Leftovers: Day of the Martini Shot — High Horseplay

Today marked the final production day for Leftovers. I looked back at my blog. Feb. 10th marked the first day of shooting. And with maybe three exceptions, my weekends of February, March, and April were taken up by the shooting. Now I've made no pretense to be a fan of the sort of family melodrama of the story-line — with very few exceptions, I don't find myself in movie theaters watching films such as Leftovers. Having said that, I want to commend Robin for an excellent job coaxing out performances from over a dozen actors to bring the words and scenarios of her script into a large, sustained narrative in line with her vision. You did an excellent job, Robin. You remained upbeat and in good spirits even when those occasional unexpected nuisances popped up. And you hardly ever allowed your frustration to become apparent. We stayed pretty much on schedule and I never saw an actor cringe because of something unprofessional or half-assed. And I know I had a blast every day of shooting.

And for the whole masthead of producers: Robin Nations, Kevin Nations, Russ Ansley, and Sherri Small Truitt — you guys pulled it off with class and panache. All the locations, cast, crew, props, wardrobe, and the miscellany one encounters in any situation of event planning and production coordinating — all this ran together smoother than one would expect, with all the variables taken into consideration.

Today Russ asked what I would do now that I had my weekends back. I shrugged. I never do much with my weekends. I try to keep weekdays open. Weekday slack-time is so much more fun. I guess I'll eventually find myself doing much the same. Production work. And again, which will most likely be unpaid. But I will miss all the great people. Many of them I encountered often in other related projects. But it will be sad not to see some of the folks from out of town, like Erin, Ezme, and Mark. I can only hope our paths will cross again. Soon and often.

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Like many of the older high-school students across this town, I had something akin to their Senioritis. The last day of shooting. Call time 7am. Ah, yeah … right. I don't think I made it to set until 7:20. My shame might have been greater were I being paid. Just sayin' ….

Okay. There was shame. Even Kevin, with his bruised kidney, was there on time. Of course, he was hopped up on painkillers (which, I should point out, he selfishly kept to himself).

We only had three scenes. Call it five, if you want to get technical. But three or five, we needed to be out of the location by two. So, we had to move fast.

The first scene had Cameron and Atticus in high horseplay mode as Sherri comes into the kitchen to get her morning coffee. I lumbered up on to the counter to clamp a Lowell Pro to the upper cabinets. It pointed down on the coffee pot, with a warmly glowing light filtered through an amber gel. I put two Lowell Omni's (gelled blue, color-balanced for sunlight (since we had ambient light coming in through quite a few windows)). Russ set up for a low master-shot. The boys were on both sides of Sherri, Cameron on the kitchen island, Atticus on the side counter. It was a strong composition. Cameron was shirtless, and Robin had him lounging on the island counter flat on his belly. He wore pajama trousers. Russ suggested he kick his legs up.

“Wow,” Cameron said, getting of glance of what the camera saw through the monitor. “This looks awful. I've got two legs growing out of my head.” He moved his legs around, fascinated. I admit I was laughing. The kid cracks me up. “How about just one leg,” he suggested. And so it was.

Sherri asked what we should put in the coffee pot so she could actually pour something out for herself. Russ leaped in and began making a pot of coffee. He's a coffee maniac. And besides, the house belongs to friends of his — he often housesits and looks after their little dogs. So with nary a fumble, Russ poured some coffee beans into a grinder, ran it rough and loud, loaded up the top of the electric coffee pot, fed in some water, and he set the thing in motion.

As we waited, Cameron cracked wise about Nikki Young involving a sound effect she provided earlier on in the shooting. Sherri had not been there for the shooting that day, so we all jumped in and gave our impressions of Nikki.

Suddenly Cameron swiveled around, his eyes huge. A mixture of coyness and embarrassment flashed across his face. “Oh, my. It's Miss Nikki.”

Cameron was looking at the doorway behind me. Yeah right, I though. The most classic example of the boy who cries wolf would be the hammy kid actor. But that weren't just ham on rye — that was Cameron doing his best to save face, because at the moment Nikki did indeed walk on set.

We all laughed. Nikki, I suspect, most of all. She knows we all love her.

Once the coffee pot was full, we fell to work. Cameron's ham fell away and he was in character. The boy is an extraordinary actor. Like so many impressive child actors, it only helps that Cameron is a very intelligent kid.

