One of the requirements to qualify for the New York State Film Production Tax Credit, which returns to filmmakers 30% of qualified costs in 2014 (or 40% of qualified costs in 2015) is that the filmmakers mus spend one day shooting on a certified sound stage, In 2009 there were no certified sound stages in Buffalo, so we had to go to Rochester to shoot a scene for SLIME CITY MASSACRE. For KILLER RACK that isn't a problem: Buffalo now has several certified spaces, including our principal production facility, the pierce Arrow Film Arts Center.
For KILLER RACK, I decided to shoot our gypsy parlor scene at Pierce Arrow. The scene is fairly simple, a two page dialogue between our star, Jessica Zwolak, as Betty, and a gypsy fortune teller (author Sephera Giron, who is also a tarot card reader). The scene is actually screenwriter Paul McGinnis's nod to a similar scene in my first film, SLIME CITY. For that film, we used the porch of my Bay Ridge, Brooklyn apartment for Madame Selena's parlor. Twenty eight years later, I welcomed the opportunity to build a more ambitious set.
the advantage to building a set is you can create what you want from scratch, and aren't limited by an existing space. I had a design in mind from the beginning: I wanted five walls to wrap around a round table in a pattern similar to a stop sign, or a half circle. I wanted blue or red fabric draped over the walls, which would eliminate the need for further details on the walls, and I anted a high backed chair for the gypsy,something upholstered, The last thing I wanted was to use a couple of kitchen chairs.
Every week we focus on the locations/sets we need for the coming weekend, Due to a verbal instruction being misinterpreted, the fabric on the walls concept came and went, and an early build of the set had to be scrapped and redone, and yellow walls needed to be re-painted purple to preserve my color scheme. No matter, we roll with what we can. Without the fabric on the walls, we needed some details, We went with wall sconce candles. We found six that basically matched at a thrift store (always a thrift store on these budgets), We really needed ten, but so be it.
I wanted a round table, but a "stop sign" shaped table had been described to me, one that would play well with the construction of the walls. Unfortunately, the table I saw was basically square with the corners angled - too subtle to read as anything but square. One of our crew members came through with a table that looked great - black, with Oriental design. And round.
Two nights before our scheduled shoot, I realized the two chairs needed for the scene had fallen through the cracks. One member of our team went looking for what I wanted to no avail. The hunt for the right chair became an all day preoccupation. The night before our shoot, a filmmaker on a local forum put me in touch with a guy he knew who had the perfect chair - high backed, with red velvet upholstery and wooden trim painted old. The guy agreed to let us come get it that night, then told us 10 pm was too late because he and his girlfriend went too bed early. He wouldn't give us his phone number, so I had to rely on Facebook communications with him. He read my messages but wouldn't respond, so I had to rely on a FB communications between him and our mutual friend. We had tentative plans to pick the chair up in the morning, but I went to bed feeling helpless at the hands of a total stranger. Sure enough, the guy flaked in the morning because his girlfriend was nervous about strangers picking up the chair, or some such nonsense. At least we had two wooden chairs. I wasn't happy.
Shooting on a weekday, I had to drop Tamar off at work, and then drop Kaelin off with Kim Piazza, who had choreographed the dance for our musical number. By the time I got home, followed up on the chair situation (frigging guy never even responded to my messages, totally hanging us out to dry), and picked up Arick Szymecki to record our sound, I was half an hour late. No matter: I'd given myself, Rod and Paul a 10 am call time, and the cast and crew a noon call, because I knew we'd be crazed getting the set together.
When I walked onto the sound stage, I couldn't even speak to Paul because of construction going on on the roof... and in the sound stage space itself. After being assured the noise would stop in time for our shoot, I learned the noise wouldn't stop and couldn't stop,. Didn't matter that the building's owner had deposited our money, he didn't give a shit about us, we just had to deal with it. The building managers and Film Arts Center guys did what they could to help us, but the fact is, there was nothing that could be done to help us: we were screwed. The building manager and I asked the workers when they took lunch, and I was told noon. With cast and crew arriving at noon, we wouldn't be able to shoot until 1 pm. I asked if the workers were willing to take their lunch at 1 pm instead of noon, and they agreed. There ain't no bad guys here... well, maybe one, but what can you do?
We had one hour of quiet time to shoot two pages of dialogue. We could shoot the cutaways MOS (Mit Out Sound, a German expression). But Sephera was driving in from Toronto. What if she was late? Rod busted his ass putting the finishing touches on the set, and cast and crew arrived on time. Jess and Sephera got into wardrobe, and Chris Rados, our DP, and Sam Qualiana, our AD/AC, lit the scene. I rehearsed the scene downstairs because the noise in the sound studio was deafening, and Sephera was hilarious. 1 pm rolled around, and the noise stopped. At 1:15, we were ready to shoot. So much to do in an hour!
And the workers took their lunch on the roof, and we could hear them as if they were in the room with us, We got one set out of twelve done before they resumed their work. So we took a long lunch across the street at Papa Jake's, and Rich Wall, the Operations Manager for the Buffalo Niagara Film Office, stopped by to verify our set was legit (it was) and take some photos. And we took some photos. And we passed the time. The workers actually knocked off early, so we resumed shooting. Now we only had to contend with the noise on Elmwood Avenue, which was insane. We ate lunch on the patio, and could barely hear ourselves speak. Buses, trucks, motorcycles, it's nuts. My actors had their lines down, but we had to do take after take just to try to get usable audio, and then we recorded the dialogue wild as a precaution. Cast and crew were great, Pierce Arrow staff was accommodating, Rod's tarot cards looked fantastic, and the scene is funny - Sephera really nailed the tone I wanted for her character.
It was a frustrating day, but we made our day, and everyone involved did what they could to make the situation work. I scrapped two dolly shots I'd wanted to do so we could get out of there. Packing up, I realized that between running around looking for a chair we never got and dealing with the construction calamity, Rod, Paul and I had failed to remember to set a crystal ball on our round table. That prop should have been on camera for half the scene. Fuck. Maybe I'll shoot a gypsy parlor again some day...