All this week, we
It happens sooner or later on every shoot.
The long hours, the pressure from production to finish the day and stay on time and on budget…people start to lose their patience, and they get cranky.
It happened today. We’re tired, and, we’re all trying to make a “bigger” movie than the budget will allow, so I think everyone is feeling the pressure, and cracks are beginning to show.
Fortunately, everyone seems to understand that we’re all cranky, and why we’re cranky, and we haven’t turned on each other, yet. It’s the time when “please” and “thank you” go a very long way to keep us all sane, and everyone seems to be aware of that.
It really says a lot about the cool people on this crew and in this cast, that even though we’re wiped out, and the production has set some very tough expectations for us (13 pages today!)we’re all still playing on the same team.
So even though we’re all in danger of reaching Donner Party status, the work hasn’t suffered, and everyone remains supportive of each other, which is cool. We’ve even managed to work some cannibal humor into the day to lighten the mood.
I like feeling like I’m on a team, and that I’m part of something much larger than myself. On days like today, that camaraderie is really tested. Fortunately, as far as I can tell, we’re passing the test.
The scenes today were mostly between me and Maureen, and our long personal history is adding this great extra dimension to our performances. We have this great trust in each other, and we’ve been allowed by the director to improvise a bit within the scenes, so they have this great natural, conversational quality which I hope translates into the final product.
On the way home, I pulled into my neighborhood, which is swarming with children and their parents, trick-or-treating. I drove slowly towards my house, smiling and waving at numerous Spider Men, Buzz Light Years, and a few vampires.
When I got to my house, I felt really sad…Nolan and Ryan had already carved their jack o lanterns, and they were out trick-or-treating…but my insanely cool wife hadn’t carved hers, yet…because she was waiting for me. As soon as they get back, the carving will begin.
Happy Halloween, everybody!
You’d think that, after working as an actor for 23 years with some pretty impressive people, I’d just stop feeling star struck, just take it in stride when I have a scene with someone who I really admire.
Of course, you’d be wrong.
Each time I have a scene with Isaac Hayes, I get this flutter in my belly, the same way I did when I had scenes with Patrick on TNG or Robin Williams in Flubber, or Ron Jeremy in Mr. Stitch. I catch myself between takes, mind wandering, thinking, “Oh man! This is so cool!”
We had a scene this morning, and this other actor, a brilliant man called John Reilly, is in the scene with us. John turns to Isaac, and says, “ I saw you on this awards show, and you were covered with FX smoke…what show was that?”
Isaac looks at him, and smiles, and replies, “You mean the Academy Awards?”
Maureen and I explode into laughter, and I say, “Oh, yeah. that awards show. Did anybody see it?”
John laughs too, and explains that Isaac is one of his idols, so he has seen most of his performances, and they’ve sort of blurred together across the years.
They talk about the performance, about how hard it was to see Isaac, and Isaac says, “Man, Billy spent the rest of the night talking about that!”
“Billy” is, of course, Billy Crystal.
When Isaac speaks of these hugely famous people he knows, he always refers to them by their first name, only, and he speaks of them the way you’d speak of Dan from Accounting, or Jenny the girl from upstairs. It’s very surreal.
The rest of the day is spent filming scenes with just me and Maureen. It’s long and at times it’s a bit arduous, but very satisfying.
There’s a scene which really needs some help from us, because in the rewrites, it’s drifted from its original meaning, and has gotten sort of muddled and a bit confused. So maureen and I spend a lot of time just improvising, staying true to our characters and keeping things simple, and we ultimately discover several very wonderful moments which add great depth and meaning to the story and our characters. We are very fortunate to have a director who trusts us, and to trust each other, so we can follow the little inspirations which occasionally pop up during a take, knowing that we’ll create something interesting and maybe even moving in the process.
I’m happy when the day is done. I feel very satisfied with what we’ve done, and proud of the work we’ve turned in.
We also got the word from the Big Tough Executive Producer Guy Man Dude, and the word was that he loves the work he is seeing, and that this is his favorite of all the productions he’s done for PAX.
