July 21: After an entire day of walking through downtown Toronto -- the most interesting thing I saw was a store near my hotel called Not Just Condoms! -- I was almost ready for bed when my hotel phone started ringing. I checked my watch -- 10:15 P.M. The unit publicist for The Rocker had warned me, of course, that the production had recently switched to night calls, meaning each day's filming would begin at night and go through the morning. She had told me to try to sleep during the day, but I've never been able to do that. I can't make myself fall asleep at will, so I knew I'd just have to accept being tired. I grabbed my bag and headed out of the hotel, into the waiting car. A few minutes later, we were rolling into what would seem to anyone like the yard of an auto mechanic shop, with cars and vans parked willy-nilly, tools and machines lying around, and one small door providing the entry point to a large, spacious interior the size of a high-school gymnasium.
"So, what do you want to do first?" the publicist asked me after I greeted her inside the set, and luckily I had an answer. Since it seemed that I had arrived before filming was ready to commence, I asked her if would be possible for me to meet Anthony Richmond, the film's DP who had shot one of my favorite horror films, Candyman. She escorted me into the back rooms where the crew hangs out, and we located Richmond, holding court in an out-of-the-way lounge. A gruff old Englishman with long hair, we hit it off immediately; we talked about shooting Candyman, the squandered genius of Bernard Rose -- seriously, what happened to that guy? -- and the twists Richmond's long career has taken. He's lately garnered a reputation as a DP with a knack for shooting starlets -- Reese Witherspoon, Cameron Diaz, Jessica Alba, and Jessica Simpson vehicles have all employed him -- and we talked about working with some of those actresses. At some point, business interfered and Richmond was called to the set -- the cast was ready to shoot.
The Rocker is a Fox Atomic comedy starring Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate and 18-year old Emma Stone, and it tells the story of a 40-something guy, played by Wilson who narrowly missed out on stardom when he was a younger man. He exited his garage band, Vesuvius, shortly before they hit the big-time, but fate deals him a second chance when he gets the opportunity to join the band of his nephew, and he meets Applegate's character, who plays his love interest. The first scene to be shot during my visit was called "Problem With Amelia" on the call-sheet. Amelia is Emma Stone's character -- she's a member of ADD, the new band that Wilson's character, Fish, must lead to super-stardom. The scene involved two set-ups: the first is shot from outside of a dressing room door, with Fish trying to coax Amelia out of the room, and the second set-up continues inside of the room after Amelia allows Fish inside. Here's the scripted dialogue from the first set-up, which I watched them film over and over. And over:
Fish knocks. FISH Amelia, it's okay to be nervous. I still either throw up or get the runs before every show. Last night it was both. That's gross. Leave me alone. FISH Come on, girl. We need you. Amelia opens the door a crack. AMELIA I'm sorry. I just can't. FISH What's wrong? AMELIA I told that idiot stylist: Don't try to brush it. It looks like shit. FISH It can't be that bad. Let's take a look. She opens the door. Her hair has gone insane. FISH (CONT'D) Yikes.
INT. Corridor -- Outside the Dressing Room -- Moments Later
Amelia, it's okay to be nervous. I still either throw up or get the runs before every show. Last night it was both.
That's gross. Leave me alone.
Come on, girl. We need you.
Amelia opens the door a crack.
I'm sorry. I just can't.
I told that idiot stylist: Don't try to brush it. It looks like shit.
It can't be that bad. Let's take a look.
She opens the door. Her hair has gone insane.
I was standing beside a sound technician during most of the takes of this scene, and between each one, Wilson would come over to the same area and hang out with two of his buddies. Most of their conversations were impenetrable personal stuff, but he did mention a few times that he wasn't sure if The Rocker would be the final title of this film -- he wants it to be called The Drummer. I almost interrupted the conversation at one point, to suggest that You Rock might be a better title, but I had a vision of 'Cut to Ryan being thrown out into the street,' so I nixed that idea. Wilson's delivery was pretty much the same on every take, with only minor change-ups. He stopped saying "Come on, girl" at one point, for example, which was a good choice -- it didn't seem to seem to be a good tonal match. What kind of rock drummer says "girl" like that, really? So I continued to watch the scene being shot, and eventually, something interesting happened that I didn't expect.
My two companions during this portion of the visit were the unit publicist and a journalist from IGN (Fox) who was the only other press invited to the set. At one point, while watching the above-scene being filmed, Anthony Richmond happened to walk by; he noticed me standing there, and motioned me over. Before I knew it, I was sitting inside his black HD tent and I was viewing the takes in correct light and could understand what shots he was going for. I got a tutorial on the advantages and disadvantages of using HD over film and what kind of lenses were being utilized for this film, and I also gained a new appreciation of how much work goes into the simplest movements. If you refer to the script excerpt, you'll see the action cue "Amelia opens the door a crack" which sounds simple, but Tony was insistent on having Emma's head be cocked at just the right angle so that her eye could drape into camera frame. She had to open the door over and over, until they finally got the shot.
After the above excerpt was finally shot to the satisfaction of Tony and director Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) the crew moved to inside of the dressing room where Amelia's character is holed up. Although it's still dialogue-intensive, this scene has a bit of action, with Amelia throwing a hair dryer in frustration. I won't keep printing script excerpts since I don't want Fox to get pissed, but the highlight of the scene is Amelia going into a rant about the stylist trying to make her "cutesey," since she thinks of herself as a punk. "I have no desire to be cutesey, and I will claw the face of anyone who tries to make me cutesey!" she yells, before tossing a hair dryer at the wall. This was a fun scene to watch, but I didn't really have a good place to stand. I probably could have walked closer and positioned myself better, but the last thing you want to do on a movie set is get in someone's way and have them make a federal case about it.
When this scene was completed, it was about 2:00 a.m -- lunch time! Craft services was ready with an assortment of foodstuffs that supposedly included hamburgers, but they tasted more like moose-burgers or some other kind of Canadian exotica, and I ended up not eating much at all, and was determined to get on with the business of interviewing. I was starting to get a little nervous, since Christina Applegate had not come out of make-up since I arrived, and I had been told earlier to be wary of the fact that the actors would be a little tired, this being a rush-rush hiatus film. Wilson had to get everything done before returning to The Office and Applegate had to wrap before returning to Samantha Who? so everyone would be laser-focused on work. While I continue writing about my set visit, you can scroll back to the top to watch the exclusive B-roll footage of several of the movie's scenes being filmed. I can't really give you context for the scenes, but it's pretty self-explanatory stuff.