Someone has thoughtfully propped up Stretch Longbeans, the giant ventriloquist puppet, right outside the second floor door, so when you're running up the stairs and throw open the door, this giant freaky dead-eyed nightmare-inducing plastic corpse will greet you, scaring the $#!% out of you. Good times.
There's no place like it. My wife and kids completely understand why I'm away ("Dad, you gotta do the movie!"), yet it's still really hard to be away for such an extended period of time. Luckily Memorial Day is a long weekend, and I'll see my fam, and we've rented a house in Sonoma to play in the pool, roast marshmallows in the fire pit, and enjoy our time together.
My son desperately wanted to see the new Godzilla
(being a fan of the old 50's black and white
movies), so my bro and I took him. I thought it was
lousy: campy without being intentionally so, serious
instead of fun. It lacked a self awareness that is
almost necessary in a reboot of a reboot.
It got me thinking about Pitch Perfect, and how very many things could have gone wrong: the tone, the pacing, the repeated winks to the audience. Many great lines were intentionally understated or even tossed away, which only made them more appealing to a generation that has embraced them as catch phrases. And somehow in the middle of all the snark and irony there remained a core of sincerity and sweetness that shone through.
You'd think it'd be relatively easy to make a really good Godzilla movie, especially with almost 10x the budget of Pitch Perfect ($160 million compared to $17 million). I shake my head when imagining what we could do with that kind of budget! And yet, we don't need it. No major special effects, no huge casting budget. Instead, we're focusing on story, and character, and music.
It's always hard to leave home, but especially
hard when a 6 hour trip turns into an 18 hour trip!
Delayed in San Francisco because of weather in
Houston, I ran full speed from Gate E to the shuttle
heading to Gate B... and since the doors were
closing, I threw my bag, Indiana Jones style - to
block the door so I could slide in.
Upon arriving at our gate, not only hadn't our plane left, it hadn't even boarded. I recognized Mel, head of the makeup department, and she introduced me to Cheryl, who is head of hair (traveling with a suitcase full of expensive hair, of course). We overheard another person talking about having to get to Baton Rouge for an early morning shoot, and it turns out 3 of the Fantastic Four production were there: head of special effects, the guy who "makes the molds that people break out of" (?!?), and Kate Mara, who is playing the Invisible Woman.
Kate was especially concerned about making her 4:30am lobby call, as were Mel and Cheryl (takes a while to get actresses camera ready, and rehearsals usually start around 6am, rolling by 8am as soon as the light is right), so we tried switching planes (no luck), waiting for this plane (new crew on their way, then had to turn back due to mechanical problems), and driving all night (6 hours or so), which we decided not to do once we heard about the flash floods. So, with my United status I got us all on the first flight out in the morning, and by midnight we were all checking into a hotel in Houston with a 5:30am shuttle back to the airport.
Of course the rain hadn't stopped, and was heading toward Baton Rouge, so we needed to wait for a rerouting around the storm, then more fuel, and finally made it to Baton Rouge by 11am or so, ahead of the storm, but behind schedule.
As I told Kate: if anyone gives you a hard time for being late, just tell them you were in character. Is there any more appropriate method acting technique for the Invisible Woman?
Today we filmed the boot camp scene in the
morning as the weather front approached. We got
everything beside Aubrey's reverse shots (the ones
of her directing), but then moved on to another more
critical group scene, and by the time lunch was over
it was pouring. Biblically. There was a brief break
in the rain before sunset where we could get the
shot, but the ground was so soupy there were
crawdads crawling around on the grass.
The schedule for the whole week has been scrambled as a result of the downpours we're expecting. The hope is that there will remain a window of time Friday night that will allow us to grab the campfire cups scene, as the backup plan is to film in the lodge, which just wouldn't be as... campy. I mean camp-y, not campy!
For those who don't know, Sweet Adelines
International is the premiere women's a cappella
organization, along with Harmony Incorporated (their
sister org), running parallel to the Barbershop
Harmony Society (which is for men). Since 1945,
they've been inspiring women to sing, with a current
membership of over 500 choruses and 1,400 quartets
spread over five continents.
Why do I mention them right now? Because I was over in the art department today and came across an amazing stash of magazines and photos from SAI. Amazing! All ages and eras of women's a cappella, from classic black and white photos of what looked like an elementary school teacher's convention in the 50s (horn rimmed glasses included, of course) to modern quartets from around the globe. No doubt these photos have proven inspirational to the show's design, especially in creating banners, trophies and historical relics from years past for the Bellas House and elsewhere.