Yesterday, I spoke of that seemingly endless waiting period when we don’t know if what we’ve done will translate to the screen, and today I had a thought: the wonderful sense of satisfaction I enjoyed today can’t ever be taken away from me, regardless of what happens with the final cut of the film. It is that feeling which compels me to create, whether it be as an actor, writer, or street-performing mime who is trapped in an ever-shrinking box.
That feeling is Mine(tm), and if the audience likes what we did, if everything comes together in just the right way and we end up with something memorable, well, that’s just a bonus.
The alarm was brutal this morning, and I moved through the first half of the day on autopilot.
Well, that’s not entirely true. When I was on the set, my mind would wake up long enough for me to be present in the scene, from action to cut. Until after lunch, though, all the other times were spent in an exhausted haze.
I was so tired because I spent the evening yesterday with Anne and the boys, picking out punkins for Halloween.
I love Halloween more than any other holiday. I love the scary decorations, the spooky movies, and the costumes…oh, the costumes!
Anne is really skilled with the FX makeup, so we always end up as really horrible zombies, complete with gushing blood and spooky wounds…it’s hard to tell who loves it more: me or the kids.
I usually start decorating the house the last week of September, and by the 31st, the house is in full-on spook mode.
This year, though, between the Avon 3 Day and the movie, Anne and I haven’t had time to hang a single skeleton, or tape up a single mummy. Anne took the kids to pick out their makeup and costumes last week while I was on the set, so last night was my first chance to do anything “Halloweeny” with the kids. Even though I was exhausted from work, and I knew that I should have been learning lines and going to bed early, I wasn’t about to miss out on time with the family…and I felt really great about that choice. As recently as a year ago, I wouldn’t have stayed up to learn lines after they’d all gone to bed, and though I am positively wiped out, I don’t regret the decision at all.
Tomorrow I have 7 1/8 pages, and since we’re shooting out of order, I have to work hard to ensure that I track my character correctly across the story…I love that stuff because it’s a challenge, but it’s also one of those efforts that I won’t know the results of for months, until I see the movie. That’s a part of acting in places other than the stage which I’d forgotten about: we work really hard all day long, for days at a time, and we don’t really have anything to “show” for it, other than the occasional reassurance from the director, and the visceral feeling that we did something right.
Then it’s months of waiting, hoping that the composer, the editor, and the director bring to the screen what we thought we were making while we were on the set.
I only have to wait until the end of January to see this picture, and I don’t think I will be disappointed.
I had some challenging scenes today; some real emotional stuff, where my character has to contemplate some life-and-death choices…heavy stuff, and I was able to use my real physical exhaustion to inspire my character’s emotional exhaustion.
I also had some scenes with Isaac Hayes…and every time he spoke, I had to really focus, so I wouldn’t start singing, “suck on my chocolate salty balls” in my head.
Heh, see how it’s in your mind right now? That was me, all day long.
Today was a very routine day working on a film, and the only really interesting thing that happened wasn’t even related to the movie!
There’s a great show on NPR called “Marketplace,” and one of the producers emailed me a few weeks ago, asking if I’d be interested in participating in a program about how child actors deal with the money and fame that comes with success.
I told her that I’d love to do it, and she asked me, quite charmingly, if I had heard of a program called “This American Life,” which she also produces.
Heh. No, really. She asked me that.
So I geeked out, and we scheduled the interview for the tuesday following the conclusion of the Avon 3 Day. Trouble was, I booked the job on the movie while I was gone, and I wasn’t going to be able to get into a studio. I thought that I was going to lose the opportunity, and we spent the last week or so emailing back and forth, trying to pull together some sort of plan…and we hit upon one over the weekend: she’d send an engineer out to the set with a DAT, and I’d call her. She’d sit in her own studio and record herself, I’d be recorded in my dressing room, and they’d put the two together later.
Isn’t technology cool?
So today I did my interview, and it was really great…it went on and on, for close to three hours, broken up by my calls to the set to do my scenes. The engineer, a really nice and patient guy called “Skott” was at the set for nearly 6 hours, and never complained once.
So what’s the cool thing, you ask? In the interview, I ended up telling her this story about my childhood…that she said has a very good chance of making it onto This American Life.
Talk about dreams coming true!!
Tomorrow I am in everything, so I’m off to learn pages of lines…but before I go, I want to pimp out my friend Sean.
