Catherine Bisley at Killer Films NYC Blog #3

FEATURE: 21 MAY 2012


catherine_blog3From top to bottom: Producer Joe with champagne at wrap; Supertechnocrane fixed with hydrohead foreground, rat's rock pile background (photo courtesy of Reed Morano); Boy -- NZ film represent!

The Hudson River is pretty in the evening. George Washington Bridge provides a glittering route to New Jersey. At sunset, the clouds in the sky are quilted like a Sealy Posturepedic mattress. But the Kill Your Darlings cast and crew won’t be sleeping until after the sun rises. Some sort of deciduous tree droops its fresh leaves into the polluted river water, dappling the last reflecting light.  An Oreo packet drifts by. Rats scuttle everywhere. I see a king-sized rat atop a pile of rocks. I’m not the kind of person who jumps on a chair when confronted by a surprise rodent, but this rat-king is seriously creepy. Even if there was a chair it would be no use: this gargantuan-cat-rat must have eaten a lot of subordinates to get this big and surely can leap. I consider focusing on my job lest my superiors see that I am off-task. But this beast could seriously affect production in some way. I watch in disgusted fascination until it decides to stop watching me, saunters off. Tonight we are shooting the climactic murder scene for Kill Your Darlings all the way up in Inwood, Manhattan, a largely Puerto Rican neighbourhood. Yet again, this production is providing me with the opportunity to see new and distinctive parts of New York.

Someone in electric persuades a local kid I’m Miley Cyrus. When The Real Harry Potter is floating around I guess there is reflective glory to bask in and excitement enough to befuddle the masses.  I have my own entourage for a while. Night falls and Michael C Hall is immersed in the frigid waters of the Hudson: he is far from basking. I don’t watch Dexter, but on occasion I’ve woken in the night to my boyfriend having a late night TV fix in which Hall, as titular Dexter, is conducting some description of gruesome murder. Now, all the way on the other side of the world from my warm Lyall Bay bed and TV watching man, I am watching MCH get it. Over and over again he is dunked and drowned in the river. It’s a bizarre shift, and the strangeness is heightened by the stuntmen that bob around him looking as if they are in an aqua-aerobics class for tough guys.  And then, as if the scene itself wasn’t enough, tonight we are using a supertechnocrane. My mind explodes! Boy would I love a supertechnocrane for the short film, Wide Eyed, which I am making when I get home. As the dailies later attest, the supertechnocrane is supremely baddass and the footage they get will deliver KYD’s opening and closing scenes in operatic style. I sidle up to Steve the production manager and get the skinny on rental costs in this part of the world. Even with the sweet deal KYD got they are an expensive undertaking (what with transportation costs, an extra operator…). I don’t imagine they will be any cheaper back home. After my initial infatuation has past I level my head – I don’t think my film needs one. And no one likes a superfluous supertechnocrane shot. Production can breathe easy.

For all the rubbish and rats, it’s great to be outside. It isn’t raining, and, compared to other nights on this shoot, the air isn’t cold. This is the second to last night of principal photography. For our last night we are back inside the ornate stone carved walls of Union Theological College. Previous days filming include the day Kevin Bacon came up to me and Mike Mushkin (walkie PA and protector-of-intern-sanity through sheer niceness and consideration) as we kept things quiet around the trucks, and asked us to direct him to his wife, Kyra Sedgwick.  Bacon is one of a number of notable set appearances. Other personal highlights include music supervisor extraordinaire Randy Poster (all Wes Anderson’s movies, anything with great music supervision) and Kristen Schaal (Mel in ‘Flight of the Conchords’). Super powerful indie-film lawyer, financier, executive producer, and distributor, John Sloss turns up another day. Actor’s agents in fine cut suits appear and I can’t help but think of Charlie Runkle from ‘Californication’.

Union Theological College provides a number of the locations in KYD (a psychiatric ward, the Dean of Columbia University’s office, the DA’s office, and the Columbia dorm room corridors). Both Lucian Carr and Allen Ginsberg lived within these walls at some point, which is a nice touch for the historically sentimental in the crew (me). A waffle truck turns up at midnight, which is a delicious touch (for everyone). We finish shooting at 9.30am. There is champagne. The wrap party is that night and everyone is just a little bit zombified. I wear a dress for the first time in six weeks. There is table tennis. I win then lose. Lori and I stoically dance to the terrible music. I get my gift bag with a t-shirt and a small, yet practical, flashlight. It is like the end of school camp. Numbers are swapped. I am sad that I won’t be seeing everyone the next day. In addition to seeing and learning a lot on this production, I’ve met some great people.

Post-shoot means a new phase of life in New York. In the week following wrap, David is away in Chile, where Killer are shooting Magic Magic, another feature. The script for this psychological drama helmed by Sebastián Silva (The Maid) is a great, but unsettling, read; Silva uses landscape and strangeness to powerful effect. Shot by Christopher Doyle and starring Juno Temple, Michael Cera and Emily Browning, it seems another Killer project destined for greatness. In his absence, David sets me scripts to read and commands me to spend as much time at Tribeca Film Festival as possible. I recover from the KYD standing schedule in cinema chairs that recline/rock – an experience in themselves! I particularly enjoy Lynn Shelton’s NZFF bound Your Sister’s Sister (despite a long montage of the otherwise hilarious Mark Duplass riding a bike through landscapes to steel string guitar and the otherwise brilliant Rosemarie DeWitt picking up her previously abandoned paintbrushes to express self-fulfillment. Why oh why!). Thai police thriller Headshot is also worth a mention. It is also good to see reverse US/Mexico border crossing drama The Girl. Hearing the director David Riker speak about getting the film made and his process is inspiring stuff, though ultimately the film doesn’t get me. I go to panel discussions on international co-pros and another on short-form online media. It is fantastic to have access to great speakers. Given time has expanded infinitely in the post KYD world I also instigate a reverse Cinderella policy. If I get home before midnight I will turn into a kumara.

Catherine Bisley

This internship is made possible with the support of the Film Investment Corporation Foundation and the New Zealand Film Commission.