"BURNING BUDGET"
by Zack Ordynans

A weekend on the set of a minor motion picture

The Part Where I Talk To The Camera (introduction)

Almost three and a half years after I finished the firstdraft, the unthinkable has happened: the script I wrote, Burning Annie, is being filmed.

To get the full sense of why this is odd, a little background is in order. I first conceived of the script in 1997, when I was a junior at Clark University (Worcester, Mass.), as a possible senior project for the communications major I was considering at the time. I figured I would write the script during that summer, base all the characters on my friends, and we would act it out and shoot it on video during the first semester of my senior year. Piece of cake.

At right, Evan Price, who plays the adolescent version of our hero Max, watches crew members do their thing.

So young, so naïve.

I started writing that summer… but didn't finish the first draft until the next summer, by which time I had already graduated. I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish the script at all if it wasn't for the fact that I was unemployed and had nothing better to do. When I finally did finish it, any notions of shooting the script and turning it into a movie had long gone out the window. For one thing, most of my friends-and potential actors-had left town, and for another, the script ultimately became so personal that I barely wanted any of my close friends to read it, let alone show it around Hollywood and have it turned into a movie that anyone could go see.

I did show it to a few friends, and the reactions were mostly positive. A few friends thought it was really funny, another said it was like reading my diary, another hated it. My friend Randy Mack, who was talking about moving to Hollywood, thought it showed some promise but needed work. I put the script in a drawer and figured I'd come back to it some day, or not.

At the end of the summer, I drove from Worcester to L.A. with Randy, helping him move. He was talking about producing movies, and I was a little skeptical, but I had learned to never underestimate Randy's persistence or ability.

In the meantime, I moved to N.Y. and got a day job. A year and a half later, in early 2000, Randy told me he wanted to option my script. After I figured out what an "option" is, I smoothly negotiated a deal that sent a video game and two controllers my way. The project was exciting, but it still seemed a long way off.

…and yet, somehow, another two years have gone by and here we are, talking about my visit to the Burning Annie set in Huntington, W.V., where I would meet talented, professional actors portraying my friends, re-enacting some of the most awkward (and by now, exaggerated) moments of my life.

I suppose stranger things have happened, but never to me.

Thursday, Feb. 7, 2002

Through a collection of circumstances way too uninteresting to get into, I'm making the long drive from Jersey City, N.J., to Huntington, W.V., with college friend Thomas Scott "Scott" Gibson, my 23-year-old sister Dana, her boyfriend Brian Maher (not to be confused with Burning Annie--from here on abbreviated to BA-cast-member Brian Klugman), my mother Michelle, my Aunt Eileen and my 15-year-old cousin, Kenny.

Needless to say, the minivan is full. Aunt Eileen brought a cooler, large suitcases, and a roof rack to fit all her stuff. We leave my place in Jersey City at 4:30 p.m., pick up Eileen and Kenny in Delaware at 7, and expect to get to Huntington at 4 a.m. We make good time, getting in at 3, and just as I'm wondering why I bothered, we bump into BA Director Van Flesher in the hotel lobby, which seems like a good sign. He's exhausted, but looks happy to see me.

"How's the shoot going?"

Zack Ordynans and Tom Gibson (the basis of the character "Scott") relax on the dorm set and think of college.

"Good, good," he says, in his thoughtful manner. "Too many southern accents." He tells us how well that night's scene-with the characters Scott and Amanda talking in the "car"-had gone. He raves about Rini Bell (Amanda), a young actress who was also in Bring it On and Ghost World.

Randy Mack, BA Producer, college friend, is still awake, so Tom and I stop by his room. He tells us they're considering replacing the 1st Assistant Director (1st AD), and that they hope to resolve this tomorrow, on their only off day this week. Randy says the scene they shot that night went great. He also says we may be able to get some Warner songs (R.E.M., Nick Cave, Replacements, maybe Neil Young) cheap because of a promotion they're doing. He seems stressed and tired but genuinely pleased with the way things are going.

Tom and I finally leave Randy's room at 4:15 a.m., when he tells us he needs to be up in a couple of hours.

