February 27, 2002

France Location Day 4: The

France Location Day 4: The big day, by default. We still have to shoot the major locations: the Crater at La Boisselle and the Thiepval Memorial itself. In addition, we need to pick up more montage dialogue in town. Iíd say the weather was perfect, but for production, ìperfectî means ìthe same the whole time,î and it most certainly was not that. It was brilliantly sunny, no clouds, and slightly cold.

Lochnagar Crater: We jammed over to the crater, where weíd also planned to shoot scenes with neighbors of the crater itself. There was a bus full of students when we got there. (Weíd joked earlier that Wednesdayís School Group Day at these places; it ainít funny.)

Shots 51-57 went really quickly and well. The sun was actually great. Glidecam worked well, and we got fixed position shots as well. The ground was extremely slippery and chalky (actually, it was chalk.), so we decided against climbing down into the crater to shoot up. Instead, we just did some lines up top. (After typing ìshoot up,î I had to make a cheap joke about doing lines. This will go down on my permanent record.)

While we were shooting on the edge of the crater, a pair of French fighter jets suddenly flew just overhead. They continued to circle for about half an hour, flying in and out of the storm clouds that were moving towards us. Iíd never known what a flashback was like, but the sound of those jets put me straight back in New York in the days following the attack. It was wrenching. After almost six months, Iíve been able to not think of the attacks every time I hear a regular plane. Can we ever know in advance the triggers for our memories? Does knowing them help ease the shock or the surprise? How many Proustís madeleines are lurking out there for people in New York?

Then Ken, the caretaker arrived from Dover, along with a writer friend. They hit their lines and then some, adding details of the bombing and the first morning of the attack as well as how the memory of the war stays alive in England. ìEvery family was affected directly,î Michael said, ìso even three generations later, people have a personal connection to what happened.î This relation between who a memorial is made for and its efficacy seems important. They also talked about the places that remain unaltered, like Lochnagar Crater and the nearby battlefield known as Glory Hole. As time passes, they become rarer and rarer, and gain importance as reminders. During their scenes (58-61) an icy storm broke; huge black clouds approached the camera rapidly, as if on some cue (donít look at me). Within ten minutes it was over. This is going to be a pain to edit.

Albert: With the light back and the sleet gone, we headed back to Albert to pick up some insert shots and more dialogue scenes (36-39). Got some solid stuff; replaced the boulangerie with a Coke machine for scene 37. Lunch and some insert shots of the sky.

Thiepval: It was around 4:30 when we got to Thiepval. The sun was low, with strong shadows across the lawn. People have commented before how the memorialís scale defies photography. Weíll see if lone figures walking toward and around it help. There was some kind of emptiness, though, in the place. Itís got a very transparent, old-fashioned sense of awe-inspiration, but I confess itís hard to tell if itís really moving. While we were there, a couple of cars pulled up, people got out, walked maybe 30 meters down the approach (still a good 150m away from the arch), and went back. Just checking it off their list, I guess.

We got a variety of Glidecam shots, following the man around the place, and some fixed shots, too. Good, but we were losing light fast (another cloud bank took at least 30 minutes off our usable light). The last driving/approach shots ended up too dark to ever match the scenes at the monument. They looked beautiful, but again, unusable. The running joke was, we were shooting for the dream sequence, where nothing needed to match or make sense. Shot didnít work? Itís for the dream sequence. It was a rushed, hectic end to a very good day, and was the effective end of the location.

February 27, 2002

Today; it was announced that

Today; it was announced that the Towers of Light will go on display March 11, six months after September 11.

Feb 26 was the nine-year anniversary of the first bombing of the World Trade Center.

February 26, 2002

France Location Day 3: Weíd

France Location Day 3: Weíd planned to shoot driving scenes and dialogue in the car in the morning, when we expected clouds and rain. Of course, it turned freakishly sunny, pumping the contrast between interior and exterior light too high.

We did exterior driving shots instead, and we found a great scene when we were looking for the single roadside grave mentioned in shot 31 in the script. It was very windy, clouds and shadows moving rapidly across the fields. At the intersection, the man jumped out of the car and searched for the grave, climbing the embankments, looking around. The light was beautiful; the scene was pretty spontaneous, and the camera was great.

Weíd set up a Glidecam, a counterweighted mount for smoothing out camera movement, and it worked pretty well. (As the shoot progressed, it became a challenge to NOT become addicted to the Glidecam; itís smooth, but moving shots are not the only game in town.)

Into town to shoot 35-42. We added a montage of the man asking questions/directions of several people, not just the woman in v2.0 of the script. The woman (and her husband) were pretty good. They hit their lines in the script, with an unusual sense of urgency and concern. Light and wind were problematic sometimes, but thereís definitely usable stuff.

