Getting ready after Nia in the YMCA locker room two floors below the kick-off madness, I am strangely serene. I know now that there's no preparing for the crazy, you just have to be at one with it.
I arrive at the Hazard Center kick-off, where Calvin demands to know where our check-in documents are. He doesn't say hello. Ah, my esteemed co-director. I elbow through the crowd in a slight panic to find David, but he reassures me that I do, in fact, have said documents. In my car. I wave to Karina, Cheryl, Jake and new team member, Jeff, on my way to get them. All is well.
Getting nervous. Calvin and I are squabbling mildly about whether to throw back Film de Femme. We got it last year, and I think it's a fine, flexible genre. He doesn't want to focus on the womenfolk yet again. It's a moot point, because...
We're up! There goes Musical, there goes Mockumentary, there goes...we got ROMANCE! That's a Cane Toad first. Though most of our movies have been romances. But I immediately start yelling, "What are the tropes of romantic comedy?" Ever since our first outing with "Fantasy," I am big on tropes. Not that I really know what that means.
We've got our elements! Prop: a ticket. ("What kind? Speeding or theater?!?") Line of dialogue: "Please keep it to yourself." (kind of a tough one, actually.) Character: Laura or Lance Altman, Athlete. Hold the phone! LORA Altman. We are off to Coco's for the team meeting.
I arrive at Coco's, and my table for 20 is already mostly filled. I start my usual yelling about this and that, and receive a lot of blank stares in return. I make an insta-decision to split everyone up in brainstorming groups, mostly to stop the staring.
Everyone is buzzing. We are thrilled to see the return of Jake, our editor on several earlier Cane Toad outings but absent for the past three, as well as Marie, our esteemed composer on The Hot Seat. Grace, Carl and Julianna are the first full family we've ever called Toads--they wield a mean boom mike, act and other talents. A year of longing (after admiring her at the 2010 auditions) has finally snagged us Tracy, who's come down from LA. Best Actress winner Kacie is back, and we're lucky. Mark, our data wrangler from THS, is back in a bigger role. PLAW veterans but Cane Toad newbies include Karina, Krystyna and Cheryl, and high school student (and tech wizard) Austin found us at the first Meet-n-Greet. Jake brought Jeff all the way from Arizona, and he ends up being one of our leads. And Kacie lures in Ernesto, the one-man cheering squad of giddy glee who gives us all a little lift. Amazing to think he won Best Actor last year for playing a guy with clinical depression. I guess that's what they call good acting.
Ideas are coming fast and furious, though I'm crestfallen to find that my idea where teenage girls fall in love with a zombie has totally been done--many times. One of the groups concisely describes their concept as "Lesbian Dumb and Dumber" and Ernesto says "Why are we even talking still? Obviously we're doing that." I am proud to say it's my group that first mentions guardian angels/Cupid's assistants, because that's the direction we head.
Calvin is ready to wrap it up and head to the secret lair (aka my house) for the meeting of the Elite Inner Sanctum Writing Team. (I will mention that everyone is invited.) A surprising number of people are game, and soon our living room is packed with Coke-guzzling folks shouting out ideas for the script. Unlike past years, this group think is actually productive, and it isn't long before we have a pretty good outline. I keep noticing, though, that David is over on the couch covering his eyes with his hands. When called upon, he confesses that he doesn't get the romance we've concocted, and explains rather succinctly why. There's a tiny moment of reckoning, and then we rally surprisingly fast. In retrospect, I'm super-grateful that he spoke up, because the new structure makes a lot more sense. We were fortunate to have Jeff in our midst this year, since he gently reminded us to think "beginning, middle and end" whenever we veered toward amorphous musings. He also nudges us gently about character development and a whole lot of useful stuff you'd think I'd have in mind after doing this nine times, but...not so much.
Most of the elite Fighting Force slips away, off to rest up for our first call. But Mark and Calvin remain loyally by my side, hashing out problems and details that could make or break our concept. They are both surprisingly gentle and kind in their guidance, and I get through the whole thing without feeling weepy or threatened. Since both of those are my normal resting states, it all feels a bit surreal.