Friday

I'm sharing a room with Tom, my sister is with Brian, and my Mother is with Aunt Eileen and Kenny. We all sleep late. I bump into Randy and we chat briefly, then he runs off (a common sight during the shoot) and I go for a ride with my family/friends.

Huntington is a pretty town, not a lot going on, everyone is really nice. West Virginia is like New England with a light southern accent. We drive around for a while and end up at Cracker Barrel, then K-Mart, where my mother the New Yorker always likes to go when she can, for some inexplicable reason.

We get back to the hotel, and my cell phone doesn't get service, so I can't find Randy. Like I said, today is an off day, so everyone is just hanging out. I'm looking forward to meeting the cast and seeing what they're up to today, but I need to find Randy to figure out what everybody is doing.

While I'm walking through the hotel looking for him, I approach a couple of people who look like they might be crew members.

"You guys are with the movie, right? I'm, uh, the writer."

"Oh, you're a writer. What do you write?"

"Uh, Burning Annie."

Watch some TV, killing time, then stake Randy out in the lobby. I didn't drive down here to watch daytime TV. Sitting in the lobby with a newspaper, the entire cast walks by. I don't recognize them at first, but, as you might guess, they stand out in the hotel, and I had seen a few of their audition tapes. I piece together Brian Klugman (Charles) and Sara Downing (Julie), then Rini, then I notice Gary Lundy (Max).

Gary Lundy fends off the amorous advances of fellow star Brian Klugman with a marker.

Jay Paulson (Sam) and Jason Reisner (Scott) are there too. I'm dying to say something to them, but instead sit there, reading the paper. What would I say-"You guys are my cast!? And you, you play me!"

After dinner, Tom and I find Randy. "Hey, do you want to meet the cast? They're all having dinner at the hotel's Chinese restaurant."

I meet all of them at once, make an ass of myself, intimidated as hell. This is one of the most awkward moments in my life… and I've had an awkward life. It's all I can do to remember my name. Tom forgets his, and introduces himself as Scott, the BA character he inspired. (He introduces himself this way all weekend, which I think is strange because, in addition to the confusion created by introducing yourself incorrectly, the character Scott comes off worse than Tom does in real life.) The cast invites us bowling. I agree to go because mostly I assume Randy is going too (it would be too weird otherwise), but he disappears again before we leave.

I run upstairs to get Dana and Brian, because they would have killed me if we left without them, after a day of sitting around the hotel room. When we get back, the cast's food has just arrived (we thought they were ready to go). They politely invite the four of us to pull up chairs, we politely decline, and they say they'll call our room when they're ready-SOOO awkward.

First impressions: Jay seems friendliest and most down to earth, tall and geeky/cool with messy blond hair. Brian is the clown, tall and very lanky with wild, curly red hair. Gary is, appropriately, a little awkward (or maybe meeting him is awkward), roughly my height (5-8) with short black hair, dresses kind of like me.

Sara Downing makes a mental note to catch the first plane back to LA.

Sara is very pretty, with long blond hair and strong eyes. Rini is a little younger, long brown hair, quiet, cute.

We go bowling, and Rini ends up on the team with myself, Dana, her boyfriend Brian, and Tom. Rini and my sister start up a conversation.

Dana: "So, what's it like to be in movies and stuff?"

Rini: (very nervous, high pitched laugh) "I went to Biscuit Hut for lunch!" (she walks away).

Everything the actors do is a big show, as if the camera is always running. I guess that goes with the territory. Rini is so theatrical when she bowls, that it's like she's bowling in a cartoon. Brian is built and moves a lot like my friend Mike, who inspired Brian's character in BA. Rini finds out Tom is the real life Scott (her character Amanda's love interest in the film) and they chat-she seems to like him, which brings freaky thoughts to mind. Is it just me, or would the universe implode if they got together?

The cast are all very tight, esp.

Gary Lundy ("Max") and Sara Downing ("Julie") pose, mistaking Zack for a producer.

Gary, Brian and Sara. Hard to believe they've only known each other about a week.

