It’s the most difficult stretch of production, when we shoot the night scenes on location and the entire group of us spend two weeks on a vampire’s schedule. We kick off the workday around 9 pm, shoot until near dawn, sleep the day away, then start over again.
You’d think beginning that late would assure that all personnel were awake and on time to the set. But no, there’s no time that’s late enough. One celebrated actor whom I won’t name by name has to be rousted from his bed each evening, either hungover or deep-diving through REM-sleep that’s interrupted by whichever Production Assistant draws the short straw.
My body won’t go along with the day-sleep, so my night shoot experience starts like a fun day at camp, stretches onward indefinitely to the far horizon, then gradually disintegrates into technicolor hallucinations and a walking dream state.
That’s the job.
The dentist from Peoria who sold his thriving practice to move out here and work as a fifty-something P.A. who leapfrogged the dues-paying years and promptly hit the jackpot by falling on Tom Hanks from a catwalk before being promoted three times is skippering this project. He’s an honest-to-God Director, and nothing makes sense in life anymore. This is his first time in charge, Curtis’s. Like he never even made a short film before. Not sure if Curtis is his first name or last name and we’re too far beyond it to ask now. One thing I’ve learned this year: Karma hates me, so Curtis is my boss. I take great pains to mask my seething resentment against this fool’s undeserving unprofessional ass. So far, so good, still employed.
The man has no earthly idea what he’s doing but is such a nice guy that no one else cares. Only me. His multitude of rookie errors are instantly forgiven by the studio brass, without any critical comments. They casually up the budget here and there to compensate. It’s only money.
We’re working through the usual challenges that come with shooting a feature at night: too dark, people fall down, easy to over-light so the viewer can’t tell it’s night. The piercing sirens of emergency vehicles carrying from distances and bleeding into our microphones during takes. It’s too dark. Really not my favorite.
At first the more serious drinkers on the crew aren’t sure when to drink, but like always they figure it out. They make it a priority.
The dentist has articulated his vision for this film. It’s supposed to be a cross between “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “I Spit on Your Grave.” High concept, one might say. Through some mystical form of elven magic, Curtis got the studio to greenlight his ludicrous screenplay. They gave him (a man who is a dentist) complete artist control. Final cut authority. A dentist. Just sayin’.
Curtis had zero going until his new best friend, Tom Hanks, agreed to play the lead, “Jimmy Stewart,” as a favor. After that news circulated, the Hollywood A-list heavies battled each other like parents over toys at a Black Friday sale for the chance to be in this highly unlikely dog of a film. Then it had momentum. That’s how we got where we are.
Between takes the dentist stands over our star and says, “Everybody wants your character dead, but it turns out their lives would be much worse without him. Ride that paradox, Tommy.”
Tommy?? Is that a thing?
Hanks says, “Got it. Will do.” Then we film the scene, and damn, it’s pretty special.
Nobody hates to say it more than me, but it’s like John Cusack holding the boom box over his head earnestly while Peter Gabriel sings level of beautiful, it’s that great.
We’re shooting out of sequence, but once the dentist’s editor (who used to sell extended warranties on vehicles) slaps this patchwork Frankenstein together, it’ll… well it’ll be a complete movie. Let’s not get too carried away by the momentum.
About the author
Todd Mercer’s short collection, Ingenue, was a winner of the Celery City contest. His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance is available free at Right Hand Pointing. His poem “Overextended” won a Dyer-Ives Poetry Prize in 2022. Recent work appears in Literally Stories, MacQueen’s Quinterly and Spartan.
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