Movie Shoot – Day 9

We’ve now got a caterer number two, but he is no Mountain Lady. Tony the caterer is a tiny leprechaun-like Italian paisano. He doesn’t so much walk into our motel room with breakfast. He blows in like a ferocious little tornado. I stare at him through blurry sleepy eyes from the bed.

-Um, you think you could wait outside while I get up and put some clothes on?
-Oh you ain’t got nothing I haven’t seen. Don’t worry about me.

He’s bustling about, clearing our motel room counter space and table so he can set up. Lou looks at me apologetically. “He said he couldn’t wait.”

He serves buffet style – trays of scrambled eggs, trays of bacon, hashed browns, toast. Not Mountain Lady quality – more of a disount food 24-hour desert Walmart kind of vibe.

“Hey, you!” he makes a hard whistle like he’s out of West Side Story, then shouts out the door to our neighboring crew members. “Breakfast is served! Come and get it!” They start filing in. I quickly scoot into the bathroom with my clothes.

“Oh no! Wait. HOLD OFF! Not yet!” he screams. “Don’t come in. I forgot the serving spoons.” They dutifully go back outside. He skitters out to his car – a cross between a gnome and a sideways hustling crab, scoots back in with serving spoons.

By then, I’m dressed. I quickly throw the bedspread over the bed in a half assed attempt at propriety. The crew members help themselves and sit on the beds to eat. Wow, a weird breakfast motel party.

The food isn’t bad. Discount store food and all, it’s still yummy and filling. And I am grateful I will not have to food scavenge today.

After Tony and Lou clean up, we head out to our new filming location – a backdrop of broken mountain rock hills overlooking flat hot desert where we will shoot the flashback campground scenes. I am feeling good, powerful, released from catering worries, buoyed by Lou’s help, confident of my crew, ready to tackle today’s shoot. I feel omnipotent really.

Then – BANG!

BANG BANG BANG BANG! A stray bullet hits the road a ways in front of me, sends dirt flying. I screech to a halt. Smoke from the hailstorm of gunfire wafts through the hills, along with the acrid firecracker smell of cordite.


I freeze, omnipotent powers evaporated, not sure if I should duck, run, or turn my car around and zoom out of there on the narrow dirt trail that is now blocked by the car caravan with the cast and crew in them.

“People are shooting! People are shooting!” My crew yells, as their cars’ brakes scream. It’s chaos.

We finally manage to turn our cars around and regroup a ways down the dirt road as the gunfire continues. My crew is scared and incensed.

-No way I’m going up there!
-No one’s asking you to. I don’t want to go up there either. I don’t want anyone killed.
-Who are these shooting yahoos? They look like gang members (we can’t actually see them).
-Well then, we really better not go up there.
-It should be illegal.
-We’re in the Wild Wild West. It’s what they do around here.
-What are we going to do? We’re not going up there.
-I have a permit from the agency that operates this land. They didn’t tell me about any shooters.
-Well obviously, they don’t feel like they need any stinkin’ permits, and if you bring it up, they’ll probably shoot you.

The cast and crew all stare at me. I’m in shock. My entire filming day is in danger. I am a deer caught in the headlights.

“Well, uh-“ There is no Plan B. “We’ll go find someplace else.”

One crew member says, “I know a place that might work.”

We spend the whole morning looking at his “place” and other possible places. But we are not in the sticks anymore. There’s tourists and day travellers and noise. No place good enough for filming. And I don’t have a permit for them. And there’s cops and rangers around.

We head back to our first location, hoping the local yahoos have stopped their target practice. Nope. The barrage of gunfire has intensified. We go back down the hill to a safe place. I feel an “I’M LOSING MY LIGHT!” moment coming on. A terrible terrible moment. It’s coming…it’s coming.

Instead I take a deep breath.