Next we go to a karaoke bar. My friends and I aren't sure if we want to go, or if they all want us to go, but Jay goes out of his way to make sure we join them. It's a real divey country joint, older crowd, sub-$2 beers. We sit down and Jay grills me with questions about Sam, his character in the movie.

"Did Sam and Jen's breakup scene really happen like that?" I won't tell you what I told him. Chat with Sara for a minute. "I keep telling everyone (in the bar) I'm in the movie, and they freak out! Why do I do that?!"

They all sign up to karaoke, Brian wants to do "Copacabana," but suspects he'd get lynched. Sara does "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," Jay "Folsom Prison Blues," ("Hey, did someone tell you to sing that, or did you choose it yerself?" asked a local, after Jay's performance.) Gary pulls off a surprisingly sincere "Piano Man," and Brian does a show-stopping "Sweet Caroline." ("This one's for a girl back home. Her name's Caroline.")

The crowd eats it up.

Director Van Flesher [left] relaxes on the Common Room set with Brian Klugman ("Charles").

Brian is even invited back for a competition next week. Word spreads that they're the stars of the movie filming in town, and sketchy guys keep buying Sara beers. I'm sure it's not the first time.

Brian seemed a little distant at first, but he's opening up to me.

"Your script is… adorable."

"Is that good, or a polite way of saying naive?"

"It's so sweet. Sure, it's a little naïve, but it captures that way of thinking, when you're still looking for a perfect relationship,"

He tells us he just signed on as a regular on "Frasier," playing the title character's assistant. He says he'd like to write and direct an episode. He's done a lot of writing with a writing partner, and he has a literary agent. He even had a script "Greenlit at Warner" before the exec lost their job. (Happens all the time in Hollywood.) Brian is a funny guy, busting out a Sideshow Bob impersonation (Bob is a Simpson's character voiced by Brian's co-worker (!) Kelsey Grammar), sharing stories about working on that show.

Talk a little with Gary. I'm not sure what to say to him, and I think he feels the same. We mostly just compliment each other. Jay comes over and chats with us too, he seems to get along pretty well with Dana.

As we leave, Sara and Gary tell me they really like the script. I tell them they better study their lines for tomorrow because I'll be on set, "personally critiquing all of your line readings and facial expressions." They laugh, nervous, and slink away.

What can I say, I had a couple of beers in my system.

By the car ride back, it's clear that we're all in unfamiliar territory, and I'm not just talking about West Virginia.

Saturday

Today's shoot isn't supposed to start until 2 p.m., and is delayed. They shoot 12-hour days, then clean and pack up, so most of the 30-or-so crew members will be here until 3-4 a.m.

The set they're shooting on today is an apartment near the campus of Marshall University (where much of BA will be shot). The whole day is reserved for the party scene near the beginning of the movie-at close to eight pages, it's the longest scene in the movie, introducing several major characters.

Production Manager Aaron Rattner takes a break in one of the locations.

We know we're at the right house when we see all the trucks-at least two or three moving trucks, plus several vans, and a large mobile home in the driveway. Randy is talking to Aaron Rattner, the Unit Production Manager (UPM), about the set, and me and my peeps are directed to the rear of the driveway where five-or-so extras are sitting on folding chairs. A Production Assistant (PA) named Jaisie Bates introduces herself and puts me in charge of getting all the extras to fill out release forms, which basically ensure that the producers reserve the right to use any extra's face on a billboard anywhere in the universe for eternity without paying a cent.

The next few hours are spent hanging out with the extras and my family. Jaisey calls me "Mr. Writer Sir" all day. I tell her, "That's silly, 'Sir' is fine." The extras are all either cute girls or wannabe filmmakers; neither makes for boring conversation.

Everyone asks the same three questions: "What else have you written?" "How much of this is a true story?" and, "Can't you afford a better haircut?"