After the scene, the couple was heading to lunch, and the woman said to me, ìNow, in New York, theyíll know what itís like here. To live surrounded by all these cemeteries your whole life.î I wished weíd caught it on camera. And the conversation afterward, when they met their friends at the table as well. There was a sense of real sympathy, but tempered with resignation. In addition to their own experience, locals have the 85-year stream of mourning/remembering visitors to deal with; the Somme has essentially professionalized the remembering business.

Shot scenes in the car after lunch, including the third phone call between the couple (34), and various driving and approach shots (30, 32, 36, 43, 46, 49, 50, 63). It went pretty well. Weíre not going to lack for dramatic landscapes or smooth driving shots, thatís for sure.

February 26, 2002

France Location Day 2: We

France Location Day 2: We wove our way back to the gas station, the first place the main character stops for directions. Got lost on the way several times. No rain at all; a glorious sky, with deep, textured clouds like a huge softbox diffuser. You can't buy clouds like that in LA (well, you can import them in post- now, I guess).

The Total station was more perfect than I remembered. It's occasionally eerie; the degree to which aspects of this trip approximate my own experience, which is still so different in many ways from the script. The gas station owner readily agreed to the shoot and hit almost all his lines perfectly. What he changed, we can easily live with.

Headed into Paris, to the office of Sycomore Films, our local production partners and frequent lifesavers. Jonah rigged up a narrow plywood sheet with screws threaded in at various points; it's now our camera mount and steadicam in one. Works perfectly in the car, espectially in combination zith the memory foam.

A quick lunch (well, quick for France, anyway), and we were on our way to pick up the Miniflow light kit, which throws just enough natural daylight to even out the exposure within the car. AND it plugs into the car's cigarette lighter. All this time hit us, though, as we raced to get dialogue scenes done on the autoroute before the sun went down at 6:30. (Of course, Jonah kept shooting in the cloudy Magic Hour, which looked fantastic but doesn't fit into the story at all; it's supposed to be a single morning/afternoon, no dusk.)

February 26, 2002

Location Day 2 (actually; Day

Location Day 2 (actually; Day 1 in France): Things are off to a good start. NYC crew arrived a bit early, as did I, so we began shooting in Charles deGaulle immediately. The French crew (prod. exec. and sound engineer) arrived an hour or so later, by which time we'd covered everything that didn't require dialogue/sound. Fred, the sound guy, got set up on a luggage cart (standard equipment on a shoot as faar as I'm concerned), and we were off. Got it done with no problem, really. CDG shoots so well, too; beautiful concrete, lots of reflections, very interesting.

Hit the road with the intention to shoot --in sequence zith the script, basically--the phone calls between the couple. Unfortunately, the Audi didn't have the glass roof it was advertised with, so it was too dark to shoot inside, even in daylight. AND the camera was a bit unstable for dialogue, anyway. The memory foam pillow I'd brought to use as a car/hood mount proved invaluable for cushioning the camera, though, so we got great driving shots.

Oh, did I mention the rain? It started out blindingly sunny on Sunday morning, then turned to downpour for the rest of the day. We'll have to work it into the story somehow; it's supposed to rain all week. We're staying in Albert at the Best Western; it's a classic hotel box with stone facing and turrets all over--a prefab castle. We were the only guests on Sunday night("Just like The Shining," I told the nervous clerk.)

The landscape is tremendous; flat, featureless fields, slight rolling hills, narrow roads with large embankments blocking the view. There's a banal easy sublimity/awe which is tempting but difficult to capture. And it can kill a film. Town after town, all with buildings from the Twenties and Forties. Once you know the styles, you can't help noticing them everywhere. Everything dates to one of two distinct waves of (re)construction.

Early dinner and a night reworking the schedule to fix the light and vibration problems and to make it through the rain.

February 23, 2002

France Location Day 1: Iím

France Location Day 1: Iím not in France. Crewís not in France. (Granted, Jonah and Alice are scheduled to leave Saturday night. I left for JFK Friday night, intent on getting to our production companyís office in Paris Saturday, to touch base with the equipment and sound folks.

After five-hours, waiting on the plane and then getting regurgitated back to the gate, Delta canceled the flight. Grabbed a car and headed back to Manhattan at 2:00 AM. Now, Iím taking the lead actor, Dodgeís flight through Washington, and getting in just a couple of hours ahead of the crew (on United this time). The moral: Every day of production will involve me staying up past 2AM.

Thereís an upside, though. Or several. Iíll be able to see my wife, whoís working through the weekend in DC. Moral: when the Lord closes a door, he opens a window. You just have to have all your luggage hand-searched before you climb through it.

And I changed my camel coat for a microfiber one. (The forecast in France next week is for intermittent rain.) As I put the new coat on in our storage space (where itís been hanging for how long? Youíll see.), I reached into the pocket and found a Carambar (the French equivalent of a Sugar Daddy) and a small sheaf of receipts dated February 2000. The last time I wore this coat was in Paris, on the trip where I first visited Thiepval (the memorial in the script). The totemic role we now ask objects like these to play.

