Lynda Obst

Lynda Obst

A weeklong electronic journal.
Sept. 1 2000 12:00 AM

Lynda Obst

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We are on split days—"splits" we call them—which means that we start shooting at around 2 p.m. and work until 2 a.m. This is my excuse for late filing, as our scene today, Ellen Barkin's last, has just begun. At lunch, around 6:30, 7, depending on how many meal penalties we have to take to get the end of the scene before sundown, she will wrap for good. Then, according to usual custom, we will toast her with champagne and cake and thank her for her glorious work, which is now essentially done. The master shot, of Ashley sheepishly slinking to her boss's office for a dressing down after her unprofessional flip-out of yesterday, is in the can as is her coverage, two sizes of close-ups. Now we are turning around onto Ashley, who took the subway to work today.

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The subway is exciting for Kentucky-born Ashley—once she took it without security or anyone, for that matter, and we had no idea where she was. That's one of the many reasons we love Teamsters: They help us keep track of the actual whereabouts of the cast. This is a plus, not to say a must. On the day when we momentarily lost Ashley, we were shooting an office Christmas party and arrived to discover not only the absence of "No. 1," as production calls Ashley, but that the wrong extras had been called by extras casting. They sent us audience for the talk show, once on the schedule for that day, and it was a very Jerry-Springerlike crowd. But we needed glamorous media types, in particular one featured babe, preferably underage, to be flirting with Hugh Jackman in the scene. There were no such young babes to be found in the Springer crowd, and my director was in despair. It would take an hour, camera ready, to get the right extras, and that was unacceptable. I looked around, desperately. Claudia, a tiny (look who's talking) senior NYU film student who has been my set assistant, was standing next to me. I stared at her closely, and suddenly I saw a potential young babe, perfect for the gag. (Hugh orders two champagnes, and Ashley interjects, "Shouldn't that be one champagne and one Shirley Temple?") We put her in hair and makeup, flew her into wardrobe, and 20 minutes later a babe emerged. There she was, on camera, in a moment with Hugh, then a close-up shot of her own. A star, well, at least a trouper, was born. She said her mother would never believe her, so I told her to take a picture in wardrobe for posterity. Her mother is visiting set tonight to see if any of it is real or if her daughter is suffering delusions. These unexpected moments of humanity in the zoo of it all are blessings.

We are trying to pull Ashley's aforementioned diatribe up from her computer. Then Hoops, who runs my company and my life, will run upstairs to set (our set is a floor above our funky production office) and ask her to let it stream so I can make good on my promise of yesterday. In the meantime, I'll tell you about last night. Mid-movie, we finally figured out what was wrong with our dénouement. We'd been stuck for months, knowing something was off, but you get so deep inside you can sometimes lose the whole. This is the hardest thing: maintaining the macro while enmeshed in the micro. Holding the whole movie in your head as you finesse its smallest components is the job of a few of us: the director—creatively he has the job of piecing all together in post; the script supervisor, who keeps it consistent within the scene, and scene to scene; and me because I got the studio to give us the money, and they better get some version of the movie they paid for. So, changes midstream are perilous.

The night before we shot it, we had a breakthrough and came up with new pages that then had to be approved by the studio and the cast before that morning's call. This is not the preferred method of filmmaking—better to work all this out well beforehand—but this time the solution came from within the context of watching the performances and the dailies. So, now of course, like dominoes, the scenes before and after it must be adjusted or they will fall, and today's scene was one of them. So, after wrap, instead of going out for a brewski with the controversial but otherwise convivial (to producers and directors, anyway) script supervisor and cameraman, Tony Goldwyn and I struggled into the night over the pages. We were both getting what we call "the stupids," which is when you can't finish sentences and can no longer recognize three-letter words, e.g., as we sat in my office working, Tony's phone rang. "Maybe it's Lynda," he murmured, answering, as he realized that I was, in fact, sitting in front of him. Such is "the stupids," an affliction symptomatic of information-overload and crazed hours. At one point today I called taxies "capsies," and on and on, hopefully not ad infinitum.

The still undeleted Ashley diatribe has arrived direct from the set. I thank her for her generosity, and I hope her game attitude doesn't backfire, either in The Fray or on the set. But here she goes: (Remember: She was writing this while performing.)

Widely disliked by stars and befuddling to the less experienced actors, her [the script supervisor's] behavior suggests that acting can, in fact, be superfluous to a film, so long as the continuity of pens in a container is correct. No doubt deriving no pleasure from movies, even those in which there are no continuity oversights (she can feel them, even if apparently there are none, in a script she has never read, rather like a farmer who can detect a storm that passes over his county, sensing the moisture via bursitis in his shoulder), she is likely to stay at home weekends to organize her spices not only alphabetically, and for fun on weekends, re-configure them according to, for example, spiciness and taste or country of origin.

At least one of us doesn't have "the stupids." And now that I'm filing this, I realize that I better make plans to share a brewski with the script supervisor tonight after wrap. We'll dish the actors. What's fair is fair.