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Set Visit: 100 Feet (1/2)

06.21.2007

PART 1 of 2

A month or so back, John Fallon (aka The Arrow) announced the exciting news that he'd be participating in writer/director Eric Red's new effort,100 FEET, playing a role most of us would slap our mothers for: He's the guy who gets to kneel before Famke Janssen and attach an electronic bracelet to her ankle. "Lucky @&%#&!" I thought.

Not long after, John asks if I'd be interested in covering the Brooklyn portion of 100 FEET (all of the film's interiors are shooting in Budapest). I replied something along the lines of "F**K yeah!" and soon enough I had received the confirmation that I'd be in the presence of Eric Red (the man who wrote THE HITCHER and NEAR DARK for f*cks sake!) and, even more amazingly, Ms. Janssen, beautiful star of the X-MEN trilogy, GOLDENEYE, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, and a personal fav of mine: DEEP RISING (like you don't dig it).

I had written about 15 questions each for the director and stars of the film - fully prepared to get a few minutes of alone-time with each of them. After all, the previous month of interviews I had done for the Tribeca Film Festival and 28 WEEKS LATER had gone so smoothly, I figured it was always a piece of cake... But I'd never conducted interviews on a film-shoot - specifically, an independent, we-don't-have-all-the-f*cking-time-in-the-world-here! filmshoot - so I was in for a wake-up call.

DAY 1

It's a gorgeous day in Fort Greene Brooklyn, and I stroll down a block made up of beautiful old brownstones, approaching the set of 100 FEET. The action is focused around a parked car, and I immediately recognize its driver as Bobby Cannavale (star of t.v.'s THIRD WATCH and flicks like THE STATION AGENT and SNAKES ON A PLANE). Getting out of the back seat is a leggy brunette and I halt in my tracks - but this isn't Famke, it's her equally tall stand-in.

I begin to hear the name "Eric" repeated over and over, and follow the chorus of questions and demands to where Eric Red is standing, lighting a cigar. (This cigar and others like it are a constant fixture on Red; I don't think I ever spotted him without one.) A brief window appears where he's not being harassed the way a director always is, and I introduce myself as being from Arrow in the Head. He's immediately hospitable (he and John have been friends for years) and basically gives me carte blanche to photograph whatever I want and to stick my nose in wherever it can fit. I'm excited by this freedom, and yet a bit apprehensive as to actually playing the role of nosy journalist.

 
Eric Red

He describes the scene being filmed: Bobby Cannavale's "Detective Shanks" is keeping a close eye on the brownstone across the street, where earlier in the day he's dropped off ex-convict Marnie (Janssen). Marnie has just exited prison after 2 years for manslaughter - the victim being her abusive husband and Shank's former partner on the force. Shanks hates Marnie with a passion and is just waiting for her to slip up - or cross the 100 feet allowed by her bracelet - so he can ship her right back to jail. Of course, neither he nor she are aware - yet - that Marnie’s husband’s spirit hasn’t left the apartment and is out for revenge.

The scene is quickly finished and up next is a fantastic crane shot that begins up high as the car drives up to our brownstone (which unlike all the others has piles of dead leaves and is dressed to look dilapidated). It lowers as the car stops and Cannavale and Janssen exit, and settles on a medium shot as they walk up to the house’s entrance. I get my first glimpse of Famke. She is as enigmatic as she appears on the screen - a true presence. I am already gathering my nerves for the moment I'll approach her...

The elaborate crane shot takes about 6 or 7 times to get just right - and of course between each take is about 10-15 minutes of waiting. After almost every take, Famke runs up to her dog Licorice, who waits dutifully nearby with a faint look of celebrity-owned-pet smugness. I cannot possibly interrupt this communion, can I?


Marnie's NEW prison

I find another moment when Red isn't bogged down and spend a few quality minutes with him. After asking why shoot the interiors in Budapest (it's cheaper and they have great crews) I inquire, why set this story in Brooklyn? Having gone to high school not far away from where we are on DeKalb ave., Red is familiar with these old brownstones, and their expansive interiors (both spacious and comfortable, as well as shadowy and ominous), are perfect for the eerie tone he’s going for.