Ernesto calls to say he's at Wal-Mart, and about to buy some women's pajama bottoms. He wonders if someone can bring a belt or pins to hold them up. After I hang up, I say "What the hell? Why is Wal-Mart open?" This is when I learn that Wal-Mart is open 24 hours. For some reason, this seems like a sign of impending apocalypse.
I start to fade and announce "I could really use some toast right now." Without further ado, Mark gets up and makes me some toast, just the way I like it, brown but not too brown. I am quickly restored to my former glory, and the pages keep filling up.
Mark sends a tentative shooting schedule, cast list and prop list to our Facebook page. Looks like we have Kacie and Ernesto playing our angels (they sort of cast themselves) and Tracy and Jeff as our "humans," fallible and deluded in the ways of love. Mark is going to play an unlucky guy who drinks a coffee full of bird poop. We are calling for all-white clothing and bathing suits, wine glasses, picnic supplies...oh, it's going to be such fun!
We mutually agree that we have a bare-bones script (devoid of transitions) and that we can reasonably call it a night. That whole "mutual" thing rarely happens, so again, it feels surreal. Calvin is coming back at 8:00 for our drive to Solana Beach. Alone, I tidy up the house, brain churning. Sure enough, David is not sleeping, and as always, really doesn't want to conduct a lengthy play-by-play of the evening. Not that that stops me from trying.
OMG, I feel like bloody hell. I don't remember feeling quite this bad any other year. I mean, I'm tired, of course, but maybe it's the cramps that are putting me over the edge. I can't even eat anything. It's weird not to pack 80 bags of clothing and props, but I have pledged not to act this year. I do bring a book of Shakespeare sonnets and a bag of microwave popcorn. Only the first one ends up appearing in the movie.
Calvin and I are enroute to Fletcher Cove Park when Mark calls. "Just checking on you, " he says. "What? Is no one there yet?" Turns out everyone is there. Just not the directors. Oops.
It's already sunny and blazing and hard to park at the beach. We had toyed with having a basketball scene (funny, that seems 10 years ago now) and this park has a court. Various people have chosen a shell-adorned rotunda for our first scene. A lovely family (who bizarrely turn out to be high school friends of Marie's) have also chosen it for their kid's birthday party. They are amazingly patient with our shenanigans, but we are totally under the gun.
Two rangers arrive to tell us that "concerned residents" have already complained about our presence and obvious lack of a filming permit. I turn on the charm (and multiple uses of "I understand, Officer") and they tell us they'll look the other way until 11:00.
This is ridiculous. There are people everywhere--surfers, joggers, birthday-partiers--gawking and getting in our way. It's really hot with no shade. We're racing against the clock. And because it's the first scene of the day, in grand Cane Toad tradition, everything is moving slow as molasses. We make Tracy and Ernesto jog up and down a hill 10 times, like we're sadists. I don't think we ever even use that footage. I'm mad because I think the scene could have been filmed anywhere, and here we're in the middle of an unruly crowd that wants us out. Later, I have to admit that the scene looks pretty great. Robyn and Duane come to visit, which is fun, and someone has brought coffee and bagels, which is just beyond. I never do have any coffee--EVER. And by 4:00 when my head is pounding, I regret it.
We've finally gotten the conversation scene, though it's not perfect, and I want to get the hell out of there. But I refuse to leave the beach without actually filming the beach, which we've never done. I send scouts Karina and Julianna down to the water to find a shooting spot, and they are gone a long time, but return triumphant. Most of our crew go along, and David revs up the Go-Pro and his helicopter mount for some overhead action footage. Unfortunately, it comes out all shimmery and we don't get to use it, but he has fun with his toys. Jake is the real hero of this section, as he actually lies down in the sweltering sand, sweating like crazy, to get the footage of our couples chatting against a cliff.
It's round about now that I realize everyone is getting burnt to a crisp. Since we did send one Toad to the emergency room with sun stroke in a previous year, I'm a bit concerned. Ultimately, we all make it, but people have some pretty weird markings.
The beach scene is a Cane Toad first: I tell our two couples I'm going to give them a topic and have them improv for the camera. They are more or less freaked, but ultimately, deliver.
We pack it in and drive to San Dieguito Park--a suggestion from Grace, as we have a picnic scene to film. We have a little difficulty finding a good spot, especially with like eight cars caravan-ing, but ultimately we pull up to some quiet picnic benches just when my blood sugar gives out. Grace--bless her heart--has procured a feast from Costco, and sets up a healthy lunch that we gratefully dive into.
