The Great Bill Paxton

I’ve only worked once with Bill, and it was not long ago… the pilot for his last project Training Day. We were all excited to work with him as the stories of his professionalism and easy going sense of humor were legendary. He was as humble as can be… fun and treated my crew with such respect and humor… talking to the grips, electricians and camera people between takes. Just a sweet nice guy and magnificently talented. On one of our off-days, I decided to watch Apollo 13, in which Bill played astronaut Fred Haise. Upon Fred getting sick in space and vomiting over the cabin of the Apollo Spacecraft, the other astronauts in the scene radioed that Fred might be skipping his next meal. To which Fred replied (pardon the language); “I’m hungry. I could eat the ass out of a dead Rhinoceros.” I remember falling over laughing when I heard Bill say that line, so when I saw him on the following Monday, I made a point of telling him how great he was in that film and how much I loved that line delivery. Bill said; “I added that line. It wasn’t in the script. Gary Busey gave me that line and said he had been trying to work it into his dialogue for years but never could do it… so he sorta gave the line to me to use, and I was able to work it in there. The problem was, I called Gary that night and told him I used the rhinoceros line and he told me he had since used it himself in a film. That son of a bitch.” Haha. Bill’s story about the line was even funnier than the line. Later that same day, we got a little behind on our day and the Director of the project got a little impatient with the crew and with frustration that his day had gotten slightly away from him, shouted to the crew from the video monitors to hurry up so he could shoot. Because Bill stood with us all day long, he could see that the crew was working hard and that the demands of the day were quite ambitious. So, he elected to lighten the mood by shouting to the crew with a half grin; “Let’s go you sons of bitches! Godammit you guys are all useless… every last one of you! C’mon you bastards!” The crew couldn’t stop laughing and even the Director appreciated Bill’s levity. What a guy. Rest in peace Bill.

 

The Wolfman – Geraldine Chaplin

I’d be remiss if I did not include a frame of Geraldine Chaplin as part of the great experience of shooting this film. She plays a Gypsy wise-elder… or is it fortune telling charlatan? She had a complete and total reverence for the set and filmmaking process. It was hard not to think that her father had engrained this appreciation into her upbringing. She had long passages if dialogue and was serious about her work and as kind as can be to the crew and the camera. I loved her performance and I loved her eyes! They caught light from almost any angle and this was important for her character. A typical gypsy fortune teller might be perceived with the stereotype as a rip-off artist… But we wanted her words to ring with sincerity. It became clear upon meeting her that this truth was going to come from her eyes and I made every endeavor to make them expressive and pure. Not a difficult task, keeping in mind what I had to work with… But important to have that kind of intent based on the storytelling.

 

Jurassic Park 3 – Jungles

Shot from Jurassic Park 3… Stage 12 jungle set. Director Joe Johnston wanted to have the ability to look any direction at any time without waiting for time consuming re-lights. I spoke to Larry Parker at Mole Richardson and discovered they were about to come out with large MoleBeams with newly engineered Bausch & Lomb mirrors. Larry made me something in the range of 70 of these units to serve as sunlight for our stages. On stage 12, we had 44 units rigged on a motorized overhead rail system so that we could move our lights over the set and change our sun patterns in just a couple of minutes, thus freeing time for Joe to work with his amazing cast from that film. The gaffer was John Sprague, and he worked very hard throughout that project as much of the rigs were on a large scale. Key Grip, Bob Babin created fantastic and amazing rigs for our lights, cameras and sun control on a scale never attempted. A-Camera operator was longtime collaborator, Don Devine and focus puller Mike Martino. I’m thankful to have had such a gifted crew.

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Jurassic Park 3, Stage 12 jungle set. Sam Neil reprised his role as Dr. Alan Grant, and it wouldn’t be a Jurassic film without him. There’s one of our hardworking MoleBeams behind him. One tip that Allen Daviau, ASC gave me as a result of his experiences on the film Congo… “You need atmosphere to create depth but don’t use smoke. Use high pressure water mist so you can place your atmosphere in layers and avoid too much build up.” No truer words were ever spoken. The mist system was brilliant.

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Jungle Visual Reference Image. Director, Joe Johnston gave me this illustration by Paleo Artist Doug Henderson as the best example to create our visual layers on stage. We were able to construct a methodology where we had deepening degrees if light and shadow created into depth within the frame. Ed Verreaux, the incredible Production Designer also contributed by very cleverly designing a jungle consisting of plants with lessening degrees of foliage scale as we shot towards the outer edges of the set in order to mimic depth within our stage confines. Stage 12 at Universal is gargantuan… But seemed to become quite small as our sequences grew.

