by Robert Weide for DuckProds.com
The hours one keeps while directing a film are so overwhelming, that I was immediately dismissive when someone suggested to me, a few days before commencing principal photography on How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, that I maintain a daily production journal. Coming from a documentary background, the idea, on the face of it, appealed to me, but I couldn't imagine I'd have the energy or the mindset to jot down a recollection of each day's events before climbing into bed to grab what little sleep I could, before the alarm coaxed me into starting the routine all over again. However, the adrenaline following a good first day (on June 4, 2007) compelled me to scribble down my initial entry.
Surprisingly, I managed to keep the routine going for the entire first week. After that, I was determined to soldier on with my diary 'til the bloody end, which finally came on August 16th. The initial document was comprised of almost 22,000 words. Although keeping the journal benefited me as a good disciplinary exercise, I had no idea whether I'd ever do anything with it.
When UK's venerable EMPIRE magazine expressed a desire to print excerpts from the journal, timed against the October '08 release of the film, I thought I'd better go through it and see if there was anything I didn't wish to see in print. Of course, there were all the usual fights, disagreements, and pissing contests you'd find on any movie set, and all that found its way into the initial unabridged draft. But none of that dirty laundry needed to be aired publicly, so such excerpts were the first to go in the initial editorial pass, which excised about 4,500 words. I sent EMPIRE a document of approximately 17,700 words.
Ultimately, EMPIRE only needed about 2,700 words. I told them to edit at will and see what they could make of it. I was ultimately very pleased with their end result, feeling they did a great job of distilling some of the highlights, and turning it into a splashy pictorial with lots of candid photos from the set, shot by Jeff Bridges and myself.
It recently occurred to me that I might dust off the longer version and post it here on my website. I'm also throwing in a few photos for illustration; so if a tome of this length is more than you could possibly be interested in, you can always look at the pictures. The journal is broken up into three sections: June, July, and August.
This journal only covers principal photography. It does not cover pre-production, post-production, our one day shooting pick-ups in January, or the period leading up to the release. (Some of the post-production experience is discussed in Part 2 of the Norman Sweetzer interview.)
Although the dirtiest of the laundry is excised from this production journal, this version isn't exactly a whitewash. You'll find plenty of conflict, chaos, and calamity to keep you on the edge of your seat, and make you wonder why anyone would choose to do this for a living.
Studio City, CA
3 December, 2008
Shoot Day 1 – Monday June 4th
And here we go…
The traditional exchange of ''good luck'' cards this morning with my two co-stars. Simon gave me a card with a pig on it, in which he wrote ''Good luck, Babe,'' referencing the opening scene in the film.
I made a brief speech to the crew before commencing the first take, telling them I've heard great things about English crews. (I'm still confused if you have Irish and Scots, can you still call them ''British,'' or if ''English'' suffices. Not even sure there's a difference. Will have to look into this.) The location today was Charlie Wright's Bar on Pitfield in N1. At about 9:30AM, I called ''Action'' on the first take, and became a feature film director. Today's scene was Sidney and Alison's first meeting in the bar – a good scene to start with.
DIARY - CHAPTER 1
I think on a lot of these scenes, we should be able to play out the entire scene in each take. This should be good for performance momentum. I'm determined to not walk away from any given scene until I feel I've nailed every moment. I don't want to ever feel I've compromised a scene because I'm timid about asking for yet another take. Fortunately, both my lead actors seem very patient and eager to give me what I need.
It was a comfortable first day, and doing the uninterrupted takes helped us shoot a lot of pages. Of course, as soon as we wrapped, the regret and paranoia started to seep in. I realized I never got the shot I needed of Nathalie entering the bar, then exiting the frame, followed by Simon doing the same thing. I doubt we can shoot it tomorrow, and I've no idea whether we can even get Nathalie back.
I also wasn't certain if I got the White Russian in the frame in the master shot. Won't know until I see dailies tomorrow. I also discovered midway through the day that the prop department put a fucking bendy straw in the white Russian! That's so wrong for the White Russian drinker! Is that a British thing – bendy straws in the cocktails?? By the time I realized it was there, it was too late to go back and do anything about it. Regret of the Day.
