10/2/08

CITY ISLAND: THE DENISE THING

getplump

Forgive the shameless self-promotion (to say nothing of the unattractive need to point out positive things about myself), but click here to read an excellent review of my last film, a documentary soon to be released on DVD called "Tis Autumn; The Search For Jackie Paris". The film is rolling out theatrically around the USA and Canada on the art-house circuit and this review is from Winnipeg. The man who wrote it is a genius. You have to think that of someone who calls your film "one of the finest music documentaries ever made"...


Now back to City Island for a moment. My property master, Dan Fisher, sent me a blog entry he'd written over the summer which never got posted. It has to do with a part of the story which I always referred to as "The Denise Thing"--a sub-plot that was quite bizarre and relatively controversial, which I'd regularly been asked to drop from the script but which I think is an important element of the movie. Without any "spoilers" being an issue, I can tell you that the BBW community (big beautiful women) and the FA movement (fat acceptance) are a part of this sub-plot. For a few years now, I've been interested in this world and its very open, very loving suggestion that we all accept how each other look--and that fat people don't have to go through this life being ashamed of or made fun of because of how they look. Size acceptance is all about the celebration of being a large person and women, it seems to me, have been the backbone of the movement. So I created a BBW advocate named Denise as a character and worked her into the story--she's played by one of the loveliest people I've ever met, Carrie Baker Reynolds. Alas, the two clips I have of Carrie are short and perhaps have been posted before, but I include them both below--Ezra Miller is in both. By the way, if the size-acceptance movement is something you're curious about, click here for the original plus-size movement magazine, Dimensions.



The climax of the Denise sub-plot comes with a dinner table scene where she lays out a feast for her guests. It's a short scene but a necessary part of the larger puzzle and Dan Fisher had to buy and make a hell of a lot of food for it. Below is his account of the prep and shoot, titled "Dinner With Denise". Thanks Dan--my day just got a little longer.

DINNER AT DENISE'S:

Bill of fare for Sc. 139, Friday Aug.8:

Baby-back ribs smothered in sauce, encircled with mixed grill meat, swaddled in steaks (Weighs about 40 lb.)
Fried chicken cutlets on a bed of pepperoni, decorated with cherry tomatoes
Sliced boneless ham, garnished with bacon strips, salami slices, and pineapple chunks, drizzled with Cheez Wiz
Potatoes au gratin
Macaroni and cheese
3 dozen Pillsbury Pop N Fresh biscuits
Creamed corn
Baked beans
Salami chunks drizzled with cheez wiz (appetizer portion)
Cheese curls
Plain marshmallows
Coconut encrusted marshmallows (Ezra's new favorite snack)
Relish dish
Dish of cold green bean salad
Bowl of red cherry tomatoes
Enormous Chocolate Death cake
Various cakes, pies, and muffins
Beverage choices: Milk, Coca-Cola, water

NOTES ON FOOD SCENES:

1. If you work with a writer/director of Italian heritage (Scorcese, Chase, De Felitta) expect lots of food scenes. Sex scenes, not so much.
2. I kept asking myself, "With all of this meat, what kind of vegetable does Denise eat?" Then the answer came to me, like Excalibur offered to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake: CREAMED CORN. Denise only eats vegetables with cream in them. Yes, note above the relish dish and cherry tomatoes, but for Denise, those are mere table decoration for the guests. She doesn't touch green food unless it's guacamole or lime jello.
3. The day before shooting the dinner scene, Raymond approached to let me know that the scripted dialogue for Denise -- announcing that she's making baby-back ribs with potatoes au gratin -- had been modified to become baby-back ribs with mixed grill, swaddled in steaks. Ordinarily, this type of day-before change would make me or any prop person groan. Changes in props mean you have more work to do, more of production's money to spend while you're worrying how to tell the line producer that it's just quite possible that you may go over budget on this job. (My six least favorite words from a director or actor on a film set: "You know what would be great....?") But when this fairly ordinary meal of ribs and potatoes morphed into the ridiculous -- ribs with mixed grill and steak? What is she, a professional boxer? -- that gave me free rein to leap into the Land Of Ridiculous Food, both feet forward. The next day, the day of the shoot, I left for work early so that I could shop at BJ's Wholesale on the way. Screw the budget, I thought, I want to enter the Pantheon -- "Tom Jones", "Babette's Feast", "Tampopo", "Big Night" -- where the audience sees the amassed food on the table and collectively gasps, "Holy s--t". As I prowled the aisles of BJ's, cart practically tipping from the amassed weight, I was honest-to-God laughing, I kid you not. Pre-cooked, microwaveable bacon? Sure. Cheez Wiz? Hell, yeah.
4. The secret to good food scenes is the same as the secret to good comedy: TIMING. One must constantly seek schedule updates from the Assistant Director and cook accordingly. Because remember, the food not only has to look good, it should be hot and palatable for as long as possible. After all, actors will be eating this stuff, not just once but over and over for the next two to ten hours, so all efforts should be made to make the experience pleasant, rather than vomit-inducing.
(A side note: Almost without fail, actors will dig hungrily and greedily into the food in the first few takes -- It's food! It's free! I can eat as much as I want! Cool! -- but by the third setup they will be picking at it like the proverbial birds. Be sure to have a spit bucket and/or paper towels handy.)
5. The enormous chocolate cake, seen not only in Sc. 139 but in the big finale as well, was from Zeppari's Bakery, of Pelham Bay, NY. Carmine, the owner, gave us an extremely fair price and really understood what I wanted and why I wanted it. I can't recommend Zeppari's highly enough. Oh yeah, and the cake was delicious.

Additional shout-outs to Artie's Steak and Seafood of City Island and to City Island Diner, for your help in all of "City Island"'s many food scenes.





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