Wow! What a week! That should be the conclusion of this piece but since we are already at the end of the week, that is how I feel about it at the moment, a few hours before we escort Fred “The Hammer” Williamson to the airport. It all began a week ago when we went to pick up Mr. Williamson, an action film legend often referred to as the Black Clint Eastwood, at the Montreal airport. We were quite stressed because there was numerous issues with the flight reservations that we spent two weeks trying to resolve. Of course, the flight was delayed several times, forcing numerous rearrangements of the evening plans and the overall logistics of picking the man up. We ended up spending most of the day coordinating the man’s arrival. Again, we did not know what to expect, as sometimes name talent can be “problematic”. No worries once again here as Mr. Williamson was a class act and a consummate professional.
On day one, we had a daunting 12 pages of dialogue to shoot – difficult task at the best of times but still an easier one than starting the show with a full blown action piece. We had a fantastic location, the third floor of the McKibbins pub on Bishop street in Montreal, superb setting for what is one of the central location of the story. Everyone brought their A game that morning: Fallon got his mojo back and delivered a fine performance, Mr. Williamson dove into the role with a wild intensity that was also strangely focused, one of the most interesting experience with an actor I ever had. After we did his main scenes with Fallon, we moved on to a very intense scene between Pops (Williamson) and his son Ewan (Anderson Bradshaw). Again, the intensity was there, Bradshaw gave it his all and a cascade of layers, subtext and meaning ensued in a short but very powerful scene. It was truly astonishing to film and watch.
We had not reached our lunch break yet that we realized that not only had we shot the entire planned day, we were in fact half a day ahead of schedule! We called in early the lovely Meghan Gabruch who plays Jinny to come in and shoot scenes that were originally planned for the Wednesday. I feel the character of Jinny deserves its own little paragraph here because on the page, it was a tough character to cast. And the role was hotly disputed by several actresses. But nobody quite hit all the moments we wanted but it is part of our job to get them there and we were going to resign ourselves on casting the best of the women we saw and try to get them where we needed them to be. Then came Miss Gabruch who gave us the absolute best audition I have witnessed in twenty years – it was so good I wished we were on set with lights and camera right there on the spot. Not only did she hit all the right notes, she also added some we did not even think about, and created a fully rounded portrayal of a very damaged girl. So needless to say, she got the role.
And today was her baptism by fire. She came very prepared and delivered an outstanding performance on all fronts. Tuesday, we had to change location and shoot a fairly intricate action scene. We were off to a slow start, with a half dressed set and a hard to figure out layout of the complex events but the adrenaline eventually kicked in and I started moving the camera in all directions, with surprisingly amazing results. It was a packed day, with a shootout, two intricate fistfights and actress Valerie Wiseman’s very first high fall. Valerie is almost as tall as Mr. Williamson and the contrast between him and this amazonian blonde who ended up playing his bodyguard Jezebel was too hard to resist. Of course, while the day before when we were stuck inside, the weather was a balmy 16 degrees. But since we had a high fall off a roof to shoot outside today, we had to freeze our butts in sub zero temperatures. The weather has not been on our side so far in this shoot – freezing cold when we are out, warm when we are not. Typical.
Wednesday marked the halfway point of the shoot – and was also our return to the McKibbins pub. Unfortunately the pub was not available on consecutive days, which means we had to wrap then reorganize everything the day after. I hate these situations. Fatigue was taking its toll as we were very slow that day as a crew. Meghan was back on set for her first (and last scene) with Mr. Williamson. Yet another powerful scene pulled without an itch by both performers. Montreal traffic, which has been plaguing us through the shoot, lead to a delayed lunch and contributed to push our schedule towards near overtime. We managed to avoid it by less than 10 minutes. Tensions were also running high that day as we were trying to resolve a complex action scene with a less than ideal geography. Mr. Williamson came up with a great suggestion, that we quickly implemented and improved upon, and we ended up with a John Woo-ish type of action scene that s very unconventional in many ways. Saying any more would be spoiling.
Thursday was another stressful day as we again had to shoot an intricate and convoluted action sequence inside a friend’s luxurious loft. Now shooting at a friend’s house is never an easy task – and shooting an action scene inside a place that is worth more than everything you own is also a very daunting proposition. We somehow managed to film a massive shootout, as well as the final confrontation between Trigger and Pops without so much as breaking anything (except breakaway props). But I would lie if I said that I did not have a sigh of relief when the day ended, again ahead of schedule. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. And for the first time since we started this whole thing, we got to leave things behind as we continue shooting at this location the next day. It is always nice, especially when you near the end of a long and difficult week, when you do not have to wrap everything at the end of the day. The other highlight of the day was the Hammer’s performance, who (dare I say it), nailed it big time! Watching the man work is pure joy – he knows what he is doing, understands who the scenes are being shot and how they will eventually be edited – he brings so much more than just his considerable acting skills to a project. And I think he also helps the other actors to elevate their art as well. All in all, a very powerful day, with again some interesting and intricate gun play and choreographies.
Friday was a relax day, at least on paper, because we had a press shindig with the Hammer at the end of the day. A few outside scenes where required – in biting cold, as has been the norm so far on the show. The afternoon was related to shooting on a closed set with both John and Meghan for a surprising scene that is part of the climactic end sequence. Can’t say much about it without spoiling. The Hammer was definitely a highlight of the shoot. Both Fallon and the Hammer are already talking sequels… As for me, at this point, I am so exhausted that week one feels like it was two months ago… One week left. Finish line is in sight. Wow! What a week!