Holding for Sound: Field Notes From the Filming of “Zeus” – Part III

The following is a continuing account from the filming of “Zeus”, an independent screenplay written by Jeremy H. and me. It being my first foray into DIY filmmaking, I was proud to have been apart of the process, to incorporate aspects of home into the story and to do so with a number of great friends and family.

For years, a picture hung right above the toilet in my grandmother’s bathroom. In the picture, a cocker spaniel puppy, its muzzle rested atop thick grass, stares ahead. Beneath the dog is written something like: “Keep your expectations low. That way,  you won’t be disappointed if those expectations aren’t met.” We could debate whether that’s sound advice or not, but it was with a similar thought that I came into “Zeus”. Maybe not so much the low expectations part. More like realistic. Our cast and the better part of our crew were friends with no experience doing any filming or acting. This isn’t Hollywood; this is Hinsdale, population somewhere around 2000, with “more cemeteries than stop signs”. Staying grounded was imperative. With that said, worry still managed to creep in Wednesday night following a successful day of shooting. I needed to check in with Gary the Bartender, who I’d last spoken with a week before during a one-minute phone conversation. He’d said he was ready to shoot his big scenes, ready to play Hollywood. I had nothing but his word.

Gary as Gary.

It’s not every day someone approaches you and asks if you’d like to be in a movie, playing yourself. I get it. It’s a tad pretentious of a question: Want to be in my movie? If asked, my response would probably be, “Yeah. Sure. Cool.” Then, I’d forget about it. It’s like good Drunk Talk. Everybody’s fired up over a few beers, but by the following morning the people involved have come down from their buzzes, headaches replacing passion. I’m sure Gary has heard a number of big plans from some of his customers over the years and excused it as mere talk. How were we to know if he was taking our project seriously?

The bar was empty around 11 p.m. A few folks were playing cards on a pool table as the Buffalo Sabres were going down in Game Four. Gary manned his familiar spot behind the bar. His daughter met me first.

“He’s so excited!” she said. “You have no idea.”

I headed over and shook his hand, asked him how he was. “Nervous,” he said. “I just don’t want to screw it up.” He then proceeded to repeat his three pages of dialogue to me, as natural as a film veteran. This guy was a pro! Who knew? I could only laugh in amazement.

“See you tomorrow at 11 a.m.” he said.

I hurried back to Emily’s house with the rest of the group. “Welp, no worries with Gary,” I told them.

Back door at AJ's. We're still not sure who left us the rose. The ghost of Wendell the Wizard, perhaps?

Thursday called for around 13 scenes, four of which at AJ’s Bar. At 9 a.m., Hunter’s lights were up inside the empty bar as Barb, Gary’s wife, read the paper and sipped coffee. Marc, Jeremy and Senneca blew through their dialogue and by 11 a.m., Gary had arrived and was ready for his close-up. Simply put: Gary nailed it. He improvised when he needed a second or two to remember his lines, cleaning a liquor bottle or wiping down the bar, then jumping back into his monologue. Within the hour, we had what we needed and Gary breathed a sigh of relief. He was easily the film’s show stopper. Killed it.

On to the next concern.

I was learning just how dicey scheduling can be to shooting a movie. Getting dates to shoot at various locations around Olean and Hinsdale had taken Jeremy a bit of time, but he had managed to jump through the hoops, contact corporate offices and beg for a couple of hours of shooting time without too much hassle. Our “actors” were a little more tricky. Now we had to consider work schedules. One of the hardest scenes to shoot because of scheduling issues involved a simple set-up shot of the Three Fates (played by friends Liz, Lindsey and Justyne) at the bar. Justyne was coming down to AJ’s on her lunch break, so we had maybe a 15-minute window to shoot. Problem was we had told Lindsey, who had arrived into town from Ithaca the previous night, the wrong time to show up. She’d just gotten back home from a workout to find several messages inquiring as to her whereabouts. She was on her way. While we bit fingernails, Justyne arrived. Our window was shrinking. There would have to be little to no set-up, just a “Rolling, Got it, Thanks” kind of take. Lindsey walked in and was pushed immediately into her spot on the bar, no hellos or hugs or how-are-yas. Hunter cued up the shot, and Senneca bit Lindsey on the ass (You’ll understand soon). Just like that, the Three Fates were done for the day.

A quote from an arriving AJ’s regular: “What kind of movie is this? Everyone’s got their clothes on.”

For the evening, we were back at Emily’s to film the Card Game, a scene that involved all three ladies and the three dudes. This was another one of the big shots in the movie, pages and pages of dialogue and a painstaking amount of vantage points. Basically, each person at the card table needed their own separate takes, which means a six-minute scene needs to be shot six or more different times. It was torturous. We were done by 2 a.m. Most grabbed a blanket and shuffled off to an open chair, except for Jeremy and Marc, who shook off sleep and headed out into the bitter cold morning to run sprints down 19th Street for the day’s final scene. Hunter and I threw on coats, grabbed the camera and sound gear and slogged outside, following Marc and Jeremy curbside. Our hands froze. Marc puffed on a smoke while Jeremy glanced and glanced again at his script, kicking it out of frame.

“You good?” Jeremy asked Marc.

“Yeah. Cool.”

“OK, guys. Let’s do this quick,” Hunter said.

We blew air into our bare hands and shuffled about. Jeremy and Marc lined up in the middle of the street.

“Sound?” Hunter said.

“Sound.” I said, teeth clenched.

“Go.”

Jeremy and Marc took off into the dark, shoes clapping against the brick road. We’d find sleep an hour later, warmth working the cold out of our bones.

The Card Game at Emily's House

EDIT: “Blessed are those who expect nothing for they will not be disappointed.” It came to me the other night.

3 Comments

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  1. I didn’t know what Gary the bartender looked like when you mentioned him but when I saw his picture, I realized that’s exactly what I imagined him to be. Keep the notes coming, my friend. Can’t wait to see the big deal when it’s finished.

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