The Longest Day

We’ve all had them… some of us have been fortunate enough to have had several.  Even some on the same film.  For me, the single longest day in production (which was still a blast, by the way) was on a small indie feature shot in and around the Houston area.

We were in Wharton, TX on Day 10 of a 15 day shoot for a small indie feature film.  It had a cool concept… clever ending with a twist and stellar performances by the two leads.  The director was a fun-loving sort who always kept us laughing between takes. And that helps when you’re on long days with not quite enough crew.  I had signed on as the sole Grip on a 10- person crew.

film 1

Mark Sullivan with RED #294 on-set.

On this day, we’d arrived in town the night before and had a good dinner at Chili’s and during dinner, myself and the gaffer had recommended that the crew head over to the courthouse to get a look.  As soon as I saw it, I was terrified.  A multi-story, cavernous space, with high windows and on the second/third floor of the building.    We ended up scrounging a couple of extra folks to help, and they were life-savers, but the day started to drag out… quickly.

Our arrival, while punctual and energetic, fresh from a full night’s sleep was quickly derailed when we were informed about a massive change in the first shot of the day.  We had heaved the Fisher 11 dolly to the second floor, along with about 20 ft. of track, wedges, cribbing and accompanying toys, when the director informed us that he wanted a dolly shot outside on the ground floor.

That was okay, because the plan to tie-in to the building’s power had not gone well and our bigger lights, a 4K and a 2.5K, were both unable to be powered.  In the frantic move downstairs, I repeatedly passed the Cinematographer aka best boy electric, as he strung stingers up and down the stairwells.

The rush to get all the equipment downstairs ended with us barely missing a shot of the sun peeking around the corner of a building.  We moved on, shooting quickly and efficiently… and then extras began arriving for the big courtroom shootout scene.

About the time that we had decided on a plan of attack, the first round of generators arrived.  They were quickly overwhelmed by the powerful lighting instruments and a producer was dispatched to find a larger genny.  Meanwhile, in the courtroom, blocking and rehearsals were going on for the mass panic and gunfire that would ensue as the lead character would rise and open fire with a .357 Magnum revolver, to take out the defendant, a bailiff and the judge.  Squibs, blanks and screams were the order of the day, as we frantically moved through coverage of the crucial sequence.  To this day, it has to have been some of the coolest footage I’ve been on-set for.  I’ve been on-set for the filming of werewolves, vampires, swordfights, prison fights, dramatic climaxes and more, but the sound of that hand cannon going off still ranks right up there.

We quickly shot out the crowd scenes (wherein the large crowd gathered to watch the proceedings screams and scatters at the first gunshot) and then moved in for coverage of the gunbattle between a hapless bailiff and the lead.  And the night continued on.  And on.  And then some more.

These were large scenes for a small crew to work on, and what was continually amazing was that we were able to knock out as much as we did with the fewest of people.  And some of the scenes were extremely complex on that day, with dolly moves, while using the pedestal, with blanks, gun and special effects blood makeup splattered everywhere.

I remember standing outside with two of the newer crew members, each of us tired, worn, having just loaded out all extraneous equipment while the final few closeup insert shots were done inside.  We had laid everything out, preparing to load it onto the van (yes, we were hauling everything around in a cargo van, not a truck) and as we were standing there, waiting, resting… I looked at my watch and realized that it was at the 20 hour mark… and counting.

I remember just laughing to myself then, a little bit delirious.  Now, as I look back, I smile because of the numerous crew negotiation phone calls that happen during my days now, in the process of hiring working crew and their need to secure a 10 or 12 hour day… I don’t blame them one bit.

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~ by Carlos Tovar on November 13, 2009.

One Response to “The Longest Day”

  1. Loved this!!

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