my intro to Doug's series and Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V of "Writer Held Hostage".
I recently had the pleasure of reading Doug's new book, The Safety Expert. If you've enjoyed Doug's writing, and it seems as if many of you have, I can assure you'll love his latest novel. Here's my Amazon review:
It's been a long time since I was drawn into a thriller so compelling, I couldn't put it down. Even the latest by some of the masters of the genre have left me flat. But The Safety Expert is a different animal. One of the things I loved, something I felt untraditional for the genre, was that the plot did not center and accelerate around big reveals, but was propelled by smaller reveals about the characters themselves. I found it fascinating to walk in the shadows of these characters as they discovered new facets of their humanity, or rediscovered deeply buried aspects of their nature, dislodged and raised again to the surface by circumstance. But, don't think for a second this is a simple "man (men) pushed to the brink" story - It's a story about being forced to look in the mirror, both rear view and full length, and making peace with what stares back, no matter the cost. I love how just about every character tried to sweep the past under the rug, only to find it seeping out the sides.
But don't take my word for it, I'm not the only one giving the book great reviews. You can pick up Doug's book The Safety Expert for only $10.79 in paperback and $7.99 for the Kindle edition. I can't recommend it enough.
ONE LAST TASTY MORSEL
In Part V I stated a belief that hindsight was a gift. May I add that another gift was the opportunity to write this epic blog post for the good folks who occupy Stage 32. It's not just about the insightful and classy Richard Botto offering me this forum for which I'm so very grateful. It's also about having the chance to put some of my experiences on Hostage into words. Putting these selected pieces of the journey into words allowed me to crystallize some thoughts while calling some of my earlier calculations and decisions to account. Not just for myself to answer, but also for you, the readers, to ponder. Your continued comments, thoughts, and queries are supremely appreciated.
And now, the last spicy morsel from the Hostage trenches.
For days, Bruce seemed hung up on a scene we were scheduled to shoot at the end of the week. We were nearing the end of our night shoots. Even better, we were finally going to be taking our circus somewhere other than a chilly, tobacco-free mountaintop overlooking Malibu. Every smoker on the crew was tired of sneaking off to his car for a few drags.
The part of the script weighing on the movie star's brain took place in a coffee shop. Bruce's character, the small town Chief of Police, had just handed off a perilous situation to the Ventura County Sheriffs. In the scene, while sitting in a window booth, he gets a make-up phone call from his estranged wife. After, during a reflective moment over a cup of coffee and a bear claw, a precocious little girl raps on the window then presses her face against the glass in order to put some cheer into the dour police chief.
"So I get the phone call," said Bruce, toweling off after stepping down from his work-out trailer. "But what's the thing with the little girl and the face on the glass?"
"She does it to make you smile," I said. "No big deal. Just a button on the end of scene."
"And why's that important?"
"Because in a matter of minutes, everything for your character is about to turn to shit. And it's the last time we see you smile." I could see the wheels behind Bruce's eyes. Processing. So I added this little prosaic nudge. "It's a final ray of daylight before your world turns completely dark."
Bruce was still pondering. He wasn't sold. And dammit I wanted to close.
"Okay," I said. "Put yourself in the same spot as the Chief. In a moment like that, what would make you smile?"
"...I know," he smirked. "Kate makes me smile."
"My Kate?" I confirmed, referring to my four-year old daughter.
"Yeah. Love how she's not scared of anybody. Looks you right in the eye."
Bruce is the father of three girls. They're all very close. Rumer had a small part in our picture. Scout had assisted us in a day of rehearsal. And Bruce would often remark to me how much my daughter reminded him of his youngest child, Tallulah Belle.
Swell, I thought. At four, Kate already had her black belt in getting noticed.
"Great," I said, preparing to move on to the next order of business. "So when we do the scene, you can imagine the little girl at the window is Kate."
"Nope," said Bruce. "I want Kate to be the little girl."
"Yeah, sure," I said. I was accustomed to Bruce pulling my chain. Which was fine, because I usually gave as good as I got.
"I'm serious," he said. "Let's make Kate the little girl at the window."
"Very funny," I said, clipping the conversation short. "Anyway, Victoria has already cast some cute set of twins. Money's spent."
Why twins? Merely the standard production practice when using really young children. Social Services wisely limits the work hours for little kids. By casting identical twins, the movie is assured to have the young lookalikes available throughout the shooting day. Or, in the case of Hostage, all night should something go awry in the schedule.
Thinking I'd finally closed the big bald guy, the subject didn't come up until the next day.
"So is Kate gonna do it?" asked Bruce between one of our camera set ups.
"You're not serious," I said.
"Totally serious," said Bruce.
Bruce was still smirking. I assumed he'd just moved on to busting balls after pulling my chain. Then came Wednesday. Bruce walked me over to the edge of the set.
"So Kate's gonna be in the coffee shop scene on Friday, right?" asked Bruce.
"You're not done with this?" I said, exasperated.
"Look. Kate really makes me smile," he said. "C'mon. If Tallulah was still small enough, I'd be doing it with her."
"She's only four," I said.
"All she's gotta do is be Kate." Then came the leverage. "You want a button on the scene or not?"
I made Bruce no promises other than I'd consult my wife, Karen. I phoned home. After Karen and I discussed the situation, we decided we were fine with our daughter playing the part of the little girl in the window on two conditions: The first was obvious. Did Kate want to do the scene with Bruce? The second demand was that Hawk schedule the scene for early in on Friday evening.
Bruce grinned broadly and slapped me five. But minutes later, when I bumped into Dieter Busch, our Second A.D., I insisted there were no guarantees my daughter was up for the acting task. So just in case, make sure the stunt twins remained on the call sheet.