The whole process is stunning. I watch as teams of professionals work insanely hard to recreate passing thoughts I had four years ago. An example: Charles says at the party, "Check out that Fox in the beret." The characters don't go on to meet the Fox, and she doesn't even have any lines. It's just a throwaway reference in the script. I look on in disbelief as two PAs debate who among three-or-so candidate extras should be the Fox, as the extras (aware of the discussion) sit around anxiously, competitively. Meanwhile, a third PA runs off to track down a beret.

Never have my words had such power.

Sara "Julie" Downing comes out of the trailer wearing a funky, thrift-looking red dress that she'll wear in the scene. My Aunt and Mother comment that the dress is a little odd, old fashioned for the character. Sara comes over to say hi and I tell her that none of us are sure what we think of her dress. She agrees, then my aunt drags her off to pose in a picture with my cousin. Just then, the 2nd AD drags me aside and tells me that I should never, ever say anything like that to a star right before she does a scene, because she might get uncomfortable about how she looks. Ouch, my mistake. And it's also a no-no to drag her off for pictures.

I get back to find my aunt holding a camera and Sara waiting for me to pose with her. I try to wave them off, because I don't want another lecture, and Sara says, "Wow, you really don't like pictures, do you?"

I tell Randy this story a little while later, and he laughs.

"That's SO Max," Randy said.

"Well, who else would it be? By the way, when is your mother getting here?"

He smacks his forehead and runs off, mumbling something about paging his mother at the airport in Charleston (an hour away). If you know Randy but haven't seen him in a while and are wondering if he's changed, the answer is no, not a whole lot. It's still an adventure.

I finally meet Echo Gaffney, BA's other producer, very briefly. Just as I'm reassured she isn't a figment of Randy's imagination, she runs off and goes imaginary again.

A couple of hours later, Randy's Mom shows up, and exchanges childhood horror stories with my Mother and Aunt. Overheard quote (from my Mother): "Sometimes it's the difficult ones that turn out to be the most successful." When was I difficult?!

I spend a lot of time chatting with the PAs. Jacob Stone tells me he was in Huntington with no idea what he wanted to do before this came along. Now he's been told he can get hooked up with a job in L.A. and he plans to move as soon as BA wraps. Another PA, a local film student, told me that reading BA helped inspire him to write his own screenplay, which he's working on now. It hits me that lives are changing because of some words I put on a page. Suddenly I feel faint; this is craziness.

Every time I look in Tom's direction he's talking to six or seven hot girls. Dana is getting restless, and Brian is half-asleep. Kenny looks bored too. Eileen is knitting, Mom reading and chatting with Randy's mother.

At about 7, the cast and "first team" come down from the set. Gary and Brian debate how Gary should read a line they're about to shoot. The line is about vegeterianism and environmentalism, sort of a tongue twister. He tries it a couple of ways, then I suggest more of a pause in the middle. He says he'll try that.

Then I see Van and he asks me if I plan to come up to the set itself, to watch them film some takes. "You mean I can? I didn't think anyone was allowed on set."

"You're the writer, of course you're allowed."

Unfortunately, however, I'm also told the set is too small to allow any of my family or friends to come up. I feel really guilty about leaving them on the driveway, but I'm not about to let that stop me.

I walk up the stairway to the second floor of the house where, as promised, a near army of crew members are preparing for a new "setup, " or camera angle. They need to get through 26 setups today, and apparently that's a whole lot. It takes at least 15 minutes to change camera angles in the same room, because of all the lighting, sound and camera equipment involved.

The crew set up for another shot while producers scurry in the background.

The camera sits on a rolling dolly that looks a little like a small, one-man golf cart; the cinematographer sits in the small seat at the rear of the dolly. His crew includes Traci Perlstein, First Assistant Cinematograper (1st AC), and John Mehaffey, 2nd AC (John's duties include updating and using the marker-you know, the black and white sign that says the name of the movie, director, and take number). Then there's the sound crew, including Boom Operator Michael Frohberg, who holds a long mic stand above actors' heads and out of frame during scenes, and Sound Mixer Justin Marriquez, who sets up a mixing board in the next room and mixes the recording from there.

