Assumption is the mother of all fuck ups. Something I know very well and try to avoid at all costs. But I made a mistake. Perhaps it was the fatigue, the stress, or any other issues related to trying to produce a film with very limited resources, I assumed that after a fairly rough start the first week, relatively smooth sailing the second week with Mr. Williamson, the third week, with only a major set piece and local actors, including Pia Metni with whom I have had the pleasure of working with before, would be somewhat the smoothest week of the show, hopefully something akin to a walk in the park.
Boy was I ever wrong!
First day had us travel all over the city for several shots for several scenes where Trigger basically tracks Catherine whereabouts. Montreal insane construction nightmare that creates gridlocks seemingly out of thin air made getting around very difficult and lengthy. Shooting in a real car in motion, in real live streets, made it also quite challenging. We had tried to schedule all the scenes with Trigger tracking Catherine the same day but unfortunately one of our actors was not available that day, so we had to schedule it for the big shootout day, something I was not too happy about but had to deal with nevertheless. In the end, it was a blessing in disguise because with all the traffic and complications of shooting in a cramped sports car, we barely managed to pull off the day as scheduled.
It was a great pleasure to work again with Pia – we get along very well and I felt her looks and the subtleties she brings to her performance was perfect for Catherine, on the shoulders of which the story arc of the whole film hinges. When you cast great actors, all you basically have to do is let them go, film it and adjust if necessary. I have to say that we have been blessed on that front on this film and this week was no exception. Everybody brought their A game.
Another interesting anecdote that night was that we had to have Pia shoot herself camera wise because of the car’s narrow confines. She had to hold the camera between her knees (and stabilizing the lens with her shoe!) because the space was so cramped. And then, when it came time to do John’s angles, well the poor girl had to do all the camera work herself, after a little crash course – she had some background in photography, which helped, but it was still quite a challenge with all the vibrations, potholes, low light situation and overall uncomfortable nature of the position she had to do it in, not to mention she had to feed her lines to John at the same time! But she aced it like a pro!
But I think that seeing Pia, with her bleeding arm, contorting herself against the windshield in her evening gown, trying to shoot a steady close-up, delivering her lines as she shot, while John was trying to act, dodging traffic and potholes (another Montreal staple), definitely makes my list of top ten most surreal shooting moments.
Day Two was supposed to be a shootout in a club, which leads to Catherine being wounded on Trigger’s watch. Pia had to lip synch a song and get shot, while we had several extras running around and Trigger and a Triad member (the great Nobuya Shimamoto) gunning it out for our anti hero and doing lots of collateral damage, which includes the lovely Catherine. We also had to shoot the missing part of the scenes from the day before, where Catherine interacts with another student while Trigger keeps an eye on her. It was going to be a long and difficult day to begin with. Then the bomb dropped. The location we had was double booked. They wanted us out of the place by 5h30 PM – and we would be allowed in a couple of hours later – while a group of 80 people would be prancing around in what was basically our set! All the gear was already in the place. We talked it through with the crew – some actors were already arriving…
In fifteen minutes, thanks to our intrepid make-up artist Marlene, who lodged a phone call with her sister and managed to land us an even better location available within the next half hour, we packed everything and move out to set up all over again. Everyone did step up to the plate and put together a great looking set in no time at all. While we went and shot the other scenes related to Trigger tracking Catherine, smack in the middle of downtown Montreal, I tasked Andy Bradshaw to coordinate the movements of the extras during the shootout so we would lose no time when we got back and hopefully roll the cameras as soon as humanely possible to recover the two hours we had lost because of the migration.
Shooting guerilla style in the middle of downtown is a daunting task at best, especially when it involves running in the traffic, but everything went without an itch. Everybody was on and we wrapped those scenes fairly quickly. So we headed back to the new location, and while stuck in the never ending traffic, I planned with Deke Richards the strategy we would employ to try and get all the day’s shots done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Bradshaw did a spectacular job coordinating and our extras were the most disciplined extras I have ever had the pleasure of working with so we breezed through everything at a blazing pace.