Shoot Day 2 – Tuesday June 5th
Back at the bar today for a scene that required three dead goldfish, floating in a glass bowl. I had approved the fakes last week, but was told today there were only two available – that one had been stolen out of the prop warehouse. (Who steals fake goldfish??) I insisted we needed all three (two isn't funny), so while props hunted down a suitable replacement, I shot some bits and bobs in which the fishbowl wasn't needed, starting with the bartender's line, and moving on to the insert of the wine spilling onto Alison's book.
After vamping for a couple of hours, fish #3 still hadn't arrived. I had to decide whether to keep waiting for the fish, and risk going over schedule, or start shooting with two fish, only to have the third arrive and render the first takes unusable because of continuity. I decided to start shooting, but kept the water line of the fish bowl just below frame. After two master takes, fish three finally arrived and got plopped into the water. We slightly raised the water level in the fish bowl, and I shot a few more masters. Disaster averted.
Simon and Kirsten were so good in the master takes, I actually considered dispensing with the coverage and just choosing one master take for the whole scene. (Dangerous if we decide to lose time from the scene in editing.) I ultimately decided to get coverage, which was fine because the performances just kept getting better, and it allowed a closer look at their faces. Shooting this scene was quite thrilling as the performances were just as I imagined them in my head.
I continue to be bugged by missing that entrance from Nathalie and Simon. I'm told we can get Nathalie back tomorrow and shoot it if I really want it. I do.
Paparazzi have been on the street for the past two days trying to snap Kirsten. What a strange, sad life those people lead.
Before the final setup, Kirsten, Simon and I snuck off to a neighbourhood pub. Sadly, we had to keep it non-alcoholic, as we were still working.
Shoot Day 3 – Wednesday June 6th
Kirsten had to shoot a non-speaking solo scene today in the bar, watching the television set for the closing scene. She was feeling a bit detached, which kind of worked for the shot. But I also needed a variation where she'd laugh, so I called Simon in his trailer to come to set to help make her laugh. It worked. We even did a take with me and Simon joining the bar mates behind her. Figure on that one for the DVD.
Writer Peter Straughan arrived on set halfway through the day. Always a pleasure to see Peter. We got Nathalie back today and I got to film the missing shot with her and Simon. And I got my insert shot of the White Russian. Yay!
We then moved across the street to the Old Library to shoot the notorious cocaine scene with Sidney and the club girl (Alexandra Aitken). During lunch, Woolley was giving me a hard time about how I had strayed from the scene as written in the script, which had the two simply doing spoons in a toilet stall. But I had decided to put
them at a table in a private booth with mirrors behind them, so that when each bent down to do a line, the other one would face their reflection in the mirror. I had (prod. designer) John Beard build a small set with one-way mirrors, allowing us to shoot right into the opposite mirror without revealing the camera. I promised Woolley this would be much more interesting and visual than having the two in a toilet stall. In fact, it became a goose-bump scene. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the outcome. That night, I received an e-mail from Woolley saying he thought it might be the best scene in the movie.
DIARY - CHAPTER 2
Shoot Day 4 – Thursday June 7th
Finally a new location today -- a flat in Ranelagh Gardens in SW6, which will represent the interior of Sidney's second New York apartment. Kirsten was very playful and giddy on the set, but the laughing and joking stopped just before each take, as this scene needs to play very melancholy. Her ability to switch gears like that reminded me of her behaviour on the Mother Night set when she was 13.
This became another goosebump scene. Both actors were pitch perfect. I could use any given take without cutting, and Kirsten got better and better with each one. I could feel my eyes welling up as the scene progressed.
Danny Huston arrived on set today. Unfortunately, he had cut his hair since I last saw him, and I was hoping it would be a bit grown out for the role.
