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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

MAKING A MOVIE IN RUSSIA


I once heard that there are people who, in seeing a film, think that it took just about the two hours to make that it took to watch it.

So I think it may be likely that there are people who don't quite understand that actors, in making an independent film, must be responsible for every single possible possibility that may arise in the making of such a movie.

I've never put pen to paper or finger to key before to try to communicate this. But I think it's worth a try, even though the exigencies of getting it all together so that the first day can actually happen may be as boring for the reader as it is nerve-wracking and tedious for the performer.

I've done my own make- up for thirty years. It would take about two weeks for me to teach someone to do my eye make-up and even then, the poking into my eyes and the elaborate painstaking measuring of how thick or thin the lines above my eyes are meant to be drawn, different for each eye, would make such a task so uncomfortable and effortful as to be impossible. About a week and a half before the plane takes off for Russia I call the beauty supply store and order eyelashes and glue and eye-liner brushes and so forth. Any later and the stuff wouldn't arrive on time. I go to the store and get nails, and polish and crazy glue which I can't assume they'll have in Moscow, and if I run out of it, I have truly stumpy fingers - ugghh! I make sure I have a scissors with me for cutting those plastic nails and the eyelashes to size and pack it where it will get into the country as-- if it's with me on the plane it will be thrown away at customs. As an aside, I want to arrive to that great city looking at least okay, so I have to put eyelash glue, mascara, and the Vaseline which saves my face from drying out on a plane into a small plastic bag that, if weighing the right amount when presented to security, may be allowed on the plane with me. I have a weighing machine, tiny, at home and I find that I have to take some of the Vaseline out of the little jar, can't bring the mascara with me on the plane as it's too heavy and with the half-emptied jar of Vaseline and the little eyelash glue tube, the plastic zip lock bag weighs in at a little less than 3 oz., which is acceptable.

I have to bring two kinds of base, one for my face and the other for my hands which are getting little brown spots

On them that need covering. The face base I have but it got too late to get the hand base and the day before packing day I still don't have it. The rouge for my face was bought the earlier week at Sephora's but I've lost it and must make the hour long trip to the mall again just to buy it. The lip -liner I use is no longer being made but I have a worthy substitute. I have lots of brown hair on my actual head, but on film and on photographs I need more in order to balance my jaw which can dominate my countenance somewhat. A week and a half before leaving L.A. I go to the place that cleans and brushes my falls - hair from a small base that gets bobby-pinned to curls at the top of the head and simply 'falls' down above and into the rest of one's own natural waves. I have two of them done -they'll have to be picked up about a week later. I also try a bigger fall as I'm much (I think) prettier in it, but it may be a bit glamourous for the character in the movie, ----- who I'm told is a perky English woman visiting Moscow who gets involved in a serious situation with a countryman. I have to have the right bobby pins for this maneuver and I've forgotten to get the big ones and only have the small ones. At the last moment, my husband who is a big director but who is so kind that while I'm hysterically packing last minute and checking to see that everything is there, says he's willing to go to Rite-Aid and get the base I've forgotten and the bobby pins, but comes home with brown bobby pins instead of black because I've forgotten to tell him the right color. Well I'll just have to hope that they have big black bobby pins in Moscow and a day off for me to go and purchase them before the first day's shoot. In fact I had to go and it was so thrilling to the premiere of Henry Jagloms' new film "Hollywood DREAMS" the night before the plane leaves and in my hurry that next day I forget one of the falls! I make nice bags of all the nail supplies and packages for the hair and a large bag of all the make-up and another bag with the essential make-up that I will bring to the set every day.

Now there is the weather in Russia! Winter weather, as it's late November. I knew a man who said that when he was in St. Petersburg one winter, he crossed the street and by the time he got to the farther curb, he began to contract pneumonia. Getting quite worn out from the premiere and the ticket-getting for all my friends' emails and emails about tickets and so forth, I must make my way to Big Five and get a warm scarf, a pair of ski overalls, boots, socks, mittens or gloves, thermal underwear, a hat and earmuffs. This takes hours. The boots are especially confusing to me, as I know my character wouldn't wear big heavy ski boots, yet I feel and my glorious husband Stephen is making sure that I do get such boots to be absolutely sure to keep warm when I'm walking around Moscow on those days I am not shooting. Well the only boots that seem to work are smallish ones. Really nothing else even fits! Stephen is up north in California producing the next movie for his film company, Big Screen Entertainment Group and our nineteen year old daughter is there too, doing assistant wardrobe and assistant set design. When he comes back with her, just in time for them to accompany me to the opening of Henry's movie, he hates the boots. He says he will return them. Now leave- time becomes all about boots, it seems! The next day he has gone to Big Five and exchanged my pretties for a huge klunky pair of black atrocities that are so big I am wading in them. It takes about five seconds for my heel to hit the bottom of the boot every time I take a step! So he says he will go back the next day, which is the day on which the plane leaves and exchange these same boots for a smaller pair. I agree. (Once I arrive and finally have a wardrobe fitting, I admit to my wonderful wonderful producer lady, Natasha Nahapatov that these, even these smaller sized boots, are incredibly painful to walk in. Well, she says she needs a pair and I give them to her!)

