Film shoot stories — the Cable Guy

This weekend we had two short shooting days for our upcoming web series, Occam’s Razor (working title).  Film shoots are wacky places, where everyone is doing everything as fast as they can and one missing prop or person can change your whole day.  We’ve sometimes had stories of strife, but this one is a story of amazingly good luck….

One small scene of our script includes a cable van, specifically one that has a rotating orange light on the top of it.  So on my list of things to do this week (I’m producing and directing), before our final shooting day next Monday, was to call up cable companies. And if none of them were willing to send out a van, to rent a van and make it look like a cable van — buying giant letter stickers, the light for the top, ladders, whatever necessary to make it look like the van we need.

This scene is short, but crucial to the plot, so I was ready for hours of work this week and the standard amount of stress that occurs when you’re days away from the last time you’ll have your actors and you’re missing a vital prop that you’re not even sure you can scrounge up, waking up at night thinking, “I know! we’ll use Joe’s truck, and for the light we’ll use this plastic bowl upside-down with a bulb in side that the lighting guy will flick on and off from off-camera!”  Crazy ideas.  Sometimes they work.

Anyway, we finish the shoot a half hour early.  We spent a few minutes doing a spoof of the “happier and with your mouth open” sketch (it was so funny I had tears streaming down my face, and someone threatened to pee their pants).  Then we ate lunch and were packing up.

It just so happens that our lead actress quit her job the day before, and so instead of going straight to work from the shoot, she is walking home.  She calls me to say that there’s a white cable van with ladders and a flashing orange light on top just down the street; I should talk to the guy to set it up for next week.  I throw on my coat and tell the remaining crew to get their stuff and head down the street, we might be filming!  I bolt out the door and sprint around the corner to where the van is, calling the actress to ask her to head back to the van, we might just shoot it right now.

There’s no cable guy…he could be an hour for all I know.  As I’m waiting for the crew, I’m thinking, heck, all we need is the van!  We’ll have one of our crew play the role and they guy will never know!  The crew arrives and we’re figuring out how to obscure the brand with parked cars, when the cable guy comes around the corner.

I go into my spiel, “you’d never believe it but we’re shooting an independent film and it just so happens that it needs a cable van….”  We show him the script, I tell him he doesn’t need to do anything, we’ll just shoot the van.  And he says, “what, you don’t want a REAL cable guy?”  He wants to play the part!!  So he’s there learning his lines, asking me where to stand, he’s really into it.  He even complains about the lines until we explain why he’s saying them, then he’s like, oh, ok.  Just needed motivation.

We gaffer over the various brand words on the van, park one of our cars to obscure more brand names, etc.  Then there is a moment where the guy is walking to the driver’s side door and he passes me as I’m taping over his truck, and he says, “I could really get in trouble for this, this is serious, I could get fired.”  And I’m thinking, he’s going to open that door, get in the van, and drive away.  But he comes right back and gets into his starting position.

We do the master shot three or four times, we do over the shoulders from both sides, and this guy keeps asking me if he’s doing it right, what can he do better, he’s a real pro.  We even have a crew member blocking traffic as if we’re supposed to be there.  Our AD (who happens to be a lawyer in real life) hand-writes a two-sentence talent agreement, and the guy signs it.  He even puts his email at the bottom, because he wants to know when it comes out so he can tell his friends.

Unbelievable.  If the actress hadn’t quit her job, we couldn’t have done it.  If this guy hadn’t been an aspiring actor, if he had been just a little more worried about getting fired, if my camera guys had already left with their cameras…so many things could have prevented this from happening.

And now my week is free from worry.  The only scenes we have left are straightforward, we already have all the props, costumes, set, crew….  This is the kind of magic that makes up for the times when luck is not in our favor, which happens too.  But that is a story for another time.

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