Bill Paterson worked in a brief, non-speaking scene today, watching Sidney on the telly. A real gentleman. Good natured, and serious about his craft.
Today, at lunch in my tiny trailer, I was joined by three execs from the sales company, my assistant Ross, Toby Young, a couple of PR execs, Woolley, and editor David Freeman. If Margaret Dumont had been available, we could have re-enacted the stateroom scene from ''A Night at the Opera.''
Shoot Day 5 – Friday June 8th
Today's location: Haymarket Hotel, which only just opened. The pig worked today, in the hotel room. Although it had been specially trained to do so, pigs don't naturally sit on their hindquarters like a dog, so many takes were needed. I have to say; now that I realize that pigs wag their tails when they're happy – like dogs – I think I may be off pork.
Today was a day of bits and bobs. The days are much more enjoyable when actors are able to play out entire scenes.
We did the Steadicam shot through the hotel lobby, which I found only partially satisfying. The lobby should have been busier with more extras in black tie. I came up with a new ending for the scene, having Simon spot a waiter with a dolly of canapés, which then inspires his idea to pose as a waiter. I got Simon's reaction, but never got to shoot the waiter. I'm hoping we can return to the lobby before we wrap at the Haymarket.
After wrapping tonight, we screened selected dailies in Soho. It was rather thrilling seeing the film projected on a screen, even without sound.
Saturday June 9th
Finally, a day off, although we do have to work tomorrow (Sunday). Dinner tonight at Cecconi's with Danny Huston. We had a very helpful discussion about Maddox. Danny seems genuinely interested in helping me get what I want from this character. You gotta love that.
Shoot Day 6 – Sunday June 10th
Not a good start to the week. A big scheduling screw-up. We have only two days to shoot the BAFTA after-party at the Haymarket, which is impossibly tight as it is. The plan was to shoot today everything leading up to the pig breaking loose and wreaking havoc, which would leave all day tomorrow to just shoot the pig stunts. But Thandie's first scene, which was a half-day shoot, never made it onto the schedule. So by shooting all of Thandie's scenes today, we had to jettison several other shots on the schedule. This is going to make tomorrow impossible. I know I'll be asked to sacrifice all kinds of shots I need. Even without the scheduling goof, we should have had four days at the Haymarket, not three.
On the plus side, Thandie was sweet as pie, and a delight to work with. I think she might have been engineered in a laboratory by scientists intent on creating the perfect looking woman.
And talk about engineering feats, it was amazing that the construction guys managed to build an underwater scaffolding to support a false floor over half the indoor pool. Of course, the downside is that once we wrap this location tomorrow, we won't be able to come back for pickups, as the floor will come up and the pool will be twice as big.
DIARY - CHAPTER 3
Shoot Day 7 – Monday June 11th
Today officially went to hell in a hand basket, as yesterday's scheduling snafu caught up with us in a big way.
The good news that greeted me when I arrived on set was that instead of the red velvet security rope I had requested, I was presented with a black one, which was completely ratty, at that. I'm trying to develop a motif of the red velvet rope in this film, but someone decided it would be more interesting to have different colors -- red, black, blue. I let her know that we would shoot the scene with the ''Clipboard Nazi'' once I saw stanchions with red rope. And ratty red rope wouldn't do.
I also found out that I couldn't get my shot of the pig chasing Simon around the pool, even though the pig was specifically trained to do so. Pigs can't swim, so if she had fallen in the pool, she could have instantly drowned. So a low safety fence was put around the perimeter of the pool to keep the pig from falling in. But having the fence in the shot rendered it useless. I decided to limit the area where the pig had to run to a 10-foot stretch, and forego my elevated wide shot, but the timing was off on the first take, and the pig lost its motivation to run after that.
