The other day, when our driver, Gustavo (Daniel has graduated to Transportation coordinator) was getting extremely lost while driving us to set, I just tried to get comfortable in our truly uncomfortable van and not get angry. Sure, it's slightly upsetting when the director, producer and director of photography are driving through some dark backroads of Mexico City, while an entire crew and cast waits for us impatiently at location. Sure this could get me mad. But here in Mexico City, while making a movie, getting lost on the way to set is the least of the production headaches.
Lunches seem to be held whenever the caterer gets around to it. That's not to say the food isn't good. It's actually very good. The chef's noted for her cornflake encrusted fried chicken with two kinds of cheese in the middle. It's better than you would think. I'm getting so fat, it's kinda scary. Remember those thin photos of Francis Coppola when he was a young guy? Remember what he looks like now? Think cornflake encrusted fried chicken with two kinds of cheese. But my point is not the fattiness of the food or your loyal note-taker, instead it is the fact that catering seems to operate on it's own clock. Lunch could be at one. Or one thirty. Or two.
Catering seems to be running on it's own internal clock. But believe me I'll take the catering's tardiness over the Parking Production assistant's stupidity any day of the week. The Parking Pa.'s here seem to think someone parking their car infront of our location and promising, just promising to move it in the morning is a way to guarantee that the car will actually be gone when we need to film. Of course this does not happen. Instead you get about fifteen very fat grips basically lifting the parked car and moving it around the block. The Mexican crews may operate in their own special style, but they are very, very strong.
Actually the crew themselves are great. Sarah, our Director of Photography, and I were slightly nervous at their reaction to a woman in charge and giving orders. (There is exactly one female DP in Mexico film history, and she promptly got married to the first American actor she worked with and moved to LA.) The crew not only respects Sarah, but they seem to go out of their way to please her. They are talented, professional and very nice and extraordinarily fast. We did 19 set ups our first day, 26 our second. 13 interior setups our third day. In NY we'd still be eating breakfast. The only problem seems to be that they keep calling Sarah, Senor. As in, "Can you move that HMI to the left?" "Si, Senor." It's not that they're being mean, it's just that these big fat talented fifty year old Mexican grips and electric's have never, ever worked for a woman. Every one of them is named Jesus or Enrique or Morocco(?!). They are like five of each of them on this show. It makes remembering people's names very easy. I say "Buenos dias, Jesus" and I have a one in three shot of getting it right.
In America between every take, the assistant Director yells "Last Looks" which is code for the make-up and wardrobe departments to come over and bother the actor while they remove indiscernible pieces of lint from their jackets, and reapply make-up to their already too made-up faces. This happens between every take. On every set up. It takes about two minutes. Do the math. 15 set ups, 5 takes = 75 "Last looks" At two minutes a pop that = 150 minutes. I'm no math major but that comes out to be roughly two and a half hours! Two and a half hours of a twelve hour day!! I mean, that is insane. This "last looks" thing has always annoyed me to no end. It's a total waste of time, total buzz kill and annoys the shit out of the actors who are trying to get ready to play their parts. On Oxygen I actually tried to ban last looks, but nearly caused a crew revolt from the make up and wardrobe departments in the process. Well, there's no problem here. Last looks? Forget it. They've never even heard of it. Sarah says she's ready to film and presto, film is going through the camera. It took us three days to realize why we were going so fast, to realize that last looks, like eating lunch on time, just does not exist here in Mexico City.
As for the film itself, I try to be modest in this humble journal, but things are going extremely well. Sarah and I worked long and hard trying to come up with a shooting style and visual look for this film. In the past we've had to compromise, but with the help of an amazingly productive preproduction and a very fast crew who does not bother de-linting between takes, we have been able to get every shot we planned, plus more all in 11 hour hours. This film is going to look amazing.
Directing actors who do not speak English is a bit like directing children. Basically miserable. Thankfully Alexandra, our supervising producer, is helpful in translations, but it usually takes three or four tries before the actors actually get what I mean. So a simple bit of stage direction like "Stop here and turn right," becomes an exercise in patience as it is translated to "Stop and turn, right?" so the actor misses his mark and turns left. Also it has taken some energy to make sure the bit actors realize that this is not Telemundo and that their can keep their Crispen Glover overacting mannerisms to a minimum. But like working with children, they are many rewards--Mostly I don't have to spend a lot of time in time in actor/director small talk. No "funny" stories about their guest starring bit on "Charles in Charge" and how they were very, very close to Ed Norton's part in "Primal Fear." All in all, the past three days have basically been about camera and great faces and I think I'm going to have a helluva opening sequence. The real work begins on monday when Stacy Edwards starts and the Telemundo acting stuff better go out the window fast or I'm going to find myself working at a taco stand near the Paseo De La Reforma for fifty pesos a day.
Stacy arrived on Friday night. We sent Antonio, one of the Zavalla brothers to pick her up at the airport. This way I figured, she'd think everyone in the production was as charming, handsome and suave as he was. Little does she know that we're all cheese eating cretins scowling the night for the cheapest tequila and stripper joints. Actually Jesse, our second unit director seems to be becoming an expert on the seedier side of Mexico City. He's already been to several strip clubs, had lap dancers from half the working girls in Mexico and somehow managed to find some hookers who charge 30 pesos a "dance." Thirty pesos for those of you out of the loop on the exchange rate, is three dollars American. Jesse has promised me he will not sleep with any of them without a full Dustin Hoffman Outbreak outfit on. Between Jesse's troll for the dirtiest filthiness, Alexandra's love for Bullfights and cockfights (we go next weekend) and my love of all things beautiful and bleak, I see a tour book coming out of this trip and I'm not talking Fodors.
Stacy Edwards and I rehearsed with Jorge Robles who plays Pedro, the Mexican lead, last night after I finished filming. Hearing them read together made me so very happy. The chemistry I was looking for was there. Stacy has the depth and humanity needed for the part. Jorge is charming. It's all up to me to not screw this up. I'm heading to rehearsals on my day off right now. My stomach is holding up. I'm sleeping all right. I have not partied with Victor in days. Wish me luck...
Back: The Films of Richard Shepard - Mexico Citywww.richardshepard.com