Wednesday, February 1, 2012

(Un)Lucky Stiffs - Part 4 - Greetings From Asbury Park

When I was in high school, the Jersey shore was a trip from the Bronx to Seaside Heights with fake ID and big dreams.

When I got to college and started working at the radio station, the Jersey shore was a trip to Asbury Park and a hope that in some random night at the Stone Pony, Bruce would walk in and jam with the band.  I mean, we heard that it did happen; why couldn't it happen when we were there?

At some point during the filming of Lucky Stiffs, Asbury Park became my Niagara Falls.  In case you're too young to remember:

(Yes, Abbot and Costello did it as well, multiple times.  Old vaudville routines, like 'Who's on First', made the rounds, and even when they came to movies, since audiences could only see movies in theaters - no  DVDs, no Netflix, no cable, no television -  the idea was you could do the same routine with a slight twist and it would be new for audiences.  Television changed all of that)

Our main location was a warehouse in Brooklyn that got multiple uses.  It was the home of our art department, some main sets, and where we would shoot generic material when we didn't have a set (the location problem) or needed a cover set for weather.

We didn't want to burn our cover sets, as even into early October - we weren't going later than that, remember - we could run into bad weather.

The script required us to shoot one day - actually, about six hours - in Asbury Park.  We had to see the boardwalk and some other attractions.  Glenn, our location manager, with the assistance of NJ Film Commission's David Schooner, had gotten all the clearances for us.

Of course, the scene was about a beautiful, sunny, day so we needed the weather to cooperate.  In those days, you couldn't go to (didn't exist) to check out hour-by-hour forecasts.  Film companies would often pay a service to a company that would get their information directly from the National Weather Service, and when correct, they could tell you the forecast within a hour or so in any given area.  Farmers used similar services.  For a city boy like me who never needed such services, this seemed like a marvel of modern science.  (Now, of course, you can do it on your phone in a few clicks and we all take it for granted.)

Moving an entire crew with full equipment one-and-a-half hours for crew, and longer for equipment (commercial vehicles could not take the Garden State Parkway)  to a location requires a good deal of planning, and we had that.  We had checkpoints and maps (no GPS - geez, I sound like Stan now) and written directions and times to check in.  As per usual, some of us would go ahead first, Stacey and myself being among them.

That was the plan.

On the first day we planned to shoot Asbury Park, there was about a 50 percent chance of rain.  As I said earlier, I was leery of burning our cover set, and didn't have a lot of location alternatives that I could easily move .  That also meant the art department would have to stop everything and have our cover set.

I laid out a perfect plan, involving all of the drivers checking in with me at a precise time at the office.  I was there an hour before call time (probably looking at 4AM or so) on the phone with the weather service.  JR, Rody, Matt, and probably Stacey and my 2nd AD, Julie, were there as well.

As decision time got closer, it was still a tough call.  Matt and I talked about how much sunshine he really needed, and could we get by if it was clear part of the time, and maybe we shot in looking away from the water or something for a bit.  It wasn't optimum , but there were slight alternatives.  The guy at the weather service gave me hope.

Matt asked me what I thought.  I said considering everything, I thought we needed to give it a shot.  We were behind on locations, and if we kept pushing Asbury Park back, who knew when the weather would work for us, not to mention at some point we would wind up on nights and turnaround would be a problem.

Calls went out and calls came in.  We were on our way.  This was one of those times when someone had to make a decision, and I even remember saying bravely when some of the others were ready to back out that it was my decision, and I would take the responsibility (look in the dictionary under "hubris").

As we headed south on the Garden State Parkway, all signs were positive.  First, there was a slight mist, but as we got about 20 minutes or so from the exit, the sun came out.

I am reminded of that moment in The Perfect Storm when they are in the eye of the storm, and the sun comes out, and everything seems so beautiful.

Then, the skies opened up.

The rain was so hard that I remember saying that maybe this meant it was one of those downpours that comes and goes.  JR and I start talking about how it might look if it's sunny out and the boardwalk is wet, and he says we can make it work, and, in fact, the reflection off the shiny boardwalk might look nice.

