Monday, August 09, 2004
Despair, Continued

The film I'd most like to avoid thinking about is the one that refuses to let me ignore it. We had a rough day on Lee's shoot today; things are either coming to a head or beginning to fall apart. We were shooting at a private house -- it belongs to some acquaintance of Lee's --with the three main actors and the usual small crew. It wasn't a terribly difficult scene, although we were still running a bit behind. The crew was exhausted (we'd been up late shooting the night before), but plugging ahead. We got through the bulk of the shooting, and only had an insert shot and one short scene left to do.

The insert shot, however, was problematic: Scott, the supporting actor, tosses a beer to DeVere. Simple, except in execution; the beer was in bottles, not cans, and throwing bottles on a hard surface is, obviously, a risky thing at best. Lee had attempted to work around it by filming action in which to place a CGI beer bottle (which seems to me a dubious solution at best, but what do I know?), but wanted to try to get a real shot of the bottle being caught at least. What happened is probably pretty predictable. The bottle was thrown, DeVere attempted to catch it, but it slipped from his hand and broke against the lounge chair he was sitting in. He wasn't injured, really; he had a minor cut on his thumb, nothing deep although a bit prone to bleeding. Still, it was arguably a rather stupid and avoidable injury; the fact that Lee had pushed to try it displeased the actors. The significance of this, though, is what it helped set up a few minutes later.

Once we'd finished with the last part of that scene, we removed to the front of the house for the last shot of the day. It was another stunt scene: a shirtless DeVere runs across the yard, is tackled and knocked down by Scott, and Scott and the supporting actress drag him back across the yard by the ankles, face down. Given what had happened with the beer bottle, the actors were in no mood to court injury; neither DeVere, nor Scott especially, were willing to do the tackling, and they weren't keen on the dragging, either. Lee had planned the scene as a single shot, though, not leaving much room for doing anything other than a straight stunt. Scott and DeVere refused; Lee lacked a back-up plan. Scott made some suggestions about alternate ways to shoot it that didn't involve full-contact violence; Lee very grudgingly complied. This in itself had some echoes of a couple of days ago, when we were shooting an actor who really, really couldn't nail his lines. Another crewie made a small suggestion in an attempt to be helpful; Lee clearly resented it. I understood his position at that time, although he took it a bit more personally than was perhaps good for him. In any case, Lee wasn't particularly open to directorial suggestions, even though he accepted them in this instance and acted on them.

What eventually happened was that DeVere did the dragging half of the stunt and got a bit scratched up in the process. Lee made some comments that might have been genuine or might have been deeply sarcastic -- it was difficult to tell what his intent was -- about whether or not DeVere was hurt. DeVere responded with his own bit of sarcasm, the shot was wrapped up, and we crewies started to put away equipment.

While I was taking down the tripod, I heard an ominous sound of smashing metal or glass, turned around to look (afraid the camera had been knocked over), and saw Lee getting in his car and driving off in what can only be described as a huff. Diana and I went to the curb to look for whatever had broken -- the only thing we found was a bit of metal from Lee's cap, alongside the cap itself, which Lee had flung to the ground in a fit of picque -- and stood there staring at each other, half amused and half pissed-off. This temper tantrum didn't play well with anyone; the crew was still sore from the uncalled-for sarcasm of the night before, and the cast was simply fed up. The crew continued to gather up equipment while cursing gently under our breath; the cast just cursed. Lee came dangerously close to losing his entire film in that moment; just about everyone was one wrong word away from walking off the film entirely. The cast went home disgruntled; the crew debated what to do next.

After fifteen minutes or so, Lee returned, just as we were stacking the equipment up for loading. He didn't say anything to us; we didn't say anything to him. We humped the equipment out to his car, packed it in, and left.

I understand that Lee is in an unhappy place right now; directing can be very isolating when things aren't going well, and it's always stressful regardless. Lee, I think, is not a person who does well with either solitude or a lot of stress. And I completely understand how he feels about his film -- he spent years saving up the cash to make his movie, and it's the one thing, it seems, he really wants to accomplish. But here he is, that same movie gradually falling apart around him... I'd be frustrated and angry, too. Even so, he doesn't seem to understand why the cast refused him today -- the first lesson we had drilled into us by the old crewies at LFS was that nobody can compel you to do anything you don't feel completely safe doing, and some of what Lee was asking people to do was less than completely safe. (There have been other similar incidents -- I refused to venture out onto a pitched roof to get a shot not long ago, and also refused to climb onto a chair to attach diffusion to a very, very bright (like, 10K) lamp while it was still on... I have this weird thing about maintaining functioning retinas.) You can always ask a crewie or actor to do something a bit risky, but if they refuse, you really can't hold it against them; that's not being a prima donna, that's just self-preservation. DeVere has already been very patient with these requests; I didn't think it was fair for Lee to get annoyed with him for refusing one.

But Lee pitching a hissy fit was really just kinda distasteful and alienating. The director on a paying shoot -- the archetypal tempestuous artiste -- can get away with that shit, but not the director of an unpaid, all-volunteer indie cast and crew. I'm sure Lee was simply overcome with frustration, but it put everyone off.

It also put a bit of a wrinkle in my plan to talk to Lee; after this, I didn't much want to see him again today. I have a position worked out -- I'm going to offer to work 3-4 days per week (but no more than that) if he'll accept the compromise -- but today seemed like a bad time, especially where my issue with his sarcasm is concerned. It still has to be done, but I kinda want to see where he's at tomorrow first.
12:31 AM ::
Amy :: permalink