It started with a lone young blond girl on the road outside our bedroom window at 7am. She was wearing an orange fluorescent traffic vest, waving an orange flag and speaking into a walkie talkie. I could hear her saying “I’m on traffic duty… yea I know” into it. Then, one by one …the circus came to our house.
Within an hour there was a non-stop Pa-RAID of sashaying coming in and out. Everything from professional set designers yelling to everyone “Ok people I need this room to be inside the next room in one hour!” to gum -smacking teenage girls looking out into the air and saying “I’ve been working with polyurethane for the last four days straight and okay now what color am I supposed to paint this wall?”
Our furniture? Our belongings? Our cherished items (that we hadn’t already gotten out of the way for safe keeping)? If they were in the planned line-of-sight of the camera’s view (which had all been blocked and noted) they were directed to be hauled away and replaced with something else, or covered up to protect them. It was like double-time moving company; they were helping us move out, and also rushing the next tenants into the space simultaneously. Almost everything in our house got the instant switch-a-roo. The workers moved like ants. Using a polaroid camera, they photographed every room like a crime scene, wrote things like “living room north” and “kitchen east” on them and tucked them into separate envelopes. Then the rooms they wanted to transform were emptied out. They kept asking my permission for everything, running every move they made by me; was this OK, was that OK? How was I doing? I started to feel like I was staying at a five-star hotel in Japan. It got to the point where I was just nodding and saying “Sure that’s fine” before they even finished their question, and that’s when it hit me; they were breaking me down. Most movies these days may suck, but nobody ever said the crews weren’t clever.
At one point I laid a cell phone bill down on a table in the living room, went upstairs to get my phone to call the operator and pay it. When I had the operator on the phone I walked back down to retrieve the bill, only to find that the table and bill had vanished and a giant baby crib was in their place. Not missing a beat, one of the set designers seemed to sense what was happening and he led me (using arm motions) over to where the table had been placed - the bill taped to the front of the plastic that had been wrapped around it. I reached down and plucked the bill off the plastic just as a blank-faced worker walked past me, unrolling behind her a giant roll of protective corrugated cardboard, covering the table and the wall it was in front of like a closing curtain. Exit scene. I decided to get out of their way.
So I removed myself from the chaos, and went upstairs. But my need to control what was going on was still down there with them. Every time I head a buzz-saw I cringed. Every time I heard one of the crew say “Whuu-oops!” loudly, my lips slightly pursed and my eyes widened.
By the afternoon, I was back downstairs discussing with one of the crew about how I was getting used to it. I felt like some kind of royalty, sitting in the middle of work happening all around me, not lifting a finger. I told him I felt like one of those weird rich couples who can never enjoy their mansions because it’s always in various shifting states of being a hazardous construction zone. You know the type - they seem mentally addicted to never working or lifting a finger themselves, but enjoy the stress of having workers constantly renovate their home and grounds all around them - just to occupy their time. He was mentioning he had worked in homes that seemed like that, and I was talking about how it was probably some sort of subconscious control thing, like a natal-replacement substitute for people that never had kids, or an empty nest thing for people that had them and miss the drama now that they’re gone …or maybe it’s even a bee-hive primate instinct for wealthy people plugged into the collective unconscious who don’t feel important or in control yet feel a need to be connected to society because of their wealth. Then as the crew guy was agreeing with me I decided that the crew members redecorating our home for the film were actually in the film itself, and everything else was reality. Of course! And soon I would shrink down really small and fly down my own throat into the universe that lives inside all of us. Then I decided to get out of the room with the heavy, wet fumes of the freshly painted walls filling the air going to my brain, and get some fresh air… maybe in the basement?
Emerging later, I found they had transformed parts of our home into that of a small town married couple who’s mutual small child holds together their rapidly dysfunctioning marriage. At least that’s what we were told. So anyway… that’s the setting. No elaborate sets. No outer space. No underwater. No wires making furniture float through the room or secret portrait paintings with the eye-holes cut out so creeps can spy of them. Oh, and most importantly: no CAKE!!! Where’s the cake? Shouldn’t the whole living room be made out of frosting? No… the whole house? Oh well. They spent time rubbing newspaper all over the light switches and doorknobs (on the areas they had painted) to make them look worn and smudged-on over time. They (Crayon)-colored and dirtied-up the baby high-chairs and other child items to make them look like they had been thrown around, spilled on and drooled on over time.
Want to see some before and after shots? Here’s the living room: before, and after. Before. After. Actually… the “before” picture is technically the “after” one and shows the living room put back together by them and re-painted, because I forgot to take a “before” picture before they started. Isn’t the illusionary magic of film amazing? It’s lie-tastic! Here’s our real foyer. Fib-tacular!