Hey, this might all work out.

A little while later, we are standing around in holding, from our vantage point right by the water, looking out at the power of the sea.

Ok, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it was a downpour.  We called the weather service, and they said maybe it would be down to a drizzle by afternoon.  Thanks.

A note about those weather services we paid.  At one point on another shoot I was doing, we were doing a night exterior shoot out in Long Island.  We call ahead to the service, and they said "no chance of rain."  Great.  We get there, and the winds are swirling.  We set up the light stands, but don't raise the heads, out of safety concerns.  I finally get the guy from the weather service on the line (cell reception was bad in these areas in those days).

"Oh, yeah, there's a lot of wind.  You folks are catching the remnants of a hurricane that swept offshore."

"A hurricane?"

"It's not a hurricane now.  It's been downgraded."

"Why didn't you tell me about this?"

"The rain is all offshore.  You only asked me about rain.  You folks shouldn't get any precip (I'm supposed to feel better because he uses cool terms like 'precip').

I only asked about rain?  I didn't ask about tornadoes, either; it's just the type of thing I assumed you'd mention.  "What about the winds?"

"Should be about 40 to 60 miles an hour."

"I can't put light stands up in the air with wind like that."

"Light stands?   You better secure those things.  That sounds dangerous!"

Really?  Thanks for the advice.  Last time I ever paid for a weather service.

Back in Asbury Park, I take JR aside.  I probably sounded a lot like Uzo from a previous post.  Could we cheat some of the shots where we see the characters and the ocean in the background without us being in the rain?  Where, he asks?  With the wind and the rain, even if we found cover, we would get  pelted, not to mention production sound would be useless.

JR and I were talking privately.  Finally, friend that he was, he put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said,"JB, unless it stops completely, we're screwed."  It's the sort of gallows humor JR and I often shared, but this time, I felt my neck in the noose.  I was the one who said we should come down here, and now we were going to lose a day.

Jeff, our trusted gaffer and meteorologist, looked out at the clouds and said the rain wasn't going anywhere.  I thought that maybe we just didn't have a good enough vantage point.  Without putting on any rain gear, I stormed out of holding, passed Madame Marie's, expecting no good fortune there and headed to the boardwalk.  I perched myself along the boardwalk, looking out at the ocean, getting soaked.  It didn't matter at this point.

Momentarily, I hear footsteps; it was Julie, my loyal 2nd AD.  She was much shorter than me, 5'2" at most, and, at that moment, smarter than me, as she had rain gear.  I shook my head, leaned on the rail, and looked out to the ocean.  She did the same.  Somewhere, someone has a picture of two crazy ADs  looking out at the ocean and getting drenched.

We didn't shoot that day, and as we headed back, there was talk of shooting Asbury Park the next day.  There was still a chance of rain, and I wasn't going to have this happen again.  Rody, of course, was her usual supportive self, reminding me that I had been wrong about today, and that shooting a cover set tomorrow would put stress on her friend's art department.  I didn't care; we were shooting the interior tomorrow.  Trust me on this.

The next day was sunny in New York, and in Asbury Park.

As we struggled with a lack of locations and prepared sets, we headed out to Asbury Park a second time a while later in the schedule.  As we got a little bit outside of the exit, it was a little cloudy.  Please, please, no rain!

No rain.  Fog thick as soup rolled in, fog so thick you couldn't see your hand in front of your face.  Don't ask me about the weather service.


JR and I weren't joking as much this time, but, in an effort to cheer me up, he did mention that we hadn't yet seen locust or raining frogs.

There is little worse than objectively knowing you were making the best decisions possible given the information and circumstances at your disposal, yet doubting yourself because the results were so bad.

We did eventually get Asbury Park shot, and it looked great.  Combined with the location problems and the art department problems, though, we did lose days.  At one point, I had to have us down for a few days to regroup and save money from shooting half-days.  Not good.

We were now going to wrap somewhere into the third week of October, and Halloween was looking scary.

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