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Surviving Cinema: On The Surface Of The Ice

Last week I reminisced about the enigmatic creative process of conjuring Ice From The Sun, an early film of mine that I directed when I was in my mid-20s.  Get the cold hard facts here.

The aspect of shooting Ice From The Sun that I remember most vividly was the complexity of the shoot.  Almost every scene was shot at a different location, which gave the movie ever-changing visual textures, but it was brutal on us.  We shot Ice From The Sun on 74 different interior and exterior sets, at 27 different locations, in 7 different cities.

At the very beginning of production (summer 1996) there was a two week stretch of continuous shooting in rural Macon, Missouri, a town that was mostly farmland.  We had no money for hotel rooms, so everyone lived in and worked out of a small farmhouse that had been sitting empty before it was loaned to us for the shoot.  Multiple people slept in each bedroom and on the floor of the living room in sleeping bags.  I was the only person who had his own sleeping quarters, as production designer Tom Biondo had set up the smallest bedroom for my stay. 

Unfortunately, the house had a bit of a rodent problem.  Mice were abundant, and they were probably irritated that this troupe of punk filmmakers had invaded their domain.  A large pile of broken chairs and other furniture had been stacked haphazardly in my bedroom, stored out of the way.  Within this tangle of furniture the mice had established their base of operations.  I'm not afraid of mice, snakes, or any animals - if they are pets.  However, mice, snakes, and other animals running wild in nature do freak me out because I imagine they are crawling with bugs and disease.  So if I had realized that Tom had unknowingly set up my sleeping quarters at Rodent HQ, I would have been upset.  But I didn't realize.

One morning, in the middle of the Macon shoot, producer Jeremy Wallace came to my room to wake me up.  He opened the door to see me passed out on my stomach with a mouse perched on the back of my leg.  He shooed the mouse away and wisely waited until after we had wrapped Macon to tell me about my roommate.  It was actually roommates, plural... many, many companions there to keep me company.  I wonder how many times those fuzzy little jerks pissed on me as I slept.  Best if I don't think about it.

So we had a lot of people and mice crammed into a fairly small house, which functioned as living quarters and home base for the production.  Wardrobe, special effects, camera, electric... everyone operated out of this one small dwelling.  At least we had hot running water... for a few days. 

We didn't realize that the water at the house was not piped in, but fed by an underground cistern -  a large tank that needed to be refilled as the water level neared empty.  The cistern was low when we got there, and with so many people in the house it drained pretty fast.  I became aware of the situation first, as I was the one in the shower, with shampoo in my hair, when the water sputtered to a trickle and then stopped.  The cistern was dry.  Seconds later I was blinded by the suds running down into my eyes.  Production manager Shana Ko came to my rescue.  She brought me the only water in the house - a gallon jug from the refrigerator.  I was already in an embarrassing situation - naked, blind, baffled as to what the hell happened to our running water, and trying to explain the predicament to Shana.  I then poured the freezing cold water all over myself to clear the soap from my eyes and rinse off.  Ah, filmmaking.  Glamorous.

From that point on, bathing was always an adventure.  There was a small campsite a few miles down the road - with a single source of running water: a lone spigot sticking up out of the ground.  So on several occasions a big group of us would trek to the campsite to steal its water.  Dressed in swim suits, we'd circle this spigot like it was the centerpiece of some cult ceremony and get down to the business of personal hygiene.  Ladies shaved their legs, we brushed our teeth, we soaped up and rinsed at the spigot - all the time casually chatting about the previous or next day's shoot, the newest Smashing Pumpkins track that was being played on the radio, or what restaurant in town we'd like to try for dinner.

Near the campsite was a rather large lake.  On a few occasions we swimsuited up and made use of this body of water for bathing.  For one scene in Ice From The Sun actress Angela Zimmerly ends up on a gravel road, completely naked, covered head-to-toe in blood and gore, and then covered in salt.  When we wrapped this scene, Angela had been covered in this sticky filth, baking under the hot sun for hours.  She was a trooper - she never once complained - but when the scene wrapped, she was pretty damn eager to get the hell out of there and clean up.  Of course, no showers back at the house meant cleaning up was going to be a bit difficult. 

Associate producer Mike Bradley covered his passenger car seat in towels, threw naked Angela in, and drove her to the lake.  There were a half-dozen farmer-type old men fishing at the lake, so at first, Mike tried to be sneaky and cover the nude, gore-soaked actress with towels for her walk to the water.  Angela, however, was eager to end the day and fresh outta give-a-fuck.  She got out of Mike's car and walked confidently from the dirt parking lot, across the grassy picnic area, and into the water wearing nothing but her birthday suit and a coating of fake blood and gore.

At the tail end of our two weeks shooting in Macon, I was starting to really miss hot showers.  Twice my assistant director and I went to a truck stop and actually paid $5 to use the less-than-spotless showers.  They were free if you were buying gas for your rig, but neither Alison or I had a 16 wheeler to fuel up.  Shooting outdoors, getting dirty in the summer heat, one started to feel - and smell - really gross really quickly.  So my memory is that those were a couple of the best hot showers I'd ever had.  And each time Alison and I agreed it was the best $5 we'd ever spent.

Thanks for reading.

-Eric Stanze