Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An Account Of My Murder

you live in Los Angeles
and you are going to Reseda;
we are all in some way or another going to Reseda someday
to die…
-M. Doughty, with Soul Coughing

It seems like such a nice house, much like its neighbors on Amigo Avenue in Reseda. It has been painted more recently than many of them. The only sign of any unusual activity is a brown dumpster in front of the house.

Let yourself into the backyard by way of a wooden gate, and you stumble across morbid mementos. A wall panel covered with photographs of women, with their features defaced. A broken shopping cart. Various sharp implements. A sinister-looking cage just the right size to hold a human being captive.

There is also blood. Lots of it. Gallons of it, in fact. It is stored in bottles: ketchup bottles, water bottles, and bladders with dropper-like attachments.

There are also cables running every which way, sound and camera equipment, costumes hanging up in a covered staging area, and a table where food is served for more than a dozen people.

Yes indeed, this pleasant household has been converted for a time into a movie set, and it is here that an independent horror flick entitled The Cellar Door is being filmed on the fly and for a song.

Inside the house, all of the floors have been covered with paper. Fake walls have been installed. Windows have covered and sealed. The main bedroom has been converted into a makeup facility, with a bedspread of latex flesh wounds, as if a demon-being could wrap itself up in a quilt of lethal injuries. These are the prosthetics that are painstakingly glued to actors' bodies and painted to simulate horrific and gory mayhem.

I am introduced to James Dumont, the actor playing our serial killer. He sits in a specially designated cheap plastic chair. He must sit exclusively in this chair because he is covered in fake blood and we cannot get blood on any of the real furniture. He sits there, drenched in blood, with a remarkably nauseating wound oozing on his forehead, chatting on a cell phone with his children. "Hi sweetheart!"

This will be my largest role on film to date: a door-to-door Christian missionary who knocks on the serial killer's door, and as a result - well - he goes home to Jesus sooner than he intended. By way of a knife in the gut.

I am stabbed many times with a retractable knife. That's right, the plastic kind that you can buy right now at the convenience store in the Halloween section. The retractable is not retracting very well, and every time DuMont stabs me the blade snaps off. I feel like Superman.

Instead of laughing triumphantly like a superhero, I sell it: grab my gut and go "aaaauuugghh! eaaaaaauuggghhh!! bweeeooooaaaaahhh!!!" and crumple to the floor trying not to smash my head into the filmmakers' equipment. The lighting guy actually requests that I try not to damage his lighting stand with my head. I agree to this.

The film is being shot on high-definition video, which means I can't use the cliche about getting the scene "in the can." There is no can. It's a hard drive. What am I supposed to say? "We got it in the hard drive?" "It's ready for upload?" Anyway, we got the scene done fairly quickly and it was time for me to sit in the makeup chair.

Time seems to disappear when you have two women hovering about you gluing things to your face and calling you "honey," but I think an hour passed. They worked quickly, gluing some pretty disgusting wounds to my face and matching them to my skin. The adhesive smells strongly of alcohol and other mysterious ingredients. They also a kind of cream that is reportedly very difficult to get off the skin. For one deep wound near my jawbone, one of the artists actually simulated a bit of cartilage – a detail that will surely be lost when they pour blood all over me. Once I look sufficiently disgusting they send me on my way.

Since I know I will be sitting around for a while, I get out the ukulele and practice. They feed us lunch. I practice "Michelle," the Beatles tune, for hours and listen to the mayhem going on within the house. For one shot, a woman runs through the house shrieking at the top of her voice for take after take. There is a sort of reverse Doppler effect to this:


as I quietly play the opening of "Michelle."

* * *

Hours and hours pass. Thank God the makeup doesn't itch.

* * *

It is time to shoot the scene where my body is discovered. Very carefully, I am placed in a bathtub, and another actor (also playing dead) is placed on top of me. The makeup team cuts up our costumes with scissors to simulate additional stab wounds. Then the little bladders with dropper-like attachments come out, and the two of us are drenched in sticky-soapy crimson goo. When the bladders run low on blood, they fart and the blood comes out full of bubbles. Ppppfffffttttttt.

We settle in, wet and sticky, doing our open-eyed death stare. We are there for at least an hour. The scene is being filmed in an actual bathroom, and there is barely space for the photographer and her camera. At one point, she actually stands on the toilet on her tippy-toes, leaning out so far I expect her to fall into the tub with me.

Suddenly, it's a wrap. One by one, the bloody people are helped out of their shoes and given a chance to shower. Since this was the only bathroom on premises, a great many people are queued up with their legs crossed.

We actors have to sit in the makeup chair for a while as a smelly anti-adhesive is applied to our faces and the prosthetics are removed bit by bit. I am warned that this stuff will burn, but it doesn't. In fact, everything comes off very quickly and I emerge from my shower in time to get a piece of pizza and a cold beer.

No dead person ever enjoyed a beer so much.


boombud said...

Clearly the sort of triumphant satisfaction every aspirant dreams will happen to them one lucky day.

This industry of fear disguised as entertainment could use a healthier focus. The Cellar Door is no South Pacific.

boombud said...

But I am thrilled to presume you have accrued more SAG credits, and are on the path to bigger and better things [and how could you not be?]

Comment cut short last night due to employee crisis. I'm leading a crew of 22 at the moment. Fast paced action adventure in the food service industry!