New York: Prep
Bryant Park just isn't going to work out for the finale at the outdoor screening, so we scouted Empire State Park in Brooklyn. The location is brilliant as it's right under the Brooklyn Bridge with the New York skyline in the background. But I'm worried how we justify Sidney passing by this location on his way to Manhattan from any of the airports. I suppose it can all be faked. Of greater concern is that we only have one night to shoot a scene that should be scheduled for two, at least. I called Peter Straughan, and suggested that we lose the appearance of Bobbie as scripted, so as to shave time off of our schedule. I told him my idea of Alison being with a guy and another girl. Sidney will be dispirited when he thinks Alison's with the guy, only to find out that she's the third wheel sitting with another couple. . He's fine with it. I'm told we only have 100 extras scheduled for that night. We could easily use 300.
The dance scene for the Circle Club that we never shot at Café de Paris will be shot at the Arena Club on West 41st, which looks nothing like Café de Paris. I'll need to shoot tight, and throw the background into darkness.
Next fear: There's not nearly enough time allotted to shoot all of the Soho House poolside scene. Woolley has suggested moving a chunk of the scene (the Rachel/Maddox/Vincent portion) to the Soho Grand penthouse where we're already shooting the Rachel/Sidney scene. Probably not a bad idea, but could it simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Saturday, August 4th
Dinner tonight with Simon, Maureen, Kirsten, Liat, and Danny at Freemans on Christie Street. Already there: Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer, wondering why ''Hot Rod'' didn't open well. Marley Shelton came to our table to say hello. I felt like I was at the Stork Club. Where was Walter Winchell?
Sunday August 5th
Simon and I went to see Transformers today, and sent Megan texts during the movie. Afterwards, we walked by Forbidden Planet on Broadway. I went in to buy Shaun (of the Dead) action figures, while Simon waited outside. I bought a 12'' Shaun, as well as the Winchester set with Shaun and Ed. The counter guy bragged that Simon was in just yesterday. I asked what he was like, and was told he was really nice. I should have told the guy I heard Pegg was a right wanker.
Monday, August 6th
Oliver called me today, asking why I told Laurie I was cancelling the crane for Tuesday's club shoot, when it was so integral to how we had designed the night's shoot. This was quite a shock, considering I not only agreed to no such thing, but this was the first I even heard about it. Boy, never a dull moment.
Shoot Day 47 – Tuesday August 7th
I got my crane after all, which saved the night. We never could have gotten through these scenes without it. Started on the floor of the Arena club with the walls blacked out. Steadicam shots of Simon dancing with Alexandra, who then spun away and was replaced by Megan. Then I shot a birds-eye-viewfrom the crane. I had Simon and Megan dance counter-clockwise while the surrounding group danced clockwise. We then went outside, where I shot two versions for the ''Failure montage'' of Simon unsuccessfully trying to get past the bouncer. Debated with Simon whether to have him keep the phone to his ear as he walked away – me in favor of, him against. We did it both ways.
We then grabbed the crane shot of Simon, Gillian, and Megan getting out of the car and entering the club. Due to some serious restrictions, it was not the shot I had long imagined. For starters, we couldn't see across the street, because we had snow machines parked there. I wanted to push them further away, but their range of coverage was very limited. I also wanted to avoid seeing scaffolding right next to the club entrance, which had gone up subsequent to our choosing the location.
Our illusion of snowfall was compromised by the fact that it poured rain all night. The fake snow that we placed on the sidewalk was composed primarily of salt, so it kept washing away. It also meant that our extras, waiting in the queue for the club, had to hold umbrellas, which New Yorkers normally wouldn't do in the snow. Other than the weather, the night went relatively well.
There's no stopping the paps in New York. Most of them are willing to get their shots from a respectable distance, but there was one mentally unbalanced guy who insisted on walking right up to where we were working, and getting in the actors' eye line. We finally had a 2nd AD stand in front of him with a large, open umbrella to block his view.
