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Surviving Cinema: 'Scrapbook - Pt. 2'

Early Summer, 1998.  It was the first day of shooting Scrapbook.  We shot the first rape scene that day.  The brutality of the scene lingered heavy in the air and the emotional electricity in the room was almost audible.  Producer Jeremy Wallace had to turn away as camera rolled.  He did not return his eyes to actors Tommy Biondo and Emily Haack until after I called cut.  It was an intense scene - one that took all of us, especially Tom and Em, a few minutes to recover from.  Emily was sobbing, her clothes torn to shreds.  Tom staggered a bit, his knees weak.  And we still had to do the shot in which Tom actually urinates on Emily.  Yikes.

All of us knew we were going on a very dark journey with this film.  We all knew Scrapbook was going to be different - in a way that would not make production easy or pleasant.  But shooting that rape scene on day one drove the point home and made our agenda uncomfortably crystal clear.  It was no longer something we were talking about.  Now, for the first time, it was right in front of our eyes. 

Following that first attack scene, and after twenty minutes of recovering from it (but before the urination scene) I looked at the cast and crew and offered them a final out.  I explained that given the dark nature of the material we were shooting, Scrapbook "may be seen by ten people - and then simply die, vanishing from the market forever.  Is everyone comfortable going forward with this, and enduring all of this, for a movie that, beyond our creative satisfaction, may do absolutely nothing for us?" 

No one bailed.  Everyone stayed.  We kept shooting.  And Scrapbook has now been seen by a lot more than 10 people.

Now before you start hurling accusations at us, Emily Haack's safety - physically and emotionally - was top priority.  Emily did plunge herself deep into a dark abyss for her attack scenes, letting all inhibitions go and submerging herself into the various ordeals required of her.  However, she had a "safe word" - which, if memory serves, was Tom's real name.  At any time while we were shooting, if Emily felt the need, for any reason, she could bring a scene to an immediate halt by saying the safe word.  (I think she only used the safe word once or twice - when we shot the trash-can scene with the milk.)  Knowing that we were not to stop unless we heard the safe word, we'd stay the course, shooting long uninterrupted takes of Emily's abuse, as she screamed, fought, and cried like it was all happening for real.  To say the least, it was disturbing.

Tom, affected by Emily's performance, wavered on a few occasions, dropping character because it upset him to do what he was doing to Emily.  He would then take a deep breath, remind himself that this was all fiction, and continue playing his part.

In addition to the grisly subject matter, the set itself contributed to Scrapbook being a difficult and draining shoot.  First of all, it was extremely hot.  The home we were permitted to shoot in (and basically trash) had no air conditioning - in fact it had no power at all (we provided power to the house ourselves, running stingers from our home base about forty yards away).  Summer heat, thick humidity, our hot lights, no air-conditioning, and only a few windows that could be opened translated into a miserable experience for all on set.  The air got stale fast, we were all pouring sweat… and then there was the smell.

Because Tom used what I call "method production design" (dressing the set of his character's home himself) very little of what you see in the serial killer's house is fake.  Real food was thrown all over the house days before we started production - so all the rotting food you see on screen is not only real, it was there the entire time we were shooting.  The set stunk, we stunk, and there were fruit flies everywhere.

I mentioned that on day one of the shoot, Tom actually pissed all over Emily and the cot she was on.  We never washed the cot, so for the rest of the shoot it was there, urine stained and smelling bad.  I know all this helped the actors and the movie, but it was disgusting, to say the least.  And not entirely safe.

I'm glad I went through it, but I don't think I would intentionally put myself and my cast and crew through those working conditions again.  Scrapbook was a project for the younger, more reckless versions of ourselves.  The discomfort and the hardships don't bother me, but the safety issues do. 

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, they say.  I think we're all a lot stronger, having endured the Scrapbook shoot.  When I hear an actor or actress on a shoot complaining about it being too hot, or too chilly, or not having the exact kind of cheese they like on their sandwich, or whatever, I roll my eyes and think about how the Scrapbook shoot would have completely annihilated them.

But making Scrapbook was not all gloom, doom, hardship, and stink.  We actually did laugh together and joke around a lot.  I do have memories of that production that do not revolve around misery.

One such memory is of the cicadas.  The 13 year cicada was hatching that summer.  Thousands of these "periodical cicadas" - inch-long, thick, sturdy, winged insects - were all around us and making a great amount of noise.  I didn't fight the audio intrusion - I just let it into the movie.  You can hear the cicadas clearly in the film.  After that summer, this bug with its 13 year life cycle went away, not to be seen again.  This summer, starting in May 2011, this same species will return for the first time since invading our Scrapbook set.

I have fond memories of shooting exteriors for Scrapbook in Macon, Missouri (about a 3 hour drive away from where we shot the interiors).  This was late enough in the shoot that cast and crew were getting loopy, and Tom was in peak entertainment mode.  Also, we were happy to be away from the foul smelling and suffocating house that we had been shooting in.  After the first day of shooting the exteriors I remember the cast and crew having barbeque hamburgers and hotdogs, listening to Patsy Cline, talking and laughing long into the evening.  That was a fun night.

One of the last things we shot was a scene in which Tom hand-cuffs Emily to a shower head and abuses her under the running water.  In the movie it looks extremely brutal, but aside from a few moments of physical discomfort endured by Emily, the day was comparatively easy and fun.  This shower scene was shot at Emily's apartment in St. Louis because there was no running water in the house we used for the rest of the interiors.  So, for only one of two days of the shoot, we were both indoors and in air-conditioning.  No wonder we enjoyed the day so much.

When we wrapped the shower scene, we were unable to remove one pair of handcuffs from the shower head.  The cuffs still dangled there when Emily moved out of the apartment.  I wonder what the new tenant thought of that!

If you want to check out Scrapbook, as well as some great behind-the-scenes stuff, you can grab the collectors edition DVD here.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric Stanze