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Refuge The Movie

Yesterday. July 11, Day 4  

Posted by:

Mark Medoff

,  Las Cruces, NM, July 13, 2009.

Remembering backward: 2 AM, Stephanie Medoff has a lifght supper ready for Ginger, Laura Medina, Ray Simmons, Laura Myrene (Ginger’s daughter), Pepper Gallegos, me.  Pear salad.  Crumbled blue cheese. White wine and sparkling water.  At some point I go to bed. 

Wake at ten, go to The Bean for coffee with daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman, son in law, pianist Michael Bunchman, and their dog Charlie. Head feels like swamp zoo – crocs and snakes pushing each other around, trying to get comfortable in cramped space.
Yesterday we shot a wonderful scene at COAS bookstore:  Linda, Chris Payne G., Gracie Marks (age 7), and Jessica Medoff Bunchman (soprano). COAS is an amazing place:  shelves of books – hard and paper – going north to south, rows upon rows. And, oh yeah, it’s air-conditioned.

Idea of a mother singing to her child following a ballet recital, among the shelves, looking for a series of children’s books written by my friend Lorenzo Liberti, is two-fold:  the child in tutu and taffeta is Amelia long ago, before her dreams foundered. The tiny ballerina’s mother, singing “Nessun Dorma,” first amusingly then magnificently (at Amelia’s insistence), is a reminder to Amelia, here in her darkest hour, that there is beauty and innocence in the world.

Several times, watching a take on the monitor – the subtle interplay among the actors – I thought: “Heartbreaking.” I am interested to see how, cut together, in its place in the chronology of the movie, if the scene will rise to the moment I imagined in my head, on the page, and think I saw live yesterday afternoon.

Pre-dusk we moved base camp to Free Student Parking at New Mexico State University. There we staged a scene with a police car coming out of nowhere, seemingly about to pull the RV over. Inside, Amelia says, “If that cop stops us, I’ll hurt him.” The cop follows them, checks their plate with dispatch but is called to an emergency. Lights flashing he pulls out, rides some seconds next to the RV, looking up at Darryl and Amelia, both laughing fake laughs to assure the cop they’re having a great time, and then speeds away.
My brain was sodden, just pre-swamp zoo; First A.D. Laura Medina had to explain the logical progression of the scene to me and remind me where it falls in the script. Four days of shooting parts of scenes out of sequence and I momentarily left my senses.

We shot the chase live into the dusk. Then we shot the dialogue – a complicated 3-way scene among Amelia, Darryl, and Darryl’s fiancé Helen (she on speaker phone accusing him of running away with another woman). The dialogue is fast and overlapping and The Dave (soundmeister David Wheeler) asks me to try to get the actors to cut each other off in the clear so we can do the overlapping ourselves in post; but, the actors are roaring through the scene (Lena Georgas, who will play Helen, doesn’t arrive for a week, so one of my acting student, Jennifer Perry, fills in) and I don’t want to impede their impulses. The Dave says he’ll make it all work.  I believe him – which is why he’s The Dave and I’m not.

Then we do the cop car pulling abreast and speeding away “poor man’s.” The RV sits still, the actors do their lines, Reuben shakes the camera to simulate the RV on the road, crew operate lights that simulate passing cars.  The police car pulls abreast, doing so at 5 miles an hour, sits for a 10 count, officer looking at RV passengers, Amelia and Darryl laughing, then “speeds away” at 5 miles an hour.  On replay, to Reuben and me, it looks like RV and police car are moving along briskly.Dare I say that moviemaking is not so much a cheat as an illusion? Why not.  It was 1:30 AM and we were toast.

Now, it’s Sunday, 1:00 PM and I need to get dressed to shoot Meredith Miniat as the Police Dispatcher this afternoon. Indoors. At the air-conditioned NMSU Police Station.

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Refuge The Movie


Posted by:

Mark Medoff

,  Las Cruces, NM, July 11, 2009.

