Set Visit: Middle Men
MIDDLE MEN is a story of the two guys that created the code to bill online porn. Some may say a hero's story. After all, due to their work anybody with an Internet connection and an urge can satisfy, um… well themselves, from the safety and seclusion of their own home.
But these heroes don’t wear capes and they won’t save the world. As their business explodes, almost overnight, they submerse themselves in a world of drugs, girls, and a random dwarf. A world that inevitably leads them to some dark places and puts them in the company of some very bad people.
A businessman of the fix-it variety is brought in to do what he does best, placate the parties involved and make a little money along the way. It’s never that easy though and as written and directed by George Gallo (writer of BAD BOYS and MIDNIGHT RUN), MIDDLE MEN promises plenty of twists and turns and seedy characters out to fuck one another along the way.
The film stars Luke Wilson as the businessman Jack Harris. Giovanni Ribisi as Wayne Beering and Gabriel Macht as Buck Dolby, a veterinarian and rocket scientist respectively, responsible for the code. It features a prominent performance by James Caan as the sleazy lawyer Jerry Haggerty.
The country club was the setting for the scene that basically sets the story in motion. Haggerty has invited Jack Harris to Vegas to look into a situation. He’s learned that Wayne and Buck have created this code, that they’re raking in the cash and that they’ve pissed off the Russian mafia.
The first set up was a traveling shot on a golf cart as Jack tries to figure out why he’s there. It took a few tries to time the dialogue so that they hit specific marks, but otherwise was pretty smooth.
The second set up was the most notable; an exchange in which Haggerty explains the situation to Jack in between golf swings. Jack resists, stating he’s a family man and he doesn’t want to be involved in porn. Haggerty asks Jack if he considers Baron Hilton or Steve Wynn pornographers. When Jack says no, he argues that they offer these types of movies in hotels worldwide and Jack would be no more a pornographer than they are.
As the sun was setting they scrambled to get one last set up, the tee shot to begin this sequence. Low light caused them to block the scene in a way that forced Caan to tee off between two trees. He nailed it both times and was very excited by this.
There definitely seemed to be a comfort and camaraderie between Caan and Wilson, presumably based on their past work together on Bottle Rocket. It was a treat to see them banter back and forth, but the most intriguing part for me was Caan’s attention to detail and his compassion for the crew.
Every time he forgot a line or reached the end of a take he thought he could do better, he voiced an, “I’m sorry everybody”. This wasn’t embarrassment, but more a heartfelt appreciation of people’s time and effort. It was really, really cool to see that he was such a good dude.
We then set off for the Hard Rock Hotel, outside of which they set up a red carpet that would serve as the gateway to the AVN awards. I mentioned earlier that it was a chilly afternoon. For the night shoot it was downright freezing. For the dozens of extras brought in to play adult actresses it had to be excruciating. These poor girls were dressed in next to nothing and between takes they ran for cover and bundled up. Movie magic at its finest.
This scene was fairly straightforward. It takes place about five years after the country club scene and Jack, Buck and Wayne are now celebrities. Their code has revolutionized adult entertainment. Amongst a sea of flashbulbs and screaming reporters, Terry Crews (James) opens the limo and the trio and their entourage step out. They walk the red carpet. Jack runs into Jesse Jane (portraying herself) and poses for pictures. A reporter stops him for a quote and the others say they’ll meet him inside. It was a pretty elaborate set up however, complete with a camera jib that allowed for overhead and tracking shots down the red carpet.
This was my only opportunity to see Giovanni and Gabriel in character. Although there were only a couple lines of dialogue, it was evident in their swagger and flamboyant wardrobe that these two characters were having fun. All day long I was told how amazing the actors have been in these roles and this little glimpse left me excited to see more.
Photo credit: Steven J. Kovalesky
They wrapped outside around midnight and headed into the lobby for a couple more scenes. Amongst the real life gamblers and Sin City revelers they shot Jack’s arrival at the Hard Rock. A scene that takes place on the day Haggerty brought Jack to Vegas and is moments before he meets Buck and Wayne. The scene was a Steadicam shot that started as Jack’s POV as he approaches the hotel manager; the manager greets him and it becomes a tracking shot as they walk through the Casino.
They tried it several times and the timing just wasn’t working. It was getting late. The crew was on overtime and this was the only time I thought they might not get the shot. I was watching the monitors right by George Gallo. A couple more takes and something was off. As Luke stepped into frame for the tracking half of the shot it just seemed off. George conferred with his team and modified the shot ever so slightly. Instead of having the actor playing the manager look directly into Jack’s POV, he asked him to look just off frame. He ran back to the monitor, called action and just like that they nailed it. He turned to me, smiled, and said; “Now that wasn’t so hard”.
At the end of the day I was left with a feeling that most sets probably aren’t like this. People were having fun, which I suspect happens. But this felt like family. In reality there was a lot of family around. I met wives and girlfriends and siblings many of whom had roles in the film. I even saw Gabriel Macht’s wife, the lovely Jacinda Barrett pushing their baby around set in a stroller. For this one day, they made feel like part of the family.