We'll be keeping serious vampire hours in New York. I got to bed this morning at 5:00, oblivious to the fact that a fucking tornado hit Manhattan soon after. Heavy thundershowers from 5:00AM to 8:00AM, flooding streets and subways. A manhole cover even exploded on the same block as my hotel. I slept like a log, right through it.
Shoot Day 48 – Wednesday August 8th
As our Cuba couldn't be flown in from the UK, I had to audition Chihuahuas today to double for the Cuba scenes we're shooting in New York. Unfortunately, none of the dogs looked anything like the British Cuba. I went with the one was that least obviously different, but he wouldn't bark on cue. The owner tried to get him to bark by almost hitting his nose with a sandal. I stopped him immediately, and had to keep myself from doing the same to him. I'll have to shoot this dog mainly from behind, and foley a bark in post.
We started tonight's shoot in the lobby of the Soho Grand Hotel (where I'm staying), then continued on the sidewalk just out front. We had our hired extras on set posing as paps, with real paps snapping away across the street. The mentally deranged pap was there again. When the street wetting truck came by, he almost got hit with a water cannon, which would have been great. Unfortunately, it just missed him.
As our crew lit the street for the Sidney/Alison walk-and-talk down West Broadway, Simon, Kirsten, Liat and I retreated to the Soho Grand penthouse which had been put aside for us. Very luxurious. It took a long time to light the street, and it was difficult to extract ourselves from the comforts of the penthouse once we were called to the set.
We returned to the street at 4:30, which didn't leave much time for this heavy dialogue scene. I could only shoot three masters before we got creamed with the sounds of an awakening city: jack hammers, garbage trucks, sirens. Plus, the sun was coming up.
I insisted we try to get at least one over from Simon to Kirsten, because none of the masters would hold up for the whole scene. Oliver said there wouldn't be time to relight for the over, but I insisted we shoot it anyway. We got halfway through one take (with horrible shadows) and then lost the battle against the sun and the noise. We were dead in the water. It was 5:30.
It was terribly frustrating not to get adequate coverage on this important scene. I also learned that Kirsten's lapel was flipped back on the best of the masters. So depressing. Simon asked me why one of the most important scenes was left last to shoot when there was so little time left. The fact is that if we had tried to shoot it any earlier, there would have been an impossible amount of traffic and street noise. As it is, I imagine we'll have to ADR most of the scene, anyway.
To end the night on a real fun note, we returned to the penthouse to discover it had been robbed. Purses, cash, iPods, phones, anything of value. Simon was especially upset to lose a phone with lots of photos on it. ''Why can't thieves have the decency to leave the memory card?'' he wanted to know. ''I'd have so much more respect for them.'' The police were called, and a report was filled out. When the surveillance video was reviewed, it showed the thieves coming up through the service elevator and entering the room, and it was clear exactly who they were -- contractors hired by the hotel for a plumbing job. Nice.
This Boy Scout kept his valuables locked in his room safe, so at 6:00 in the morning, I retired to my room and settled in for a few hours sleep.
Shoot Day 49 – Thursday August 9th
Tonight went well, even if it felt a bit rushed. We shot the scene where Maddox ignores Rachel in favor of Vincent. Very happy with Diana Kent's performance as Rachel. She brings exactly the right element of pathos to the scene. The views of the Manhattan skyline at night looked so good, I'll bet people ask us where we got our translites – like having natural blue eyes and people assuming they're contacts. I especially loved the scene with Sidney and Rachel. It's the film's first indication that Sidney is anything other than an opportunistic jerk. Both played it pitch perfect. So satisfying for a director to get caught up in a scene as it's playing out. Our big problem was the wind, which was relentless and will likely cause us to ADR large parts of these exterior NY scenes, if not all of them. So frustrating to get perfect, organic performances, only to have to fake the dialogue in post.
We wrapped at 5AM. Woolley got the owner of Lucky Strike to open the bar at 5:30, and everyone went drinking, except me. I went to bed. How do they do it on a school night? Or school morning, I guess.
