Leftovers: Day Seven — Getting Drunk on the Set Dressing

Saturday, another early morning shoot on the set of Robin Nation's feature film, Leftovers. The first location was the offices of the NewTek. We needed a generic area to function as the back room of a grocery store. The character of Anna has just been involved in a feisty altercation with her kids while shopping. The manager has taken them to the back to sort things out. Robin had initially considered utilizing one of the cubicles used for storage purposes.

Robin was talking with our actors over in NewTek's commons area (which, like so many companies run by techie geeks, was awash in an abundance of cool toys and games). The kid actors, their siblings, and even their parents were entertaining themselves. And after Kevin started the coffee and had set out our breakfast choices, he showed me the area where we would be shooting. The huge sprawling interior was illuminated with these free-standing upwardly pointing lights (HMIs?) with buzzing ballasts. I pointed out that Rudolfo (who had yet to arrive) would have issues with the buzz making a muddle of his sophisticated audio equipment. Me and Kevin track down the most expedient way to shut off the lights.

By then, Robin had found an area of the building that would work better. It would give us the company's time-clock as an item in the background. We quickly set up our lights, turned off their lights, and rearranged the area, so that we had dressed the set with a jumble of cleaning supplies, boxes, and employee protection posters on the walls.

Don Frame showed up to play the role of the grocery store manager. Apparently he'd been in The Water's Edge, Robin's previous film. But I don't remember him. However, I did recall him quite well from Kevin William's feature, Sandwich. He had played a bank manager with a fondness for playing his accordion at work. It was an endearing, yet eccentric character. I loved it.

Also, we had another newcomer to the shoot. Patricia McDoulett, AKA, Miss Patty. She's from Oklahoma. Her role is the caseworker from Child Protective Services. Both Don and Patty were wonderful to work with. Absolutely professional and completely engaged by the film and all the rest of the cast and crew.

It was a fairly short and straightforward scene. We took longer than we probably should have. And I'm afraid that the footage will look a bit flat and washed out because we were shooting against industrial white walls. However, the look did fit the script. And, as I said, it's a short scene. So, I'm sure it'll play out just fine. We have lots of set-ups to cut back and forth. And we have eight people in the scene.

After we broke down the equipment, we were all set to move to our second and last location of the day. The house in Seguin.

It was a beautiful day in a beautiful house with windows all around. A perfect view of the Guadalupe river. About half of the windows were open. And it seemed criminal to close them, but we needed to control the sound as best we could. Some people in the surrounding homes were mowing lawns, and a truck would occasionally pass on the nearest road. From our two Lowell light kits, we supplemented the ambient sunlight with three Omnis and one Pro, all gelled blue, to match the daylight.

We still had Miss Patty for another scene. He character pays a house call to Carol, the protagonist. We shot Miss Patty with a stained glass window behind her, so that she was bathed in an angelic glow.

With Sherri, we threw a light over her left shoulder. It added warmth to her hair, and molded some delicate shadows to her face. But the key light coming from behind her was harsh in only one area — that bosomy region. Russ mentioned some scheme to remedy the solution. It involved … oh, I can't recall. At the very least, moving a light.

I grabbed a bounce board, and used it to block the light. It worked a charm. Then, we realized that Mark, who was operating the slate, could use the slate for that other purpose as well. So, for the next few shots, the slate became the infantile entitled “boob board.”

For the final scene of the day, we needed to shoot Sherri, DB, and Ayla in the kitchen. The problem is that the kitchen has four windows, and a glass door. The sunlight streaming in would be gone by the time we finished up the scene. It was over four pages, and involved ten to twelve camera set-ups. I wanted us to shoot a wide establishing shot that showed the windows. We'd know it was daytime. And then, we could make sure every subsequent set-up was lit for daylight (with the motivating direction of our lights coming from where most of the windows were), but we never again placed a window in the shot.

I know that, after the establishing shot, we had pretty lighting for all our camera placements. But I'm curious to know if the initial establishing shot will match. There was so much sunlight coming through the windows in the wide-shot, that, to keep the windows from being blown out (“so it doesn't look like the apocalypse outside,” cautioned Robin), we had to step down the aperture so much that we had to compensate with our light kits. I'm not sure we lit the scene well enough.

As the evening progressed, I noticed that Sherrie and Russ were quite freely sampling the prop wine. From Russ' gargling and lip-smacking, I gathered it was quite a tasty Merlot.

We fell into a groove of allowing Sherrie and DB play this longish emotional scene all the way through with every take and every set-up. This is common when you find yourself working with such solid actors, who know their lines and their parts so well that they can explore nuances of their character's interior selves by tinkering and playing with their deliveries.

Towards the end of the night I was standing next to Ezme, our make-up genius. We were watching the scene unfold. And when Robin said, “cut,” she turned to Russ. “Wow, they did great. How did it look in the monitor?”

Russ removed the half-filled wine glass from Sherrie's hand. He finished it off. “The composition and lighting was impeccable. But what do I know? If you haven't noticed, your DP is drunk.”

I could tell Ezme wasn't listening to Russ and Robin's exchange.

“Get me a tissue, Tito” she said to me in a whisper.

I was impressed that I'd made it into the inner circle with Ezme. It looked like I had a nickname. And it looked like she needed a tissue to do some make-up adjustment on one of our actors. I snagged a box of Kleenex from the desk over by one of the windows. When I offered it to her, she crossed her eyes in confusion. Then she punched me in the arm.

“I didn't mean it like that,” she said with exasperation and a hint of a laugh.

It was a figure of speech, it seemed. Maybe a film or music reference. She meant that Robin's dialogue and our actors' deliveries were hitting her hard.

I returned the tissues to the desk.

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