Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love) - Part 4 - Love (or Something Like It)

In the first part of the tale of  The Bet,  I spoke of the almost idyllic surroundings of our location, a large estate on the outskirts of New Paltz in Upstate New York.  

The shooting days were relatively easy by independent film terms, with the days normally running ten hours, sometimes less if Adam, the director, was happy, and no more than twelve.  The script had no night exteriors to speak of, and a lot of day exteriors, which meant we started early, but not brutally so, usually around 7AM, and were wrapped by 6PM or 7PM.  The First Triumvirate had everything under control, equipment was stored on site and didn't need to go anywhere at the end of the day, so by the time we were picture wrapped, the crew was close to being wrapped as well.

By indie standards, this was like half days, so the crew would end the day with a good deal more energy than would normally be the case after a brutal shooting day.

Take a bunch of city kids, bring them to the country, give them easy days and long nights off, lodging at a motel  just outside of a college town in a pleasant Fall season away from their own environs, and the results are  predictable. 

Part of the equation was drinking. * I was mid-thirties by this time, and drinking was no longer a contact sport or an endurance test, but this wasn't true for a good deal of the crew, many of whom still had the amazing recovery powers of youth.  For the most part, I enjoyed spending time with Stan and Dianne, who did not drink, and JR and Stacey.  JR's drink of choice was Zinfandel, not the robust reds that have emerged today, but those God-awful (my take) blushes, and I don't think I ever saw him have more than two.  A few Jack Daniels, known as sipping whiskey for a reason, with considerable water back, were more my style at the time.

For the crew, drinking was neither the only contact sport nor endurance test.  Film sets are notorious for lust and romance, the natural outcome of high-strung people spending long hours side-by-side.  The Bet had a particularly intoxicating air to it, not only in terms of drink but crew members not just engaging in casual flings but red-hot romances.  It was an amorous game of musical chairs, a twentieth-century Midsummer Night's Dream, with each of the crew members rushing to pair up before the music stopped.**

Jeff, our gaffer, was the romantic of the bunch.  He didn't just fall in lust, he fell in love, the problem being that his passion burned so brightly that the flames soon died and spread to other dry and fertile ground, so he would fall in love at least once a shoot, if not more.  On this particular shoot, his passion found Sonya, our wardrobe assistant, a "relationship" that lasted midway into another shoot,  before Jeff couldn't help himself but fall in love again,

That break-up, on a subsequent shoot, was one I remember, because I was marginally involved.  Jeff was on a shoot with me that Sonya was not on, and it was a day off, and I get a call from Sonya.  We were all one big family, and used to talk to each other all the time.  Sonya asked me to give Jeff a message, and I said I wouldn't be seeing him, because it was a day off.  The silence on the other end of the phone revealed that this was news to Sonya.  I was Jeff''s excuse on this particular day, but Jeff had forgotten to tell me.  I didn't have to guess where Jeff was, and neither did Sonya.

For the duration of The Bet, however, Jeff and Sonya were the perfect couple.

Vera, our sparkly make-up artist, took to our boom operator, Chris, who, while about ten years her junior, had nothing on Vera in terms of passion.  They eventually moved in together and stayed a couple for at least a year, if not a little longer.

Our two lead art department people were already a couple.

A few other long-term and short term relationships came out of The Bet, including at least one or two swaps right out of Fleetwood Mac territory.  (How is it that Fleetwood Mac got the reputation as the Sodom and Gomorrah of Rock and Roll, while the Mamas and the Papas, who did just as much partner swapping over the years, are remembered as sugary sweet?)  The curious thing about The Bet was that not only did it have it's share of flings, but also flowers and dinners and all the trappings of true romance.

I was married at the time, but about to go through the first of what would be two separations.  The film business is not built for relationships, and I admire those who have successfully had long-term marriages in the business, I really do.***  Anyone who has watched any Lifetime shows know that marriages require communication, and spending long hours apart, and being exhausted when you are together, does not foster communication.  Additionally, the freelance life-style means too little time together when you need it, followed by too much time together when you don't.

Love, or the love of love, was not wasted on the young on The Bet.  On one of the last days before heading off for the shoot, Stan and I were going over schedule and planning.  Suddenly, he looked at his watch.  "Gotta go," he said. When I asked if he wanted to get through a little more prep, his answer was, politely, that the prospect of good sex was on the horizon.  "Priorities," was the last thing he said before leaving.