Sean and his wife Caryn are opening a really amazing gallery in downtown Los Angeles this weekend, and I want to let everyone know about it. If you’re in LA, or know people who are into the art scene here in town, please come over and check it out this weekend. You can “read more” to get the address and times.
I hope to see some WWDN readers there!
I can’t believe that I am still awake and coherent.
It’s almost 1am as I write this, and I’ve only been home for a little over an hour.
Yeah, we were supposed to wrap around 7, but we shot until 11.
Holy mother of the Jackson Five. It was a long farking day.
Usually, if it’s getting later and later, they’ll just push the material to another day, but I guess we lose this particular set today, so they had to finish all the pages, and we didn’t get to leave until they did.
So today was a long day, but it was fun, and I did some nice work, I think.
In addition to the work, I also met the one and only Chef himself, Isaac Hayes.
I wrote about it earlier this morning:
When my alarm went off at 5AM today, it seemed like I hadn’t slept at all. I felt I had just turned off the light, and there was no way I was going to get up.
So I did that thing that we do when we’re exhausted…I did some quick math in my head, and figured out that if I ate breakfast from the caterer at work this morning, rather than cooking it myself before leaving, I could grab an extra 30 minutes of sleep.
So I reset it and fell back to sleep…and of course when it went off again, I felt like I hadn’t gotten any additional sleep at all. Matter of fact, I didn’t even feel awake until I was half-way to work.
I got to work at 7, went through makeup and hair, put on my wardrobe, and walked over to the caterer to get a breakfast burrito.
When I walked around the corner of the trailer, I saw him standing near the juices, talking with another actor…Isaac Hayes.
Dude! It’s Chef, standing right in front of the food!
I suppress an excited girlish squeal, and extend my hand, “Hi. I’m Wil,” I say.
“Oh, I know who you are! You’re the boy genius who made all those adults look stupid!” He says.
What? Am I still asleep? Did I just meet Isaac Hayes, and he told me knew who I was?
He continues, “I loved you on Star Trek, man. It’s really nice to meet you.”
I can’t believe that I’m keeping it together. I don’t even try to mask my enthusiasm, and tell him, “Jeeze, thank you. The admiration is mutual! I’m really excited to be working with you.”
We talk for a few more moments, but I can’t tell you what we said, because it was sinking in that I was standing here, in front of the catering truck, talking with Isaac Hayes, and he is excited to meet me!
After a moment, I tell him, “At my wedding, when my wife and I walked into the reception and were introduced to the assembled guests, we walked in to the theme from Shaft…”
He beams and says, “That’s cool! Thank you.”
He sort of half-bows, and he seems genuinely touched.
“…yeah,” I continue, “when I told her that you were working on this movie, she said I should tell you…so…there you go.”
I’m starting to feel like a full-on fanboy, so I decide now is a good time to STFU. Luckily, my breakfast is ready, so I excuse myself and head back to my dressing room to eat.
Of course, I’m so excited, it’s now cold, sitting on the desk next to me, because I had to write about this before I could eat.
I am such a dork.
I learned something today: having no lines can be just as exhausting as talking until your throat is sore in every scene.
It’s surprisingly hard to just sit there for hours, trying to focus on the other actors, react to what they are doing, and not get bored.
Oh man, is it easy to get bored…because of the lights, it’s close to 85 degrees on the set, and the air is very still. We spend a lot of time on each scene, so we get to hear the same lines over and over again, and it’s easy for the mind to wander and the eyelids to fall down.
Now I understand why Levar fell asleep on the bridge behind his VISOR so many times in the early years of TNG.
I didn’t expect to feel wiped out when I got home, you know? I expected it to be a really easy day…but I am beat right now. To be honest, it feels really good.
The lack of dialogue did give me some free time during the day…I watched some Simpsons on DVD on the iBook, and played a few games on MacMAME.
My day started at 5AM, and we shot nearly nine pages, which is really, really, really a lot in films. When I was on Trek, we’d average about 6.5 pages per day, and when I was working on Mr. Stitch, I once managed something like 15 pages in one day.
