason Sky come by with dresses and go-go boots and the actresses look amazing. What a great day of film making I've had.
Then, the actor I've cast as Hector calls and lets me know that he has been offered another very well-paying job that he can't turn down. Now, I have less than 48 hours to recast the romantic lead role. There goes the giddy high of indie film making. The calls go out, once again, to Arma, Evan, the cast and Amy Barratt, the casting director looking for a new Hector.
I give myself until 3:00pm Saturday to audition/beg actors and then I'll cast the best I can find. Costumes will have to be refitted, schedules reworked. Jonathan Green, who plays scientist John Patterson in the film, calls with a high recommendation for his friend Travis Young. I call and wake up Travis and he's at my house by 11:00 am to audition. I play Theodora and see if he can seduce me. It works and Travis is our new & improved Hector. I meet with Evan for a few hours to make our shot list for Day One, despite my total lack of energy. It's essentially where I direct the movie: Start with a close-up that dollies out to an establishing 3-shot; close-ups for these characters for these lines; 2 shot for these lines; etc. We are, of course, limited by a strict 5 to 1 shooting ratio, but it's totally invigorating.
Sunday is spent doing more shot lists for Days Two & Three and costume fittings for all the male actors. Luckily, the costumes bought for the old Hector fit the new Hector. Jason couldn't find the right suit for John the scientist. I pull a green thrift store suit of my closet and it fits perfectly. I tell Jonathan that I'll be wearing it to the premiere of the movie, so don't mess it up. Ned Hasting, my friend and work-mate on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, is playing the monster in the film, the Skunk Ape (the Everglades version of Bigfoot). He's is 6 foot 6 and as he puts it, "the largest mammal I know." But he's also an encyclopedia of film and a great resource to have on set.He tries on the $99 gorilla costume, but can't pull it over his gargantuan thighs. In the middle of my living room, I have a pair of scissors pointed directly at his crotch. Less than 24 hours from the fist time I get to yell action and I'm starting to enjoy myself again.