Day Sixteen: Accidents Happen

It was somebody’s pride and joy. It isn’t ruined, but the owner isn’t going to be happy. See, the production was borrowing an all-original 1950’s Packard limosine. It was fine after driving it through a burning barricade several times last night.

But grabbing some easy pick up shots at the end of the night — the eastern sky was just beginning to pink — an accident happened. I’m not clear on the particulars — I was packing up the truck at the time — but somehow the eyepiece of the Arri IIc that is our tertiary camera shattered the glass partition between the front and back seats.

That’s why you have insurance. And that’s why, at the end of six consecutive 16-18 hour days, you should maybe skip the last pick up shot and let the crew go to bed.

Today is our day off. I have any number of things to do and I woke up at 2pm. We have a few more days left of these brutal night shoots in Nortonville, then the whole production packs up and drives three hours out to Coffeyville. For day exteriors, mostly. Thank Jesus.

Day Fifteen: Order of the Flaming Arrow

“By Cheshu, I think he will blow up all, if there is not better directions.”
–Henry V, III.ii

Ill communication is the bane of a production this size. Case in point, the six hours I spent on a rooftop two nights ago. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in the movie Vertigo, I don’t like heights. But because my firsty, 1st AC Mark Yeazel, demanded it, I clambered up a rickety wooden staircase, then up a ladder, then across a rather unsturdy corrugated tin roof.

Mark had been promised he would get to operate on a key shot. For our second explosion in as many days, the script calls for a character to shoot a stick of dynamite strapped to an arrow into the barricade keeping anyone from entering — or exiting — the town. So naturally, we really did that.

Okay, not exactly. Instead of a stick of dynmite being strapped to the arrow, it was just a sparkling fuse. But we used a real arrow shot by a real archer and the barricade does go boom in the same shot.

The shot turned out amazing, by the way, judging by the video assist playback. So keep that happy ending in mind as I relate the rest. When I first got up on the roof, I helped Mark move the camera a little closer to the edge and set up a great angle with the archer frame right and the barricade frame left.

The line producer had already discovered a potential problem with the shot. The archery expert who would be doubling for the character Johnny is left-handed. The actor who plays Johnny is right-handed. The director declared that it didn’t matter, get the shot anyway; he’ll re-shoot previous right-handed archery if necessary.

Getting the attention of the director to look at the shot on video assist was difficult because the 2nd AD had confiscated all walkie-talkies as a safety precaution. (A stray radio signal might set off the explosives.) So getting the D.P. and director to look at the shot required a lot of lungpower.

When they did, they asked for a higher angle. We took the camera up. More yelling. Move the camera back three feet. We did. More yelling. Let’s try putting the archer frame right and the barricade frame left. We did. More yelling.

The line producer didn’t like that shot because the archer’s body covered up the flaming fuse. After tiring of trying to yell a long explanation of this over the side, he went down to talk to the powers that be.

He returned with the gaffer, who is a favorite student of the D.P. and an excellent cameraman. He kicked Mark Yeazel off the camera, causing Mark to feel usurped. We moved the camera around some more; each time the camera moved on the roof was perilous, to say the least. There was only a small curb at the edge and there were little rivets holding in the corrugated tin that kept snagging the spreader on the tripod, tipping the camera dangerously. For saftety, each time we got the camera positioned, we put about fifteen sandbags on it. So each time the sandbags had to be taken off and re-applied.

After more yelling, and the gaffer discovering what we all knew, that for a credible light source the key light had to be closer to the edge of the roof than the actor or camera, he descended to explain this to the D.P. in person.

The D.P. then clambers up. Another round of moving; another round of yelling for the director to look at compositions on the video monitor. Finally the camera ends up… right back where it was originally, several hours ago.

It’s a great shot, though.

UPDATE: Footage of the barricade exploding from the ground by Scriptie Robert Hubbard. (Happens at the very end of the shot.)