There are also three people in the room who handle lighting; one who does makeup; a script supervisor to insure consistency between takes, and within the script; a key grip and best boy, who make sure everything is hooked to the huge portable generators; the First Assistant Director (1st AD), who makes sure everyone is in place and ready when they need to be; Aaron, the UPM, who does who knows what; the location manager, who makes sure the locations he found aren't destroyed in the shoot; and, of course, Van, the director, who sometimes appears to be the least important person in the room (aside from me, of course), quietly chatting with the actors or the cinematographer between takes. During takes, Van usually stands next to the script supervisor in front of the stand-up monitor. One of the advantages of shooting BA in High Definition Digital Video (HD DV) and not film is that they're able to see an accurate, color, widescreen depiction of what is being shot.

Producer Randy Mack humbly declines the summons he has just been served with.

(As a side note, I was a little upset when I heard that BA would be shot on DV, even if it was HD DV, whatever that means. But Randy assured that this is a new technology that looks nothing like the grainy DV movies we've all seen (Blair Witch Project, Chuck and Buck, etc.). HD DV was created by George Lucas for the new Star Wars movie, and BA is one of a handful of the first movies to give it a whirl. Based on everything I've heard, read, and seen about HD DV, it arguably looks as good as 35mm film and costs much less. I don't think anyone will be disappointed with the way BA looks.)

The set itself is large for a living room, but not gigantic, maybe 30' x 20'. The mahogany trim lining the walls is perfect for a scene described in the script as a "pretentious party." Tables of cheese and crackers and glasses of wine are carefully placed around the room. Everything not only matches the script's description, but looks more perfect than I ever imagined.

Typically, Van asks for four to six takes from each setup, and two to three setups per scene, which will be weeded through and edited together during post-production to form the finished scene. The first scene segment I see them shoot starts with Max, Charles and Sam chatting. Then Julie approaches them and meets Max, Charles and Sam sneak away, and then Julie gets "flagged down by (her) overprotective friends." Because there are so many characters involved, Van uses three or four setups-one centered on Max, one on Julie, and one or two wider shots.

Gary and Sara play footsie while waiting for their "date" to be filmed.

I'm stunned by the actors. Having hung out with them before seeing them work, it's surprising to see them "turn it on" and become the characters. Gary is much better than my first impression of him from the audition tape. The way he plays Max reminds me a little of a young Jason Lee, nervous, cynical and funny. He captures the humor in Max's anxiety, and fits the character really well. Brian is great as Charles… capturing the goofiness, the slickness, the ladies man charm, everything that goes with the character, and doing it all in a way that's always funny without ever quite going over the top. He's a little different than the Charles I always pictured, but Brian might end up stealing the movie. Jay doesn't have a whole lot to work with in this scene as Sam, but he fits the role's sincerity and humor.

Sara is great too. Randy and I always thought Julie was going to be the toughest role to cast, because the character is both sweet and tough, smart but in some ways naïve, seductive but flawed. Randy auditioned a couple of actresses that he was very happy with, but when both of those actresses declined, Randy somehow found Sara at the last minute. As good as the other actresses might have been, Sara is better. As soon as she walks into the frame, she is the character, more than any other actress who'd read the lines.

Sara looks on as Van and Gary argue about whether it's in character for Max to perform the scene nude.

Another pleasant surprise is how well the cast get along. Gary and Brian constantly crack each other up off camera between takes. Gary told me that Brian is the funniest person he's ever met, and it comes off when they're in the frame together. With what I saw of Gary, Brian and Jay on camera, you believe that they're good friends, because they are friends off camera. Likewise with Sara and Gary. The friendship of the characters is so important to the story, and it's great that they're able to pull that off.

Van also seems to be doing well. Very low-key and easy-going, his advice to the actors is usually dead on. He encourages them to take a playful attitude to their roles, ad-libbing and adjusting the dialogue where they can.

Cinematographer Stephan Schultze and Van pose with something we learned to call "the camera."

(When Gary delivers the line about vegetarianism and environmentalism, Brian ad-libs, "What about Judaism?") Visually, Van and cinematographer Stephan Shultze are doing a great job of framing the scenes. Just as the set is similar to but better than I imagined, standing next to Van and watching the monitor, everything looks much more striking than I pictured.

