Red State Of Mind - Part Three
Posted on Monday December 13, 2010, 20:26 by James White in Empire States
Empire attends Kevin Smith’s filmmaking Q&A series - Part Three: Adam Druxman
Kevin Smith introduced the third segment of the Red State podcast club by addressing the inaccurate information about the film’s focus. “Some people have called it a satiric comedy or horror comedy and it's none of those things. I've been saying for three years it's a horror film. Nobody apparently believes me. The other thing people say is it's him giving to (homophobic preacher/funeral protester) Fred Phelps. Everyone gets it given to them, but it's not just the Phelps, it's everybody. Sounds a little cryptic, but the early scene in Red State with protestors at a young gay man's funeral is the closest we come to the real world. What I'm hoping to do is just slowly unveil the whole movie through the ears online, up to a certain point.
“Shooting a sequence like that looks easy, looks like you could go run and steal it anywhere, but it wasn't it was like everything you do in movie-land, fraught with peril and complication and I never have to deal with that s**t. Basically, I write it and I show up and direct it. Somewhere along the way, people ask me questions about the details, basically yes or no questions that I can easily answer. But I show up on a day like the one we were shooting the protest scene and everything's set up and there's a full crowd already in place, there are cops in the street, fake cops, fake traffic. Everything is lined up to the place where I can just kind of go, 'Okay, let's do it...' And I don't even say action! It's generally the assistant director because the director is so f*****g lazy! We're just sitting in our chairs, Jabba-like on our sides..."
This week's interviewee is the man who actually calls action, and who sets up the shoot: First assistant director Adam Druxman. The AD, who Smith describes as "as Canadian as it gets" (he's not wrong), is a first-time Kevin Smith collaborator, though the Canadaophile director liked him from the minute he met him thanks to Druxman's Canadian background.
Druxman was refreshingly funny, cracking wise and rewarding himself with a swig of his drink whenever he cracked the audience - and, usually, Smith - up. He first recalled his earliest days as an assistant director, working on 21 Jump Street spin-off Booker. But he got into the business via being a production assistant on the Corey Haim film Watchers. He ended up working on the production for the last four days of shooting, and then was brought on, over all the other PAs, to be post-production assistant. "I think what did it, was they were shooting late at night way out of Toronto and had to put cameras in the water. This was the late 1980s in Canada, so there wasn't a Wal-Mart, no 24-hour stores, everything closed on the weekend. The camera crew needed hip waders and they were calling all over and couldn't find them. I heard them on the phone and was sitting there at my desk and said, 'Why don't you call a local fire department, and see if you can borrow them, and make a donation or something?' They did, the fire department came down, the firemen actually helped put the cameras in the water and it was great...' The producer on that project brought Druxman on to work on her next film, the Gene Hackman/Anne Archer thriller Narrow Margin. Working his way up the AD ladder, Druxman eventually got the chance to make the move to Los Angeles with the Peter Hyams film Stay Tuned. While the movie shot in Vancouver, two days were spent on location in Arizona. Druxman took the opportunity to fly back to LA with the helicopter pilot that the film had hired. The only problem? He'd attended the wrap party just before the flight. "It was a hangover in a helicopter! It was so painful, but it was so cool. The best part was, it was so cool when he flew through downtown, over the Hollywood sign. Then he too made me have sex with him." Drink!
Among the movies that Druxman has worked on are Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love. He's worked three times with Paul Thomas Anderson and Smith asked about the experience. "He's extremely detail orientated. Boogie Nights and Magnolia were every inch and detail created from his mind. On Punch Drunk Love, he tried something different and really loved Adam Sandler and what he brought to the table and wanted to try new things, so he was very different on that. But Magnolia was incredible, it was a 100-day shoot. And we'd come into a set and Paul would say, 'The camera comes whipping down here, a shot here, there...' Him and I would go there and walk through the set and I would stand in as the people and he'd work out his shots and then at the tech scout - all the major heads of departments, like the gaffer, key grip, cinematographer etc will talk about it and I'll say the shots that Paul told me. People will ask him questions then people will take their measurements to get whatever they need. We'd come back 80 days into the shoot and it would be those exact shots. I was there for every meeting, every detail and I still watched the movie and saw things where I was, like, 'how the f**k did he do that?' It's amazing."
Besides PTA, Druxman has been working with directing brothers John Erick and Drew Dowdle, who made Quarantine and this year's M Night Shyamalan horror Devil. He's worked with John Frankenheimer, and demonstrated a spot on impersonation of the grouchy director.
Turning his attention to Red State, Druxman began to explain what his duties were on Red State. " First off, I told my wife I'm not making any money," he cracks. "What happens is I first have to break down the script, I strip it apart and pull it into little segments of where things are going to be shot. I break apart the scenes and all the component parts. I have to attribute all the elements - in that funeral scene you showed, it would be the casket, the pallbearers, the hearse, the funeral home, the driver, the funeral protestors, the mourners, on and on... I've got to think of all those elements. And then what I do, once I’ve done that, I take the puzzle and I have to decide what can be shot. In my original plan, I needed 28 days instead of 25. It's a back and forth to try to make the puzzle work. We get surprise hits like actors aren't available on certain days, or locations on others. The puzzle keeps fragmenting and we have to adjust."
"Meanwhile," asks Smith, "Where's the director?" Druxman mimes smoking a bong, which sends everyone laughing. "All of this s**t goes on while we're sleeping," says Smith. "While we're jerking off or talking about the movie to other people. While we're doing all the things people heap tons of credit on us for, and nobody thinks about the true mechanics. This dude literally looks at a script the way Neo looked at the Matrix. It's all numbers and stuff like that. He's Rain Man. It's crazy. All the work that goes into it is mind-boggling. If I saw how much work that goes into one shot, I'd be, like, 'oh, let's not do it. Let's just do it with puppets.'"
Druxman broke down the various elements that needed to be in place for just one scene, including the process trailer needed to shoot a moving car with the actors in it, the police needed to control the scene, other "picture" cars that will be on camera to keep traffic back and hide the police assistance, lights and equipment. It's a time-eater and there's specific route that you have to take.
The first AD will then turn his research into a schedule for the shoot, figuring out how many pages a day will need to be shot to get the film completed in time, what can be shot each day. Druxman had to negotiate with the producers as to how much the various scenes will cost. Some scenes, such as doing an accident, will take half a day, with rigs and effects that will need to be re-set if it doesn't work the first time, whereas more basic talking scenes will be shot much quicker. "The worst part is when I have to go to set and prove what I said so we can pull it off. The AD is the least desirable job. I'm in between the director for his creative vision, the producer with his financial vision and the crew that is lugging around 5,000 plus pounds of equipment. I have to keep the crew to keep lugging this stuff around and setting up and keep trying to help both the director and producer, you just get beaten from every directing. Someone's always bitching at you, or coming to you to tell you it has to go faster."
Smith recalls deferring to Druxman on many questions, recalling that department heads would talk to his AD far more than on any other production. The approaches would vary from the pleasant to the angry and he asked how Druxman balanced his reaction. "I don't know. One thing I know is, whatever the plan, the movie business is so controlled by Murphy's Law. Everything you plan fails. Whenever I'm back visiting family or friends and I'm trying to explain the film business, I always say it's like throwing a wedding every day for 80 days straight. It just doesn't stop. Things keep crumbling, the flowers don't show up, there's no air conditioning... I don't know why I don't crumble - maybe because I'm Canadian! I'm just joking..."
Movies happen in stages, starting with a skeleton crew and building from there. Druxman hires his department - the second assistant director and the second second assistant (called more sensibly the third assistant in Canada and the UK) and a group of production assistants. The second second assistant director is the one who inputs all the elements that the first AD learns. The second assistant will be calling the department heads to keep everyone up to date. The second assistant also goes on set to work directly with the first, while the second second deals with everything concerned with the future and the past, leaving the other two free to handle the current day on the production. Other ADs do it differently, but that's how Druxman delineates it.
For a chance to hear everything, point your browsers and your ears towards the Red State Of The Union podcast.