Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Modest Update

We've completed three days of filming on A Modest Suggestion, about one third, maybe less, of the film is in the can.

Our first day, on Sunday, was surely the most difficult so far. We tackled a huge chunk of the text, which, as I have previously mentioned, is full of quick, choppy dialogue, and very little physical action. We spent the long day on the principle set for the movie, a drab boardroom where the four drab executives who propel the film spend most of their time.

We had a good first day, moving quickly through the shots, so I was surprised to hear at the end of the day that we were already behind schedule. Our two big concerns on that day, from the actors' viewpoint, were 1) the words, and 2) the floor. Regarding the words, we four had clearly done a lot of homework in order to get as familiar with the dialogue as possible (on our own time, of course; I've never heard of a director or producer of a film or stage play or ANYTHING, ever offer to pay an actor for the exorbitant amount of time they spend learning their lines. It's just expected that the actor should donate hours and hours of their own time to the project. Can you tell that's a pet peeve of mine? I know, it's a lost cause...)

But the homework paid off, and to help with the task, the four of us corporate types were eager to run lines with each other at every free moment. Michael, Jason, Peter, and I all attended the same callback session during the casting process, and read well together. We have a pretty nice, natural chemistry between the four of us, which is helping a lot during the lengthy, fast-paced give-and-take which is the meat of this script. The four of us care a great deal about being prepared when the camera rolls, so much so, that even during the moments when the camera angles are being reset, and lights are being moved, and there is general chaos surrounding us, the four of us can be found standing in a circle someplace, running the lines. I've never been on a set where that has happened so consistently.

I've also never been on a set with such a well-dressed director. I teased Arnon last week during the rehearsal process, as he always showed up wearing a tie and jacket. Our first day of shooting, he wore a full suit. This is very, very unusual for an artistic type, but he explained that he got in the habit during his teens, when he was directing short films and had to exude an air of authority to actors much older than himself.

I'm afraid Arnon does not quite know what to do with my teasing, so I am going to endeavor to ease up on it (easier said than done, I know). It's a tribute to the congeniality of the company that I have felt free to let my inner wise-ass pop out, but I'm not sure that's a good idea any more. On our first two days, Arnon was posting tweets to show the progress of the filming (and to generate some buzz for the film, even at this early stage). I mouthed off to him about it, as a joke, but the third day, he stopped.

Oh, I mentioned that, in addition to the words, the actors had a second area of concern: the floor. On our first day of shooting, we spent hour after hour standing (the film cannot afford stand-ins), and though the floor is carpeted, there is concrete underneath.

Even the younger ones among us had some barking dogs and bent backs by the time the day ended.

Our second day began on location outside a bagel shop. The day was brilliantly sunny and warm, which was perfect for the camera but difficult for me. I suffer the occasional migraine, and one of my triggers is bright sunlight. Knowing this, I had asked permission to wear my sunglasses during the outside shoot. Permission was granted, though I doubt our director was all that pleased, since the eyes are the foremost reflection of emotion, and I was in essence hiding them. But as it turned out, all four of us wore shades, and we came up with some nice comic bits which incorporated them.

I admit I am not a fan of location shooting, there are so many variables which cannot be controlled, and I am always more comfortable at a home base. But A Modest Suggestion has only two or three scenes which do not take place in an office building, so I'm sure these segments will provide some needed variety to the film. The shoot was pretty painless, truth be told, and we were done in a few hours. We returned to the studio and finished work on the monster scene we had begun the day before, and, apparently, by the time we wrapped on our second day, we were back on schedule.

Our third day, yesterday, was an easier day then the previous two, and we covered only a handful of pages. We were shooting the very beginning and ending of the film, which take place in the hallways and elevators of the office building. I spent a couple of hours walking up and down hallways stuffing my face with doughnuts (who knows what that is going to look like), and then the Fab Four spent the afternoon wrapping up the film with From what I understand, these hallway/elevator scenes were to be shot at another location, but at the last minute, the owners of that location withdrew their permission. Apparently, they did not want to become involved in a film with such a controversial theme.

Genocide doesn't seem all that controversial to me (we're all against it, aren't we?), but our little movie is already generating some strong opinions in the Jewish community in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, where one of our guest stars is well-known. I will be writing more on that topic in the coming weeks I'm sure; as of now, I don't quite understand what the fuss is all about. But the controversy seems to be generated by a group of folks who have strong opinions about a script they have not read, for a movie which is not yet made.

We have at least 6 more full days of shooting, including tomorrow, which will be spent in a limousine going nowhere. Stay tuned.