Shoot Day 50 – Friday August 10th
Successful day. Shot interiors in the lobby of the Sharps office building at 7 World Trade Center. Improvised a gag for Simon with his security pass. Before filming, I went to the 52nd floor, and took photos of Ground Zero. Eerie to be looking at a parcel of vacant property where the world may have changed forever. Afterwards, night filming at 520 W 25th Street to shoot Sidney in his vampire outfit, on his knees in the rain, begging Eleanor for the writing assignment. We rigged the car window with a gag that allowed us to close it on Simon's fingers.
When he screamed, he looked like a dying vampire, caught in the morning light. I got a high, wide shot (a ''High & Weide,'' as they used to say on ''Curb'') to show his isolation after the car pulled away. It should be heartbreaking. Simon, Max, Gillian and I took lots of silly pictures, trying to make it look like Gillian had a giant head. We wrapped at 5am. Well-deserved weekend coming up.
Saturday August 11th
Group dinner tonight with everyone (but Megan, whose boyfriend just arrived) at La Esquiva. I asked Dick Cavett to join us. Danny asked Angelica and his girlfriend, Lyne Renee. Afterwards, retreated to Beatrice for more drinking and dancing. (Yeah, I danced. So what?) Jake Paltrow was in town and joined us. Finally, someone who's more of a wallflower than I am. Everyone pooped out around 2:30am, but I
was up for more. I went with Simon and Mo back to their room at the Bowery. Simon crashed while Maureen and I watched 3 episodes of Seinfeld on DVD. When I left, I jokingly tried to give a good night kiss to Simon, who was completely blotto on the bed, trying to push me away. I was laughing and insisting: ''Come one, just one little one.'' He fought me off, moaning, ''No, it'll be even weirder if I let you.''
Danny invited me to join him, Lyne, and Angelica at a wrap party for Angelica's film ''Choke.'' I had much more to drink than I ever do: 2 martinis, 2 vodka tonics, champagne, and wine. What's becoming of me? I went to bed at 2am, but woke up during the night dehydrated. Guzzled lots of water.
Shoot Day 51 – Monday August 13th
Filmed poolside atop the Soho House tonight. A very tough shoot with mixed results. Although we have two nights for this scene, Gillian needed to be wrapped tonight, which meant shooting out of sequence. We filmed Simon's ''Con Air'' monologue and Gillian's introduction, just up to Megan's walk through the pool. I'm not satisfied I got all the reaction shots I wanted, but, as usual, everything was rushed. We'll get the actual pool walk Tuesday night, but I also have to shoot the Bill Nathanson scene with Jefferson Mays (whom I never auditioned and have yet to meet).
Additionally, I still have to shoot the earlier part of the pool party, with lots of coverage, plus a short non-dialogue scene with Max, posing on his throne. I'm convinced we'll never get it all. I'm also worried about not having enough extras at the outdoor screening scene on Wednesday. I've tried so hard to keep this film from looking shabby, but it's a constant struggle, financially and logistically.
Despite all the pressures, last night took on a real party atmosphere as we all hung out in the ''White Room'' on the 4th floor of Soho House. Everyone's getting sentimental and bringing cameras to set now. We all took lots of silly pictures and signed things for each other. We're definitely in the home stretch, but the pressure is only going to escalate over the next couple of days.
Shoot Day 52 – Tuesday August 14th
Another combination of good news and bad. We started with the ''Bill Nathanson'' scene with actor Jefferson Mays who wound up being perfect for the part. The scene played very funny. We shot in a room of the Soho House with a great view out the window, but after shooting Simon's side, we lost the light and so had to pull down the shades behind Mays and lost the view. What a waste of a great location. There were also very noisy kids in next room and our agreement with the hotel said we couldn't disturb the other guests – they could only disturb us.
We set up the photo shoot with Max in his royal garb, but both cameras were operating all night, and we didn't have a third to shoot the scene. What a drag. Unlikely we'll ever grab that in a pick-up.