At 9 p.m., they break for "lunch," so I go back downstairs and buzz about how well everything is going. Dana wants to know when they'll be extras, because they're tired of sitting there (by now it's been six or seven hours) and want to leave. The extras have dwindled, and the original Fox in Beret has been replaced by a less foxy version. If they take much longer, my Mom might get the nod.

Todd Duffey ("Tommy") and Jay Paulson ("Sam") bum rush the craft services table. Two PAs were killed in the incident.

Some of the crew is pumped up that Todd Duffey, who played Jennifer Aniston's annoying co-worker in Office Space, and who is playing Tommy in BA, had just arrived in town and was on set. Todd had a pretty small part in OS, so the crew's excitement isn't entirely serious, but he was really memorable and funny in that movie. Sure enough, I bump into Todd and introduce myself. He seems pretty cool, flattered that I remembered him from Office Space. I'm still a little upset that my friend Tom Roy, who inspired the part, wasn't cast, but at least they didn't pass on Tom to take a local college student or something.

I get another chance to chat with Brian Klugman. He gives me a little career advice, says he'll put in a word for me with his (writing) agent at Endeavor, a major agency. Randy later tells me that Brian and his writing partner wrote something like 18 scripts last year, in addition to acting and other projects.

"Eighteen scripts?! That's like, a script every three weeks!"

"He barely sleeps. His motto is ABW-Always Be Working."

As the break is winding down I walk back onto the set, where the crew is arranging a setup that would show a long shot of the whole party for the first time. This is the shot the extras were needed for, and to my surprise, a handful of extras, including a few that I hadn't seen before, are already "placed" in the scene. I approach the 1st AD and tell him that my family had driven all the way out here and waited all day to be extras, and, in fact, they're still sitting downstairs waiting.

He says, simply, "Adios."

"Adios? What the hell does that mean?"

"Tell them we have enough background here already."

I'm really pissed, but I don't want to cause a scene. What an ASSHOLE. Van isn't in the room and I don't think immediately of looking for him, but I should have, because when I tell him what happened later he says that was a mistake.

I mostly feel bad for my family, who have been waiting all day for this. I tell them what happened and the 2nd AD John LaBrucherie overhears and apologizes. John says he'll do what he can to make sure they're extras in one of the next day's scenes, and while he sounds sincere, I knew they're shooting scenes Sunday that don't need any extras.

Gary and Brian horse around on set near actress Carrie Freedle ("Sara").

My family and Tom leave and I go back upstairs and watch some more takes. I stand next to Randy just to the left of the camera's view, trying not to make eye contact with the actors as they film. They shoot the part of the scene with Sara's (actress Carrie Freedle) dramatic entrance, and the part where Sam's girlfriend Jen (actress Kathleen Perkins) shows up at the party and yells at her boyfriend.

At about 1:30 a.m. I tire of watching take after take and head downstairs where I drank a couple of large coffees and chat with a couple of PAs and Matt, the location manager. Matt is really funny, bragging that it's his six-foot bong that appears in one scene.

Finally at about 3 a.m., they call a wrap. What a long, exhausting day.

Van confers with Kathleen Perkins behind the beaded curtain.

I tell Van and Randy I'm pleasantly surprised at how well everything seems to be going, esp. the cast. I remind Van of a conversation the three of us had in L.A. in 12/00, after the first public BA reading, when we agreed that for the first time it felt like this script would definitely become a movie. I say this is the first time I felt sure it would be a good movie, and Van agrees.

I get a ride back to the hotel in a van with some of the cast. As I leave the set, I feel like the kid in Almost Famous after his first day with Stillwater ("See you later Matt… Hey Jake, see you tomorrow… bye, Jaisey…"), awestruck, starstruck, struck.

