Movie Shoot – Day 4


The sun is golden on the rocks in early morning. I’ve made my peace with the crew’s need to chat and smoke in the lull after breakfast and the unloading of the gear. So I’ve taken to going off on my own to breathe in the desert air. And just be grateful. Something about the desert cleans me.

“ANNA… WE’RE WAITING!”

“NAH…I’VE BEEN WAITING FOR YOU!” I shout back.

…I’d forgotten. Our first scene of the day still has no location. It was supposed to happen at the top of a tree. We never worked it out. The DP laughed raucously when she first heard that. And she doesn’t laugh raucously. “Uh. No.” It was a hard-up-concrete-wall-with-razor-wire-on-top kind of no. And she hardly ever gives that kind of a no.

“Whyyyyy…?” I cried.

But no it was – and no it still is. So now I must look for a location on the fly that is not a tree. The DP and I look up at the overhang of geometric rocks that’s provided a backdrop for some of the brother scenes. We walk around it. A very large formation.

“How about this?” the DP says. “The brother climbs on top of this rock formation instead of a tree. It’s pretty cool-looking. And the cameras won’t even have to climb on it. There’s a lot of places to shoot from all around. And right here, in the back, it’s easier for you to climb onto it, so it’s not as unrealistic as you climbing up a tree on an impaled leg.”

OK, she makes a lot of sense. Who needs a tree? Why I ever thought I needed a tree, I don’t know. I was going to use a convoluted story by which the brother makes a Tarzan swing. Out of shirts. Which I somehow manage to climb with my impalement injury. Yeah, right, very realistic. Anyway, I look around and there’s not a heck of a lot of climbing trees out here in the desert. Sometimes you need someone else’s opinion. Because sometimes, just sometimes your ideas are just plain silly.

…The scene works out great on the rocks. Without a Tarzan swing made of shirts.

Our second scene is in a mini-cave with a little tunnel, where I crawl through grunting. Yesterday, during one of my-breathing-in-the-desert-moments, I found it. Right in front of me. A little tunnel leading into a cavelike opening, with the added benefit the cave has an open fourth wall, so cameras and crew can shoot from that side with plenty of space.

Me Grunting through the Cave Tunnel

This place never fails. Every time we look around for a new scene setting, it offers one up. A treasure chest of stark beauteous one-of-a-kind scene sets.

I think about what needs to happen in this scene. It was one of the problem areas. The brother’s anger needed some vulnerability in it. This “directing and acting at the same time” thing is still new. So far, I’ve just been rolling with what my fellow actor gives me. Not a whole lot of hard core directing going on. Really, much of my directing was in how I set up and created the scenes and characters, in who I cast, in the explaining to the actors what these characters and their point of view is all about, in how I talked with the DP about how to set up shots (though I am finding we didn’t do that enough). Still, I feel much of the directing is done, right? Now it’s just time to play. Do the Zen thing that a hippie acting teacher once taught me. Be in the present with the person. Breathe in and react to the whorl of energy created between your two selves. Well… so far, it’s worked. Until now. I think I am going to have to direct my brother more in this one.

This scene is a raging fight, but without the vulnerability, it doesn’t meet the emotional arc for the characters. It’s just an angry fight. I try to get Actor-Man to see the scene needs the deep raw hurt and pain the brother feels about what his sister did and didn’t do in his life. He feels vulnerable AND enraged. You have to see the pain and grief, not just the anger and rage. That sounds pretty well explained, I think. But he says, “I have no idea what you want, or what you’re talking about. No idea.” I try again – “he feels heart-felt pain AND rage. Both. Together. At the same time. He loves his sister. It’s not just about the anger.”

The cameras start to roll. “I still have no idea what you want.” He smirks and laughs. “Here goes whatever.”

The testiness between us, which had died down and disappeared, comes back and rears its ugly head. And…yes, well, we really are fighting in this scene. For real. So I guess it works, sort of. The DP says, “You guys are so much at each others’ throats, that it worked.” OK… I still would have wanted more raw vulnerability.

Now we need another setting for the brother-sister makeup scene after the fight. Yeah, that one was also supposed to be up in a tree. I snicker at my own self. I had even wanted to bring a tall ladder into the desert to do it.

I turn my head forty degrees, walk a few hundred yards. There. A fallen, half-burnt Joshua tree curves like a giant tusk off the ground. It even has sitting nooks and crannies. Perfect for making up after a fight – you are sitting together and yet not together in the Joshua tree’s various curves. It all goes off without a hitch, other than Actor-Man getting his coat (which is really my coat) snagged on the log again and again, so we have to do at least seven or eight takes of the shot where he sits down. Come on, we’re losing our light! You never know just how much that means until you are shooting all day outdoors. We do run out of light and have to skimp on any closeups.

A last scene, a sunrise scene in which the brother and I play chess. Only we’re using the sunset to substitute for sunrise. The DP and I have a long discussion. “No one’s going to know if it’s sunset or sunrise. They look the same.” (That’s me).

“No, they don’t look the same,” she says. “One’s pinker with more light spreading in. One’s more orange with the light disappearing out. People who know will know.”

“Who are these people who know and will know? I don’t even know. I wouldn’t know. And I’m right here filming it.”

She looks at me but doesn’t say, “that’s because you’re a lighting dunce and not a DP who shoots a lot of sunsets and sunrises.”

“So what should we do? Camp out here overnight and wait for the sunrise?”

So we do our sunrise scene on the sunset. Sometimes she wins. Sometimes I do.

Another long day over. Still, good stuff. And today, at least, was on schedule. The crew heads back to food and the motel. Not I. Time to drive Actor-Man the hundred miles back to the Greyhound Bus station. He is wrapped for a few days.

I return, more batty, exhausted, and blurry-eyed than my first hundred-mile trip to the Greyhound bus station. Although, no cop stop this time. The DP offers me a covered plate as consolation. “Dinner was so good, I saved it for you.” She proudly uncovers the plate. I find myself staring at a cold, congealed trout, yellowed eyes popping, bulging, accusing. I take one bite…and can’t. I just can’t. The dead bulging eyes keep staring. Not just staring, following me. For all I know, Mountain Lady went out and caught the darn fish herself. Couldn’t she have hacked the head off too? Or the eyes? Just the eyes? Maybe this is some kind of high-end culinary art trick, to leave the fish eyes in so they look like they’re following you, up until the moment you crunch their eyes down your gullet. Do people actually eat those bulging eyes with their toasty crunch on the outside and bulbous squirting liquid gel on the inside? I try to imagine what kind of caveperson would enjoy eating the bulging accusatory eyes. I look over at the DP, deep into the task of watching the footage. Did she eat the trout eyes? I wonder.

I try the potatoes and vegetables, so buttery and perfect. I could eat them all and more. But I can’t take those death-yellowed fish eyes. The terror stricken orbs follow me even when I benignly munch mashed potatoes. I finally push the plate away and cover the thing, unable to eat. I could swear they’re following me under the covered plate. I have missed a heck of a lot of dinners lately.

“There’s blueberry pie,” the DP says. She presents a giant homemade pie, still wrapped, still covered, and – still warm. Mountain Lady must know some magic. Her dishes stay warm longer than is physically or scientifically possible. The DP and I take a couple of good fat chunks of pie, give the rest to the crew. It makes up for everything…

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