We find a good, quiet(ish) expanse of greenery for our picnic set-up, which involves most of the crew on various blankets dotted around for effect. Once again, we're in full sun and people are starting to get resistant about this, scurrying back under a tree whenever the cameras aren't rolling. It takes a long time to film the picnic close-ups because there is recitation of Shakespeare, which I'm picky about, and noshing on salami, which apparently I'm also picky about. Tracy gamely eats a very large quantity of salami for her art, and may I say she does it with panache.
We haven't used the signature line "Please keep it to yourself" and I suggest that one of our lawn couples can use it while whispering something naughty. That couple turns out to be Grace and Carl, and it's very cute though a little random. Even more random is the shot of Karina and Krystyna feeding each other grapes. Viewing the footage later, Calvin will say "That reminds me that it was just Shark Week," which makes Ernesto decide he's the funniest person on the planet.
We are filming a jogging sequence in which Tracy is supposed to nearly get hit by a car. She teases us that we hired her in order to make her sprint up and down hills in the hot sun and run her down with moving vehicles, which is hard to argue with. But I can't stop laughing every time Mark comes hurtling towards her in his little red SmartCar...the act of stopping abruptly seems to almost break the engine. And Mark is enjoying his turn as Stunt Driver a little too much.
Scene with Karina (I've re-dubbed her "Shakira" for no reason in particular) meeting Tracy/Lora in the street, with guardian angel Gabe/Ernesto in tow totally cracks me up. And the camera freakin' loves Karina. I think you could make a movie in which all she does is float around in a gossamer dress and gaze pensively into the distance, and it would be a hit.
Scene where Jeff/Kevin finds a 20 dollar bill that angel Angie/Kacie has blown into his path. The finished sequence is very cute, but what should have made it in were the many minutes David and Calvin spent face down in the dirt blowing the bill around. Divas? Not so much. They both look filthy for the rest of the day.
We've wrapped the park sequences. I make a long speech about how much we'd appreciate the support for our evening shoot, even though only four actors are actually required to be there. And we do have a lot of people stick around, and on Sunday, too. This year's team is a hardy lot. No one complains about tiredness or tough conditions. It warms my heart.
We head to Mark's--me, Calvin and Austin. His house is very appealing, with a pool and jacuzzi amidst tropical plants in the back, and lots of stuffed chairs inside. A few people prevail on his kindness to actually shower off the grit of the day. I think about it, but no, I'm in charge and need to stay focused. We order pizza and, since David and Jake are at CineForm doing a data transfer, we chill out for a while. At Calvin's urging, I revisit the script. I am resistant, but ultimately, he's right and the cutting makes it better.
The boys have been setting up the family room to look like there's a TV flickering, even though the actual TV in that room does not work. It looks gorgeous when I see it in the finished film. The humans are supposed to be watching Before Sunrise, which is one of my favorite romantic movies but lends itself easily to jokes. The actual crackling fire behind the two angels has a tendency to sputter out every few minutes, so we're constantly calling for Mark to relight it. I'm sure he was long ago sorry he ever admitted he had a house with a fireplace.
We're filming a scene I wrote in which Angel Angie tells Angel Gabe that love is hard, and that's why they have a job. Angel Gabe looks at her with a beat and murmurs, "It doesn't seem hard to me." Jake--who is rolling camera at the time--turns to me wordlessly and clutches his heart. I am thrilled beyond words.
Hot tub time machine! Our final scene is set in the jacuzzi, and our foursome gets to enjoy some faux margaritas while they soak. Having now been up and working for 16 hours, I want nothing more than to strip naked and dive into that pool, perhaps stopping only to guzzle a shaker of actual margaritas on my way. But I have to console myself with a few other things, such as how incredibly good all four actors are in this scene, and how touchingly (or hilariously) they deliver my lines. And when Jeff/Kevin says "I think I'm gonna hurl," something about the authentic horror on Tracy's face makes me almost hurl myself, I'm laughing so hard. I completely destroy at least one take with my howling. As I'm wiping my eyes and trying to catch my breath, I realize that some of the best laughs I have every year happen during 48 Hours, and that we never have a shoot without extreme hilarity. Which is probably one reason the siren call of this competition can never be resisted.
