Me and my friends, we love to build things. Or, at least, many of
them do. My friend Jeremy, for example. He likes to build things.
Crazy, wacky things like a metal flower made out of old shopping carts and blinking
lights. He gave that as a present for Mother's Day one year.
So, when I wanted a device to pull the camera straight
up into the air many, many feet, I asked Jeremy to build it for me. Now all of this
made perfect sense to me at the time, but at the risk of being foreboding, it wasn't for nothing
that this device earned the nickname 'Mr. Thing.'
Jeremy showed up on the set early in the shoot with a little Lego model of how his device was going to work. It looked like it was going to be very neat, and I was really impressed with the
professionalism of the model (that is to say, I was impressed and it seemed professional
that there was a model.) Jeremy ended up getting stuck there while the cast and crew played with
the toy in wonder. It was the beginning of a legend.
Now, we weren't actually shooting the scene that needed this device until Friday night. I talked to Jeremy a couple of times during the week and he said all
fine. I wasn't worried about it, just trying to stay on top of my production. Maybe I
wasn't worried about it because I had other things to worry about. Maybe I wasn't worried about it
because I was stupid.
Now, in the meantime, I would like to introduce Chuck. Chuck joined the production late because of a family vacation. Chuck, well, he likes to build things, too. Chuck can pretty much build anything, but he tended towards more grounded projects then those you would ask Jeremy to build. For example, you might ask Chuck to build you a set of shelves or a carbon fiber bike frame. Another aspect of Chuck is he is very good at figuring things out. In fact, I would be fain to think of anyone I have ever met who was better at figuring things out. Chuck had arrived too late to see the model and, as you might guess, was anxious to see the mythical device in action.
Then Friday came, wham, and Jeremy was incommunicado. The day kept creeping by, and my nerves were getting thinner. Finally, midday, to alleviate me, Chuck volunteered to go see if he could find him or whatever. Finding Jeremy was not the order of the
day, so Chuck ended up breaking into his house
and bringing it back.
The device was, at this point, a bunch of two-by-fours with some bolts and casters on it. When he dumped the device out onto the road in front of my house, Chuck reportedly stood there for several minutes, looking it over from one end to another, before he finally
shrugged his shoulders in complete loss.
This was just the beginning of the fun.
Chuck spent about 4 hours trying to figure out how it works. He didn't. Simple questions like, "How does this pivot?" or "Which part is supposed to touch the ground?" could not be resolved.
Then Jeremy shows up. Jeremy is concerned because now Chuck has modified the device from its original form, and Jeremy is having a hard time remembering how it used to go together. Jeremy and Chuck spend a couple of hours trying to figure out how it went back together and/or how it could go together. We finish the afternoon shoot and the decision is made to head out to our location and just figure it out there. I remember it wasn't even dark yet when we headed out. In January, it gets dark early.
Our location is the screened porch outside of Ray and Xenia's house in Hillsborough. Their place is actually featured as Eric's house during the film, not Ben's, but in this case, all we needed was a small section of floor. Ray's porch had the wood flooring I wanted, the ceiling is nice and high (like 16 feet), and they rent, so they weren't going to get all upset when we started stapling people to the floor and splurting chocolate syrup all over the place.
Ray and Xenia's is about 45 minutes away from my house.
So onward into the night there was the sound of power tools blazing as Chuck and Jeremy played with the device, occasionally stopping to argue. For amusement, the rest of the crew would sit inside and watch this tape of the Lawrence Welk show Ray's dad had given him. Also, for warmth.
The temperature dropped below freezing outside somewhere in the 10pm range, but fortunately the porch gave us about a 10 degree buffer, so it wasn't freezing there until, say, midnight. Finally, at some ungodly hour which I don't even recall myself, Mr. Thing, was declared ready. We quickly stapled Ben to the floor and
made him look dead. One special touch was the water on the pants simulating
pee. Did I mention how cold it was? Since Ben was completely immobile, Vic had the tricky job of making sure
Ben continued to look
dead, while trying to keep his body temperature up between shots to make sure
he didn't actually get dead.
I still shudder today when I think of poor Ben stapled immobile to the floor,
covered in chocolate
syrup, while about 8 people raise and lower this very haphazard, two-by-four device that suspends
a 20+ pound camera directly over his head. Shooting went on
past 2:00am. The worst, I suspect,
was before every shot, someone came and added some water to the ever-growing popcycle that was
forming around Ben's family hope chest.
But thanks to Obadiah, his son, at least we have concrete proof of that part still working.