We shot the first part of the pool party (Scene 46) with Simon, Kirsten, and Danny. It was very difficult getting the extras to pull off the cell phone gag, and Matthew was having trouble instructing them properly. I had to turn into a drill sergeant to get the extras to do what I wanted. I got one take that may be okay, but then had to move on. It was already 2:30, and we were supposed to move on to Megan's pool walk by 2:00AM.
Scene 46 was Danny's last. He was about as professional and good-natured a person (let alone actor) as one could hope to meet. Never a complaint. Once the decision was made to scrap the photo shoot scene, Max was wrapped. Another good, sweet guy. I'm sorry he was underused in this film, as I know what he's capable of. Simon was finally sent home, feeling sick.
At 2:30, I moved on to complete the pool scene. It was challenging to get the timing of the crane push on Megan exactly right, as I wanted it timed to her turning around. I was determined that our first image of her would be looking over her shoulder at camera. Maybe I was thinking of that famous Betty Grable pin-up – I don't know. Once again, I got only one take that seemed acceptable when I had to move on to her slo-mo walk across the pool. I won't know until I see dailies whether we really nailed it. After a few takes, Megan was wrapped.
Tonight (Wednesday) we shoot the finale with Kirsten and Simon – another impossibly scheduled night. I don't have a good feeling about this.
Shoot Day 53 – Wednesday, August 15th
Shot the big finale under the Brooklyn Bridge tonight. Things could have gone better, could have gone worse. We definitely could have used more extras. We had a hired base of about 100 and picked up maybe another 75 from ads and internet postings, so the crowd was pretty thin for the space we had to fill. Also, since the shots took a while to set up, the unpaid extras got impatient and started to bail, making it more difficult to spread them around. I got up at one point and vamped on the mic and did a Q&A to keep them entertained. Also Kirsten and Simon and I gave away some DVD's in a raffle (copies of Shaun, Spidey and Curb). Very little dialogue tonight, but complicated setups. Oliver did a great job lighting the Brooklyn Bridge. I have to hope New Yorkers will buy the geography of the taxi driving by Empire State Park. The performances from Kirsten and Simon were very touching. I'm glad we nixed Bobbie from this scene, as we went down to the wire, as-is, and that would have easily added another hour-plus. I think the shot of Kirsten looking like she was with the other guy should adequately provide the mislead needed at that moment. Liat played the other girl.
On the downside, again we crammed a two-day shoot into one night, and I think we got screwed on the final moment of Simon diving for the book. Oliver again made it clear that to do a proper freeze frame, he would need some special equipment (and time) to pull it off, and again it didn't materialize. So we did the best we could. We got Simon's jump framed nicely in one take, but Kirsten didn't realize she was in frame and dropped out of character too soon. In another take, Kirsten reacted appropriately, but Simon wasn't framed properly for his jump. Then, of course, I was told to move on. So we may not have a good version of the final moment of the film, which will match the substandard moment we have for Simon's opening jump. So irritating.
On dinner break in Kirsten's trailer, I had Simon take a picture of her and me recreating our cigarette photo from ''Mother Night,'' twelve years ago. Pretty good match. Kirsten wrapped earlier than Simon as he still had some solo shots walking through the crowd. Emotionally, tonight felt like the final night. There's still one more, but a very long one.
Shoot Day 54 – Thursday, August 16th
As they say in Big Time Showbiz: That's a wrap!
Got some sleep in the afternoon prior to an 8PM call time. We started with Sidney's arrival in NY, outside the cab, which we filmed on Ludlow St in the Orchard district. (My first impression when we scouted this neighbourhood was that the buildings were ugly because
they were so rundown and ill maintained. I realize now that these old buildings are actually quite beautiful and give you a sense of 19th century New York. Apparently there's a lot of refurbishing going on in this neighborhood. If so, it will be a gem.) I had the taxi driver yell ''Thanks, asshole'' to Simon which should pay off the gag of having only sterling in his wallet. To economize the coverage, I decided not to get the reverse of Simon walking up to the building. He'll just walk towards camera and we'll cut inside.