Jake sticks the camera in my face and I yell "It's a wrap!" We're all chattering about how awesome the last few scenes look. I help pack up all the junk we've spread around Mark's house, and thank him for putting up with all of us. David, Jake and Calvin are headed to CineForm for data transfer, but this year I have no illusions about my usefulness in this operation, and am visualizing my head on my pillow--the one night of the year I inhabit my house with neither David nor Jarrah.
I've showered--sweet bliss--and nearly fallen asleep eating a piece of toast. Now I'm attempting to read US Weekly in my clean, cool white sheets and finding it unbearably complex, like French narrative theory. Then, all is black, until…
...I think the alarm signals a natural disaster. Although I'd like to sleep a lot more, I have to admit that I'm refreshed.
Sweet mother earth, this coffee tastes like the elixir of the gods. Oh, coffee. Where have you been all my life?
Leaving for CineForm. Text David: "Want anything?" Yes. A bagel. I stop for a dozen. It's a stunning, but hot, morning. The bagel guy is strangely gentle with me, as if he knows what I'm going through.
The door of the CineForm building is locked. I call David to let me in. I leave a note saying "Cane Toads: Call Sam to be let in." Amazingly, about 10 people do during the course of the day. Except Karina. Who has forgotten her cell phone. And spends an hour in the parking lot until David happens to wander out there.
Jake and Calvin are glued to the monitors, and the old, familiar strains of blippety-blip as Jake moves and shapes clips for the rough cut fill the air. It's like a symphony to me now. Of course, neither of them acknowledge me. I feel weird about this for a few minutes, and handle it the way I usually do--by turning the conference room into Craft Services. It's enough time to get my courage up to muscle my way in. It feels really awkward for like five minutes, but it's necessary, and once it's done, I have no trouble sharing my opinion the rest of the day.
People start trickling in. In addition to me, David, Jake and Calvin, who sort of have to be there, we have Mark, Jeff, Ernesto, Karina, Krystyna and Austin. That's a lot, even for us. Everyone is so helpful. Karina and Krystyna handle all the business details with total efficiency, which is a huge relief, especially since we are missing some release forms, as usual. Austin edits the credits like a total pro, even using Facebook to proofread everyone's names without asking me--wow. Marie is at home doing our music, and we are organized enough to send her complete scene files so she can tailor the music exactly to the transitions.
Hot tub and fireplace scenes. They don't need a lot of work. Though we do have to remove (ahem) a surplus of tongue from the big kiss. Which, I would like to state for the record, we did not request. See above about suffering for one's art.
Annual tradition: Fidel's for lunch. Something about editing makes me crave carne asada. Amazingly, there are several volunteers for pick-up this year. See above about warming my heart. Jake jokes that it would be more expeditious if he could have a trough of Mexican food to stick his face in periodically, since there's really no time for a fork on this schedule.
Reviewing the beach footage. I've been dreading this. First, the footage with the angels. I watch only two segments before I'm convinced that it's vague and unusable. I try to tell David this and he keeps looking at me like I'm speaking Hungarian. I say it louder. He still shakes his head in bafflement. I say it louder still. This is the closest we come to one of our husband-and-wife smackdowns this weekend. Not bad.
The five bits between Tracy/Lora and Jeff/Kevin, however, are genius. Which stings a little since I didn't write them. I just said "You've had bad dates. You talk about it. Go." Apparently, they both have a little bit of familiarity with the topic. We use the sloppy eater bit, because it's a perfect length for this project, but I actually yearn to make a full-length feature with these two so I could include their escalating bit about typing the word "mmm" in an IM virtual date. Alas, that will have to wait for the Director's Cut.
Calvin's a little annoyed that I want to use the beach stuff at all, since we haven't filmed any transitions for it. Transitions, shmansitions. But I have to admit, once a solution has been found, that the transitions are important. I have trouble, sometimes, seeing why things matter...until I do. Ernesto has some program called Twitch that makes the screen shake, like someone has done some magic. At first, it's too violent. "We need to reduce the amplitude," David says. "Yeah," I say. "Way too much amplitude."