So now that you know more about page count than you ever wanted, I can give up some details:
- This project is a Movie Of The Week for the PAX network, and it will air at the end of January in 2003. When my friend Keith found out that it was on PAX, he teased me that I was in one of those stupid “Left Behind” piles of crap…but I assured him, and I can assure you, that it’s actually a pretty cool story. =]
- Included in the cast is an actor you may have heard of…”Chef” himself, Isaac Hayes! He plays a mysterious guy who give me this mysterious, ancient, powerful book. The story is about how I deal with it.
- Also in the cast is my friend Richard Grieco. We’ve done three movies together before this one, and it’s the first time he’s not kicking my ass. I really like Richard. He’s one of the sweetest guys who ever lived, he’s very generous and funny…and it bugs me that he has this image as a real cheeze*wiz.
- The actor who is playing my best friend in the movie is Maureen Flannigan. Mo and I have been friends since forever, and I absolutely adore her. I think that our personal history will cascade into our performances, and make the film that much deeper and richer. The cool thing is, the producers didn’t know that we knew each other when they cast us.
Tomorrow I talk and talk and talk, so it will be the polar opposite of today. Should be interesting to contrast the two.
I’m having a really good time. It feels good to be on a set where people know what they’re doing, and there aren’t any incompetent a-holes with huge egos farking things up. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed that.
Time to learn lines.
Copuple of updates on the movie:
I’m having a really good time. This director is just awesome, the crew is friendly, professional, and all the actors I’ve worked with so far have been great.
There is this one strange thing, though…the movie isn’t being called by it’s title on the call sheet, or our signs to location, or the slate, or anything…theyr’e calling it “Boise,” like it’s a codename or something.
I wear lots of suits, so I walk around talking into my cuff, telling people “I’m on Project Boise,” and looking mysterious.
Hey, without WiFi at work, I have to find ways to entertain myself, right?
Yesterday was Day One and it was a typical First Day On A Movie(tm). Most of the actors had gotten their material late Monday night, so they were having a tough time with the lines. Luckily for me, I had the studio email it to me as a .pdf, and I printed it out.
I shit you not, that laser printer paid for itself on Monday!
So I knew my lines, had worked out enough of the character to feel really comfortable living in his skin and stuff. Since we’ve all really hit the ground running, I’m being forced to trust my instincts and make quick and deliberate character choices, which is actually good for me, I think. If left to my own devices, I have a tendency to overthink things, and complicate the hell out of stuff. Since I don’t have the ability to do that on this picture, it is a good test of my acting skills.
Speaking of my acting skills, I was paid a very nice compliment by the director late in the day yesterday. We were between scenes, and we were talking. I mentioned to him that I hadn’t done any real acting jobs in over a year, since I’d been working primarily as a writer.
He looked at me, his face showing real surprise, and he said, “Wow! I would never have known. You’re performance has been so wonderful, I thought you’d just come off of another movie, right into this one. You’d never know that you’ve taken a year off.”
Shortly after that, the producer came over to me and told me how happy they all were that I’d been cast, and that he’d been watching me work. He told me that I was doing great things with the role, exactly what they’d wanted.
It felt good to be told that I was doing a great job, without it being followed by, “but we’re going with another, bigger actor.”
My character in this picture has suffered a terrible and tragic loss, so he is never too far from tears, covering his pain in various ways. He’s ironic, he’s angry, he’s sarcastic, he is occasionally vulnerable…boy, it is grueling work.
At the end of the day yesterday, I was physically and emotionally exhausted.
Today was much easier. I was only in 2 scenes, and I was mostly reacting in them…but I was so tired from yesterday, I was having an insanely difficult time focusing and staying present. I’d forgotten just how tough it is to not get distracted and let my mind wander…it seems that in every spare moment I am thinking about the book, or how I’m going to write about the day when I get home.
The next two days are pretty much like today. I don’t talk too much, but I’m there for each scene…Patrick Stewart called it “Face Acting.”
I was able to break away from the set long enough today to call Screen Savers when they aired my segment. I haven’t seen it, but Anne tells me I didn’t look like a total dork…even though I was wearing what she calls “Your Croccodile hunter Shirt.”
Yeah, there’s nothing quite like gettin’ dissed by your wife, you know?
So that’s it. I’m bleary-eyed and having a hard time staying awake.