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Caught in the Rain

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For the past two weeks I've been directing 2nd Unit on a feature horror film in upstate New York.  The low down on this gig is here.

This past week, the "stars" of 2nd Unit have been a butcher's van with a pig silhouette on the side of it, a leaf, and one actual actor.  2nd Unit has been getting shots of the "Pig Van" driving through the rain.  In fact, everything I've been shooting has been in the rain. 

It is rain-storming through much of the screenplay, but unfortunately we've experienced very little real rain in on this shoot.  (Generally, when real rain arrives, it is while we are shooting a scene that does not require rain!)  Therefore, fake rain is dumped on us for all of the rain-drenched sequences being shot by both main unit and my crew.

In addition to the Pig Van shots, 2nd Unit has been shooting the opening sequence of the film, featuring a leaf floating rapidly through the flooding.  Leaves don't take direction very well, so we've been doing a large number of takes of the damn thing, trying to get it to flow through the shots in the most desirable way possible.  

One of the most complex of these shots contained both the leaf and the Pig Van, coordinated to do specific things within in the same shot.  This is more difficult than you would think – and the endeavor was made even more frustrating by the curveballs being thrown at me on the day of shooting.  Our fake rain is powered by a generator that main unit can hear if they are shooting nearby.  During our complicated leaf / Pig Van shot, main unit was shooting just downstream of us, and we had to keep shutting down to let main unit finish each of their sync sound setups before we could continue.  This was especially frustrating because 2nd Unit is given about a fourth of the time we really need to get the shots we are assigned.  Each time we had to shut down and simply sit and wait, it was extremely stressful.  I paced back and forth, worried that we would not have time to get the shot.

At one point in our efforts to get the difficult leaf / Pig Van shot, the driver of the Pig Van was resetting the vehicle to position one in preparation for our next take - and he backed the vehicle into a ditch.  The van was not just stuck in the mud – the back driver side tire was hanging in the air and the axle was on the ground.  The crew descended on the van to pull it out of the ditch, and thirty minutes later, we were back in business.  However, given we did not have sufficient time to get this challenging shot in the first place, the loss of that thirty minutes was cause for panic.  Making movies… it's awesome.

We did get the leaf / Pig Van shot, though, and we moved on to complete one more setup before the plug was pulled and 2nd Unit was shut down for the day.  Whew!

Finally, after directing leaves and vans for a week and a half, I was tasked with shooting a brief sequence with an actual living actor in it!  I can't divulge the name of this person, but she was one of the stars of Evil Dead 2 (1987).  In the sequence we shot with her, she was driving a truck through the rain (of course), but there was not a drop in the sky.  Art and grip departments rigged a rain maker to the top of the truck to shower water on the windows as we shot her driving down the road.  I was in the bed of the truck with my DP and a camera assistant as we cruised down the street, my face to a monitor, directing the actress over a radio – while getting soaked by the rain rig.  By the way, this actress was incredibly nice and super-easy to work with.  Despite the unglamorous and uncomfortable aspects of shooting this sequence, it was a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading.  

- Eric Stanze

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