Friday, February 3, 2012

(Un) Lucky Stiffs - Part 5 - Broadway Bobby,Sarge and Satan's Child

Back on Terra (somewhat) Firma, after surviving our encounter with Asbury Park (Greetings From Asbury Park), we proceeded with the mundane business of getting this puppy in the can.

We filmed a few days in an abandoned prison in New Jersey.  Low budget films are always in search of the elusive abandoned (fill-in-the-blank) location.  It means you will have the location all to yourself, and, if all works out, for a reasonable price.  After all, the place is no longer in use. How cool!

Yeah.  The thing is, if it's no longer in use, it also means a number of other things, like no one has cleaned it in some time, and getting power is something of a challenge, and when you ask someone there if something works, you are just as likely to be met with a shrug as a real answer.

When you take over a location that was most recently inhabited by rodents, there is little good to say for the place.  The prison location near Hoboken, NJ was no exception.

One of the amusing things about filming in the prison for a few days was that it held some insight into the personality of our set.  Anyone who has been on a film set knows that the First AD is front and center; they are the one calling for silence, the instruction to "lock it up" (no one allowed to come into frame),  the call to "settle" (stop walking, hold the work, and making other non-verbal sounds), calling the roll (briefly, roll sound, roll camera,) and the echoing of the director's instruction to "cut".

In our case, we had a rather quiet director in Matt, and somewhere near the end of our third and last day in the prison location, one of our contacts asked how I thought things were going.  I told him we were getting everything we needed, and it looked like we would wrap on time.

"But, are you happy with the footage you are getting?  Is this the way you envisioned it when you started directing this?"

My active set presence contrasted with Matt's quiet lead, and I realized that this guy thought that I was the director.  I explained how things worked, and he asked who the director was.  When I pointed to Matt, he seemed surprised, as a number of people, including JR, seemed more demonstrative.

One of those people was my 2nd 2nd AD, Chris Kelley (CK).  CK, who I had met in my NYU class, was a broad-shouldered Irish-American from Boston with a wicked sense of humor.  I used to pace the set back and forth with my cane, and CK once looked up and said "Prisoner requests permission to wish walkin' boss a happy birthday."  The 'walkin' boss' thing stuck.  (If you don't know the movie reference, look it up !)

If I was the prison walkin'  boss on set, Julie, my 2nd AD, was good cop.  She was cheerful and efficient.  The way I had my team work, she also did most of the paperwork (including generating production reports and call sheets, the latter being standard domain of the 2nd AD) and was my contact with the production office and talking with other departments.  That left CK as my guy on set, doing lock-up and managing the PAs.  CK became, depending on how you looked at it, my bad cop, or, in mob terms, my enforcer, but he was an enforcer with a humorously sarcastic edge.

CK could be heard reprimanding PAs who didn't respond quick enough on walkie with something like "this is yet another opportunity for you to reply, copy" or a telling a PA having some trouble with a lock-up "let's try the type of lock-up this time where you don't let anyone through."  He had a style that kept people on their toes with just the right touch of humor that most people, myself included, loved him.

It was fitting, then, that it was CK who dubbed one of our PAs "Satan's Child."  It was this film school graduate's first feature film, and he had a lot to learn.

Remember earlier I mentioned that Stacey had just that perfect combination of intelligence and enthusiasm?  Satan's Child was one-for-two, with the one being the latter.  He was the type of PA who would rush off on a mission (run) when you had only gotten through half of the description of what you needed, meaning he would get to the van and then have to come back.  He would take every trip off set as if he were an ambulance driver in a Hemingway novel, screeching as he pulled out  of his parking area, very much half-cocked.

It was on his return from one of those runs when he literally ran up to CK at lunch to see if there was anything else he could do for him and almost knocked CK's lunch out of his hands.  CK put his fingers as a cross, as in an exorcism, and shouted "away from me, Satan's Child!" and so the nickname was born.

One of Satan's Child's responsibilities often was transporting my first team actors, as he didn't mind doing repeated runs, enjoyed discussing the movie with them (think the PA in the movie Living in Oblivion on amphetamines) and took the job of getting them where we needed them on time very seriously.

Our actors were Jason and Lane as the younger robbers, and Bobby as Eddie, the older (though not much smarter) robber.  By this time, Stacey's abilities had gotten her promoted to assistant location manager, and, as with all her jobs, she was very good at it.  It also meant that I had other drivers to set.  This was fine with me - as long as I didn't get Satan's Child.

It was on one of these days that I was waiting for my ride, which was a little late.  Nothing bothers me more than late, even though "late" to pick me up was still early for my call time.  As I am pacing my apartment and on the phone with the production office, my doorman buzzes me and tells me there is a detective downstairs looking for me.  What could this be?  I ask him what this is about, but he says the detective can only speak with me.  I grab my set bag and head downstairs.

There, in my lobby, is Broadway Bobby Downs, a big smile on his face.  It's not that I didn't have a sense of humor, but I don't have one when I'm late, and this did not endear me to Bobby.  Even worse, when I get to the van, there is Satan's Child driving.  Save me.

