Monday, September 3, 2007

The World's Most Valuable Shirt

There are small and large hiccups in the production of a movie. The small ones include such things as forgetting an important prop. Driving up to Palmdale early in the shoot, I took a quick inventory of items in back of the RV and realized I had forgotten to bring the shotgun. Now, I don't normally have a shotgun lying around the house - I've seen Bowling for Columbine - but my ex-husband did, and he was happy to loan me one. But now said shotgun was lying forgotten in my garage in Escondido. And a shotgun was definitely needed for the scene in which Milo the Cook scares off bad guy Lubitch from doing permanent damage to Lola with a switchblade. Yelling "Hey!" is not enough in such a situation.

I got on my cell phone and called James Terry, the actor who was to play Milo. James had called earlier that morning to ask me my opinion on some wardrobe choices he had. Normally I would not expect actors to have immediate access to large firearms, but if anyone did, it would be Jim. He was a real go-to guy. "Hey Jim," I said, after getting him on the phone again. "We have a small problem. By any chance ... do you have a shotgun?"

He briefly pondered this. "No, but I bet I can borrow one," he said. He called me back five minutes later. "Got one." Now this is an actor worth his weight in gold - he showed up on time, knew his lines, came with his own chef apron and hat, and could satisfy bizarre prop requests on a moment's notice.

Shooting 'Defying Gravity' was filled with such fortuitous moments, in which I got by on the kindness of strangers over and over again. And I have appreciated each one of them.

Another big "oops" was Macauley's butterfly shirt. This was the shirt that he wore in roughly the last third of the movie - what comprised the extended "run for the border" sequence. Generally I called on call cast members the morning of each shooting day and reminded them about their wardrobe for the day. Key word "generally". One Friday evening I decided to go the email route instead. But when Macauley showed up the following afternoon, he did not have the butterfly shirt. He had not read his email, and who can blame him, he was probably as comatose from exhaustion as I was. He had a full-time job of his own, and had just driven 90+ miles to our location in Lake Elsinore.

Tip #5 for Producers: Do not rely on email for wardrobe reminders. Call your cast and get verbal confirmation.

We were planning to film several scenes both inside and outside the hearse. All four leads were there - Mac, Mario, Willam, and Lexie. The hearse was there. The hood mount for the camera was there. Everything and everybody was there except the butterfly shirt. Michael tried to reason that maybe one could assume that Shore removed the butterfly shirt while driving the hearse. I thought about this. No, several of these scenes, already shot, took place either (a) immediately after Shore jumped into the car wearing the butterfly shirt or (b) immediate before Shore got out of the car wearing the butterfly shirt. The audience would need to assume Shore performed inexplicable Houdini-like maneuvers to get into and out of the shirt while driving the vehicle. I just could not overlook this kind of glaring continuity problem.

I looked at Christian. "I need you to drive to L.A." Christian shrugged. He was being paid by the day, and driving with the radio turned up was probably easier than moving around large equipment. Michael generously agreed to loan Christian his car (I reimbursed him for gas), and Mac gave Christian his apartment key and instructions on where to find the butterfly shirt. Depending on traffic, this would be a minimum three-hour round trip. Fortunately, we had several scenes to film in the meantime that did not involve the butterfly shirt.

But believe you me, I kept my eye on the time for every minute of those three hours. Fate restored us to her good favor, and Christian made it back in time with the coveted butterfly shirt. I look forward to the day that this movie becomes a cult classic, and one of the cult members buys that butterfly shirt off ebay (from Mac) for tens of thousands of dollars. (Possibly me.)

Mac, don't wash it! The sweat stains will raise the value.