Monday, April 11, 2011
Daddy, are you famous?
So I'm standing on the infield of Kernel Stadium in Cedar Rapids Iowa in 2006, on location for my film THE FINAL SEASON. It has been brutal for the preceding two days; I was originally allocated 7 days in the original schedule to shoot a re-creation of the famous 1991 Iowa State High School Baseball Championship. The entire game mind you -- all 9 innings. I have the whole thing storyboarded (by my friend Ken Mitchroney), planned and ready to go, and at the last minute I'm cut down to three days. Budget issues to blame. I have literally hundreds of pre-planned camera set-ups (angles) to execute and there's no way I'll ever have time to get them all. I'm worrying. Hard. No, not worrying, just becoming more and more disappointed.
I have a chat with my DP Dan Stoloff, and we decide with an extra camera (bringing the total to four) and operator we might get 70% of them and with that material I might be able to edit together a semblance of what I originally had in mind. A solution, but disappointing.
So we get the camera and the operator, and we start. Right there, the first day, I rearrange all the elements in order to block shoot every particular section of the stadium in which there is scripted material. In other words assemble all the elements for all the material taking place in the stands, set up all four camera, and as they run, direct all the material in the script that happens there in the last 10 pages of the script, all at once, continuously, with the script pages in hand, directing through the stadiums PA system with a wireless mike, skipping over the interstitial material until I have it all. Then we breakdown the set-ups and move to the next section, the dugout. And so on.
It works well, notwithstanding that my actors are a little bewildered about "how" they are and "where" they are in the story. But there's no other way, there's no time.
Day one we finish with everything covered.
Day two we rack over 100 setups.
Then, on day three, my kids arrive to visit, including my then 8-year old daughter. On that day, through local radio stations and a grassroots sort of effort, the producers manage to get 1,200 or so extras to fill the stands. Mind you, there's 5,000 seats in the stadium, and 1,200 barely make a background at all, but at least I know I'll later be able to "CG tile" them into all the seats they don't physically occupy to make it look like the stadium is full (which it was in 1991) for the Championship game.
So, I let my daughter sit in my directing chair and she's very happy about that. And I can tell she's a little overwhelmed by all the production circus, and I can see that she keeps watching me interfacing with cast, crew, producers etc. spinning plates and going 10 directions at once. And I start to feel like she's a little bit in awe of her daddy because up till then I honestly don't think she had any idea what I do for a living. I mean she knows I'm a director and that I make movies, but exactly what that is I realize she hadn't any idea.
Day three goes right down to the wire, right down to the last second before there's simply not enough light to shoot anymore daytime footage and we get it all. I mean everything, every panel of every storyboard (except for one) and me, my DP, my AD and the producers are very happy. And all the people in the stands that were my free extras give us a standing ovation. Very very nice.
So I'm packing up my stuff, put my backpack on my shoulder, and say to my daughter, "You ready to go, sweetart? (not a typo, that's what I call her, my sweetart). And she says, "Yes." So I turn toward the stands to leave the field through the dugout tunnel and this is what I see:
About 1,000 of the extras, all lined up very quietly starting at the bottom of the stairs and stretching up into the loge level, down the hall and out into the parking lot. Waiting. For me. The other 200 or so were lined up on an adjacent set of stairs waiting for a particular actor for an autograph. He wasn't very happy about this. As I approach the line of people, I can see that most of them are holding The Sandlot DVD. My daughter has no idea that these people are waiting for me, and when I get close and the first DVD is put into my hand to sign, it suddenly occurs to her what's going on.
The actor signed a few autographs and left.
I stayed for over two hours and signed every autograph I was asked to, because it turns out that when the producer's advertised on the local radio the made it a point to say, "The director of The Sandlot..." and all these people were there to help with the true story about a home town team, AND shake my hand and tell me how much The Sandlot had meant to them. I choked up a couple of times. It was wonderful.
So, all this time, my daughter is standing there with me, helping me, handing me things and finally I sign the last autograph and shake the last hand and now it's dark and the stadium lights are on and it's pretty empty. We start walking away, my daughter and me, side by side toward the parking lot and she's very quiet. So I ask, "What's the matter sweetart?"
And she answers in a small voice, "Daddy, are you famous?"
And I say, "Well, just a little bit. Not too much."
And then, in a big voice she says, "WELL, THANKS FOR TELLING ME!"
We finished the rest of the walk to my truck holding hands and all my disappointment went away.
Here's the trailer:
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