Then it was time for Simon to do his stunt of crashing onto the table where partygoers were eating. However, props failed to supply any breakaway plates, glasses or bottles, and instead suggested cheap plastic plates. (For an elegant BAFTA party? Give me a break.) I decided instead to shoot at a low angle to minimize what we could
see on the tabletop. Lastly, Simon's wig was supposed to dislodge from his head in mid-jump. (The wig was actually attached to fishing line on a pole that needed to be jilted at just the right moment.) I spent five minutes explaining to props exactly when to remove the wig. Simon did his first take which came out great, except the wig shot off his head, cartoon-style. It winds up I had been giving instruction to the wrong person, who then delegated the job to someone else. We then shot a second take, which wasn't framed exactly right when Simon landed. There was no time to do a third without hitting overtime. Taking stock at the end of the day, not
only did I never get the stunt right, but I also never got to shoot the Clayton double (who had been practicing the matchbook trick for days), never got Simon emerging from the bathroom… never got the waiter with the trolley. As if all this wasn't enough, I got news today that because of the timing of her August holiday, we've lost Lindsay Duncan for the role of Rachel Petkoff, and will have to recast.
And it's only Monday.
Shoot Day 8 – Tuesday June 12th
Our first day at the Sharp's magazine office set at the IVAX complex in Gallions Reach, E16, where we'll settle in for a while. The set looks great, and it will be a pleasure to have more control of the elements on our own stages. The morning was spent sorting out the extras playing the employees, actually assigning their positions at the magazine. They seemed surprised that the director would take time to talk to them and hang out for a chat between takes. Apparently, that doesn't happen often. Weird.
Kirsten basically worked background today, but paid us the highest compliment, saying she missed us on her days off. Danny was on set today to rehearse tomorrow's walk and talk with Simon.
Shoot Day 9 – Wednesday June 13th
A good day today. Danny's first day shooting and the long Steadicam shot of him and Simon walking through the office worked out well. Today was Margo Stilley's first day. Out of curiosity, I watched ''Nine Songs'' over the weekend. I admire Winterbottom, but this film did nothing for me. At first I fast-forwarded through the songs, then the dialogue, and eventually the sex scenes.
Kirsten and Simon were extremely silly today on the set. When Kirsten's not around, Simon plays portable Playstation on set between takes.
More annoying news from our clearance people today. I wanted to create a cover of the ''Post Modern Review'' that would incorporate photos of Carey Grant and Marilyn Monroe, juxtaposed against photos of Colin Ferrell and Paris Hilton, with the headline, ''Darwin Was Wrong!'' The clearance people actually went to Paris Hilton's agent to clear her photo(!) and, of course, were turned down. I instructed them to get a news photo, mock up the cover, and I would take full responsibility. The clearance people are too willing to take ''no'' for an answer.
Shoot Day 10 – Thursday June 14th
Shot the hamburger scene with Simon and Kirsten in front of the lift bank today, then the following walk and talk.
We were short on time today to shoot Danny's reprimand of Simon. ''Don't talk to the celebrities.'' Because we didn't have time for coverage, Oliver helped me figure out a way to get the whole scene in one shot. It worked great. Overtime is the mother of invention.
Shoot Day 11 – Friday June 15th
Today we shot the scene of Elizabeth Maddox falling in the corridor, then the scene with Kirsten and the ''Fashionistas.'' I sent the Fashionistas back to makeup, as they were overly done up, like teenage girls off to their high school prom.
Toby visited the set today. At the end of the day, Kirsten told me that he had tried to give her a note about her performance, which understandably annoyed her. She asked if it was necessary that he be on set again. I told her to consider it taken care of. Prior to that conversation, I allowed Toby to view some dailies from yesterday's shoot. He sent me an e-mail tonight with a long critique as to why he felt ''the scene didn't work.'' Of course, his note was complete rubbish. In the same lengthy e-mail, he went on to say that the two times he's visited the set, he's felt great deal of anxiety. My reply simply stated, ''There's a very simple way to relieve yourself of that anxiety.'' I'm sure Toby will get great mileage out of this, telling everyone that he's been banned from the set. This will supply fodder for him easily for the next year.
