Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tale of a Night-Time Shot

The work that goes into a shot that may last four seconds on screen is considerable.

What you will see in the film is a brief glimpse of a man dragging a body that is wrapped in a tarp. It is night-time, and he is dragging the tarp across the back yard of somebody's home.

In order to light this scene for the camera, the crew assembled a metal frame measuring twenty feet by twenty feet. This frame was then secured to two legs that have retractable extensions, allowing the crew to raise the legs high into the air. There is also a hinge permitting the frame to be rotated to any desired angle. After this was assembled, the crew carefully produced an exquisite and fragile swath of white silk, and tied it across the frame like a sail.

When light is aimed through the silk, it has a gorgeous effect, casting a glow akin to moonlight over a large area. It took over an hour to assemble this apparatus, and that's when things became interesting.

As the silk was tied down and they began to raise the frame up into the air, a powerful evening wind suddenly blew in, with frequent gusts over 40 miles per hour. It was then the crew realized that they had assembled a gigantic paraglider, and the nearest hands (including your humble correspondent) quickly grabbed onto the legs to hold the thing down before it literally blew away.

Rather than risk ripping the silk, the decision was made to take it all down, which required another hour of work. Actors were wrapped for the night and they didn't get the shot until the next night.

That's how much work often goes into an image you will see for all of four seconds on screen.

The next night, the winds returned, so they had to light the scene without the paraglider. The prop mistress assembled the tarp, stuffing it with pillows so as to look like it contains a corpse. I was in costume with my rifle, ready to shoot the scene. Just as we seemed ready to go, they sent me to the editing room to "check continuity."

What that means is, they wanted me to look at older footage from the same scene to make sure I was in the matching costume. Strange, but all right. Quickly I was escorted in to the room where the editor is already at work, putting scenes together for the trailer. As it happened the editor wasn't even at his post, and some people were instead watching the Lakers and the Celtics doing battle.

After tarrying there for a minute, I returned. The errand was unnecessary anyway, as I was definitely in the right outfit. Everything was ready and I got on my mark. The director had a word with me before the take, saying, "This time, I want to try this: before you drag the body, just open the tarp a little bit and check in there, make sure the body is secure."

Accepting my instructions, I got in place, the crew cleared away, quiet was called, camera and sound began rolling, and the director called action. I stepped in to the tarp and began to open it just a bit, when suddenly the tarp came alive with a terrible flailing and kicking, and a voice inside howled in protest. I squawked and retreated a step as a head emerged from the tarp. It was the editor, bursting from the tarp and howling, "Damn it, Algernon! You woke me up!!"

The entire crew rolled with mirth, including me -- once I had restarted my heart.

After a quick reset, it was time to go, and this time we finally got the shot.

[Photo: Neil, a fun-loving member of our crew, battles the wind on location in El Paso.]

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Truly gives one an appreciation for the hard work involved in filming a movie.