Taking forever to edit the opening sequence, which is a highly choreographed dance of coffee cups, newspapers and bird poop. I am getting nervous about the time, and about how we don't have music yet. Also that some shots are inexplicably blue.
I ask David if I can be the one to go to the finish line this year. Usually, he goes, and I pick up Jarrah. He seems pleased that I want to go. I want to experience the line and the countdown, and I want to see Robyn, who I know is working check-in.
Movie too long, by nearly two minutes. Yikes. Time to do some serious pruning. I refuse to be nervous. Last-minute stuff is my wheelhouse. I start making a list.
Sad. Two whole scenes have to go. The one with Marie and the 20 dollar bill, and the one with Shakira/Karina in the street. I can't believe all the work we've done on them, and to just pull them so unceremoniously? Breaks my heart. Jake says, "I mean, who the hell are these people? We don't even know who they are!" [in the context of the movie] Hmm. Hadn't thought of it that way. Okay. But I don't want to be the one to tell Marie and Karina that their scenes are on the cutting room floor, just when they thought they'd gotten their big break. Julianna and Austin get cut, too. So sad.
I am now doing my thing where I pound around from room to room, barking orders and questions. I find it both terrifying and exhilarating when we get to this point. I know we'll have something to turn in--the question is, will it be a GREAT thing?
I keep calling Marie, who probably wants to strangle me. Music, music, music. Jake is fixing the sound levels; David is helping the actors look a lot less orange. I'm yelling about the length, the credits, the rendering time, the documents...basically, I'm yelling. I need something to do.
Ready to render. I leave the room. I can't stand this part when everyone starts talking about corruption and failure. It's like a congressional hearing. I just want to hear "It's done!" And finally, I do. We have "a version" to take to the finish line. Karina agrees to be one of our search parties. Since she doesn't have a phone, we send her first, telling her to wait at Starbucks and stroll leisurely to the drop-off by 7:25 if she hasn't seen us.
I can't help myself; I'm scurrying around cleaning up everyone's half-empty soda cups and candy bar wrappers. I just can't leave this place a mess. I know the menfolk aren't going to clean it up.
We have the second version. We're standing in the doorway, watching it through, while Jake listens to the audio on headphones to check the levels. They decide not to make changes. Which means we could just call Karina and tell her to turn in the other version, but we. Can't. Call. Her.
Calvin and I dash to the elevator. I peel out of the parking lot as I tell him not to spill anything in my car. "Like my blood?" he asks, clutching the door handle. I manage to get us to Hazard Center in one piece, but it's close. I drop him right in front of the theater. Luckily, there's a spot only a few feet away.
As I stroll towards the theater (assuming Calvin and Karina are already in there) I'm almost barreled over by two men and a woman in a full, whooping sprint to the velvet ropes. They careen into the last spot in line and the woman falls on her butt. Way to make a dramatic finish. Calvin and Karina are in line just before them. Almost immediately, Duane announces that he's closing us into the holding pen, and that "all teams currently rendering must stay outside the ropes." I feel just awful for the half-dozen teams out there, clutching their computers.
Countdown, just as we reach the desk. I can't believe how close we were to not making it. I'm wondering why Karina wasn't already in line, but it turns out SHE RAN OUT OF GAS. From what I understand, she chugged along about 10 miles an hour to a gas station and made it to the drop-off after Calvin. So we really did need two search parties. As everyone is shouting "10...9...8...7" I call David and yell "Mac or PC?" Inquiring minds want to know. He says Mac and I record it. As we leave the theater, I see a text: "Format is PC." We go back. He later tells me he was yelling "PC! PC!" while I repeated "Mac? Okay, Mac it is!" That's how loud it got.
Can't believe it. A minute ago I was feeling like I could go another day without sleep, but suddenly all the fight is going out of my limbs. I feel my face droop. Apparently, this is a tiring competition. Karina looks like she's ready to pass out. Calvin looks like he always does. I send a mass text saying "We made it with a minute to spare!" Soon I'm getting a lot of texts back, with varying degrees of relief and jubilation. Getting all those texts after a movie is turned in on time is an annual thrill.
We did it. It is always surreal when we actually do. All I can think about is my pajamas and a bagel. I'm really proud of the movie. Can't wait to see it on the big screen on August 17 @ 7:00 p.m. Go Cane Toad!!!