Aluminum People

In the beginning, we created the wax paper and the foil; and the wax and the foil were without form and void; and darkness was on the face of the aluminum; and the Spirit of Glad said, "Let there be life!" and there was life. Behold! It is good!

Shoestring Shoot

Shoestring Shoot
by Diane Ballard

[Originally published in Austin’s ‘Third Coast Magazine’ in November of 1982.]

With makeshift props and a little money, the ‘Everyman’ crew hopes to make it big.

It’s 9 a.m. and the film crew of “Everyman” is sipping lukewarm coffee and painstakingly transforming a peeling Austin home into a movie set. Yellow and black cords snake across a floor cluttered with boxes of props, make-up, and costumes. Director of photography Vince Hollister’s face twists into a thoughtful scowl as he picks his way through the debris, adjusting camera lights. Ceiling fans make slow-motion jabs in the hot, stifling air.

In the back bedroom of the house, a burly young man in rumpled gym shorts sits frowning as two actors rehearse. Director David Boon, 28, is something of a perfectionist. When it comes to this eerie, dream-like adaptation of the 15th-century play, “Everyman,” he figures it’s worth the trouble to rehearse and re-rehearse until the dialogue sounds real. Also worth the trouble to drive around Austin looking for junk by the side of the road that can double as scenery; on a $12,000 budget, one man’s junk is another man’s prop material.

Boone is expecting something for his trouble. He wants “Everyman”–targeted for completion in December–to further the respect his last film won him. “Invasion of the Aluminum People” garnered high praise from academy award winning director Jonathan Demme (“Melvin and Howard”) and tough New York critics.

So Boone sits in the back room of an Austin home this morning, his blunt, fair-skinned features set in concentration as he fingers his brown beard. His crew socks match this morning, which is unusual, but his worn plaid shirt was untucked within an hour of his arrival on set. When he interrupts this tense scene, the two actors pause in mid-sentence, and stage emotions fall instantly from their faces. They listen to Boone as he eases his frame from the narrow chair, repeating an actress’s lines and subduing her gestures. “It’s got to be smaller,” he says. “It should build.”

In this morning’s scene, the character Everyman appears to shoot her husband killing him. (It is revealed near the end of Boone’s film that she only shoots his image in a mirror.) In the original 15th -century play, the character of Everyman represents universal man, who straightforwardly (though painfully) repents his sins and is cleansed in God’s sight. Boone’s character, however, is not so clear-cut, and her dilemma is not so easily resolved. The modern Everyman wanders aimlessly through the frightening and disjointed hallucinations of her mind. She finally must choose between a destructive fantasy world and reality.

The elfin Nina Nichols, 26, who plays Boone’s Everyman, has performed in some well-recieved films – including one that was shown at a New York festival last year – as well as local theater productions. She can afford to be a bit choosy about parts, and just as choosy about from whom she takes prodessional criticism.

She takes both parts and criticism from the soft-spoken director of “Everyman,” and says she has good reasons. “‘Everyman’ is a gamble,” Nichols admits. “But it’s a first real stab at making it. Dave’s talented. He’s good.”

“Everyman’s” crew members – a group of keen local talent – and some critics say Boone is one of the best in a spate of aspiring moviemakers to spring from Austin.

“Whether or not ‘Everyman’ turns out, David will go on to make great films,” says Louis Black, local film critic and film reviewer fo the Austin Chronicle. “He’s a name to watch.”

Jonathan Demme, who won an academy award for directing “Melvin and Howard,” also has his eye on Boone. Demme has a reputation for recognizing and helping up-and-coming filmmakers. He sponsored the showing of six Texas-made films at a New York festival last October. One that recieved enthusiastic reviews was a Super-8 science fiction comedy made on $400, called “Invastion of the Aluminum People,” directed and produced by David Boone.

Lous Black arranged Demme’s trip to Austin and his viewing of the Texas films he would later show at a New York art center. Just before Demme’s return to New York, Black urged him to view two more films – one of them was “Aluminum People,” Demme liked the film. He and a close associate, Sandy McCloud paid her own expenses to fly to Austin this summer to appear in “Everyman.”

Boone and the cast of “Everyman” point to her role in the film with pride – and hope.