The first night of shooting is thirty-six stories underground in a BUNKER that was constructed in the sixties when there was a threat of missile attack during the Cuban Missile Crisis. And my character,(at the aforementioned wardrobe fitting) is given the hugest shaggiest imaginable boots because they are much much worn in Moscow and the director feels that if I wear them the audience will immediately like and identify with me. Well there is much more to be said, but for now, I will continue with the story of the boots: there are also scenes wherein my character will have to be able to well, move. Or walk properly. So I need another pair of boots.

BUYING BOOTS IN MOSCOW , AN ASIDE

I've made a most unprofitable deal with Natasha: we will exchange boots - I will give her my boots and then I will go and buy a pair for the movie. If forgot that that means I'm buying both pair! (Natasha washed that silly idea out of my head the next day.) I am supposed to go and buy this mysterious pair of warm but adorable looking boots the day after the shooting all night in the BUNKER. I am very tired and I have NO idea of how to get anywhere to buy said boots, nor can I speak to anyone in a language that they can understand. This frightens me.

I call Natasha in the morning but Eric Roberts is shooting an extra day -very expensive- and she is leaving her apartment to go and deal with that and can't really contemplate boots nor give me any idea of what to buy. I ask her again and again how much activity really, this character will have, because if it is little I could buy those darling leather boots that have heels but otherwise I'll get something more sporting. She doesn't answer, instead she says that she is sending money to my door.

A very large and very very jovial character comes over to my apartment in Moscow to bring me the money that is given to an actor out of town to help them live, called -per diem-. It is just cash, but Svetlana who was supposed to be my interpreter but just gave me orders instead of doing anything about my needs in Russia was let go before she exchanged the money into rubles, And so, this fellow, Russland appears at my door with my rubles. He speaks very loudly and rousingly. I call Irina Stemer, the other actress in the movie with me who speaks both languages thank God and beg her to go shopping with me. She says I should call a taxi which will take me to her apartment and she'll go. I tell her that I can't speak Russian and can't find the number for a taxi, and I don't know where I live as I when I was brought here to live, I wouldn't understand what anyone said when and if they should tell me the address here without writing and translating and so forth which no one has time for (big breath ) --it will be impossible for me to get a taxi, why don't I go down the bloody street and shop there?? But she has already got one of her best friends coming over to her place deeper in the city who knows all the shopping places and the plan is that we three go together so I say yes I will go to her place and then leave from her place and shop and then somehow, somehow get home again. I ask her to please call Natashsa our producer and the wife of the director, Russian legend Rodion Nahapatov, and find out my proper address, which she says she will do. Now she proceeds to tell me where she lives so that I can w rite these incredibly lengthy words down in pigeon English hierglyphics in some kind of a way that, if I say what I have written phonetically to a taxi driver, he will understand me. But Russland is gesturing to me that HE will call the taxi for me. Now I must get Irina to talk to Russland to tell him where the hell she lives so he can tell the taxi driver in Russian where I am going. Russland is a funny character, I tell you. He kneels on the floor and leans so far over my bed to talk to Irina that I can see just the beginnings of his fanny.

When later he has to talk to her again, he leans so far over me to hear what I am saying on the phone as I lie on the bed that I am amazed!

And he never leaves. He sits and eats the grapes and the cheese I gave to him and just stays.

Now he won't let me take all of my money that he has brought to me and takes 400 rubles out of it and says only the word, "taxi", and puts the money in his own pocket. Oh boy I think. Okay, without knowing what he has in his mind and with no way to speak to him to find out I will just see how this plays out.

After about a half hour he comes over to me and giggles and gestures that I should get dressed (I'm in lounging wear) --the taxi is coming soon! Taxi taxi! he says in English with a big smile. But this means that I will also have to get undressed and didn't want to do a little show for Russland to go along with his cheese and grapes. I settle it with myself that I'll go into the tiny bathroom and change there.

