As you can see from the above call sheet, the page count on this Friday evening--day eleven of production-- was ten and three eighths pages. On a normal day we would shoot an average of four pages of script--which is considered quite a bit if you're a fifty million dollar movie, but if your shooting a 28 day schedule is just about right.(Do the math--28 times 4 equals 112 which is roughly the page count of my script). This eleven page scene, however, was shot all in one night--a considerable feat of energy for the actors as well as the crew. Why? Because it just seemed to be one of those unstoppable scenes, a huge verbal slugfest, that would be better caught in one long go than in breaking it up over a series of nights. I knew it was a risk scheduling it for only one night--by committing to the idea we effectively were cut off from the possibility of letting it spill over into another night--but I felt that the high level of professionalism of the actors (to say nothing of the crew) would make it possible to get the whole thing done. Also, I had two camera's running through each take, thereby cutting in half the amount of time it would take to pick up the necessary coverage.
However the downside was considerable: the scene takes place at night and we were shooting in the dead of summer. Night fell late--around eight thirty PM. And the sun rose at five AM. That means we only had an eight and a half hour workday--a normal shooting day for us was twelve, sometimes thirteen hours. And the street had to be lit--which chewed up the first two hours of the night (our call was, I believe, 7PM). Also, the scene was so long that we had to rehearse and shoot it in segments--i.e., lets take the first four pages and rehearse and stage it, then the next four, then the next four. Then lets shoot out each side of each segment facing in the same direction (so our cameraman didn't have to turn all the lights around more than once) and then spin around in the middle of the night and do all three sections of the scene again facing the other way. It was close to three AM when we turned around and we were fighting daylight to finish the coverage of the scene. Somehow we made it, though the last couple of takes had a distinctly blue light--the usually lovely arrival of morning in this case spelling doom. Nonetheless, the scene got completed and is pretty damn good if I say so myself.
A couple of interesting things in the below clip. It's from the early part of the scene and was shot early in the evening--so we were all still fresh and still finding our way. Note the two clappers--one for this camera and the second, in the background, for the B camera. Then note how halfway through the scene, the cameraman pans away abruptly, seeing the set, on-lookers etc. and appears to be in the process of complete collapse. Then he finds his angle again. What was going on here? I suspect that we were experimenting with re-positioning the camera during the performance--since we had a second camera filming as well we were "covered" for the material during A camera's repositioning. Ultimately, the angle he returns to is the original one and I believe we abandoned the re-po experiment in place of good old-fashioned standard coverage (note that whole scene was shot hand-held as well).
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:10 PM