Sad to report that my psychotic optimism was short-lived. It barely lasted till I got to the set. The sun was brightest as I left the trailer, and we never got to shoot the wide shot. In fact, we shot a 14-hour day without any of the wide shots we needed to get, as bulls turn out to be less cooperative than actors. The obsolescence rate of problems is astonishing, the velocity of contradictory impulses and information sometimes almost overwhelming. But as Scarlett would say, tomorrow is another day, and that’s why God invented second unit. And tomorrow—that is, today—and its array of new problems are already upon us.
Today is a real scene with human actors, subtle turns, sad and a little wacky. But in the middle of this hard and important scene, we have many thousands of set visits. Sometimes being a producer is like being a camp counselor, sometimes a tour guide, often a traffic cop, but mostly it’s filtering all the noise without disturbing the action. We have Access Hollywood shooting what they call “B Roll” (everyone running around doing their jobs, trying to pretend there isn’t a fucking video camera in their faces), the Today show, US doing a piece on Gregg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman’s baby (the good part). What was I thinking when I approved their coming today? (They weren’t interested in the cows.) Bill Mechanic, the recently deposed head of Fox, now on his out-of-work tour, is also here, visiting the set of the last movie he green-lit. It is a wistful thing, as studio visits go. He was our benefactor—our chief suit—and now he’s in jeans and a T-shirt.
These kinds of acting turns are subtle and difficult to get right, so all the press is less than helpful. It’s hard working something out in front of strangers. The scene is part of a sequence that leads to the ending in which Ashley flips out in the middle of a meeting, something I’ve longed to do. Four of our principal actors are working: Ashley, Gregg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in his first romantic comedy), and Ellen Barkin, who is hilariously playing the talk-show host they all work for. Each has his own approach. Ellen is focused and playful, Gregg can think on his feet and still seem relaxed, Hugh is as easy-going as it gets.
Ashley is learning comedy before our eyes, and it’s often thrilling to watch. We’ve surrounded her with funny actors, but it’s her scene to win or lose, and she knows it. Her way of working is fascinating, quite different than most actors. She is an extraordinarily smart person, but is not inclined to overanalyze her work. She is not exactly huddled in a corner between shots, brooding Stanislavksy-like. She instead is on her chair playing hand-held video games on her telephone. She fought for this role—and won it (from Bill Mechanic!) after the third hit week of Double Jeopardy—because she wants to do more than dramatic thrillers, and I sense she is charged with purpose to push her range. To stay relaxed she talks about anything in the world—her next movie, Joe Lieberman, plays Scategories, muses about reporters busting Dick Cheney’s chops … and then “Action,” and she dives headfirst into the scene. Pure acrobatics. The script supervisor (whose job it is to be anal retentive about continuity and make sure that her hand gestures and elbow placement are identical from take to take within a sequence) drives her nuts. If too much detail ties her down she can’t soar.
The other night we were shooting a scene with her alone in the office, when Gregg Kinnear (whose character broke her heart) walks in, offering her a bagel. Typing away, we had no idea she was really writing something … movie typing is generally gibberish at best. But when we got the shot and were ready to turn around on Gregg, she panicked. She had pressed the delete button, and it didn’t work. She looked mortified, as cameramen and grips surrounded the desk, setting up the next shot when one of them glanced at her computer screen and started to giggle. She had written a hilarious diatribe against the script supervisor, venting her frustration, and now it was on her computer for everyone to read. There are no secrets on a movie set, let alone a publicly typed one, and before long, the whole set had read her rant. She looked apoplectic. I told her not to worry. I’d post it for Thursday’s “Diary” entry.