Sunday June 17th
Finally, a two-day weekend. It felt so good to sleep in. Kirsten threw a party at her home last night, which was a great opportunity for all of us to bond. At one point, there was a loud thud. Simon had walked right into a large picture window. A half hour later, Angelique did the same thing. Kirsten and Liat had an early birthday cake for me. I did blow out the candles, but only today realized that we never ate the cake.
Gillian and I had a long talk on the phone tonight about her character. Meanwhile, I'm having doubts about the scene I shot on Wednesday with Sidney and Alison talking about the Chris Blick exhibition. It should have been snappier, a la Howard Hawks. I think I allowed it to be too lacklustre. (Note to self: Do NOT get lazy. Keep the actors' energy up.) Maybe the scene is fine. Perhaps it's just another swing of the old doubt pendulum.
Shoot Day 12 - Monday June 18th
I was very unhappy this morning to discover that besides the two little girls playing Clayton's daughters, background had not arranged for any other children for the ''Take Our Daughters to Work Day'' scene. And there was no way to get some at the last minute.
Went on to shoot the Danny/Simon ''sexual harassment'' corridor confrontation. I'm so happy when we can play out entire scenes in a single take. Danny is a very cooperative actor. If I give him a note that he doesn't get, I just need to give my thinking behind the note. Then he gets it and is very happy to oblige. After Danny walked away at scene's end, I really wanted him to turn back and smile at Simon. Danny was uncertain about this, but once I explained how it related to Maddox's character, he nailed it.
Gillian started today. We filmed a couple of brief scenes for the success montage, and at day's end, rehearsed the water cooler scene for Wednesday. Gillian is very serious about her craft, and welcomes lots of discussion about her character, which I appreciate. She's determined not to let her portrayal just be a rehash of a character we've seen countless times before. By keeping a very open line of communication, I know we can nail this. Last month, Gillian and I had an e-mail volley, trying to nail down Eleanor's sex life. I concluded, ''She thinks very few are worthy. If she gets drunk with someone very powerful, she'll let him at it, but she has to fantasize that he's the stable boy servicing the Queen. Then she goes nuts.'' Gillian felt that pretty well covered it.
Megan starts tomorrow.
Shoot Day 13 – Tuesday June 19th
Today was the first non-pig day that we didn't make. We started by shooting Kirsten and Simon's battle over the Cuba bag. It was difficult getting the paw to pop out at just the right moment. We shot some takes with the aid of a fishing line, others without.
Kirsten wasn't feeling well today. Fighting a sore throat, maybe the flu.
Megan arrived today, having flown in from ''Transformers'' premieres and junkets in Los Angeles, Australia, and Korea. She was thoroughly exhausted, and I was trying to find a way to let her sleep before we had to shoot. There was no schedule shuffling that allowed us to do this, so I broke the news to her that she'd have to go into makeup, shoot a brief scene (at the Sharps reception desk), and then she could nap. She was a trooper, and came out of makeup looking stunning.
We shot the scene of Simon ordering the Mastercard while cellotaping his own face. I managed to shoot the entire scene in-one, prior to Simon ducking under the desk. Simon tried out different adlibs about knowing the Queen. I think I got one perfect take. We'll finish the second part of the scene tomorrow.
Shoot Day 14 – Wednesday June 20th
My 48th birthday today! I had a very glamorous night of it, alone in my flat, eating a ready meal from Marks & Spencer. But the cast and crew did sing ''Happy Birthday'' to me on the set this afternoon. They also brought out a cake, but there was not time to eat it. (That's the second birthday cake this week that I didn't get to eat.)
Kirsten was out today, diagnosed with strep throat. We were able to finish Scene 63 (the cello tape scene) without her, and can just shoot her cutaways when she returns. I assumed she wouldn't make it in tomorrow either, but she got a shot of penicillin in her butt, and by the end of the day, said she thought she'll make it in tomorrow.
The two Cuba dogs worked today. They're so adorable and I feel bad about having to kill them – even fictionally.