Hidalgo – Omar Sharif

Omar Sharif. To do a picture in the Sahara with Omar Sharif is perhaps a little too outlandishly perfect. In this film, he plays the Sheik who invites Frank Hopkins to race in the Middle East. We shot many of our desert exteriors in Morocco, basing out of Erfoud near the Merzouga Dunes. Not an elegant place and when we got back to the hotel and washed off the red sand and mud accumulated after a day’s work, we all agreed our hotel bathrooms looked as though a murder had just occurred. I think we were washing red sand out of our ears for months. Omar, on the other hand, was the picture of elegance and style. On set, he was humble, patient and as kind and collaborative as an actor can be with a crew. He enjoyed watching the crew work and was fascinated by how they did their jobs in such difficult conditions. At the end of a hard day’s work, we would come dragging back to our hotel, tracking red dirt through the lobby and our eyes stinging from the daily sandstorms that hit us… And there would Omar be, sitting by the pool in a perfectly pressed silk suit and tie… The picture of elegance. He would wave the crew over to his table, order us a beer and Spanish peanuts and invite us to unwind. He did this for everybody no matter what department they were in. He was just so thankful to the crew. At these times, the old Lawrence Of Arabia stories would start to flow. We heard about the cast and crew camping in tents on location in Syria and how he learned to ride a camel… And the Oscar night when he stood to except the award after Ed Begley’s name was announced as the winner. Fantastic. And to sit there and know the great Sahara Desert was just over the hotel wall. It was beyond belief and I think Omar knew very well just how in awe we were to hear these stories on his stage. As a result, his character in the film is presented as one of great wisdom, belief and faith in what is honorable and right. I think the way he interacted with everybody helped them personify those traits for his character.

Training Day

We flew some amazing aerials over the Los Angeles area a few weeks back. Went up early over downtown and right after sunrise, flew down over Long Beach/San Pedro area and had this incredible marine layer effect in the harbor. It was laying low and the big gantry cranes were protruding out from what looked like clouds. We rolled like crazy on different angles and enjoyed the undulating look of the fog. It was burning off as we shot, so it was a fleeting moment and we exposed to favor this warm hi-con look we have for this project. Director Danny Cannon was flying with us and he was mentored by the great Tony Scott. Therefore, his film languaging is largely visual and he encourages big, bold rule breaking. I told him over the headsets that I’ve never seen LA look like this from the air. His reply: “Sometimes all you need is a foreigner up here taking a look and you’ve got a new view on it.” Was he ever right.

 

Expendables II

This was my first film with Director Simon West, who interviewed, and hired me, over the phone. I met him for the first time in Bulgaria, where we shot the film. We had our cast of Expendables, being mainly Stallone, Statham etc. And our full-time villain Jean Claude Van Damme. Others would come and go for a few days at a time, such as Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris and Bruce Willis. Bruce was with us for about 5 days and on his final day, we shot a long 3-page monologue between he and Stallone in a tight airplane fuselage parked on the tarmac. This was his introduction in the film and we had him in very sketchy light… with very hot rim-light coming in through the windscreen and his face in a very faded pool of greenish light. The airplane was packed with our three cameras, actors, and sound. Our intent was to finish Bruce’s side by lunch, turn around on Sly then move to an adjoining stage for a quick 13/8 pages on another set. Upon completing Bruce’s side at 12:15, he announced he would be catching an afternoon flight that required him to leave us by 1PM. Yikes. We quickly moved everything to the next stage for our last scene. The only wrinkle was that I was going to spend lunch finishing the lighting and since lunch was now non-existent, I was in a pickle. Yasho, our hard working Bulgarian Gaffer helped plug lights in as I wheeled them into place and made gel calls… that were surprisingly understood by the non-English speaking Bulgarian electricians. At about 12:45, Stallone came up to me and asked, “Shelly, how much longer are you gonna be because he’s leaving at 1:00.” I told him and Simon to just start rolling and I’d complete the lighting while we shot take 1… and by no means should they cut the cameras. I had three fresh mags loaded and I advised they roll continuously until they had the scene… assuming Bruce would head for his car upon hearing the word “cut.” The lighting was completed and we got the scene by 1:01. On his way out Bruce shook my hand and leaned-in into my ear, “I thought for sure you weren’t going to get that… good job.” Then he left the set wearing the wardrobe department’s $3,000 Armani suit. It’s a beautiful business!