The first shoot yesterday, on a very long and ambitious day of shooting on our movie Go South for Animal Index, also was the last shoot for a workhorse -- or rather, workfish -- actor, who now has been on this job more than a year. Yesterday I began to call this goldfish, a stray resuce from the bait tank, "Leopold," after an orchestra conductor character played by Bugs Bunny in a Loony Tune. I enticed the man holding the fishbowl, Richard Edwin Skubish, who grew up with me in Granite City watching these cartoons, to whisper in excited awe, "Leopold ...!" every time the fish came out of the prop shop for a take.
Skoob, as his friends know him, plays the scientist who dies at Lost Almost, our fabled version of Los Alamos. I can't believe it's taken us this long for us to shoot this scientist entering Los Almost with his family, one of the first things viewers will scene in the completed movie, but we got it done yesterday morning at our prop shop.
Then it was a long haul from South City out to North County to shoot one of the last scenes in the movie: the widow of the dead scientist and their daughter driving into a sunset that becomes a nucleur sunset with the successful test of the nucleur bomb spreading behind their car. Our fearless crew of V. Elly Smith, Kraig Krueger, and Dan Cross walked up the road to get in position after I figured out the stretch of road where we should shoot.
Kraig ended up setting up further down hill for an amazing wide shot, but Dan got more of the roadside zoom.
Marty Luepker, who rented us this beautiful 1940s car for a song, drove up and down this hill for many takes. We were shooting at the spread of a generous friend who was out of town, yet allowed not one but two movie crews to shoot on his property yesterday. We have mutual friends in the other production and they sweetly and carefully coordinated with us so no one drove into one of our shots. No one ever did.
We still needed to shoot the widow and daughter, played by Stefene Russell and Claire Eiler, climbing into the car from the woods for that final drive-off, so we drove down a woodsy side road and shot that as well.
We have some footage of them walking together in some other wooded environments, but we shot them walking through these woods as well while they were there. The widow, by the way, is played by Stefene Russell, the poet who wrote the poem Go South for Animal Index and did voice-over work on the poetry score. Stefene was an indie film star as a younger woman. Claire is carrying an empty bird's nest. Her character's discovery of this empty nest is one of the turning points to her emerging from her grief over her dead father.
In the movie, these events happen at dusk becoming dark. Dan and Kraig were set up to shoot "day for night" where you filter your shot to look blue-ish, but Elly was not. So we peeled Elly off to get the bamboo/woods transition shots. I wanted someone from the military base and someone from the tribal people walking from Missouri-esque woods to bamboo and vice versa. Thom Fletcher's soldier character did this three ways: workmanlike, dead tired, and dead drunk.
Martin Sophia's tribal mystic character did the same, both in ceremonial garb and in his outfit as a menial comissary worker on the military base.
Martin is carrying an African doll he uses in one healing ceremony for the sick child in the tribe (sick, we are supposed to conclude, from uranium exposure). We shot that scene before the spider totem in the courtyard at Atomic Cowboy, with a background of bamboo lining a fence. We turned Atomic Cowboy's unique, bamboo-lined courtyard into a movie lot after my all-volunteer crew balked at driving all the way out to Cuba, Missouri every time we needed to shoot. That's what created the need to have some characters physically connect a bamboo landscape to what looks like Missouri woods. What puzzles me is that the man who sculpted that spider totem for Atomic Cowboy, Wesley Fordyce, is the same man who let us wander in and out of the bamboo and Missouri woods on his property.
Next, Elly and I took Thom and Martin to Atomic Cowboy to pick up a shot we needed at the quonset hut there, which stands in for our military comissary. When we were still shooting in Cuba, Thom's soldier dives into the woods to trade two hamburgers for moonshine distilled by a tramp in the woods, Coyote (played by Kyla Webb, aka Sammich The Tramp of Beggars Carnivale). My shooting script called for the soldier to pick up these burgers at the comissary from a tribal mystic working his menial day job on the base. Got it!
Our two movie units regrouped, with just about an hour of natural light left, down on the Mississippi riverfront, where Marty Luepker's parents live and garage their vintage vehicles. Stefene Russell can't drive a stick shift, so we needed a safe and secure place to shoot her "driving" while Marty pushed the car.
Not that Marty complained, he is a joy to work with, but after a point we decided we could just roll the car downhill to acheive the same effect.
The other thing we badly needed to shoot was in-car interaction between the widow and grieving daughter. In their storyline, they wander on wheels after being put out out of Lost Almost when the father/husband with the job in the physics lab died. We need to show a gradual, slow arc of coping with grief -- in two sets of costumes.
With the time and gear at hand, we mostly had to shoot these scenes with the car in one place and our production assistant Jocko Ferguson creating movements of light to suggest motion.
It was kind of an all-hands-on-deck situation. At the very end of the day, as the sun dropped out of the sky, we had about twenty minutes to capture one of the emotional pivots for one of our one-hour-long movie's four storylines.
As you can see from this frame on Elly's camera, our cast and crew came through.
Very much looking forward to seeing Claire's face the size of a movie theater screen.
Playing the sad emotions was not too difficult at this point for our throroughly exhausted child actor, who pulled a 9 to 5 on a Saturday, acting all day long. Claire will not lack for options, but she certainly has the talent, temperament and stamina to be a professional actor if she wishes.
I also crammed in an evening interior scene, since we are running out of mild weather and none of our locations are heated. For Dan, Jocko, and me, it was back to the prop shop to shoot The Atomic Lady doing her thing in the Lost Almost office. Modeled after the historical Dorothy McKibben, The Atomic Lady is played by Amy Broadway. This character is basically Lost Almost's executive secretary.
In our movie, she types up secret passes under orders from Herr Doctor Professor, the boss of the nucleur lab and bomb shop, played by Paul Casey. Paul has not had a hair cut in more than a year, so getting this scene done last night also enabled us to wrap his character and send him, at last, to the barber.
Herr Doctor approves her work -- or not. When not, it's her task to torch the secret documents.
Dan framed some amazing scenes of flames licking at Amy's face and eating away at words from Stefene's poem typed on these pages. The very astute viewer, after repeated viewings, might notice The Atomic Lady burns papers with code words that appear on the secret passes from the two Lost Almost characters who die in the movie.
I saved the best for last. Out at Wesley's we also shot an important scene near the very end of the movie. Thom Fletcher's soldier, after a military career distinguished by drinking secret moonshine and grunt-crawling zombies into the path of test bomb blasts, goes AWOL. He melts into the woods, ditches his rifle and helmet, and digs up his old Vendor of Stuffed Animals hat and bindlestick.
And who should chance down his new route but the widow and grieving daughter, grieving less now after witnessing a successful tribal healing ceremony of the sick tribal child that they stumbled upon in the woods.
The movie opened with The Vendor of Stuffed Animals, before his induction into the military, trying and failing to sell his wares to zombie uranium miners. It ends with him successfully, finally, sealing a deal!
Then he watches them drive off into what soon becomes a nucleur sunset.