We shot the water cooler scene with Simon and Gillian today. Gillian was very uncertain about how to approach the scene. At one point, she was sitting off by herself looking pensive, so I joined her and said, ''Tell me what you're uncomfortable about, and we'll work it out.'' We talked it through, and she was just perfect in the scene. (I really love being able to work these things out with actors. On Curb, I never got to discuss character and motivation with my actors.)
Shoot Day 15 – Thursday June 21st
Amazingly, Kirsten made it in today. (I want the number of that doctor!) I had to work on Kirsten to get her anger level up, as she felt the Fashionistas wouldn't get to her. I had to make the point that Alison's been keeping her anger at bay, but she's now at the breaking point, and with Sidney's example, she's learning to stand up for herself and speak out.
The gag I contrived for Sidney's attempted escape through the emergency exit played well. Simon tried out a couple of adlibs that worked nicely. He's so good at pathos, which is so critical for this character.
Good news! I rescued Scene 80 (the fantasy applause scene), which had been omitted from the script to keep the pages down. We were actually making good time today, so I insisted we shoot it.
Linda arrives tomorrow!
Shoot Day 16 – Friday June 22nd
I got to walk to work today, as we shot the Dead Celebrity Party at the Automat on Dover – a block from my flat. A pretty good day. All the extras looked great, and Simon looked amazing in his Dracula outfit. Kirsten was adorable as Louise Brooks, and Danny was dashing as Bogart. We shot out of sequence. First up was Maddox rubbing Sidney's nose in the news about him and Alison. I took the risk of only shooting
from two angles – a master, and a loose over, to Simon. I hope I don't wind up regretting this minimal approach in editing. This was the scene that was scripted to take place in a bathroom until I was told that we had to schedule it at the same location as the party. It worked fine at the bar. I loved that Simon was drinking red wine from a long-stemmed goblet. It looked like blood!
I opened the party scene with Groucho and Marilyn in foreground. Of course, I was very picky about the look of the Marx Brothers, and had them darken Groucho's eyebrows. Harpo looked okay, but Chico was unrecognizable. (It's hard to find a proper Chico hat.)
Max Minghella started today. Sweet kid. I didn't like his wardrobe -- too British and too 80's. Fortunately, with my flat just down the block, we were able to go back for fittings, and I found an ensemble better suited to his character.
I had to really simplify the coverage for the ''idiot/wanker'' exchange, which proved challenging. I rehearsed the Alison/Sidney scene with first team and camera, and then as the crew was setting lights, I
realized I had blocked it all wrong. I wanted to position Kirsten and Simon side-by-side, rather than facing each other, so I could have them each stare forward and avoid eye contact. So we had to re-block and reset lights, which added another half-hour. I'm so glad I changed it though, as the scene played brilliantly. When Alison told Sidney the news, my eyes actually welled up on each take. A good sign.
Linda arrived today and was able to come to set because it was so close. I loved having her around. Quote of the day, from Matthew (first AD) instructing the extras: ''I want to see the nun kissing Elvis!''
Shoot Day 17 – Sunday June 24th
Ugh! I hate one-day weekends!
We returned to Automat today, so at least Linda was able to join me again, which was great. We started in the basement with the opening ''success montage'' scene with Max and Simon. Then we moved upstairs to one of the few scenes without Simon – the Maddox and Alison argument scene in the diner. (I wanted this to take place in their apartment, but that would have involved securing a new location or building a new set, so the idea was nixed.) Again, I designed a shot that would take minimal coverage, and again, I worry about regretting it in editing. (Watching yesterday's dailies tonight I do, in fact, wish I got the corresponding over of Danny in the bar scene yesterday. But I still love how it plays.)
We still have no celebrity for the tomorrow's Circle Club scene. I'm secretly relieved, as tomorrow is already an impossible day, without that scene. It's one of three days that I least look forward to, as it's terribly under scheduled. Or would that be overscheduled? In any event, can you say rat fuck?