We managed to get through everything within the time we had, hence avoiding overtime. There is something to be said about the fact that when there is adversity, when everyone pulls together as a team and gives it their all, you can accomplish great things. I felt very proud of our cast and crew that day – everyone pulled through under extremely difficult circumstances and we got everything done along with fantastic and exciting footage.
Pia was a trooper as usual and delivered an outstanding performance with the song she had to lip synch to. I never liked the song personally until I saw her sing it – then the scene finally bursted alive and she sold the moment that needed to be there for the scene to make sense. So it was a surprisingly fulfilling day considering how bad of a start it got in the first place. But our day was not over yet! We had to return producer’s Berge Garabedian vehicle, all the way to the other side of town. Normally an half hour ride in ideal conditions, it took us almost two hours as both major highways were down to either one lane or diverted to service roads… When we got back, I had to dump all the footage of the day. So I basically slept less than two hours before we where to hit the road again for the third day.
Third day should be easy, I was thinking. We were at a familiar location where we shot before, we only had two actors, John and Pia, they had quiet scenes overall to do, mostly dialogues… Smooth sailing, right? Wrong!
When we got there, the city had decided to redo the entire pavement on the street, literally blocking access to the very building we were shooting in… Parking spots where now miles away and we had to haul all the equipment by hand, bits by bits, trying to not get our feet covered in tar in the process of crossing all the streets. Combined with all the noise of the machinery, a quiet dialogue scene quickly became a challenge! Not to mention that everybody was arriving late because of the situation and the exhausting need to cary all the equipment by hands… This was not a fun time. But once everything was set, things went smoothly and quickly. We got to do a cool gore effect that was very effective and convincing – so much so some people started feeling nauseous. Always a good sign that the stuff works right!
Friday was mostly small scenes, at several locations. Everything went more or less smoothly if a bit chaotically. We had to improvise sets several times during that day – everything worked out fine but it is always a little stressful. By now, fatigue, stress and lack of sleep had taken their tolls – Bradshaw was feeling under the weather, bruised up and stuck with a nasty head cold… But he soldiered on and pulled off an adequate fight with Trigger, which leads to their final confrontation inside a junkyard. Several small scenes were shot after that, related to Trigger’s presentation as a character. And with that, we were done with Principal Photography. We have a day of pickups shots, establishings, etc. to do next week and then it will be an official wrap for Billy Trigger!
I am still in pain as I write this – knees, back and shoulders are all conspiring to remind me I am not a young buck anymore. Glad we got through it – it was definitely one of the most challenging shoots I ever attempted, both physically and mentally. We joked that the whole thing almost felt like a bet, like something we wanted to prove ourselves that we could do it – at times it did feel like a dare… And now that it is over, it feels like a daze…
When I wake up, I will be in post editing the sucker… And all is well again in the world. We made it out of hell, relatively unscathed… Time for some rest and a well earned beer.
Local Montreal website CULT MTL dropped by the set of our new action flick Billy Trigger and talked to star Fred Williamson and actor/screenwriter John Fallon. Here’s an excerpt of the sit down.
Fallon’s horror movie reviews are stylistically chock-full of male-centric bravado — less critical and more in line with a guy who just wants Jack Daniels and, as he’s written in the past, a “good flick.” His personality and his work on Trigger fit perfectly in line. “Action has always been my first love. You know, then I started writing about horror and people pigeonholed me for that. And I love horror, too,” says Fallon.
Though the gritty nature of Trigger hearkens back to gritty low-budget action films of the 1970s, both Fallon and Williamson insist it’s not a throwback, but the real thing. “We have a junkyard chase scene — you never see that in movies anymore,” Fallon points out. “Gritty throwbacks are bullshit,” says Williamson. ”What Tarantino does with the negative scratches,” he continues, referring mostly to his work on Grindhouse, “it’s just bullshit.” He adds that there was no way that would have gone over well in the 70s.
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.