95% of the film takes place within these confines. Red calls this a very old-fashioned ghost story - inspired by films like THE INNOCENTS - while having a recognizably "New York" feel (he cites WAIT UNTIL DARK as an influence - a film that also takes place almost-exclusively inside a NY apartment). To help realize this unique approach, he hired Ken Kelsch as cinematographer. Kelsch has shot many an Abel Ferrara movie (DRILLER KILLER, BAD LIEUTENANT, THE ADDICTION) as well as BIG NIGHT and the REAR WINDOW remake, so the man knows New York, as well as claustrophobia. (He also knows how to act up a storm, but I'll get to that later.)

Red and Kelsch enthusiastically speak of their use of 35mm Panavision cameras (both look horrified when I ask if DV was ever a consideration). The entire widescreen frame will be utilized, capitalizing on the large, spooky interiors of the home. By design, Red says this is the least amount of coverage he's ever done for a film. Instead of loads of angles for every scene, Red will use the bare minimum. But these shots will be long and eerily drawn-out. Honestly, he seems to have a pretty fantastic vision for this ghastly tale.

I ask about the villainous ghost (to be played by Michael Pare) who will be terrorizing Marnie in her apartment, and how it will be realized. This monster, unlike those seen nowadays in almost every American ghost story, is birthed not by CGI (a welcome relief), but by practical effects. Pare will be transformed by special make-up effects artist Paul Jones (GINGER SNAPS, WRONG TURN, SILENT HILL), and while unable to show me a design, Red assures me this is one nasty piece of work.

 
Director of Photography Ken Kelsch and Red

After Red has run off to attend to another issue, I wait countless minutes while another setup is.. well, set up. Then IT happens. I’m sitting there on a stoop, notebook in hand, pen at the ready (a position I am frozen in for perhaps 75% of the visit) and before I know what’s happening, Famke Janssen sits down next to me. I mean, RIGHT next to me. My mind and heart go into hyperdrive and I’m opening and closing my mouth dumbly like a fish. Meanwhile, her hair and makeup team-of-two stand in front of her, and all engage in a perfectly bizarre conversation that I’d most likely not understand even if I hadn’t just transformed into the world’s biggest sweaty-palmed dork (you can call me a pussy all you want, but I’d like to see you gather up your balls while a gorgeous movie star is suddenly sitting two feet away from you).

Finally, I feel it’s my duty to warn her and her friends that I’m a journalist for a major movie website, and may just have to transcribe what peculiar things I’ve overheard . She in turn threatens to have me fired if I follow through... Neither of us are serious - not completely, anyway.

Of course, she’s called away to set before that little bit of friendly awkwardness has a chance to lead into a meaningful interaction (and before I’m able to persuade her to chat by saying something utterly hilarious and engaging). I’m glad at least the introductions are over, and having calmed down a bit, I am prepared for when she inevitably returns... This was not to be, as a pudgy crewmember sat down in her place (a man who was just this close to getting kicked down the stairs), and the rest of the day’s schedule was unendingly hectic.

Around 4pm, storm clouds eerily gathered out of nowhere, and the production continued hastily. By the time 4:30 rolls around: chaos. Gusts of wind unlike any I’ve ever encountered in the city began to whip turmoil all around us. Papers flew, the crane wheezed unsteadily toward a building (fortunately it was halted by alert grips before it had a chance to cost the production some serious dough). Across the avenue in a park, a literal tornado was forged and a dust cloud like something out of THE MUMMY loomed horrifically. If it sounds biblical, believe me, it was (a producer remarks to me amid the bedlam that it’s too bad they weren’t filming THAT). I ran up to a frustrated Eric Red, who made it quite obvious the day’s work was prematurely done. Satisfied that I’d be back to see another day, I dashed off for shelter from God's wrath.

STAY TUNED FOR DAY 2 OF MY SET VISIT

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