Friday, February 1, 2013

Johnny Twennies - Part 4 - The Money Pit

Stairs! Ha! A Staircase! We have stairs.
-Walter (Tom Hanks), The Money Pit (1986)

One of our major locations was the home of Johnny's (the main character) mother, Madame DuFroid, played by award-winning actress Anne Jackson. The character was crafted as one of those older, turn of the 20th Century dowagers. Her house had to look the part, a lot of which could be accomplished with set dressing.

Some of it needed to feel real. Middle-class homes just are not architecturally correct in many cases. It's a low-budget cheat that would have diminished all of our other efforts.

The house we eventually found had all the right elements, including a beautiful skylight by the entrance, a chandelier, and the staircase. seen above.

Like poor Walter from that forgettable Tom Hanks/Shelly Long comedy (is there any other kind of Shelly Long comedy?), we needed to dance on those stairs , literally. There were many cool scenes in the house, but none was more important than the grand ending, which was a party that happened in front of these beautiful stairs in that scene pictured.

The original Money Pit
A little research tells me that the term, the money pit, actually goes back further, to a place named Oak Island, in Nova Scotia. In 1795, there was an excavation of a depression in the ground. Early signs were that maybe there were hidden treasures that lied beneath. From that time right up until the 1960s, various and sundry expeditions tried to unearth this "treasure," amounting only to a lot of money 'sunk' into this excavation (which flooded on numerous occasions) as well as, sadly, many lives lost.

At least, no grips were lost in the making of Man of the Century. That was the good news.

I mentioned in the last post that Adam, our director, was great at prioritizing. He knew what he could lose and what he needed, and he had a clear idea of how the movie would look at the end, as did Gibson. It was essential; we had set the audience up for 90 minutes, creating this world, and anything cheap or cheated would have been destroyed the illusion, and the movie.

In the studio days, this would have been a build. Hell, today, if it were a film with any budget, it would have been a build. Camera and lighting would want to be able to fly away walls, find the perfect spot to set lighting. Art Department would be able to control everything in the frame.

We didn't have that type of budget, but it needed to look as if we did, which meant finding the perfect location. After looking at many homes that didn't look quite right, we saw our dream house.

It had everything we needed. It was almost too good to be true.

Yes, it was too good to be true.

A director, DP, or production designer walks through a house like this and thinks, "how wonderful." A line producer walks through a house like this and imagines how many things we might break or damage and what it will cost us.

Our still photographer, a German-born girl named Birgit (I'd found her when she was tending bar,and no, I wasn't scouting locations or photographers) used to complain that she could never get a picture of me smiling; that no matter when she took a picture on set, I seemed to have my palm to my forehead in full worry mode.

We line producers are not a happy lot.

The home owner had pretty much approached us. We had made it known through the Nassau County Film Commission (one of the best on the planet, BTW) that we wanted such a home, and the owner had contacted us.

As we walked through the home, I knew two things: this was going to be the place, and it wasn't going to be cheap.

Nothing we had seen matched it; I could not even think of trying to convince the producers to go somewhere else. The owner was very much aware of the value of her place. Everywhere there was marble and antiques and newly-finished floors, etc. After a lot of negotiation, we agreed on a figure as a fee that we could live with and that made the owner happy.

Of course, that was not the end of it. As with any location deal, we agreed to restore to exactly the way we found the place, and we would correct any damage.

While we had insurance, insurance has deductibles, and they are usually laid out as "per occurrence." That means that if we break something in the kitchen on Day 1, and something in the living room on Day 3, those are separate occurrences, unless we can somehow connect them. That means we will also have to pay up to the deductible, which was $1000 each time.

The owner insisted on a deposit to cover the deductible, not an unreasonable request. I personally hate deposits. Once someone has money in their hands, it's hard to get them to part with it, even if it isn't technically a payment.

I had a rather large crew, and a really good one. These were not bulls in the proverbial China-shop, and Dusty, my key grip, was especially keen on making sure equipment was handled in a way that no damage was done to the property. One of his more amazing feats was his rigging above and around the skylight by the door entrance, a rig that would have made Leonardo DaVinci proud. It involved bringing in a special crane just to get the scaffolding where we needed it without attaching to walls, ceilings, etc. I kept looking up at this ornate skylight, sure that something would fall through it any minute, but that never happened.

Zeljka, our production designer, and our locations and production team worked extra hard to make sure everything was handled carefully, that floors and walls were properly protected. I could not have asked for a better crew.

Still, we were there for a number of days, and lots of people and lots of big equipment over a number of days, and little nicks are bound to happen.

Every time I entered the house, the owner would point out some "little thing" that had happened. We had lots of pictures, but I still swear that many of those "little things" were not things done by us. Others seemed exaggerated.

I once joked that it would have been cheaper to just blow the house up, and have the insurance rebuilt it, and pay one deductible. Of course, it's not like I would have really done that (even with all my connections from mob movies!), but the thought did cross my mind.

That deposit we gave her?  Ha ha! We never did see that again. Indeed, we even paid a little beyond it, not wanting to get into an extended legal hassle, and wanting to keep good relations in the community. To this day, I swear the owner basically did a new remodeling on our dime, but sometimes that's just the cost of doing business.

The only consolation I have is that the location looks fantastic on film, which, in the end, is what it's all about.

One of the other costs of the location was transporting cast and crew that far outside of the city each day. Gas, tolls, vehicles, time lost; they all added up. It also lead to some unexpected difficulties getting one member of the cast to set, and me getting a phone call (and not a good one) from a screen legend!

No comments: