Day 10: See my two previous entries for the beginning of the story on the EL MUERTO movie....
Prior to begin filming, my director, Brian Cox, told me to prepare for the experience. He said that once you start production, you're living in this enclosed bubble, somewhat separated from your life, working 10-16 hour days with little time in between to do anything else....
It really was like that. I remember we'd film for 5 days a week, plus another day would be to work at the producer's office where everybody would prepare for another week of shooting. So basically I had one day off to myself, and that would usually be spent catching up on personal matters, banking, post office...Maybe see some family and friends. Or actually catch time to relax! I remember once I'd be channel surfing, watching a bit of a movie or tv show. But now I started to look at how they filmed it, imagining the hustle and bustle behind the scenes to create the illusion. Then the following morning it was back to the magic playground of making your movie.
At one point, the enthusiasm and camaraderie even spread to our catering service. The person who ran our catering truck was a Frenchman, and no kidding, but he prepared some exceptional meals for us daily. Actually, for breakfast and dinner. Complete with full courses of desserts and all kinds of side dishes. As the production rolled along, he eventually started designing and printing up these mock magazine covers featuring El Muerto, which he'd tape to the side of his truck on occasion. Who would have thought, right?!
One late night we were treated to a delivery of In-N-Out hamburgers. (How they got a delivery out to that remote location in the dead of night I'll never know. But then I thought, "Ah, this is show business!"). Word spread that night that singer/actress Ashlee Simpson was visiting Wilmer Valderrama on the set. It didn't seem like that big a deal as most of Wilmer's co-stars from THAT 70s SHOW ended up visiting him at one time or another during filming.
Well, the next day when I'm driving back to the location my cell phone rings. I answer it and the first thing I hear is: "I'm a dead man". I ask who's calling, and it turns out it's our official photographer. I had gotten to know him on set over the course of filming, as he and I had pretty much free reign to roam around the whole production. "What do you mean? Are you okay?", I asked him.
"I took pictures last night of Ashlee and Wilmer...And I sold them to a tabloid", he admitted. "I'm going to get fired! I screwed up!". I tried to be sympathetic to him, but also, I was the Associate Producer for the film. "Well, Larry (our producer) has to do his job... You just have to move on, man. Good luck to you". It wasn't a long conversation, but an unexpected one. Suffice to say, the following week on my day off I went to through the magazine racks at the store and looked through the various publications. If our movie made it to the tabloids I wanted a copy for my collection! Here's one from IN TOUCH magazine:
I've got a nice collection of magazines with interviews and articles about me and my work, but this one is kind of a special feather in my cap! I mean, in some alternate reality, there's got to be a part of the American Dream where one wants to appear in a tabloid, right?
The most harrowing experience I had while filming happened one late, rainy evening. It was near midnight, and we had a light cold rain for hours. They were filming inside a building, while the rest of us huddled around under one of the canopies set up outside the building. I was getting a little tired, and the waiting around was getting boring, actually. Not too many people to talk to, and really, I was just restless after days of endless shooting. So I told myself "Screw it. I'm the creator of this comic. I don't need to be standing in the rain on a cold night here in this canyon"! (We were filming at a place called Sable Ranch, about 35 miles north of Downtown Los Angeles). So, I told the production team I was heading home for the night! "Okay, we'll probably be done in another hour or so anyway, take care!" they told me....
So I'm driving down the 5 Freeway when all of a sudden I hear cars crashing into one another, then out of the corner of my eye I see a spinning car slide over my way. It hits my driver door and knocks me out of the lane, but thankfully I straighten the car then quickly pull over off to the right side of the freeway, out of the last lane. I get out of the car and can see several cars stopped at various points across the lanes. Then I looked back up the freeway and was horrified to see the headlights of oncoming traffic. And worse, a double-decker bus! Next thing I hear is a couple of cars crashing into the stalled cars. I swear, that bus had no way of stopping but it miraculously passed between two other stalled cars, apparently not hitting them. This is becoming a sickening nightmare.
I look across the lanes and see a wrecked car against the center divider, with about 3 people standing outside of it. One of them darts across the freeway, toward me. Luckily there were no cars driving through at the moment. He was a young Italian guy, probably visiting here on vacation. I told him to get in my car and we both sat in the front. He was in shock, saying he wanted to go back and get his friends but I told him that they seemed okay and to not cross the freeway again. He put my hand on his chest and I swear, his heart was beating like a machine gun. I tried to reassure him, and calm him down.
Eventually the police showed up and blocked off the freeway, attending to people who were hurt first, and getting information from the rest of us. I tried calling my producer Larry just to hear a familiar voice but the reception into that canyon was non-existent. I had no physical injuries at all, and was able to drive home and eventually got the car fixed. But what a story I had for the team the next day on the set!
The last day of filming was a memorable one as well. We had started that day around 3pm. Some 14 hours later I was sitting with a few other people under a canopy, with some heaters turned up to full power. This was mid-February in a canyon, so it was exceptionally cold. At this point, I was practically falling asleep from exhaustion. Time was ticking, as sunrise was coming up and they still had to film the final scene, which has to take place in the dark. It's the moment Diego crashes his car into a tree, where he's killed and afterwards wakes up in the land of the dead. Pretty important scene, and one right from my comic.
So, now fully awakened by the excitement of this final scene of our production, I gathered around the location where they were filming. If I remember correctly, Wilmer himself drove the car, but stopping just before he hit the tree. Everything was planned out so his safety wouldn't be in danger, of course. I think our budget was such that we didn't want to actually wreck the car, so some editing in post-production would take care of the crash. He gunned the car, drove it up to the tree then stopped. Maybe two takes, if memory serves me right. The added suspense of the sun slowly creeping over the horizon only heightened the urgency. After they filmed their takes, I saw our director and producer and another crew member huddle together, pacing around as they discussed strategy. Then, the announcement: "Okay everybody. We're good. Thank you, that's a wrap!".
For an exhausted crew working a 15 hour shift through a cold night, there was a huge burst of enthusiasm on display. I imagine it's like this on every movie set, but it was cool to experience it. Especially since it was one's own movie being made. It was like the last day of high school in some regards, because with filming done most of the crew members wouldn't be seen again. The post-production team of editors, special effects/digital crews, etc would be replacing the ones who I saw on set everyday. Lots of heartfelt good-byes that day. By the time I drove home around 7 or 8 in the morning, I hit the prime Los Angeles morning traffic mess. But all I could think about and that very long drive home was all the memories of the past four weeks, and the excitement of what was to come.
Tomorrow I'll share the post-production stories, plus the film screenings and eventual DVD release!
El Muerto and all related characters are ™ & © Javier Hernandez 1998-2015