Shoot Day 18 – Monday June 25th
I started the day in a foul mood, knowing the impossible schedule we were up against today. I knew we wouldn't make the day,and we didn't. Someone made the decision to film the restaurant booth scene with Simon, Gillian, and Megan on the floor of the Café de Paris (doubling for the Circle Club). That set could have been placed anywhere, but we could only keep this expensive location and 100 extras for one day, so why the booth scene was shot at Café de Paris, no one has adequately explained.
We then moved on to the big interior steadicam entrance into the club where there were legs and cleavage aplenty. Although still a bit tricky, this shot has been so watered down from what I originally imagined. It was intended to be my Goodfellas tribute, starting with the pull-up of the car, then following our heroes as they step out, enter the club, and make their way to the balcony in one continuous shot. But the exterior has to be shot at a different location, as we're shooting day for night. And the interior shot had to be scaled back for lack of time. I was also a bit peeved as the script calls for Christmas decorations, and all they had were a couple of trees adorned with blue lights – very easy to miss.
Linda came to set as we prepped the crane shot from the dance floor, starting on the DJ, flying over the heads of the dancers, and moving up to our heroes on the balcony. Unfortunately, the crane was several feet short of where I really wanted it to land. Oh well. It was still complicated enough and took numerous takes. Finally, we got it at 7:30 PM.
We needed to wrap at 8:00 and figured it would take an hour to rehearse the dance sequence before we even started lighting, then another 90 minutes to shoot, so we were unable to film it. I've no clue what we're going to do, as we need the scene, but certainly won't be returning to this location with these extras.
DIARY - CHAPTER 4
Shoot Day 19 – Tuesday June 26th
Shot the scene today in a room over the Hobgoblin on Effra Road, standing in for Sidney's Shepherd's Bush office/flat. It was an odd day as none of the actors playing the office mates had auditioned for their roles. They were all cast on the basis of photos and clips sent to me by Jina Jay – although I did meet with Fenella Woolgar who was overqualified for so small a role. Because I was unfamiliar with the actors, it was hard to remember all their names. I kept calling Chris
O'Dowd ''Tim'' and James Corden ''David,'' which I could tell really pleased him. (I'm afraid James was too young for this role. We tried to age him up with makeup, glasses, and frumpy clothes. Not certain if we succeeded.)
As I wanted this scene to feel very chaotic, I shot it all handheld, and I felt like I was back on the ''Curb'' set. It did simplify a scene that would have been much more difficult to shoot with conventional coverage. My pal Hugh Thompson worked as a featured extra today, which I believe might have provided the high point of his life so far.
The art department never made up the magazine cover with the naked Clayton, so we'll have to get an insert later. My big regret at the end of day was that I didn't think to have everybody in the office smoking, to contrast with the smoke-free environment of New York. I hate missed opportunities. It seems there's always some cloud in the silver lining.
My agent David Lonner was in town, and visited the set. Then he, Linda, and I returned to my flat, where I christened the birthday martini shaker that Woolley gave me – my first attempt at martini making. A touch too much vermouth. Live and learn. Dinner at Vereswami.
Shoot Day 20 – Wednesday June 27th
Back to 3 Mills Studios today for our first shoot on a soundstage, filming all our projection driving. After shooting the scene where Sidney drives Alison back to Manhattan in the rental, we switched to the Towne Car for Simon, Kirsten and Danny going to the poolside party. I gave Simon the line ''Are you two texting each other?'' which played pretty well. I then encouraged Simon to adlib. Kirsten kept giggling, and finally told Simon, ''Stop being so funny!'' Yikes! Not a good instruction on a comedy.
We shot an entire roll of film on the backseat stuff, and I still felt we hadn't nailed it. I said in frustration to Matthew (my A.D.), ''We can't keep going on like this,'' meaning: ''We've got to nail this now.'' Matthew thought I meant to move on to the next set up. It took me 10 minutes to realize that they were resetting, so I stopped them cold, and made them replace the setup for the previous shot. This added another 30 minutes, which the crew was none too happy about. Matthew and I agreed that from now on, we won't move on until the words, ''Check the gate'' come out of my mouth. Lesson learned.
