Friday, April 15, 2011

The Canadian troubles...

Crew photo The Sandlot 2
Dear Reader,

So a dozen years after the original The Sandlot I get a call from the head of Fox Home Video.  He wants to make a sequel to The Sandlot.  "Let's talk" he says.  So I go and see him and we talk.  He's enthusiastic, loves the original (his daughters' favorite film!) and has full confidence that after all these years a Direct-To-DVD sequel will sell big because of the success of the original.  Almost every single one of these Head's of Home Entertainment at the studios, no, not almost, every single one of them has the same corporate-think about this; no original material, sequels only, and only sequels to successful material in their studio library.  At this juncture this benefits me, so I have absolutely no problem with it.  Mainly because...

... I had tried unsuccessfully for at least ten of those twelve years to interest them (Fox) in a sequel to no avail.  Yet, The Sandlot kept selling.  I try again.  The answer is no.  The Sandlot keeps selling.  And I keep on trying because I have a plan.  I have, I tell them, six additional iterations of The Sandlot story; the first one having taken place in 1962, the second I intend to take place in 1972, then 1982, 1992, 2002, 2012.  Each story to take place on the same Sandlot a decade apart, with a new group of kids each time.

Make sense? I think it did.

So I bring this up to the Execs.  The "Film" Execs.  The answer is no.  Want to know why?  I was told, "Baseball movies don't play outside of the United States."  Now, that may or may not be true.  But the point is, what sort of answer is that?  It's no answer.  It's a "Keep my job by saying no" statement.  But that sort of thinking is a subject for another column.

Anyway, so I have this meeting with Fox's Head of Home Video and it goes well.  He says, at the end of the meeting, "Okay, Dave, go write it."

So I say, "Okay.  No worries, just promise me one very important thing."

And he responds, "Sure.  What?"

I say, "Don't send me to British Columbia.  Don't send me to Canada to make this picture."

And I ask this because I had already shot three Direct-To-DVD films in Vancouver, BC, Canada all because of the exchange rate and tax incentives,  $1.87 to $1.00 at the time.  Do the math.   At that point you couldn't really argue with that financial thinking.

And he laughs and says, "Of course not!  My God, how could I send you to BC, Canada, to make a sequel to a picture that in the original was supposed to have taken place in The San Fernando Valley, California in 1962?!"

And I am mightily relieved.  One, because I won't have to go to BC to shoot the film, and two, because, apparently, this exec is different than the rest, and "gets it."

But there's a hiccup.  The studio wants me to write and direct the picture myself.  They don't wish to employ the original co-writer (he hadn't gone on to write anything in the intervening years).  They leave it to me to make that phone call.  Ugh.  It was awful.

The original contract was by this time expired and even though I had no legal (or as far as I was concerned moral) obligation to pay him anything, I did.  Half the writing fee.  For doing nothing.  Why?  Because that amount was far less than what it would've potentially cost to defend (and certainly win) a nuisance suit.

So, the script comes out great.  I am very happy with it.  And furthermore with having had to write both to budget (3.2 million - 1/3 the original budget of the original The Sandlot - it's direct-to-dvd, that's the game) and location (the San Fernando Valley as I have been promised by the Exec) I feel like since I designed the story and the production around those parameters, I can make a picture that if not meets the production level of the original, at least will be something that fulfills and perhaps exceeds expectations for a DVD sequel.

I submit the script.  A few days later I get the call. Everyone loves it.  Terrific, right?  Yes it was.  Here's a clip:




Then I get this phone call, "So, Dave, when can you leave for BC?"

Of course I knew this was gonna happen.  And all the added problems of shooting a particularly American story in BC come crashing in, none the least of which is something that I just know that no one at Fox has thought about.  Because of budgetary constraints I know what's coming next, and that is that they're going to tell me I have to cast most of the kids (there are nine of them in the story) out of BC.  And Canadian kids don't sound anything like American kids.  Specifically American kids in The San  Fernando Valley, CA in 1972.

That's okay, that's why God created ADR, right?  Maybe, but with the post-production budget and schedule I've been given there won't be much ADR time, and certainly no money to hire SAG kids in Los Angeles to re-voice entire characters in the movie later.

What to do?

So, I get up there, we cast the picture and I'm relatively satisfied with the group of kids I assemble.

Things go fairly well production design-wise, prop-wise, etc...

And then day one.  I block the scene.  My DP lights it.  I say to the AD, "Bring in the talent."  The kids arrive, three American kids and six Canadian kids.  "Action," I say.  And they act out the scene.  And this is what I hear (I can't recall precisely, but it was something like this):

"Okay, come on, let's get oo-t of here."

Oo-t.  Not "out."  As in aboo-t, rather than "about."

In that little word literally resides the conceit of the entire film.  If an audience anywhere goes to see this movie (or buys and takes it home), hears my voice (the narrator of the original) narrating this sequel, and then hears a bunch of kids running around inside this film speaking "Canadian" it's over.  They'll shut the television off or leave the theater because they'll know instantly the picture was shot in Canada because everybody in the world knows the only people in the world that pronounce "out" as "oo-t" are Canadians.

What to do?

I call all the kids over, Americans and Canadians.  I tell the American kids to look at the Canadian kids and say, "Out."  They do.  Then I ask the Canadian kids to repeat what they've heard.  They all respond, "Oo-t."  Ugh.

I line up the Canadian kids and try it one-on-one, "Repeat after me, out."

"Oo-t."

No, say it like I say it, "Out.

"Oo-t."

No, "Out."

"Oo-t."

I suddenly consider a career in a different field.  Any field.  Animal husbandry maybe.

"No, guys, ya gotta say it like an American.  Otherwise everyone will see the wizard behind the curtain."  They have no idea what that means.

"Okay, say, out."

"Oo-t."

Argh!!!  What to do.  Time is wasting.  The hours child actors are allowed to work before the camera is severely restricted.  Labor laws and all that.  I'm already falling behind on the first day, not a good sign, and I'm running the risk of having nine young actors turn into pumpkins before I get the whole days' scheduled page count filmed.  And then, inspiration!  Thank you, Lord.

"Alright, all of you guys come over here."  They do.  "Everyone hold your noses."

"What?  Why?"

"Don't ask questions, just hold your noses."  They all do.  "Pinch them shut good."  They all do.  Now, everyone, all at the same time say, out."

It comes out nasally, right from Southern California circa 1972: "Owwwwt!"

Perfect.

For the rest of the shoot, you could see them walking around between takes, pinching their noses and saying, "Owwt. Owwt. Owwt."  They were all great kids and wanted very much to get it all just right.

And for the record, The Sandlot 2 became the most successful Direct-To-DVD Family of all time.

Thanks for reading and check back soon.

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Best,

DME

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