We then went around the corner to get the exterior shot of Simon following the girl (Nathalie) into the bar. A number of lookie-loos were watching. I wanted to get the timing of Simon re-entering frame exactly right. I needed him to pause for a beat at the door, so he did a perfect Chaplin shrug before entering the building, allowing us one perfect take. We then moved on to Kirsten's final shot, snoring in the car (at the corner of Ludlow and Rivington). Lots of lookie-loos now, and an enthusiastic street cop who started roughing up the rowdies. There was one drunk, crazy guy whom the cop had to reprimand a couple of times, eventually dragging him off, threatening to take him to jail. Again, I needed a specific timing between the camera move and the car pulling up. We finally got one take where everything worked. Kirsten (understandably) didn't want a big announcement for her wrap, so there were low-key but emotional hugs and kisses goodbye. And the girl who taught me the ''Spirit'' cheer 12 years earlier was off.
The crew rigged the cab for Simon's two taxi shots. The camera stayed in the car with Simon. Oliver and I were in a car driving parallel, pissing off the traffic behind, while Oliver held up a light to illuminate the interior of the hero car. We got the wallet shot, before Simon quickly dressed in his tuxedo shirt for his ''Stop the car'' moment. Thus ended our night shooting.
When the sun came up (now Friday morning) we moved into Times Square, starting with Sidney getting the Sharps issue from the magazine stand. The whole crew was chugging plenty of Starbucks for the caffeine fix, and during setups, we took lots of photos to mark our final moments of principal. I really wanted to get my unscripted shot of the homeless guy wearing the red T-shirt, but it would have meant another wardrobe change for Simon, and a new set up with at least two new shots. We still had to get our money shot from atop the building, so the homeless guy bonus gag was sadly abandoned. Simon got into his red T-shirt and we got a handheld of him walking down Broadway
at 48th. The last remaining scheduled shot was the long lens shot from high above. The camera crew and I went to the rooftop of the Novotel at 52nd and Broadway. We set up two cameras with the idea that one could start very close and pull back to medium distance, and the second lens would pick up from the medium distance and pull out to an extreme long shot. Oliver contends that the two shots can be blended seamlessly in post.We got several takes of Simon walking down Broadway and crossing at 48th .
To the naked eye, Simon was a little red dot several blocks away. Finally, I called a wrap on principal. Handshakes and hugs on top of the Novotel, and the same among the crew down below. For this very sentimental moment, Simon and I were separated by four blocks and probably 300 vertical feet. I waved both arms, finally catching his attention, and he waved back.
Back to Soho. Stephen got the Lucky Strike to open again at 10AM for the remaining skeletal crew who hadn't gone off to bed. Determined not to miss out this time, I joined the gang.
Most of the assembled were content with beer. I ordered a celebratory martini. Everyone was snapping photos. Stephen gave me some Romeo y Julieta Prominentes, so after Simon and I exited the bar, we lit up, and strolled around Soho with our stogies, talking about what a great experience this all was, how lucky we were to be among a select few who got to do what we loved for a living, and how we'd have to do it again. Simon put out his cigar, and dropped it in a bin. As we walked away, he started to wonder if it was fully extinguished. We thought how funny it would be if we heard sirens and saw fire trucks racing towards the bin. I walked with him to the Bowery Hotel, where we hugged it out and said our good-byes. I then continued down Bowery, before making a right onto Prince St. for the final leg back to the Soho Grand. As my cigar tip glowed, I found myself reflecting on the past year. Filmmaking is one of those experiences which, no matter how painful it is in the moment, the minute it's behind you, you reminisce about it through a rose-tinged haze. I suppose it's like childbirth that way. In fact, the last 24 hours brought to mind a kind of birth and death. I started the day alone, then found myself surrounded by a full crew, which whittled down to a small crew, then an even smaller group after wrap, then it was just Simon and me, and now I'm on my own again. What do they say? You come into this world alone, and you go out alone? True. And somewhere in the middle, I directed my first feature. Now a few months of editing, and it will belong to the world.
DIARY - CHAPTER 8