Sunday morning at Huston-Tillotson College, the fate of “Everyman” (and even its completion) seems a long way off. The college chapel’s orange and red-lit stage and a belching fog machine create a dreamy, hallucinogenic world where Nichols, as a tortured Everyman, will wander – but only after a long morning of stage-setting.

“Everyman’s” shooting takes place on weekends because most cast and crew members work full-time jobs during the week. Boone works sorting and filing insurance claims at Brackenridge Hospital. On a $12,000 budget, the money raised in bank loans to Boone and contributions from family and the cast, no actors or crew draw salaries. Movie sets are a collage of handmade props painted – not by high-priced stage hands – but by Boone, cast, family members, and anyone else available. One night, when the cast was busy painting props in David’s backyard, a neighbor even volunteered to help spray fluorescent paint. “I thought it was somebody coming over because we were disturbing the peace or something,” Boone recalled. “I just knew it would be jail.”

But on this Sunday morning, an empty styrofoam cup clenched between his teeth, Boone has other things on his mind, such as a complicated, psychedelic shoot at the chapel. He’s wearing his usual gym shorts and socks, which this time don’t match in color or length.

The crew, from dolly-movers to the director of photography, swarms the stage, placing props, collaborating, disagreeing. Boone spends the next four hours – standard set up time – chatting with actors, inspecting scenery and haggling over camera speeds. Actors and actresses with blued eyelids and tinted faces sit talking in the front row seats. There’s no hurry. Yet.

At last the crew gathers around the cameraman, packs tightly just our of camera range, and actors find their places. Boone sits on a piano bench, softly chanting instructions as they perform. Hours later, Boone and his cameraman are satisfied. It’s a print.

Boone relies heavily on his cameraman and stage crew. “It’s more like a collaboration. People get involved creatively,” he said. “But every once in a while, they’ll come up with something really off-beat. I’ll say ‘no’ and they’ll get real grumpy.”

Boone has drawn from some of the finest young talents in Austin to this film. Brian N. Hansen, sound director for “Everyman,” was director of one of the films that Jonathan Demme showed at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York. Austin’s Bill Johnson, known for his inspired improvisational style, plays a manipulative director in Boone’s movie.

Like Boon, members of the cast hope to climb one rung higher with the making of “Everyman.’

“You never know,” Nichols said, laughing. “When ‘Everyman’ shows in New York, Woody Allen might be sitting in the audience and say, ‘Hey, who’s she?'”

Boone doesn’t know what reaction to expect from “Everyman.” He hadn’t expected “Aluminum People” (featuring in-laws and friends encased in reams of aluminum foil) to win the praise it did. That family-affair of a film earned rave reviews in the Soho News. What will the response to “Everyman” be?

Maybe it will win the recognition Boone and his cast and crew hope for. Or maybe it will fizzle. “There’s a lot of pressure on David right now.” Louis Black said. “That can adversely affect a film. None of that was there for ‘Aluminum People.’ That was just a fun thing.”

Whatever “Everyman’s” reception will be, its completion is many weeks away. On this particular weekend, the dim basement of the Capital City Playhouse seems luxurious to the crew. Although a ceiling pipe drips steadily on the dusty concrete floor, the basement has one asset most other “Everyman” sets don’t – air conditioning.

Down a narrow hallway, oblivious to stagehands trooping between rooms, art director Kevin West nervously sips a Coors, smokes a cigarette, and chews his lip. He can’t decide how clothes draped over a hanging rock in the previous scene shot here should look in this scene. On “Everyman’s” slim budget, rarely can money go for Hollywood niceties such as large color continuity pictures that enable the crew to recreate a scene exactly as it looked in earlier shoots. So West squints at a contact sheet covered with tiny black-and-white frames, puffing his cigarette and frowning.

Boone and Nichols sit in a sparse back room talking as she puts on layers of powder. Everyone was here this morning for an early shooting session but had to break for another group’s use of the theater basement this afternoon. It will be early evening before the same “Everyman” scene is reconstructed. It will be early the next morning before Nichols wipes all traces of make-up from her face; before Johnson, playing an oily, overconfident director, loosens his flashy ascot. Another director, in overalls that hide his no-doubt unmatching socks, also is confident of his art, though unsure of its fate.

But he and his cast have done all they can do this weekend. Soon they will leave the worn Austin theater in early morning darkness and load fragile props and warm soft drinks into the back seats of their cars. And go home.


Single Post Navigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: