Saturday, June 15, 2013

Floating: A Swim in the Woods - A Preview

"A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is the Earth's Eye, looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."
-Henry David Thoreau

With the following series on the film Floating, on which I was the First Assistant Director, I am breaking with one of the tenets of this site; namely, not using real names (no pun intended).

A large part of what made the experience of making this film memorable for me was working with two, then, young actors: Chad Lowe and Norman Reedus (much more on both to follow). A few other actors from the film also went on to notable careers.

It would have been awkward and inconceivable to transmit the experience of working on this film by creating pseudonyms for the two leads, and referring to them as "Actor A famous for (x)" and "Actor B famous for (y)." While I allow my posts to digress at times, cumbersome references are to be avoided.

Norman and Chad were great, and both endured a lot working on a physically demanding film. As the AD, if anything, disagreements with either had to do with them wanting to do too much (again, more later).

The relationship between a 1st AD and a director is always a tricky one, and, on this production, it was not best fit in the world. For various reasons, Bill, the director, and I got off on the wrong foot and the relationship just got worse, being saved in the end by a line producer who came aboard that I had worked with in the past and who I really respected. Having named the film, it's pointless to try and keep the director anonymous. Understand that in keeping with the tone of this blog, any negative comments regarding that relationship are offered with no malice toward Bill. I wish him nothing but the best, and, I'm sure he would agree, there isn't a chance in Hell we would ever work together again.

A little background.

The film took place in Concord, Massachusetts, on a small pond not very far from idyllic Walden Pond made famous by Henry David Thoreau. We filmed in the early Fall of 1996. Those who have followed this blog know that I have worked on a few films that shot in the Fall in idyllic settings, and the results were not always the best.

Floating is an emotionally brutal coming-of-age film on many levels, and features Van (Reedus) as a teen dealing with difficult circumstances. His alcoholic father is responsible for a car crash that killed his mother and left his father an amputee, dependent on Van for everything. Van, an accomplished swimmer, finds true friendship and someone he can relate to in Doug (Lowe), but even that friendship produces problems, as Van, Doug, and Van's friends try to find a "perfect life" in a place where everything seems perfect, but is far from it.

The idea of doing a film with actors in their late teens and early twenties in remote woods in the Fall left me with images of hormones gone amok, a woodsy version of Spring Break. That turned out not to be the case, though the surroundings had other challenges.

At 39 years old at the time, a number of features under my belt,  Floating was a film that had a lot of lessons in store for me. One of them was that while you bring all the tools in your bag, you have to learn which ones to use when, and just going to the same ones isn't always the answer. At that point, I was doing more UPM and line producer work than AD work, and putting on the AD hat, and being quite a bit older than most of the cast, a lot of the crew and the director, I sometimes fell into the role of "Dad," which was not always the best role as AD.

It was probably the first production where age really hit me. The terrain was uneven and difficult, which was a challenge, being a bi-lateral amputee below-knee. Flex feet work best by doing what a real foot does, transferring energy from the heel to the toe as you walk. That works best on flat, solid ground. On Floating, I was dealing with hills or walking on sand, neither of which are strong points for flex feet.

Add to that being older than most of the rest, and that first time you feel the aches of age (any of you who are approaching, or have reached, "middle age" know what I mean). It was my first sense of mortality since my operation.  Up to that point, I had been able to meet every physical challenge and feel great, and while I did on Floating as well, it was now not without drained energy and those few aches.

This is a moment we all hit, a place we meet differently. Like an athlete who has physically lost a step, you start to put your experience to use, getting a good jump in the right direction to make up for that lost step. You start to rely more on experience than dealing with things by the seat of your pants, although there is always plenty of the latter on a film set.  For better or worse, you start to anticipate.

A little of the "depth of (your) own nature" Thoreau noted.

In the next post, an introduction to the cast and crew, as well as prep on Floating.

N.B. - You may have noticed that my posts on Floating are not quite in sequence with other films: Man of the Century and 1999 happened later. Frankly, the issue of how to tell this story took me some time, so I put it off until now. I hope you will find it worth the wait.

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