Leftovers: Day Eleven — Glistening and Wriggling

Back to Leftovers.  I had Saturday off.  And I had a leisurely day of video editing, bike riding, and film viewing in the evening at the Blue Star Brewery.

But this morning I was up at 5:30, to give myself time to conjure up a mammoth cup of espresso, shower, load up a few pieces of film equipment, full up at the gas station, and head out on that drive to Seguin.

It was a light day.  I'd checked the script against the daily schedule posted on the Nation's Entertainment Group web-page.  It looked to me like a scant 1 2/8 pages.  I was pretty close.  We also picked up a couple of shots we missed in previous days.

The low page count, I assumed, was because of cast conflicts.

We started out with a tiny scene which serves as a morning establishing shot.  Tasha comes out to pick up the newspaper.  Simple enough, one would think.  But as I'm unloading equipment from various cars, I notice that the big crane on loan from NewTek is being assembled by Kevin and Russ.  We had it set up on a smooth paved driveway.  Russ wanted to pan, rise, and roll.  Well, the crane was indeed mounted on a wheeled tripod.  It seemed theoretically doable.  I was the one pushing the tripod in a slow, gentle arc.  Slow and gentle, I'm not so sure.  I hope it didn't shake the camera too much.  We did about seven takes.  Erin's sister Carly came to help out (she's been on set before, and her willingness to return may well mean that a second member of the Gray family has been pulled into the dark arts of movie making).  Carly took over with the slate.  It seems we've lost Mark — one of our most dependable stalwarts.  He was offered a paying gig, so I can hardly blame him.

The next scene was about a page.  Tasha, DB, and Ayla.  Ayla's fishing a bit away from Tasha and DB who are having an exchange of dialog.  Me and Russ set the crane on a wooden deck out over the river, maybe six feet above the water.  There are two smaller piers down at about water lever on each side of the deck.  Robin wanted Ayla to be fishing on a lower pier, while the adults are up on the deck.  I didn't like the lighting situation.  The pier was in full daylight.  The deck had a nice dappling of shade from a big pecan tree.  The initial plan was to use the crane as a jib, following DB from Ayla (he had just finished helping her stab a worm on her hook) as he then walked up to the deck to talk to Tasha about her trepidation concerning her enrollment in medical school.  But the camera was following DB from full-bore sunlight, to shade.  It wasn't looking good.  I mentioned that if we waited long enough, we'd have shade on the deck and both piers.  But Russ wasn't listening to me.  No one was.  There were these horrendous shouts from next door, as a couple of kids were screaming like they had decided to rub jalapeno juice in one another's eyes.  Russ trotted over to the fence line to appeal to their … well, they're kids — maybe he was just going to threaten them or ask if their parents were around.  I don't know what the parley was all about, but the hysterics pretty much subsided.  While this was going on, I wandered over to the other pier, to see how it might look as a crane placement.  It gave a beautiful view of the sun reflecting off the rippling water and onto the underside of the deck.  I was thinking of having Ayla do her fishing over on this other pier.  I waved Russ over.

He saw something I hadn't.  He say Ayla.  She was sitting over on her pier, waiting on us.  She was wonderfully framed by the deck.  We dragged the crane over to the far pier.  I hooked up my field monitor, and Russ showed me what he was thinking of.  He dropped the crane so that the camera was inches above the water.  And, from that warm, rustic shot of Ayla with her fishing-pole, Russ barked at DB to get onto Ayla's pier.  He did so.

“Let's see this,” Russ said, more to himself than to me.  He was lost in the possibility of the shot.  “DB,” he shouted, “Walk up and around to the deck, and go stand beside Tasha.”  DB got it.  He tousled Ayla's hair, keeping in character, and as he walked off the pier and up the small hill to the deck, Russ simply raised the crane.  The camera passed close to the edge of the deck, and suddenly we were looking at Tasha's feet, and following up her body as DB came into frame, laying his hand on her shoulder.  It was a beautiful, intimate establishing shot.  We did several takes, and then we moved off the crane, for more traditional camera placements to shoot Tasha and DB's conversation.

There was a moment where we were waiting on something.  Makeup?  Equipment to be moved?  Something.  Ayla was poking into the Styrofoam cup of dirt that held our prop worms.  I guess Robin had bought them from some fishing shop.  Ayla had one dangling up close to her face, sizing it up.  She mentioned that she'd acted in the movie How to Eat Fried Worms.  (Clint Howard keeps popping up in this blog, and I can't seen to stop it.)  She mentioned some other kid actor in the film who ate a worm.  I guess it was part of the script, rather than behind-the-scenes high-jinks, but I was only half listening.

“I'll lick this worm for a dollar,” she suddenly said.

That got my attention.  Ayla's, um, I guess about 12?  And like a lot of child actors, she can slip into a comfortable rapport with adults.  Don't get me wrong, she's as professional as they come, but she knew we are waiting on something that kept us from shooting.  Often these sorts of lulls are those wonderful moments on set where an actor shows a talent unknown to the production.  Singing, juggling, what have you.  And Ayla was willing to lick a live worm for a dollar.

Now, for a bit of disclosure.  I know that Ayla's mother subscribes to my blog.    And she's clearly aware of her daughter's quirky sense of humor and her general playfulness.  But I wonder, has Ayla told her folks the story?  I'm thinking yes, in graphic detail.

“A dollar?” Russ mused.  “I know Erik would do it for five dollars, or a plate of cheese enchiladas at Tito's Tacos ….  But one dollar?”  He fished in his pockets.  “I happen to have a one dollar bill.”

Ayla nodded.  The girl is fearless.

Russ started his camera rolling.  Ayla held up the worm for the camera.  It was all glistening and wriggling.  She slowly ran that worm along her tongue with a big defiant smile.  She dropped the worm back into the styrofoam cup of dirt, and, in one smooth motion, she allowed her hand to cross the camera and pull the dollar bill from Russ' hand, displaying it close beside her face.

“It's money in the bank,” she said with a grin.  She gave that dollar a couple of snaps — the sort of behavior of one who is absolutely in control of the situation.

Whatever was holding us up was at the moment being resolved.  Ayla announced that she had no pockets.  Who would be so kind as to hold her winnings?  Robin stepped forward and put the dollar bill in her pocket.

Ayla dropped back into her position on the pier and was back into character before we the rest of us were ready.

The remainder of the scene went great.

At the end of the day, I was packing the light kits.  Robin wandered by, and suddenly I heard her mutter to herself, “Oh, no.”

I looked up.

She slowly pulled a hand from her pocket.  When I saw that dollar bill, I just started laughing.

That poor girl was long gone.

I told Robin she should keep that ill-gained dollar.  Frame it.  When the IRS comes by to scrutinize her book-keeping (god forbid), she can point out that dollar on the wall to the auditor.

“You think you can just waltz in here with your pen-protector and hundred dollar calculator and I'll start to tremble and scribble you out a fucking check?  Look at that dollar bill.  It was my second feature film.  And I got a 12 year-old actress to lick a worm for that dollar.  She did.  Yeah, little Ayla Judson.  That's right, THE Ayla Judson.  And who has that dollar now?  I'll tell you who has that dollar now!  I do!”

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