So Friday arrives with the usual exhaustion after a week of seeing little daylight. The location was an old diner in South Pasadena. Per my request, Hawk Koch had thankfully arranged for "Kate's moment" to be our first shot of the night.
My dear wife, having spent the better part of her day racing hither and yon to acquire the proper permits for my daughter to "perform" in the movie, arrived at the set with a pair of cranky kids, our youngest child craving food. So while Kate discovered the large platter of cookies on the craft service table, Henry was welcomed into Bruce's trailer for a personal boys-only tour given by the action star himself. All seemed well.
Then the earth began to tilt.
Enter Elizabetta, the movie's costumer. She kindly escorted Kate and Karen over to the wardrobe trailer in order to dress Kate for the scene. Unfortunately, poor Elizabetta didn't receive the memo explaining that the four-year-old ing'enue, in lieu of napping and eating, had spent the better part of her afternoon fussing over the outfit best suited for her feature debut. And please don't ask me where she gets the girly gene. I barely remember to shave and my wife still cleaves to her student athletic roots. Yet at six months old, my baby girl would point me around the mall so she could ogle women's shoes.
The tantrum my one and only daughter threw in the wardrobe trailer would've made Jennifer Lopez proud. And when she refused to allow gentle Kenny from hair and make-up anywhere near her carefully teased curls, she burst into tears and wanted to go home.
This is when Florent appeared, informed Kate she looked beautiful in the way only a Frenchman can, and ushered her to the set. I pulled Dieter to the side and asked him to prep the identical twins.
The camera set up was inside the restaurant, facing the boulevard just beyond the window. Bruce slid into the booth. Kate, holding her favorite Barbie Doll for emotional support, was asked to walk up to the window, playfully smush her face up against the glass for attention, then smile at Uncle Bruce.
"I don't want to smile at Bruce," she said, arms crossed and holding her square foot of ground.
I asked her pretty please. Her mother asked her pretty please with sugar and something. As did Florent, Hawk, and First Assistant Director Mark Catone. Everything was offered but stock in Mattel.
"I won't smile at Bruce," she pouted.
"Then what will you smile at?" asked the Mark, the genius.
"I like to smile at my brother," said Kate.
The brilliance of a great First AD is his or her knack for problem solving in a crunch. Mark's idea was to cheat Henry beneath the camera along the eye-line between Bruce and Kate. Because there was a reflection issue with the window, my eight-year-old boy was gleefully swathed like a sultan in black Duvetyne.
For the littlest starlet to cement her immortality on film, all she needed to do was push her adorable face up against the window and give a smile for her big brother, Henry...
...But first she had to begin the scene holding the hand of the actress hired to play her mom.
Chernobyl? Three Mile Island? Those famed meltdowns didn't hold a candle to the nuclear disaster of a hungry four-year-old, short of sleep, and surrounded by blazing hot lights, sixty or so people juiced-up on Red Bull and tobacco, not to mention the smirking bald movie star who thought he had charm enough to tame the crankiest toddler.
In a last ditch effort, Florent shouted for Karen to step in for the actress.
Now, my wife makes Bigfoot look like Kim Kardashian waiting for the paparazzi. After a sharp glare that made my stomach flip, Karen gathered our wailing daughter into her arms, attempted some motherly magic in hopes to calm her, was directed to an actor's mark on the rainy sidewalk, and prayed for a miracle. Florent yelled "action." The camera rolled. Bruce tried ever so hard to flirt with Kate through that big pane of tempered glass. All to no avail. My darling Kate had crossed over into a world of sobs and tears that only Mr. Sandman had the power to console.
I waved at Dieter, who rushed in with the first twin on deck and the stunt mommy. Somebody handed the little blonde actress my daughter's precious Barbie Doll in the shimmering white wedding dress. Three quick takes later it was over and the crew was moving on to the next set-up.
And the writer breathed a long sigh of relief.
The evening wasn't a total loss. Henry got to hang with the camera crew for another hour, even getting a chance to sit in Florent's chair and call out "action" and "cut."
Naturally, in the final cut of the picture, the "button" at the end of the coffee shop scene was cut somewhere around the time we were trying to shave the end product to a running length under two hours.
Yeah. I'm with you. That was a lot of useless drama for a few frames of picture that never ended up in the film. But such is the nature of making a movie.
As for my family, each of us has had plenty of chances to use that special human gift of hindsight when it comes to reflecting upon that torturous night. With time, the event has become a fond family memory. For a few of the following years, my daughter would occasionally imbue to me that on my next movie, if she was given a second chance at her "moment," she'd be wise enough not to squander her chance at a few ticks of cinematic immortality. Today, Kate's a very cool pre-teen. Though she cringes a little at the thought of this goofy tale being released into the blogosphere, she does so with a full tank of good humor.
She did ask me to print this one regret about that dreadful night in February. That somebody, somehow allowed that replacement twin to manhandle her favorite Barbie Doll in the wedding dress. That doll was never the same. And truth be told, she's still a little pissed off.
For your entertainment pleasure, I've uploaded some outtakes of the scene, including my son directing Bruce Willis, my daughter's massacred Barbie Doll in the hands of the stunt twin, Bruce ordering a croissant for Florent, and the few precious seconds of the celluloid we rolled on my wife attempting to get my distraught little princess to grace the big bad movie star with some kind of smile.
Remember, Doug is STILL available to answer any inquiries or humbly accept accolades. Now is the chance to ask an industry insider those questions about the craft, the business, or his wife's baking, burning inside of you.