Last night at dinner I
heard that The Ellen DeGeneres Show would be coming
by the offices while we worked with the
Treblemakers, so we should be "camera ready." Having
no expectation beyond being seen in the background
briefly, I didn't even shave this morning. As
soon as I arrive I'm whisked into the Aca-taqueria,
and the next thing I know I'm on camera with the
segment host teaching her a bunch of instruments.
Next, we're up in the studio and I'm teaching her
how to sing a couple of background parts. Finally
Skylar and Ben come in and she sings alongside them.
I have no idea what this will become, or if I'll even make it to air. It isn't going to run until the show returns in September, but it sure was fun, especially since Jeannie was so genuinely excited to be there, and so full of energy. I do hope it gives the public a sense of what we do behind the scenes, and how difficult complex contemporary a cappella is to sing and record.
How long could one 3 minute scene take to shoot?
Call time was at 6pm, as the area was carefully prepared and lit: a circular track around a stone campfire, a single orb of orange light suspended above just out of sight of the cameras. Angles were checked, backgrounds were lit (a large tower of lights shining on the trees across the lake so they can be barely seen in the distance), hair and makeup applied to the Bellas, including dirt smudges in exactly the same places they have been as they shoot the camp scene all week (the makeup team is meticulous, taking photos of arms, hands, everything to ensure perfect continuity).
Just after 8pm the sun sets and the filming begins. Dialogue around the campfire, then a song, then more dialogue culminating in Fat Amy running off into a bear trap. First we shoot the scene a few times circling the group on the track. Seeing people between the shadows of others. Stop, discuss lines and motivation, play with a couple ideas, shoot again.
And then it's "lunch." At 11pm-midnight. Huge spread, all in the lodge. There's a Foosball table, so I'm able to get my adrenaline up playing a few games with Kay Cannon (writer), Scott Niemeyer, and some crew guy who used to play in national foosball tournaments.
At midnight we do single and double shots, focusing on specific Bellas, sometimes 3 different groupings at the same time. Over and over through the same lines, but now the Bellas are improvising different lines, especially Rebel and Chrissie. When the camera is on a Bella she knows it and she's extra focused on listening, reacting to other's lines, tossing in quick one-liners that will give Liz lots to play with in crafting the scene, which was never perfect but after editing will be a rapid-fire series of jokes interwoven with strong emotional performances.
And before we know it it's 5am, the sun is slowly coming up, and you hear birds replacing the crickets and frogs (who at times have been alarmingly loud, interrupting a poignant moment), so we scramble to get the last couple angles before dawn, then drive back collapse in our beds as the sun rapidly ascends.
There is a lot of camera focusing and refocusing,
setting up of shots, lighting adjustment (and so on)
that needs to happen before and between each take.
So as not to completely exhaust our cast, who spent
all night around a blazing propane fire in the 75
degree, 90% humidity late night heat with blankets
on their legs (!), there is a stand in for each and
every one of them. I refer to these lovely young
actresses as the "Fake Bellas."
These extras have to be alert, ready to jump in at a moment's notice when Danny (the 1st AD) calls "second team!" They need to know where we are in the scene, when there counterpart is standing or sitting, all the while being very patient under the blazing lights, knowing no one will see them or realize their important contribution to the film.
One of them, "Brittan" (Anna Camp's double) just found out she was cast as one of the Legacy Bellas - our names for the graduates who appear at the end of the Bellas finale.
So we need to create the sound of 30+ women of
all ages returning to the stage with the Bellas, and
we need it immediately... but pulling in 30 women on
a Saturday will cost something like $30,000, take
forever to teach, our studio isn't large enough to
accommodate them all... time for plan B.
What's plan B? Call Kelley, Shelley & Chrissie to join Kate and the secret sauce (that being Ed, who will be "singing like a girl"), have ‘em spread out across the studio (move everything out of the way to create some space), and sing each line a couple times in different voices, moving between takes, to create the audio impression of a large, varied women's choir.
Seems a bit crazy, but we're all about quick, effective solutions. My only note for Ed is to sing at least once as a 62 year old alto who is active in her church choir and has a vibrato so wide you could drive a truck through it.