The big thing:  new tee-shirt (Father’s Day) and I have spilled coffee on it before I hit the set out on the Coralitos.  An inveterate spiller, dropper, dripper of food and beverages, I am chagrined before I do a bit of directing this morning to arrive stained.  The directing is easy compared to the compulsive need to will the stains away or hope that Team Refuge thinks I’m already sweating at 7:45 AM.

That aside, I am reminded over and over again how grateful I am for my life in theater and movies because of the sense of family that develops among everyone on the set. Everyone.

Gaffer Mitch Fowler asks me periodically each day how my day is going and tells me (at least three days in) that his day is going great if mine is.  There is something so invigorating to me about an attitude like that.  I tell him the same goes for me:  I am good if he is.

We shoot in the bathroom of the RV for the first time.  Chris Payne Gilbert makes the tiny space one in which he lives a large life – and a few times with DP Reuben Steinberg IN THE BATHROOM with him.  Two tall, lean guys making a confined space into a universe.

I am reminded a dozen times today how amazing Chris and Linda Hamilton are – how altogether THERE they are.  We are aware, the three of us, what a gift it was for them to come four days early so we could rehearse.  We know a lot as we approach some scenes that are out of order or, far more challenging, mere parts of scenes that we shoot but can’t complete until Chris McDonald arrives next week to play Jack (being doubled dead at the moment by RV owner Jack Malone or by a foam dummy that Production Designer Stephen Hansen has rigged).

Part of the overall concept of our shooting strategy is to juxtapose the vastness of the geological arena (the Earth, basically) to the tiny world of these two people, Amelia and Darryl – thus the confines of the RV, today especially the bathroom.

I must express my admiration for the way Linda handles herself.  She knows the name of every person on the crew; she does not go and hide in her trailer.  She is around the hub of activity (wherever the camera and accoutrements are). Interesting lunch scenes today and a few days ago at Lorenzo’s Italian Bistro one of our rehearsal days.  People recogniz her at Lorenzo’s; she stops, she sits, she chats and poses for photos.  Today, we have lunch in the small FBO restaurant at the also small Las Cruces Airport.  Second day there.  Word is out:  Linda Hamilton is here.  Descended upon, she is remarkably gracious.  (I have always told my girls that it costs nothing to be polite.  Linda reminds me that I have always said that and to be damn sure I follow my advice myself.  I told Chris Payne Gilbert that if he saw/heard me getting cranky and short-tempered to say, “Reminder.”  He “reminded” me once this morning.  I put on my straw hat, went out and around to hug a few people sweating their rear ends off for our collective venture, to spread some warmth.

I haven’t advertised it but there will be no possessory credit on this movie: A Mark Medoff Film.  Those credits alienate me when I see them on screen.  Because this process of making a movie is so much a collaboration that to attribute it to one person seems not only ego-maniacal but short-sighted.  “Wow, the a-hole thinks he made the movie by himself!”  I don’t think that.  Starting with my producing partner Ginger Perkins to the high school kids hustling for twelve hours a day to perform the most mundane but essential tasks, the movie is the sum of our individual parts.

We finish at dusk, literally at a fork in the road where Production Designer Stephen has built a roadside grave for Amelia to stare at, dead Jack in the back of the RV, Darryl handcuffed in the bathroom.  She looks both ways (to bastardize Robert Frost:  two roads diverged in a purple desert/And sorry I could not travel both…).

She chooses and heads into the dying light.  And we head home where my wife Stephanie has decided to start feeding the late-night team using the library of our house as the production office.  Producer Ginger, First A.D. Laura, Second Marissa, Ginger’s daughter Lara and Ginger’s protégé-become-film-exec Ray Simmons (who has come from LA just to help Ginger get set-up) have been working late into the night.

We sit down to eat en famille at our dining table.  Granddaughter Gracie Marks, who works tomorrow with my youngest daughter Jessica Medoff Bunchman, the opera singer, models some ballet outfits for her character.  All of us at the table are an avid audience and we help the seven year old make a costuming decision.  Make-Up/Hair goddess, Pepper Gallegos, setting up for tomorrow, wanders in from another room in my house being used for hair/make-up and wardrobe; Stephanie get her a plate and utensils.