They painted our Suspiria-red room (apparently there are some colors that don’t burn well on film) into a very disturbing “nursing home” blue. We thought if they painted it something we liked we would keep it. But as soon as we saw we were like “please change it when you’re done.” Which they have to do, as it’s in the contract. They have to replace anything that is damaged, scratched, smudged, trampled, missing or exploded. And smile while they’re doing it. We shall see!
But they aren’t taking any chances: They also cut thick cardboard into the shape of the floors of the rooms they knew they would be in and taped that down with blue paper tape (even cutting around furniture they didn’t want to move). They even covered each individual stair leading up to the second floor. They also had these giant rolls of very thick corrugated cardboard (mentioned before) that they unrolled around the edge of each room, with any furniture that was against the wall (as well as any pictures or whatever) covered and untouchable by anyone. The house was like a paper maze, and each room was the inside of a featureless giant cardboard box with no top. To get at anything you forgot to tell them you might need to get at before they covered it - you had to figure out a kind of secret passageway (or cut a hole).
The cast of the film keeps changing (or seems to). All we really know now is that several actors, including one child actor, and two identical cats (playing the role of one) will show up at our home during filming. At one point a set designer, as he was frantically trying to arrange fake children’s drawings on a refrigerator, was telling Jim and I about the actors on our days. He told us is was “…the guy from the ‘Ed’ TV show” and then said “also, um… the girl from… uh… she played the woman in ‘Hedwig and the Angry Itch’ …uh, her name is Andore Maroe or Martina Andrea or something like that?” There was too much of a hectic pace to get the exact information out of him… but I swear to god if Andrea Martin walks through my door on the first day of filming it will officially be shit-my-pants-fantastic (thank god there’s a toilet right in the living room).
One of crew perhaps not so sympathetically said “Don’t worry, you’ll get used to us eventually. but wait until the shooting crew comes tomorrow… they take a lot longer to get used to. There’s lots more of them and lots more equipment.” Then he was carried one of Jim’s family heirloom antique tables precariously over his head through a hallway. Okay.
Jim and I were talking, and seeing as how we are getting paid by the days that they are here using the space, we also get the same rate per day if they have to shoot again another day, if anything goes wrong on any of the scheduled days (even if the extra days are half days). So, Jim and I fantasized about ways to “delay” shooting so they would be forced to schedule another day with us. Here were several ideas:
1. Offer the entire cast and crew a free breakfast when they show up. Serve LSD omelets.
2. Pretend to be super Christian weirdoes and spend the entire shoot constantly trying to witness-to and save the soul of every cast and crew member, especially the actors. Be relentless, and use the terms “liberal Hollywood” and “swarms of purifying locusts” in the same sentence with a totally straight look on your face.
3. Hide up in the attic and, at unpredictable intervals, shout at the top of your lungs “Action …no, cut!” or “…a-a-a-n-n-n-d-d-d scene!” or “That’s a wrap everyone!”
4. When you first meet all the actors, say “Oh you look so much older than your IMDB.com photos!” They’ll literally spend an eternity in hair and make-up.
5. Wear a disguise and pretend to be from the New York Division of the Hollywood Animal Protection Enforcement Agency (say the name real fast so they can’t understand it all, and print up some fake credentials). Say that you heard a report that several ants were smashed the day before by the crew while the set was being dressed and assembled. Halt production while you meticulously comb every millimeter of the set for any small ant corpses. Look under all the actor’s shoes. If you do find a small ant corpse… start sobbing hysterically.
6. Dress in a giant blazer with shoulder pads, horse-riding boots, knickers, a beret, monocle and mustache and, with a riding whip, walk onto set with a megaphone and look at Mary-Stuart and yell with an exaggerated English accent; “I challenge y-o-o-u-u-u to a directing duel!” As soon as it stops being funny and starts being stupid (a millisecond) do it even louder and more exaggerated and don’t stop. Hide in the house when the cops show up, then start up all over again as soon as they leave.
Just as we were hatching all our plans of evil while the crowd of buzzing workers continued creating chaotically organized fakery on the floor below us, it occured to us that it would be funny to take gross pictures on all the baby set furniture, like pictures of Jim and I doing dirty things to each other nude on the playpen and stuff, and send them to the production crew before the film comes out (or post them on the internet right when it’s released). But …maybe not (or maybe I’m just saying ‘maybe not’ to cover the fact that we DID). We told some of the crew about this later, and expecting a few of them to give us silent stares, they all burst out laughing and said “Yes! Oh my god YES! You two should have done that! That would have been s-o-o-o great!”