The last series of shots we did for the A&E Stephen King miniseries Bag of Bones had us working in close conjunction with mega-star Pierce Brosnan.
As a kid I always assumed that the Remington Steele actor would inherit the role of James Bond from Roger Moore. Unfortunately his television contract initially precluded his involvement in the venerable spy saga. Instead, Timothy Dalton assumed the role for two films. Then a legal battle broke out which resulted in the cancellation of a third Dalton Bond project in the early Nineties. By the time all the legal wrangling was over, six years had gone by before the producers could finally offer this iconic role to Pierce.
In an arrangement that had fans thinking 'better late then never', Pierce put his own unique stamp on the 007 role over the course of four solid films. To this day many people still see him as the prototypical James Bond. In addition to really looking the part, Roger Ebert described Brosnan as "somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete" then his predecessor's take on Bond. In fact, I consider Goldeneye to be one of the best of the entire series. It's just a bit lamentable that the role hadn't come to him earlier.
In retrospect, things probably worked out for the best. After all, if Pierce had assumed the role right after playing Remington Steele he might have been typecast forever. Instead, he's enjoyed a long and celebrated career in such diverse films as Mama Mia!, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The Thomas Crown Affair, Grey Owl, Dante's Peak and Mrs. Doubtfire.
So, there we were: me, Shannon, Ashley and few other select folks, hanging out on a film set with a former British secret agent with a license to kill. What can I say; sometimes life can take a decidedly odd detour into the surreal.
Again the action we were to follow was pretty straightforward. Reacting to the awful sound of an accident, Pierce had to rush out through the doors, push his way past the gathered crowd and then break into the clearing where his wife's body was lying in the street. As part of the continuity contingent from the previous day's bookstore scene, we had to run out just seconds behind him.
Before we charged out the door, Pierce looked back at us and smiled knowingly. We barely had a chance to acknowledge this since we were all totally preoccupied with making sure that we could clear the doors quickly without trampling all over each other. We'd already been instructed to wait a few beats before following "Mike" out the door, which seemed to jibe with the previous scene inside the "bookstore".
After working in close proximity with Pierce Brosnan for three days, I have to say that this guy is a consummate professional who really takes his craft seriously. Heading into this emotionally taxing scene he had a certain restlessness about him. At the time I couldn't tell if this edginess was a symptom of the thirty-seven day production schedule or if he was just attempting to ease himself up into a pretty dark headspace.
One person who seemed completely unfazed by the scale of everything around him was director Mick Garris. Leading up to the first take, Mick gave Pierce the option to wear a jacket during the scene, presumably to keep him sheltered against the incessant rain. Taking continuity over personal comfort, Pierce dismissed the offer and continued to psyche himself up for the scene.
Just before the cameras started to roll, Pierce got a bit twitchy when a crewman made the mistake of disappearing with his prop pen. It seemed like an agonizing wait before all of the elements were in place and the equipment was all up to speed. When 'Action!' was finally called, Pierce charged through the door and hit all of his marks like a pro. After a few seconds, we hustled out the door right behind him, only to witness a scene rife with gallows humor.
For the purposes of establishing a sight line, the dummy representing Jo Noonan was still lying in the street, rigor-stiff with clawed hands outstretched skyward like a zombie in the video for Thriller. Instantly I got shades of Martin Prince from that "Treehouse of Horror" episode of The Simpsons:
It took all of our willpower to keep reacting to the ridiculous sight with horror. Mercifully "Cut!" was finally called and, as it turned out, I'd been a lot more successful keeping a straight face then some other extras.
"Alright!" P.A. Mike shouted. "Remember, this is a very serious, very somber moment. Unless some of you actually think that a woman getting run over by a bus is funny."
I quickly deduced two things from this: (1) Some background performers aren't very professional and (2) Mike has never played Grand Theft Auto IV.
After a few additional takes we ventured deeper into the scene. Annabeth re-appeared, this time looking as if she'd actually been smoked by that Greyhound. The special effects team had expertly rendered her thoroughly bruised, contused and abused. Mercifully the dummy stand-in was carted away and Annabeth sprawled out into the street in its place.
As if all the gore and bruises weren't nasty enough, a special effects dude came by and practically hosed her down in stage blood. We then marched back into the lobby to attempt another take. A wardrobe woman began hovering around Pierce, using a swatch of absorbent fabric to try and minimize the dark raindrop spots on his blue shirt. After she was dismissed another woman appeared and blew something straight into the actor's eyes. Later we learned that it was a menthol "tear blower" which is designed to help actors get the water works a-flowin'. Here's a snap of this curious-looking device:
Again we charged out into the elements. Pierce pushed his way through the crowd, grabbed the limp form of Annabeth, cradled her in his arms and then began howling in pain. After "Cut!" was called, we quickly beat a hasty retreat back into the shelter provided by the "bookstore" entrance.
Mick Garris came in to remind Pierce to react to the shopping bag and its contents scattered on the ground beside Annabeth. Brosnan protested that he didn't get a chance to do this since the cameras stopped rolling before he could even get to it. Garris apologized for the oversight and they went right back at it. If there was any lingering tension between the two it wasn't apparent.
We went again and this time the results were much better. Again, Pierce barreled through the throng of people, threw himself down beside Annabeth, gently took up her rag doll form and began to weep. This time he made a point to first spot and then reacts to the innocuous items strewn onto the road. Several paramedics then piled in to try to pull him back but he shook off their efforts, told them to "F#@% off!" and then rushed back to her.
Even though I was cupping my hands to my face, looking distressed and whispering in horror to my fellow onlookers, all I could think at the time was:
'Wow, are they allowed to say 'f#@%' on A&E now?'