Sunday

They went an hour overtime Saturday, so today's shoot needs to be pushed back to 3 p.m.-apparently they would incur huge union fines if anyone is asked to come back to the location less than 12 hours after leaving.
Today's shoot is at a different house in Huntington. It's much larger than yesterday's location, in a more suburban neighborhood. The plan for the day is to get a short scene in one of the bedrooms upstairs (the flashback scene with Max in Stacy's room), then move on to a couple of scenes in a bedroom downstairs-the set for Max and Sam's bedroom-and then shoot the first couple of scenes that take place on the common room set. There are so many scenes to be shot on that set that this is the first of four days that BA would be at this location. For the crew, this is nice because it means a temporary reprieve from constant packing and unpacking.

I get to the set with Tom, my family, and Randy's mother (who my mother has resolved to keep company while Randy, uh, produces) and we're directed to the house's enclosed deck, which is acting as Craft Services (i.e. where they keep the food) and the waiting area for guests. Since everyone I was with were so bored on Saturday, they decide to stay a little while and then go do something else. The family who own the house are hanging out on the porch too, so everyone is chatting. Jaisey's assignment for the day is apparently to babysit my family and get them to shush while cameras roll-good luck with that one.

1st AD Frank Surlaw (left) looks on as Randy (right) delivers some bad news to Van (center).

Randy passes along the big news of the day: three crew members-the 1st AD Paul, 2nd AD John, and Production Designer Nicole "Ringo" Frey-quit that morning. Apparently it was part personality conflict (Paul was actually the person Randy had hoped to replace because he was so difficult to get along with; Exhibit A in my mind was his "adios" comment yesterday), part protest over the fact that Nicole wasn't immediately offered a promotion she had been looking for.

Randy seems confident that this isn't a big deal, and the only challenge will be getting through that day on schedule. But it sure sounds like a big deal, and tension among the crew backs up that impression.

Maybe it's because of the drizzly weather, or the bad news, or the lack of excited extras, but morale seems a lot lower today than yesterday.

The first scene they're shooting is the Stacy flashback, filmed upstairs in a very funky looking bedroom. It has a high bed, low ceiling, and walls painted with pink and purple stripes. Since the room is so small, I stand with some crew members in the adjacent bathroom, watching the scene on the monitor. It looks good, but the actress (Randy Lehasky) has a pretty thick southern accent. When this comes out, everyone will assume it takes place in the South. A strange thought.

One result of the mass exodus of crew members is that Keith, who was a PA in addition to portraying Mark in the film, is promoted to 2nd AD, suddenly creating a shortage of PAs. When he notices me standing around, he hands me a walkie talkie-instant PA. So for the next five or six hours, I guard the door to the set when they're shooting. I am politely lectured a couple of times; I'm not a very good PA. But everyone is working so hard, and I'm glad to help where I can.

As I PA they shoot a couple of (short) scenes in Max and Sam's bedroom. I see a couple of rehearsals of the scenes, but guard the door while they shoot. The bedroom set looks bare and a little wrong, at least in person. One thing I learn is that what you see in person isn't what's on film-hopefully they framed the room well in the shots.

I check in with my family, who are bored. My Aunt is knitting up a storm. Jaisey does her best to keep them happy-every time cameras roll, she tells everyone to go to their "happy little place." A lot of people couldn't get away with saying something like that.

At some point, maybe around six, my family takes off. They say they probably won't be back. I feel bad, like I'm ditching them, but they keep assuring me that they're not having a bad time, and saying I shouldn't worry about them. (Telling me not to worry is like telling a bear… oh, never mind. Inside joke. ) At least I'm able to show them the sets this time, even if they don't see anything filmed.

Randy comes back from one of his errands and finds me PA-ing. "I'm surprised they haven't asked my mother yet," he quips.

"Actually, she's holding the boom."

Brian Klugman and Gary Lundy politely remind writer Zack Ordynans never to enter the trailer.

At 9, they call a lunch break. At 11 or so Tom, Dana, Brian and Kenny show up. They're trying to find anything in town that's open, but it's Sunday night and everything is dead. They hang out for half an hour and then leave.