Shoot Day 21 – Thursday June 28th
Our first day at Headley Hall, about 20 miles southwest of London, in Epsom, (I wonder if it's any relation to the salt.) Our location is supposed to represent the weekend estate of Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges). I do wish we could have actually shot this in the Hamptons. This was the hardest UK location to pull off for New York, but hopefully, audiences will buy it. The biggest challenge may be the weather, which is threatening rain. It's supposed to be a glorious July 4th party in the Hamptons, but the sky has London written all over it.
First shot was tricky – a crane shot that comes off the house, pushes past the bandstand and through the crowd, lands on Simon and Kirsten in the buffet line, and then follows them to their table where they sit down and continue talking. Several takes were needed, as each time some little thing went wrong. Even though I got some back-up coverage, half the shots wound up being in full sunlight, while the other half were in shade, courtesy of the fast moving clouds. Occasionally, we had to stop altogether for rain. My editor is going to love this.
Very happy with the casting of Andy Lucas as the Wizard/Dentist. His look was great. I was told later in the day that the wig he wore was actually used by Ian McKellen as Gandalf. This makes sense, as our hair and makeup supervisor (Peter Swords King) worked the whole LOTR trilogy, and won his Oscar for ''Return of the King.'' Andy's New York accent was so believable that I was shocked to hear his natural Cockney tones return once the day was wrapped.
I do wish we had Bridges here to put in the scene, seeing as it's his party. Surely, no one's even going to notice the double I shot from behind. If anyone asks, I'll just explain Clayton's absence at his own party as ''Gatsbyesque.''
Simon just recently discovered the word douchebag, and is enjoying it quite a bit. (I guess the expression and the actual article are virtually unknown in the UK.) On one take, he spontaneously tossed the word into his scene with Kirsten. I may be inclined to keep it.
Danny Huston and I had dinner at our hotel, the Nutfeld Priory, after wrap. There was an unexplained fire alarm just before we ordered, which had all the occupants evacuated into the courtyard for a half hour. Fortunately, we had the foresight to bring our drinks out with us.
Shoot Day 22 – Friday June 29th
I acted today. I had three lines. It was Woolley's idea, since we'd run out of day players with American accents. I came to the conclusion that every director should take a few lines in their own film at some point. It sure made me sympathetic to an actor's insecurities. All I could think about was, ''Am I awful? Am I stinking up the joint? Is everyone secretly mocking me? Am I standing naturally? Did that smile seem fake? Is the camera getting my good side?'' On top of it, I realized that my first line didn't really work… something I never noticed having read it on page a hundred times, but as soon as I had to speak it, I realized it didn't track. As the director, I could easily change the line. But what if I was an unknown day player? Would I ever have the nerve to speak up? A director needs to hear the concern of an
actor who suggests that a line isn't ''working'' for them. They may actually be right. I also regretted not being able to watch the monitor and keep a bird's eye view on the scene. Acting while directing is a difficult gig. How does Woody Allen do it?
More time lost due to weather, running for cover whenever the rain came. I had to shoot a sun version and a shade version of every take. Ugh. The weather delays meant that we never got to Kirsten's drunken scene on the tree swing, which meant that she could have stayed home today. We'll have to squeeze it in tomorrow, which is already jammed.
There were two car bombs discovered in central London today, both close to where I'm staying. One was at Tiger Tiger, a five-minute walk from my flat. Traffic was closed off in much of the city, putting my ability to get home tonight in question. But by 9:00, when I got back to town, life had resumed as normal, with pub patrons overflowing onto the street.
And that's what makes Britain Great!
Finally, a two-day weekend!
Saturday June 30th
What should have been a restful day off today was not without its aggravation. An e-mail from my editor indicated that we never shot one of Simon's lines by the hedge yesterday, where he spies on Danny and Kirsten. (''Hello, Mrs. Harding. Lovely party.'') How did the script supervisor overlook this? This means we'll have to go back to that spot on Monday just to get that line, which will further squeeze an overcrowded day.