I eye the desert around us. It’s not as deep in the hills as I had wanted or as spectacular, but the area isn’t bad. It has a mountain backdrop. Though it is a little close to a sub division of homes. Far enough to avoid most sounds – unless a dog barks. That stuff carries long distances in the desert. Along with gun shot sounds. I don’t even know if this is part of the agency’s permit area. Who will know? I make the executive decision to pretend it is.

Firm and strong now. Steady. With all the commanding certainty I can muster, I say, “We will film here. This is part of the permit area.”

People stare silently for a moment. One crew member pipes up.
-It’s too close to the cowboys and their guns. I don’t feel safe.
-Oh come on, we have rock hills, desert fields, and a subdivision between us. We can’t hardly even hear them from here. They’d have to shoot the residents first.

It’s a make or break moment. One more protestor, and they will all protest. Finally someone says “it’ll work.” And with that, everyone nods. I breathe a sigh of relief. The protestor, outnumbered, has no choice but to fall in line.

Disaster averted.

We set up our tent campground set. It’s probably better here anyway. Up there, we would have had to clean up all those spent shell casings, and there were a lot when I went there on a scouting trip. Of course I didn’t know what they were then. I thought they were spent firecrackers.

I need a fire for the campsite. Mr. Alpha Male says no, there’s too much wind. He has pretty much taken over as some kind of executive producer who calls the shots. And yet I let him. Why? Well, maybe the wind advice is a good one. But darn, the campsite is supposed to be engulfed in smoke, as the whole place is supposed to catch fire.

I bring out my bags of dry ice and my smoke grenades. Between the two, it will look like smoke from a fire.

-You can’t use that.
-Why not? It’s not fire.
-As a matter of fact, smoke grenades are indeed incendiary and can catch fire.
-No they’re not. They’re smoke grenades. That’s why people use them. Cause they’re safe. Just harmless smoke.
-They’re incendiary.
-OK, you can’t possibly have anything bad to say about a little harmless dry ice.
-What are you putting in it?
-Just sprite and dry ice. It’s cool. I learned it on Youtube. Lots of smoke but it’s just dry ice. And sprite.
-No, let’s not.
-How is that possibly incendiary?
-I don’t know, but it probably is. Just do the smoke in post.
-Smoke in post looks like fake smoke. It doesn’t even move right.
-I’ve been in the Army. There will be nothing incendiary on my watch. Too much wind.

I successfully fight down another “I’M LOSING MY LIGHT!” tantrum. I put my little incendiary tools away. And sigh loudly.

-OK, we’ll do a tiny campfire, no flames, just some smoke we can easily control.

Well, thanks, Mr. Army Alpha Male.

And so we get a little smoke. I gotta give it to them. A couple of our crew members are really good with fire, really good at starting it and putting it out. Another piece of good news – by the time we are ready to shoot, the gunfire is finally over.

And… we now have an onset photographer. Lou takes spectacular pictures.

Night-time – after a Tony-catered dinner, we set up for the night flashback scenes. The wind has died down. Mr. Army Alpha Male gives his OK for a real campfire. We need wood and brush. The crew sends Lou out to get firewood in the dark.

-It’s dark and lonely out there, she says.
-Yeah, we’re in the desert, they tell her. Take a flashlight.

She takes off. Poor Lou. I mean, there are rattlesnakes and stuff out there. And she’s an onset photographer, not crew. What does she know about rattlesnakes and firewood?

Lou returns with firewood. Not enough, the crew says. They make her go out and get more.

We need a couple of extras for our night scene. I take Lou off firewood duty, enlist her and a crew member to go on camera, bribing them with extra money.  I’m glad they accept. There was no Plan B if they hadn’t.

The scene is fun and light, a party really, totally improv-ed, providing a nice respite from the gun slinging and incendiary problems and near disasters of the day.

Finally, we wrap and start moving equipment to the cars.

Lou and I walk side by side with flashlights.

-You OK, Lou?
-Just keep your flashlight on at all times. Keep it on the ground and watch where you step. There’s… uh… rattlesnakes.