Satan's Child is a young White kid with long hair and a do-rag.  I make the mistake of reminding him we are late, which is greeted with a response of "No fear, JB!" and a screeching turn around my corner, which quickly leads to a screeching halt behind a real police car, who has pulled over another car, presumably for a traffic violation.  Both officers were out of the car, and the way they had pulled up behind the other car, it was impossible for us to get around them.

I rest my forehead in my palm, knowing we are going to be even later.  Satan's Child (lets call him SC, for short, though we didn't sue that) has a metal band screaming on the radio (a rock-and-roll child myself, I prefer something more calming on my way to work) and is talking a mile-a-minute, as is Bobby.

SC looks over at me, and even though he isn't the most perceptive person in the world, he can see I am not happy.  He tries to reassure me that he will make up the time, and I don't look any happier.  Right then and there, he decides its time for action!  He starts honking his horn at the police, and, when they turn around, confused at what idiot is honking at police officers, they see SC behind the wheel of a mini-van  motioning with his hand for them to move and yelling out of the car that he has to get his boss (indicating me) to set.  Bobby, dressed in a pseudo-mob outfit, is urging SC on.

At this point, I'm thinking of how quickly I can get a hold of the production office from the police station where we are most certainly headed, and where do I begin to explain this to the officers.  I have to get the actors to set, but I am more than willing to leave SC in their good care.

To my surprise, the officers start laughing, and one of them pulls the car forward so that we can get by, and laughs as he waves us on.  I guess they figured anyone stupid enough to do something like that had to be legit.

Of course, I should not have been surprised at SC's lack of understanding of how to interact with an emergency vehicle.  One day we are filming on a long, winding country road in New Jersey, where we have permission to hold traffic during takes and rehearsals.  SC is at the furthest point.  Just as I call for us to lock it up, I hear fire engines.  Sure enough, I see fire engines headed in the direction of our shoot. I turn to CK and tell him to clear the road - obviously, you do not ask a fire engine on the way to a fire to wait for you while you do a take.  Well, this was obvious to most of us, but there was Satan's Child, his hands in the halt position, trying to stop the fire engines!

Before I can yell "Get him the hell out of the road!" CK is storming toward him, yelling all the way.  Satan's Child was confused, but the sight of CK rushing toward him screaming gave him a hint that something was wrong - and that we weren't rolling.  He moved aside, and the fire engines roared by, me with my hands in the air motioning "I'm sorry" as they did.

Later in the same day, Bill, our sound recordist, mentioned that he was getting the sound of cow's mooing.  SC actually asks CK if he should try to quiet them.  CK later told me that he was going to tell him to hold their mouths shut, but he was afraid he might really do it.

Cows were not our only animal problem.  During one part of the gang's getaway, they are chased by a  German shepherd, who catches up to one of them (Lane) and bites his arm.  All three of them are wearing Halloween costumes (it was part of their disguise for the robbery - get it!) so it was easy to pad his arm for the dog to grab.

Those who have worked with animals will tell you that in cases like this, you will often use two dogs that look alike, in case one is difficult, tired, etc.  We had a father/son combination. I forget the son's name, but the father was Sarge.  The scene involved the robbers running down the stairs, and then the dog chasing right behind them.  The timing was tricky enough, made even more tricky by the fact that dad and junior had completely different temperaments.  Sarge was like Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens looking to take a quarterbacks head off; junior was like a ballet dancer out for a weekend jog.  With him, the scene would be my guys running down the stairs, followed by a long pause, followed by junior finally loping into frame.

Needless to say, junior spent a lot of time watching dad from the sidelines.

On our final take before lunch, Sarge nailed it.  He wound up on Lane's arm, Matt called cut, and we would all soon be off to lunch.  All, that would be, except Lane, who still had Sarge in his arm, refusing to let go.  Though the padding prevented Sarge from breaking the skin, having an enraged beast clutched to your arm is no fun.  To his credit, Lane was good about it, joking while expecting that Sarge would let go soon.  The trainer repeatedly ordered Sarge to release with "Aus!  Aus!" ( many dogs are trained in German - it had nothing to do with them being German shepherds).

Finally, the dog released.  The trainer tried to convince me of how well-trained Sarge was, releasing on command.  From what I could tell, he only finally let go after a few minutes because his jaws got tired.

Never been a big fan of working with animals.

Things went on this way for a while, with the location and art department issues still looming over our heads.  I was forced to change the schedule so often to keep up that Stacey, now location assistant, once shredded a soda can with her bare hands as I sadly informed her that she had to go back to her location contacts again to change things.  At that moment, although she was too professional to admit it, I'm sure she wished the soda can was my throat.

With all of this, I did want to take an opportunity to show a few pictures of Broadway Bobby Downs. Bobby drove me nuts by staying "in character" as the villainous Eddie Minucci, even when we weren't shooting, but he was one of those actors who lived to do this, even though making a living at it was far from easy for him.  I mentioned that this blog, in part, was to pay tribute to a lot of forgotten soldiers of the low budget wars, and the pictures below will give you an idea of the costumes, and serve as a small tribute to the late Bobby Downs.


Kangas said...

"Never been a big fan of working with animals"--replace 'animals' with 'kids' and we're in the same mindset.

JB Bruno said...

When did I say I was a fan of working with kids? :)

Kangas said...

I'm just saying, I never worked with animals(other than a non-pro dog that actually worked surprisingly well), but I've worked with a kid.

Just the once.