“Gerald’s Fat” was Patrick Yang’s mantra on set. It slowly became mine as well.
As a side note: Keep an eye out for Patrick in Mike Pierro’s new film Hey Patrick.
Production on Rainbow Connection is done! Going into it I figured it would be a lot similar to my experience on Animal Control. And why wouldn’t it be? It the same crew and same movie. Just replace taxidermy with rainbows. I was wrong. Production basically consisted of headaches, acne break outs and vhs fuck ups. The first day on set was the most memorable. Not only was everybody trying to find their groove on set but we spent the day working with multiple actors with special needs. Working with DramaWay prepared me to an extent and gave me a rough idea as to what to expect, but I’m sure it was an eye opener for the rest of the crew.
The first scene of the day features a group of thugs stealing from Patrick, Eugene’s friend. Patrick has autism and our communication was quiet limited. I wouldn’t say I directed him. We’d just turn the camera on him and film. Had no idea what we were gonna get. At one point Patrick picked up on the other actors actions and started to direct them. When I would call “Action” he would tell the other actors to rummage through his backpack or steal his lunch. Unbelievably funny and an interesting take on the scene. A true blessing in disguise. Here we have a young man who doesn’t understand the thugs actions/intentions and who is so use to the routine of people stealing from him that he encourages them, thinking it’s some kind of game. That’s right fuck you. I know what I’m doing.
There’s something about autism that is so interesting and captivating to watch. We would be filming Patrick and I’d lose track of how much vhs tape we’d be shooting. You never knew what he would do next.
As a side note: Dressing Patrick in turtle necks was Sophia’s (my Production Designer) idea. It was something she felt passionately about.
The second half of the day was like the morning, but multiplied by 10. We shot the classroom scenes in the gym. Basically it was 15 actors with special needs dancing to the soon to be hit song Waiting For Tonight. Every actor got a chance to throw down their best moves and do a little improv. I must credit Toni Grates (teacher) for her energy and initiative. She really got the actors going and brought out the best of them in that scene. Again, had no idea what to expect. We heard everything from Scott talking about his yellow belt in Tae Kwon Do to Raymond telling us how happy he was to be in this movie. I’m strongly considering using Raymond’s quote and getting all metafilm and shit. That would make Jean Bruce proud of me…right?
The next day also had memorable moments. The day started off with Julian Richings and Dylan Harmon bringing a simple scene to the next level. What started off as a short scene to help progress the film’s plot turned into a scene that carries some of the best emotional moments in the film. The second half of the day featured scenes between Eugene and his friend Mike. Mike was played by Thomas Finucan, a 16 year old boy with Down Syndrome. Thomas was actually my first choice for Eugene. In his first audition he had me and James Vandewater in stitches. Really funny improv. Maybe I’ll post the audition tapes later on in life. And like so many others he fell in love with Erika Brodzky, my friend who was helping out with the auditions. My only worry with Thomas was that he wasn’t serious enough. That became apparent when I brought him back in to read with Deborah Grover (Eugene’s mother). After a few run-throughs of the scene he turned to Deborah and told her he liked working with the other girl better because she was pretty. Again, funny but maybe not the right person who has to ride an emotional roller-coaster during the film. I gave Thomas the role of Mike because I thought we could get some really funny moments between him and Dylan (Eugene). It turns out that that really wasn’t the case. Like the auditions, it was extremely difficult to get Thomas to take anything seriously. If I told him to stop touching his crotch (also known as safe hands) he would awkwardly stretch out his arms and place his hands on his thighs. If I told him to deliver a line more seriously, he would over do it, in order to get a laugh.
As a side note: If you’re gonna bust out “safe hands” be prepared to receive a dirty look, especially from Gavin.
On top of this there was already tension between Thomas and Dylan. Apparently, they has gotten into a fight at a dance. Pretty sure it was over a girl, but what fight isn’t? At the audition they hugged it out. However, later on Dylan would tell me to cut Thomas out of the movie because he was a bad person and didn’t deserve to be in the film. And that is my introduction into Dylan.
What can you say about the man of the hour? It’s his film, he earned it. Without him there would be nothing for James Vandewater to edit and he would be even sadder. When Dylan wasn’t drinking hot chocolate, falling in love with every girl on set, or falling asleep in front of the camera, he was giving it with everything he had.
As a side note: Dylan uses 3 hot chocolate packets per 12oz cup. How fucked is that? It’s basically syrup. No wonder he kept crashing every few hours.
He never complained, but had numerous occasions too rightfully do so, would never question why I wanted him to do things, and would never settle. If he had a better take in him, he would ask to do another. Extremely talented young man. We got a lot of genuine moments out of him and we’ve even found spots in the edit to use him nodding out. I must also mention that Dylan’s parents are just as wonderful and trusting. They really made life easier. Not every parent would leave their kid on set with me, especially with my track record…film track record. During the audition process I had numerous parents turn down the project because they didn’t want to expose their child to some of the subject matter in the script. Part of my reason for making this film was to give an actor with Down Syndrome a chance to play a mature and challenging role. Turns out not every parent felt the same.
With Dylan, the thug alleyway scenes were probably the most memorable. I had no time to get in a rehearsal with the actors playing the thugs and it basically came together on the day. It was a pretty shitty day with light rain and grey skies. Like the scenes with Patrick, as soon as the camera started to roll everything just clicked. Lots of great moments. I was worried that the actors playing the thugs would hold back on Dylan because he was special needs, but after the the first take I realized that that wouldn’t be a problem. Atticus Mitchell, who played the lead thug, was such a fucking asshole (not in real life). During a take, Bill (my continuity person) and I would look over at each other in disbelief as too some of the material we were getting from him. Again, Dylan would hold his own. I hardly gave him any direction that day. 90% of what you see is all him. During that scene, Eugene gambles and loses all his money to the thugs. He is pushed away and forced to think about his actions. At one point I took Dylan aside and told him to rush the thugs after they take his money and push him away. However, I didn’t tell the other actors. I did this a few times on set. It’s always interesting to see how the actors react to those types of situations. When Eugene rushed back towards the thugs for the first time, Atticus shit his pants and the other thugs didn’t know what to do, totally breaking character and dropping the ball. Dylan won that round hands down.
Working with actors who have special needs has been one of the most rewarding and enriching (do those 2 words mean the same thing?) experiences in my life. During the first day of filming, I already started to regret not writing more scenes that featured other actors with special needs. It has made me rethink the feature version of Rainbow Connection. It’s about the real stuff and it doesn’t get more real then that.
A few weeks ago I sat and watched a rough assembly of the film with James Vandewater. I didn’t know what to think of it. I still don’t. I’ve been telling people that “it’ll be something”. Everybody usually assumes the worst and asks me what’s wrong with it. I don’t think there’s something wrong, I just think it’s not going to be for everybody. I could keep rambling and talk about shooting on vhs or something but I should probably save that for later. You’re probably tired of reading 1500 words and regret not choosing the Foley Friday post instead.
It’s good to be back.