Stephanie has made chicken parmagiana in two batches:  one for the normal people and one for the gluten free dieters, her husband (me) and First A.D. Laura.  We allow ourselves a little red wine or other alcoholic beverage.

I am not called until 3 tomorrow.  I can sleep until I wake, catch up on e-mail, go to the gym, not wear a hat.


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Refuge The Movie


Posted by:

Mark Medoff

,  July 9, 2009.

Suddenly there is a small army on top of the west mesa, on the Stahmann Farms airstrip, in the middle of one of the world’s largest pecan ranches.  The road up is unpaved, largely untrod, through the lava fields of a long extinct volcano.  Millions of years ago, when the black rock came into being, there were no movie companies in the neighborhood.

Jack and Lisa drive their RV, our Hero RV, up the switchbacks to the hanger where a cropduster painted to look like a ravenous shark sits.  Jack and Lisa are both nurses.  It’s a comfort to me to see that the RV has made the journey to the location and that the two of them are ensconced with us for the day.

The efficiency of the army is startling, a reminder of both how rigorous movie-making is and what a privilege it is to be part of an enterprise driven by united dedication.  Team sport.

It’s hot outside, in the low 100s most of the day, and hotter inside the RV when Reuben and Mitch Fowler and their crew set up a few lights and Linda Hamilton and Chris Payne Gilbert climb in to do some acting, and Soundmeister Dave Wheeler lays down on a side couch with his boom and Reuben shoulders the Red camera and I cram into the back with my monitor and Laura Medina, our First A.D., conducts us all like a string quartet plus a few.  Roll sound.  Roll camera. And…action.

There are first day glitches, but all in all, great, challenging, often amazing fun.  Frustrated as I feel on occasion because I want a process that can’t go faster to go faster, I look around at the amazing energy of those making it possible for the actors to act and for me to throw down a ball of mercury, shove it around, recollect it, throw it down again…and I am moved in a way that takes it breadth from a combination of gratitude and wonder.

Linda and Chris, strangers a week ago, have a rapport to go with their giant acting abilities that make for a set streaming less with heat than with generosity and willingness to go anywhere they can divine the script beckons.

Outside, between takes and new set-ups, I’m aware of Ginger, my producing partner, turning an un-air-conditioned building into a home for the day, the hanger into a shady lunch room, her phone often to her ear, preparing for tomorrow and the next day, as she, herself, vacuums and hauls food, and, as is her gift, makes everyone feel cared for and respected for coming to our movie shoot.

We do some “poor man’s process” – that is, the actors are in the RV pretending to drive but in fact Rueben and his First A.C. Orlando Martes are shaking the camera a little to make it look like the RV is moving.

After lunch, we do drive and talk (analogous to walking and chewing gum simultaneously), and we answer the big question about whether Soundmeister Dave can get good and usable dialogue with the RV’s engine running.  Yes.  I don’t understand half of what Dave tells me about what he can do to noise, but I trust him and know he knows that a movie driven by dialogue has to be audible and discernible.

Laura raps us at 6:30.  Going around to thank everyone, I sense from each a sense of pride in living through our first day, ending with hugs and all of us still speaking to each other.

Get home at seven something after dropping my two extraordinary actors off at Meson de Mesilla (see link).  At home, my oldest daughter Debra has saved me dinner.  Now that I can sit down, I eat standing up.

Go briskly through 47 e-mails that have accumulated since 5 AM.  There is one from my former student and dear friend, the writer-director Edward Stone.  In part he says:   “i just wanted to send you all my hopes for your shoot. i always keep in mind that i have no control over what happens after a film is the only pleasure i can count as my own is the pleasure of the moment to moment of making the film, making the art with others...All rowing in the same direction is the reward.  Have a great time...and take time to appreciate it while it is happening.”

Yes, and so I did – and so I will, sitting in my kitchen at 5 AM, writing this as I await my call to Day 2.

Refuge The Movie

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