We moved through a few set-ups. One was an idea I mentioned to Russ (though it was pretty obvious and he might well have done it without my suggestion). Cameron's character was up on the kitchen island because he was pretending that the floor was covered in hot lava (a game I too played as a kid). So, of course, he takes off his shirt to toss it on the floor to see if it will burst into flame. Russ set up the camera on the floor looking up at Cameron as the boy peered speculatively down at the floor before dropping his shirt down so it fell right by the lens.

I was just watching a bit of this because I was setting up lighting for the next scene at the dinning table in the next room. I hung a white plastic table cloth on two C-stands as a diffuser. I blasted three Omnis with blue gels through the table cloth. But when the actors finally arrived, Robin positioned them in a configuration I wasn't expecting. Time was crunching down on us. I woke up our sound department.

We needed able hands to clear out every piece of equipment so we could shoot wide. I place two Omnis on extended arms of C-stands, and ran them up high, pointing down. Russ suggested a Pro light bounced off a white board for fill.

And we started shooting the scene.

Andrea was the sole adult at the beginning of the scene. Cameron sat next to her. Across the table from her was Atticus, Dallin, and Ayla. We got the first part of the scene done. And then three new adults entered: Sherri, DB, and Tasha. There's this piece of action where Atticus brings a rag doll to Ayla. A sort of bonding moment between two children not related. I thought the scene would have been better without the doll. Ayla's character just didn't strike me as emotionally insecure enough to need a doll.

The problem with melodrama is that it can't withstand the sarcasm of parody.   After a few takes of Atticus bringing the doll to Ayla, we took a moment to reset the camera.

Cameron decided to amuse us all. He started out slow. He turned to Andrea and looked up at her with moist doeful eyes.

“It's so sad. I, um, I just …. It's really tearing me apart.” There were tears working their way down his face. He threw himself against Andrea's voluptuous body. She smiled indulgently and patted him, half-hearted, on his back.

He kept this up for at least ten minutes as we tried to find a good shot.

“Atticus just wants to give her that … that doll.” Cameron gulped for air. He wiped his face and looked up at Andrea. Her smile hadn't changed. Maybe it was even getting weaker. “It's like my chest is being crushed,” he said in a breathless whisper. “He has this doll … this [gasp] rag doll. Oh, my goodness. And he … he … GIVES to to her! Oh, my, it hurts. It hurts!” Cameron buries his face in Andrea's bosom.

I notice Russ checking his cell phone for the time.

DB, at the end of the table, shakes his head. “Kids, you can stop beating that horse. He is dead. Long dead.”

I yell out for everyone to be quiet. And I do it again.

Cameron shrugs. He was just trying to keep us entertained. He makes one solid pass across his tearful face with a tissue, and fall into character.

Sometime around 1:45 we end our final shot. The martini shot. No celebration. Just “cut” from Robin, and, “Let's get the hell out of here,” from Russ.

And it was over. Lots of hugs and talk of a wrap party.

Me and Russ were the last people out. He needed to make sure the location was secure, and I needed his truck to take my equipment to my truck, parked outside the gate.

Russ offered to buy me lunch. I followed him to his stomping grounds. New Braunfels. He continued through to Gruene, Texas, a charming historical town with way too many tourists. I think the last time I was in Gruene was with Jean, and that was probably more than ten years ago.

We ate at the Grist Mill (which isn't a very appetizing name).

And I knew I would be remise if I left town without taking a snapshot of the facade of Gruene Hall (one of Texas' greatest honky-tonk dance-halls — the best of traditional roots country folks play Gruen Hall, such as Dale Watson, Alvin Crow, the Derailers, James Hand, et al).

(Keeping in the parenthetical, I should point out that I've currently posted to my MySpace site, as music, “Raspberry Beret,” as performed by the Derailers. This is indeed the Prince song. And for those who doubt that Prince is a universal singer/songwriter, give this a listen. The first time I saw the Derailers live was in Alpine, Texas. Me and my sister were visited friends down in the Big Bend. And Paula (that's my sister) read in one of the local papers that the Derailers were playing in Alpine. We were in Redford. Keep in mind that distances are relative in far west Texas. We drove a hundred and thirty miles — just down the road in the Big Bend. And when the guys did their Prince cover Paula dug her elbow into my ribs. It took me until deep into the song for me to understand that poke. These guys are great. If Ernest Tubb and Lefty Frizzell were still taking breath, they'd be dipping their heads to the Derailers.)

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