Yikes. I wrote that at LGA, then read the NY Times on the plane, including Barbara Stewartís article, ìCapturing for Generations the Agony of a Single Day.î Historians and archivists are gathering hoards of objects, large and small, momentous and mundane, betting that theyíll find the right ones to effectively ìembody the horrorî of September 11th. The last paragraph quotes Mike Wallace, author of Gotham :

Itís tempting to say that this massive roundup of objects is overkill. I suspect weíre doing this as much for ourselves, to come to terms with it. Thereís a sense that things will serve as markers, and itís a human thing not to want to let the moment fade.

And I was watching the DVD of Hirokazu Kore-edaís After Life, where a group of heavenly bureaucrats assist the newly dead in selecting the one memory theyíll keep with them for eternity. Reading the directorís notes on I found this:

Our memories are not fixed or static. They are dynamic, reflecting selves that are constantly changing. So the act of remembering, of looking back at the past, is by no means redundant or negative. Rather, it challenges us to evolve and mature. The recreation of memories allow the dead (i.e., characters in the film) to come to terms with the past, affirming and accepting their lives in the process.

And bringing it home, also from the NYT: In discussing The US government's squandering of international goodwill through ignorance and unilateral militarism, Steven Erlanger mentions Rudyard Kipling's "Recessional," which commemorates the soldiers lost in WWI. It's last line: "Lest we forget, lest we forget."

[posted from Dulles using Mobilestar, which could become addictive.]

February 21, 2002

... I just got home


I just got home from our first night of locations, here in NYC. First, thanks to everyone. It went extremely well, even if it took over twice as long as I'd originally planned. Some headaches/highlights:

  • I reserved the sound equipment without checking/confirming with the sound guy, Slane. Result: no XLR cables (we had to have them messengered down. 45 min. lost); half-charged battery on the Mini-Disc (run out for add'l batteries. 20 min lost); an annoying buzz from the Mini-Disc, which we finally traced to the AC power cable (thus, run only on batteries. 20 min lost, 2 takes reshot). The moral: confirm equipment with the experts; check equipment before leaving the rental house.
  • ConEd began tearing up the sidewalk and streets DIRECTLY in front of the location. Jackhammers and concrete saws right out the window. The entire time. We declared it authentic, changed some dialogue to incorporate 24/7 emergency workers in the neighborhood. All in all, a fortuitous crisis-turned-story-element.
  • Evanne, one of our saintlike hosts, was under the weather, but both she and Ed were so gracious. Check the movie to see shots of their sweeet loft. And then remember that they've had to live with 24/7 emergency/construction crews in their neighborhood for the last five months.
  • Rebecca was incredibly natural (she's a singer, not an actor. at least until now.) and made the evening.
  • Preparation was enough to make quick decisions about how to get it all done, what to cut, when we got enough coverage, and how to improvise/add some real creative moments. That's praise for Jonah (DP) and Alice (amazing producer expertise).
  • Dinner at Odeon, which somehow felt right. And it was empty. Nice.

    'Night. Gotta get up early to return the equipment, the van, and to screen/make adjustments for France.

  • February 19, 2002

    This morning I was researching

    This morning I was researching changes we may need to make to consent/release forms to enable us to shoot in France. I was reading through the WIPO site, when I searched across a memo written by an old friend and former roommate. He works at the MPAA, so in a sense, he's the boss of the WIPO. If I didn't know what a tough lawyer he is, I'd sing It's a small world after all.

    Oh, and I haven't found any analysis of how a babelfish-based translation of a legal document holds up in EU courts. We may be the test case.

    Yesterday's B&H Photo haul (Total cost: around $400):

  • Sony MDR-7506 headphones
  • 40 - DV tapes (added to the 20 on hand)
  • 20 - 74-minute mini-discs for audio recording

    After asking and studying both DAT and MD options, we've decided to use a combination of DV and Mini-Disc for audio, editing all on DV in Final Cut Pro and then laying down the superior MD audio on the final...cut. LAFCPUG's review of the HHB MDP500 Portable MD recorder was the clincher; the HHB's USB port helped close the deal.

    And we'll have two cameras (bonus!), my Sony VX1000 and a Sony PD-150, which is a couple of rungs up the evolutionary ladder. Two cameras should help speed along the driving shots, landscape shots, and maybe dialogue scenes as well.

  • Another way things have changed: I made the bed. Pulled the long, blonde hair off the charcoal wool blanket. It's just like the one on the floor. On that Jil Sander coat over there. On the seat belt strap when I got into the car for the first time in a week. Ubiquitous little signals of a life shared. And now I think of them as potential sources of DNA. Such as those the families of the missing only wish they had more of. [NYTimes, full article requires purchase]

    Since 2001 here at greg.org, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

    Many thanks to the Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Program for supporting greg.org that time.

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