Stan was, as I have suggested before, old school, which included ways that would seem chauvinistic by today's standards.  This was not to suggest that he ever acted as anything but a gentleman with the younger ladies who worked for us; he was, in fact, quite charming.  I do remember, though, one funny incident on Lucky Stiffs.

Stan was a stickler for budget, as is a line producer's want, so I was surprised when, after filling our quota of production assistants, he told me that we had one more.  As AD, I was hardly going to complain, and understood when I saw our newest addition, a fit and attractive young Asian girl with a big smile.  When I looked at Stan for an explanation, he said "You know.  Someone for the grips to play with."  He meant it mostly in jest, but later told me that male crews worked better with pretty women around, as it made them want to show off and work harder, and generally kept them happier.   I can't say that he was wrong.

Adam, our director, was happily married at age seventy, and he and Isabella were clearly an amorous couple, but he had not lost his eye for the young ladies.  Indeed, while he was pleasant on most days, he was in especially fine spirits on days that Debra, our lead actress who was quite attractive, was working.  Additionally, when he told me that they had a large pool of potential production assistants, he originally failed to mention that so many of them were co-eds from one of the local college.  My crew had no shortage of play companions, as Stan would have suggested, and they were quite the happy lot.

In this atmosphere, I thought I could bring happiness on more than a few fronts.  Natasha, who had acted in my staged reading, was a model who was quite pretty and all legs without the insane heels she wore on even casual occasions. I suggested that if she came to set, there might be the possibility of getting some background work, as we were shooting a party scene that required attractive extras.

Natasha jumped at the opportunity, and told me that she could do me a favor, and drive me up to set. I was happy to hear she had transport, as I never much liked crew rides.  I was even more pleasantly surprised to see her pull up in a late-model sports car that seemed out of her price range on her earnings as a aspiring model, and I was correct.  The car belonged to one of her sugar daddies.

It may have been while we were discussing one of them that she slowed as we approached our exit, and by slowed, I mean took us from warp speed to Mario Andretti on a practice run.  We couldn't have hit the exit at anything under 65 mph, when I heard a siren.  She smiled at me and surmised, correctly, that we should pull over.

New York City police can,on occasion, be forgiving; state troopers, not so much, and so it was that I was worried when the lone male trooper asked for the obligatory license and registration.  Natasha handed him her license, and then suggested I look in the glove compartment for the registration.  A quick search of the glove compartment, passenger sun visor, driver sun visor, and, then, with considerably heightened concern, other areas of the car, failed to produce registration.  When the trooper asked her if it was her car, she explained that it was not, it was her friend's.  The trooper looked at me sternly.  Not this friend, she explained, another friend.

While the trooper was considering exactly how many "friends" Natasha had, he asked us to step out of the car, which is usually not a good thing.  In this case, though, it proved to be to our advantage.  Natasha took off a sweater she had on, and, when she got out of the car, heels, legs, short tight dress and all, the combination had a surprisingly numbing effect on the trooper.  She was talking, but I don't think he actually was comprehending any of the words until she got to "if I can give you my number" (followed by the now irrelevant "I'm sure we can clear this all up").

As Natasha got back in the car, she smiled at me in that knowing way that suggested she had no doubt of the positive outcome, one I am sure she had encountered before.

I wasn't wrong about Adam's reaction.  Natasha not only got background work, but he added lines and a scene for her.  At one point, JR turned to me and said, "Like he wasn't distracted enough.  Did you have to bring her?"

Having Natasha as a companion for a few days also made me a little more popular with the Adam, as well as the crew.

Haight-Ashbury may have been the center of the Summer of Love in 1967, but in 1992, the quiet town of New Paltz became home to the Fall of Love.

* For a very good examination of crew drinking on location, I refer you to Hollywood Juicer blog post, Have Gloves Will Travel - Working on Location
**I have stayed true to my code for this blog of not revealing people's personal lives.  The Bet was twenty years ago, and the flings mentioned are long past.  Discussing them here is like adults at their 20th wedding anniversary talking about someone they dated in high school - irrelevant and ancient history.  Even if someone were to realize it was their spouse mentioned here, and I still use only first names, it hardly speaks to their relationship today.
***For the absolutely best exploration of the toxic mix of relationships and the film industry, again, from the Juicer, Industry Romance

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