And this is a perfect example of what people mean by "movie magic". Witnessing this scene first hand, it seemed overwrought and melodramatic. But I know, guaranteed, that when it plays out on television screen all across the country, it's gonna be intense, powerful and emotional.
We ran the scene a few more times and eventually nailed it. Although it was unseasonably warm for mid-September, it was raining pretty hard by then and Annabeth was still splayed out in the street between takes. Sometimes it seemed to take forever before her assistants arrived on the scene to shelter her with an umbrella and cover her up with a blanket.
Indeed, she almost seemed relieved to be shooting the next scene in which she gets lifted onto a stretcher and covered with a white sheet. Now warmly enswaddled, the extras dressed as paramedics lifted her up into the back of the ambulance. Instantly I could see why casting companies prefer to hire real paramedics, cops and firemen. Despite having cameras and lights pointed at them, everything I saw these guys do had a distinct air of confidence, proficiency and authority about it.
We went back into a holding pattern after that and I was socked to hear that it was now well past 1 pm. Annabeth came inside and continued to putter around with us, still looking like death warmed over. Lunch was called not long after and soon our executive-class kindergarten parade trooped back to the church.
The stellar meal awaiting us certainly made the trek worthwhile. I settled on the roast pork loin, steamed mixed veggies and Caesar salad. It was absolutely awesome. The other two options (fish cakes and vegetarian pasta) looked equally delectable. My hat always goes off to catering for feeding so many people so quickly and so consciously.
I wouldn't have thought it possible, but the rain seemed to pick up as we got ready to head back to set. Indeed, my crappy little umbrella proved to be indispensable. En route, we theorized as to how much more was left to shoot. Scuttlebutt had begun to circulate that some chuckle-head had busted that last take due to a laughing fit. We hastily concluded that morons like this should either be escorted off the set, relegated to a "Where's Waldo" position or get invoiced for the film's overtime costs.
As it turned out, everything seemed to be fine, leaving one last bit of coverage. It was an elaborate crane shot which I think is going to look amazing. The camera started out at street level with Pierce and Annabeth in closeup, rose up into the air and then angled down, stopping only when Mike and Jo were center frame with the rain pouring down on them.
Brosnan's emotional performance was pretty powerful so it certainly wasn't difficult to mime grief and shock. Then, as if some higher power wanted to remind us that things aren't always completely bleak, the rain finally started to slack off. This turned out to be good timing since we were outdoors quite a bit working on this sequence.
We were asked to dodge back inside again as they tweaked the set up. As if we hadn't already been well cared for, the production team brought in twelve pizzas to keep us well-fed. During this time, director Mick Garris started wandering around, asking how we were holding up and answering questions about the production's last remaining days. If the weight of the world was on his shoulders, he certainly didn't show it.
When we went back out on the street for the last time, I noticed that things had been reversed so that the crane started high up and then finished its movement down at street level. Now I'm really wondering what shot will end up in the final cut. The post-production window for this film is pretty tight, which is pretty remarkable. Bag of Bones is set to air sometime in December so they have about two months to design the sound, overlay the score, complete the effects and edit the film.
After the fourth or fifth run, we were wrapped. I gathered up my crap and we all shuffled out the bank's front entrance. As we were leaving, a van pulled up to whisk Annabeth Gish away. Still engorified and characteristically shoeless, she took a moment to wave and thank us all for coming out. A spontaneous outpouring of applause came from the crowd, obviously meant to acknowledge her own down to earth nature and gung-ho attitude.
Mike the P.A., still a fount of boundless energy despite being soaked to the skin, jumped up on a low stone wall to address us:
"I just want to thank each and every one of you guys for coming out today and being so co-operative and patient. Without you, we wouldn't have much of a movie so...thanks a lot!"
Mike generated his own ovation as he took a bow and hopped down off the wall. En route back to the church, people kept asking how he could possibly be still standing upright.
"Oh, I'm fine as long as I don't sit down. If I were to sit down right now, I'd probably go into a coma."
Many of us could relate, but compared to Mike's eventful and protracted day, we really didn't have a reason to gripe:
"I've been up since about 5 am and likely I won't be leaving tonight until around 9. Then, of course, by the time I get home I'll be too amped-up to sleep. So, I'll probably be lucky if I get to sleep around 2 pm. At least I don;t have to come in tomorrow..."
En route back to the church one of the extras dressed as a cop indulged in a little power trip. While we were waiting to cross a busy four-way intersection, we managed to coax this guy into walking out into the street to pose as a traffic cop. It didn't take much goading for him to stride out and stop traffic dead and wave us across. We didn't even have to ask him at the next crosswalk!
As expected, since we'd run out of paperwork at the beginning of the day, people who hadn't even signed in yet were processed before any of us got a chance to leave. This really didn't phase me at all since it gave me a chance to chat more with Shannon, Ashley and a girl named Martina, who recognized me from the set of Roller Town.
By the time we'd gotten signed out, it was well after six. In a kind gesture, the production crew rounded up our times so they could pay us for a full twelve hours. I thought this was a very classy move, but to be perfectly honest, I probably would have paid Mick Garris and company for the privilege of being there myself.
Before I left I overheard a couple of people lamenting about how long the day had been. Instantly, I harkened back to something P.A. Mike had said while we were walking back to the church that last time:
"Look, if I was being screamed at by some asshole customer in a retail store over something I didn't even do, that would feel like a long day! But running around on a film set for twelve hours? This isn't even like work to me! I live for this stuff!"
Say on, brotha, say on...
EPIC In the age of digital film-making, it doesn't take long to cobble together an awesome looking
"sneak peak" vid to promote your film:
FAIL Man I could only imagine how awkward it would have been to be on the Terminator: Salvation set that particular day: