Now that we’ve finished the shoot, I’ll tell you that we were shooting at The Paramour, a wonderful old house in one of the Silver Lake hills of some renown. It is part of the Canfield-Moreno estate, famous for being a mansion built for a silent movie star and his bride. It has recording studio facilities used by lots of musicians of all sorts (you’re maybe heard recordings that were done there), and it is used a lot for filming. You can read more about it here.
The above sketch is one I did there yesterday while waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for the various scenes I was to appear in. I chose this part of the house because that’s where craft services was and it was one of the places people were allowed to congregate when not involved in shooting. There are more beautiful parts, but then… you see those in photos all the time anyway. It’s time this side got some attention. I did 90% of the pencil work on the spot, and finished it up and splashed some (digital) paint on it in the early hours of this morning (Inexplicably, I got up at 4:30am and have been up for four hours now… I think I am going to try to have a nap before going off shopping). I was also going to share with you some sketches of people playing a dice game (karaki? I did not know it before) that we used to pass some of the time, but I didn’t finish any of them, sadly…
The rest of the shoot? Yes, it went well. I brought an extra layer of clothing against the cold, but it was still very cold, especially since this time most of the filming was outside. The afternoon was ok, as there was a bit of sun, and, helpfully, a pig was roasting, so we could stand near the heat from that. Yes, you read me right… there was indeed a pig being roasted. It was for a scene involving a picnic, followed by revelry later (hired revelers were bussed in for the night-time craziness), with several of us standing round talking about random topics as the film crew wove in and out of our groups, catching snippets of conversation. Lunch later on involved eating the pig (not on camera). I had a monologue coming up later on in the day, and so I memorized it in the morning, but over the course of the day (with the scene with it being right at the end, as it turned out) it kept fading, and so I’d go off and get back into the mode where it was at my fingertips, and then it would fade again after a while… But I was sure I’d nail it when the moment came.
I made some more friends with some interesting people, finding out we had friends in common in some cases and generally passed the time talking, as had happened the day before. Sometimes we wandered around to see what we could see when it was clear to do so. While out on the front lawn waiting to do a scene (having warmed ourselves with pig-heat for a bit), at one point I recognized something. A table. Almost exactly a year ago, you might recall, I went to a special dinner put on by chef Kevin Van and a number of other chefs, sommeliers, and so forth in an unusual location and circumstance… I’d noticed that the tables they’d used at that time were tiled with pages from cookbooks. (See here.) Same table. I was sure of it. I turned around and there off in the distance was indeed Kevin Van talking with some of the filmmakers… Seems he’d been brought in to help with some aspect or other of the proceedings. I was engaged in conversation, so did not get a chance to go over and say hi, unfortunately.
At one point I was chatting with a screenwriter friend about films, and just as I was describing something about the monolith from 2001, we rounded a corner, and encountered a large block of ice which reminded us of that very thing. It seemed to be a feature at some point in the film (I’ve no idea what – I never saw its main use as I was elsewhere), and I bet it looked great. (There was one point where I had some stills taken in front of it, in that chair, but I don’t know what that’ll be for.)
By 7:30pm or so, chilled almost to the bone, I learned that my scene was coming up, and I refreshed the monologue in my my mind again, and chatted with the director a bit about where I was going to be standing. Some logistics had been thrown off kilter, it seemed, resulting in lots of missing extras (the revelers-for-hire had departed early in a bit of a huff – there was no booze) and nobody (who had not been already used in other roles) left to play the role of the TV news crew that was supposed to be interviewing me as part of the story. In the end, with only 25 minutes or so left before we had to wrap (the estate representative was getting restless) they decided to improvise a new setting. A highlight of the day for me was to watch the (very experienced) director of photography at work (Paul Atkins – you’ll maybe know his work from all sort of pieces, including films like Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life), calling out lighting positions to his crew to make a whole new situation out of what was available, call for a lens change (immediately barked by his assistant into a walkie talkie – with a new lens showing up and being installed minutes later), and so and so forth. We were ready.
The first take had me more or less getting the monologue right, but the tone was completely not what JW (the director*) had in mind. Of course, I’d not seen a script, and so had no idea what he wanted and had found the tone in the words themselves. So we had a chat about what he wanted and I did it again. He wasn’t happy with it, as this time I’d used contractions in some places where things needed to breathe more. So I did it again. A bit too fast… and not self-satisfied enough – too earnest. I tried a bit more self-satisfied (you’d think I’d not have to dig too deeply, being a theoretical physicist and a professor, but believe me, some of us try not to be like that! ), and he seemed ok with it… but then decided he did not like the lines I’d been given anyway, so made some changes. So I redid it a few times without the bits he no longer liked… still not happy, he decided the rhythm of it all was off now due to the adjustment, so trimmed more fat and took out a few more words. I did it again… he seemed ok with it, but now wanted to go completely minimal, throwing away more than half of the whole thing, and to my mind, cutting a bit into the bone of the thing (but hey, he’s the artist with the vision about what he wants here, not me…) Then he changed its tone a bit more by having me do it directly to camera, staring boldly (I hope) right into the lens and saying my piece, ending, and staring. He seemed happy with that, said thanks, and I was done. He came over and explained that he was sorry it was difficult but he felt he’d written a difficult monologue in the first place, and was sorry to have to change it up on me…. I was quite happy to have helped, and was just enjoying the learning process so much that I did not mind at all. I just wished I was not so utterly cold to the core… and so probably less fluid than I’d have been normally.
Anyway, it was a hugely interesting experience overall. I’m always game (as you’ve gathered from this blog) to learn new skills, try new experiences, and basically get a first hand taste of how something works for real, and so this was fun. I’ve been on the filmmakers side of the camera before (as you know from the films I made in 2009, etc), but hadn’t done much in the way of acting (not counting all the TV documentary film work, which is quite different – I’m just doing what I do and talking and doing science in those cases – but there was that one time, in the time-travel episode…), and now I know a bit about what it is like. I’ve even more respect for those who do it than the great amount I had before, frankly!
*I don’t know how much JW wants about his project to be “out there” at this stage, and so I am trying not to give too much detail…
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