Then I sit on the bed to do my make-up as he's taking up the table, in fact I put on my eyelashes as well, right in front of him and believe it or not, he doesn't notice, just sits and eats his afternoon repast and giggles to people on his cell phone. At my table. Why is he staying here?? If only I could speak to this jolly stranger in my room!

Finally the taxi, he thinks, is here and he steers me (really, he takes me by the arm and pulls me out of my apartment) taking as well the keys and unlocking, locking, etc., until we are in the street. But it is not the usual place where I enter the area where the door to my apartment stands.

So I keep complaining, that is, trying to complain that the taxi will never find us here as it's the wrong place. He smiles at me, not comprehending. We wait and wait for the taxi. Finally a car comes around the corner and he hails it but it is not a taxi! He manhandles me into the back seat (is he friendly or slightly mad and let me out of Russia I'm thinking) without my money! I start to say please do give me my taxi money, when he himself gets in the front seat! He talks on and on with the driver as if he has known him for a lifetime and I am just thinking that this man, who seems simple and full of heart, is actually probably kidnapping me. Oh well. I've had a good life.

No. wait. What to do? I ask him to call Irina on his cell phone ( mine doesn't work in Russia!) and he doesn't. I repeat. I gesticulate. I play charades and finally he gets Irina on the phone and I can speak. And I say to her, Irina, who is this guy? And she says "Russland". I say I knew that, but is he okay? "Well he's a bit of an oaf, but he's okay." I say, "Nice. But you see ,if we ever get there, I don't know which apartment you live in and even if you tell me now, how shall I tell anyone who works in your building which one it is!" But she says don't worry Russland will take me up to her apartment.

Well we get there. Well, Russland does just that. Then I give him 500 rubles to go home because otherwise this fellow, who really, was just trying to take care of me all day, will have to take the metro at rush hour.

And Irina and her fantastically adorable blonde friend, another Russian actress also named Irina walk with me, chattering away in Russian to each other, to the mall which is catastrophically HUGE - it'll take forever to find a pair of boots in that place and the day has already held quite a lot of stress for me.. but the girls, both fabulously beautiful, seem mindless of anything untoward, so I begin to join in the fun. We walk along the moist (it's very warm for Russia this year) sidewalks of Moscow. There is no city like this. The buildings are so overwhelmingly large that they seem to be moving toward me. They are grey and the sky is grey as only the Russian day can be grey. Tall silvery skies that never brighten. The people walking the street in their fur hats and long coats seem grim and when a smile comes to my face at some lovely face, the smile is not returned. I notice that there seems to be a well learned habit of avoiding seeing the other person. No one is looking at anyone. It's as if they feel watched. But there is such beauty here. The characteristic Turkish pointed domes, sometimes in gold or bright blue peer out from behind enormous modern pale buildings. I start to count the floors on all the apartment buildings, and they are at least ten stories high, every one. I peer into all the cafes and places and the girls wait patiently for me as I stumble about in my huge shaggy boots. I find the most adorable café which reminds me so much of Amsterdam and they agree we will eat there afterwards.

I try on boot after boot in store after store and just as I am about to give up in despair (and boredom. And weariness.) I find a pair of sweet suedes that actually fit my toe-dancing-as-a-child malformed feet!

And the boots work.

And the days go by. And I have everything I need to make a wonderful contribution to Rodion's great independent feature.

But before all that happened:

I'm getting on the plane in four hours. Stephen weighs the suitcases, Stephen puts the new batteries into my little travel clock(without which I would not have made the first day of shooting, with nothing to wake me up and no way to know what time it was with no clock in that apartment and the sun hidden from view!) and batteries into my toothbrush and how to pack my make-up mirror and its stand and did I get nail glue? And books to read on the plane and when I get there! And sleeping apparel and money to bring along in case, and the script for the movie I am doing about four days after I get home (which I forgot) and a suit jacket for my black slacks for the character (which I forgot) and enough blouses that an Englishwoman ( who turned out when I got to Russia not to be an Englishwoman!) and the earrings she (the character) might wear, and clean underwear and thermal underwear and don't forget my glasses or I won't see Moscow!

And I was off!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

www.myspace.com/karenblackblack you have a following, and it's great!

Kimo said...

Got your blog from Bibbe. I loved your long post about Russia. It's interesting.

lynx said...

Karen, you mentioned in the first blog of writing about people you have known-would love to read some of that please. I am a big fan of Lee Purcell, if you might share a few stories and also the late brilliant Dusty Springfield. You are an incredible actress -best wishes for the future......