At midnight, still PA-ing, I realize I missed my only chance to see Todd Duffey as Tommy. I'm a little annoyed, and they don't seem to need me anymore, so I resign from my duties. I enter the set and watch the crew setup the next scene, in the common room. The set looks a little off, but then someone walks in with a newspaper vending machine for the local paper-seemingly taken right off the street, with newspapers and everything. Suddenly, the set is perfect.

I watch them film the scene where Charles talks Max out of burning the Annie Hall video tape. I finally bust out my camera and take some pictures.

The next scene is with Max and Julie: she wants to watch the Annie Hall videotape, he tries to get her to watch something else. It takes them ten takes to get through one setup because

Gary enjoys a cup of joe while producer Randy Mack comtemplates the chaos he has unleashed.

Gary keeps ad-libbing different movie titles (i.e. "Let's watch Snow Dogs instead.") and cracking Sara up. When they finally make it through a take, it comes out really well. It's a good sign that even a scene that wasn't necessarily funny on paper is funny in the shooting.

I finish my roll of film, and then it's 3 a.m., and it's all over. The actors leave, and the crew go upstairs, where four trays of lasagna are waiting for the 15-or-so people who are still around.

Consensus reaction: "Lasagna? Who can eat now?"

"There's also beer."

"Pass me a plate."

Randy leaves, announcing that no one is allowed to leave the room until he returns. Obviously, jokes follow. He shows up five minutes later with a box of fleece Burning Annie ski hats. I got one for myself, and grab hats for Dana, Kenny and Tom before I'm cut off. I figure they deserve something for waiting around all weekend.

I talk again with Van about how good things seem to be going. As he leaves, I'm about to say, "See you in Utah," but don't want to jinx us.

There's some mixup with the shuttle vans back to the Stone Lodge, and a bunch of people get left behind. I was planning to ride back with Randy, but he brings a carload of abandoned crew members back instead, and volunteers me to wait around a little longer and get a ride back with Aaron.

L to R: Director Van Flesher, UPM Aaron Rattner, Producer Randy Mack, 1st AD Frank Surlaw.

Aaron and Keith are planning the schedule for Monday as I help Jaisey clean up after the lasagna. Everyone is half-asleep.

A volunteer named Darlene-a local woman looking for something interesting to do between jobs-gives me and Jaisey a ride back to the hotel. It's close to 4, and it looks like Aaron and Keith will be there for a while. Jaisey looks like a zombie, so I ask her if she's all right and she says she's tired of working 18- to 20-hour days and she hopes this will be the last PA job she ever has to take (she's also an actress, appearing in a small role as Amy in BA). I tell her that watching everyone work so hard on BA makes me feel really guilty for leaving the set and returning to my cushy day job, which is true. But a 9-to-5 job suddenly doesn't seem like such a bad thing.


Monday

We get up early-somehow-and drive home.

On the way home, I finally have a chance to reflect on all of this, but I can't come up with any grand conclusions. The weekend I spent on the set was hard to summarize-it was all more surreal than anything, the raw possibility of Burning Annie actually being turned into something resembling a real movie.

My most concrete feeling was of grattitude… toward Randy and Van, of course, but just as much for the whole process, for being allowed to be a part of it. It's amazing how much effort goes into the making of a movie, and it's hard to believe all that effort went into making this movie. No offense to BA, but when you start writing a small, personal story about you and your friends, you never imagine that it will someday lead to 30 people flying thousands of miles to work 14-hour days for a month.

In a sense, the involvement of so many other people is also something of a relief; BA is less "my" movie now; it's a group project, and that relieves some of the pressure and anxiety I feel about the outcome.

There's still a long way to go, of course, but it's exciting to see how well everything seems to be working out. Tom is excited, my sister is excited, even my Aunt is excited. My cousin Kenny says he's going to do a school project and talk about how movies are made. Dana is asking about the premier. I can't wait to write up my notes from the weekend.

You don't want to hear about how many hours it takes us to get back, or how I-95 was shut down in Maryland, so I won't bore you with those details. By the time I get back to my apartment in Jersey City it's midnight and I go to sleep, because I have to get up early for my cushy day job.

 

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