I'm still trying to find stuff in my apartment. Yesterday we were shooting a scene from my new short film. The front room is still fairly sparse, with much of the furniture, and all the books and bookcases crammed in the bedroom. I wanted a minimal set. In fact, as I came home earlier this evening, while I stood in the porch, I could hear the sound of my key turning in the lock with that distinctive echo known to all realtors: the sound of a door opened into an empty home.
We were a crew of five. Me, Russ, Carlos, Daniel, and Chris. Carlos had Rockie in tow, and she did help out a bit when she wasn't busying herself with her plastic dinosaurs and Barbies (and probably THAT was the movie we should have been shooting — just how did this leggy fashion-slave find herself in the Cretaceous Period, and more importantly, once she evades that ravenous Allosaur, how will she replenish her hair-care products?).
Once Chris, our actor, had arrived (who I'll refer to as Christopher, to avoid confusion), we had to come to terms with the fact that the second actor we needed was not going to make it.
We came up with a scenario that I think will work. Tight shots of a stand-in (Chris). All we need to sell the sequence of shots — or so I hope — will be a reaction shot on my front porch, once we get the actor. I believe it was also Chris who suggested a clever transition shot. It involved Christopher falling past frame onto my hardwood floor. I offered some cushions from my sofa, but Christopher would have none of that. And I recalled that he often did prat-falls and such on stage. This I think is his West Texas heritage. Lacking a good wholesome rodeo, the lad has to make do throwing himself down onto hard surfaces; thus making sure that he'll be stove up like hell by the time he's checked himself into the Old Thespian's Home, that shrubbery-encircled compound just down the road past the rendering plant.
The fourth take was the keeper. Finally! The poor boy had been dropping face-forward like a sack of potatoes for way too long. If he was in pain by the final shout of “CUT” he never let it show. I guess that's why it's called acting. Let them never see your misery … unless they ask for it.
Daniel wanted to know if we could do a shot from my neighbor's balcony across the street. This is the swanky house on the block. The mini mansion from, I'm guessing, the late '20s. Daniel thought it's make a nice establishing shot.
“If you see the owner drive up,” I told him, “give me a shout, and I'll ask.”
As we were setting up the first shot of the day, someone drew my attention to an SUV pulling to the curb across the street. I went over to talk to Hope. When I told her we were making a movie, she laughed. It seems that her husband, Carlos, who has a business in the neighborhood, had spent the best part of the previous day being interviewed by Bob Phillips of Texas Country Reporter fame. (For those unfamiliar with Bob Phillips, he has one of the great jobs. He travels the state, doing human interest stories. He started in Dallas at KDFW, channel 4, and called his show 4 Country Reporter. He changed TV stations. And it was 8 Country Reporter. But, throughout the state, as a syndicated show, it's called Texas Country Reporter. If there's a 90 year old woman who runs the most famous pie shop in Lavaca County, Bob Phillips will be there. If you run a parasailing school in Fort Graham or have unearthed the world's largest trilobite fossil outside of Sanderson, given enough time, you'd be safe to assume that Bob Phillips will be knocking on your door with his small production crew.) I explained to Hope that we'd be in and out of her house faster than Bob Phillips, but she seemed unfazed. “Come on over whenever you're ready.”
Maybe an hour later, we took the camera and tripod up to Hope's balcony. Daniel explained how he saw the camera work. “Sounds good,” I said, 'cause it did. “Do it.” We planned to have Rockie ride her tricycle down the sidewalk, and when she's out of sight, Christopher, lurking in the bushes, breaks into the house with a crowbar (courtesy of my neighbor, Phil). I shouted to Carlos to release Rockie, who was pressing urgently on her pedals, hot to be in a movie (though this is far from her first movie appearance). We did three takes, and had to rush across to my place to do a close-up shot of Christopher staring in the window … before the late afternoon sun dropped a shadow onto that part of my house. And as we were talking to Hope on her front porch, she said how we were welcomed to shoot in her place at any time. Me and Russ exchanged sly smiles, and made some vague comment about how we'd be back … or, yeah, we'd be back. I would love to have full run of that house for a feature. But it's a delicate game, taking advantage of your neighbors. You got to be gentle about it … or things could turn ugly fast. I'm happy to say that Hope is still smiling and nodding when she looks up from her rose bushes.
Neighbors. Such a strange concept. I have never found myself in such a close and warm exchange with my neighbors than I have had here in San Antonio. I know their names. They know mine. They come to my film screenings and they let me shoot my little film projects in and around their homes. I go to their art shows, eat at the local restaurants they run, walk their dogs, appear at the schools where they teach in my capacity as a local filmmaker, and even help the local Boy Scout troop with their Cinematography merit badge. It's a new world, really. Neighbors, that is. They're like friends, but you don't have to like them. Just tolerate them. And, hey, I can tolerate just about anyone.