Yesterday, we shared the first part of Jackie Zane’s (Lucinda) WFE extra experience. Today she shares an exciting night of filming in which Jim Norton (Camel) leads Robert Pattinson (Jacob) through the sleeper cars for the first time and breaks down the circus hierarchy.
I will not forget the camera operator in the sleeping car scene who had to shoot long, exhausting take after take using a hand held camera and moving from one end of the train to the other. This may not sound like a huge feat, but keep in mind that the term ‘hand held camera’ is relative. I am not talking about a cute little flip camera that fits into the palm of your hand. It’s actually a large and heavy piece of equipment that straps to a vest worn by the camera operator for stability. He must also keep his movements smooth and in tempo with the actors who were moving swiftly through the narrow train cars dodging dangling legs or elbows of characters hanging out in pajamas.
This is the perfect seque as I have been asked to write with detail about the night of the sleeping car shoot. Since it was a night shoot, it was nice not having to be on set at 4 or 5:00am. We were all excited because we were going to be wearing our pajamas and hanging out on the train. We arrived in the early afternoon at wardrobe to be dressed in our period clothes. Although I had been to fittings for most of my costumes, I had not seen what were to be my pajamas. I was amazed to see that the costume designer, Jackie West, had found a beautiful vintage light blue kimono style robe for me to wear over my black bloomers. It was fun to see the other costumes, especially for the men. Some of them were in long sleeping gowns, or under shirts with shorts. Some men even had the period garters to keep their socks up.
Once in costume, the daily ritual is to pass inspection to make sure everything is period accurate. Anything modern looking is removed or hidden. Any bra straps showing are pinned, taped, and tucked. Any unapproved holes in the vintage clothes are mended. As I mentioned, attention to detail was superb.
After wardrobe, dinner is served. Everyone is high energy and talkative as the noshing commences. Some people disappear because they take longer in hair and makeup. The tattooed woman, played by the delightful Kelly Erickson, is long gone. She has a number of tattoos on her body already, but this scene meant she had to show her bare back, which is tattoo free. Therefore she had to spend extra time in the make-up trailer getting retro looking tats airbrushed on her backside.
My visit to the hair and make-up trailer was an easy breezy one! My wig had already been prepared with pin curls for sleeping and my make-up was simple and clean. I swear the make-up trailer is the best place to meet people!! This is where I met Jim Norton, who plays Camel, for the first time. He introduced himself to me and explained that he had been instructed to interact with me during the scene.
The sky began to darken, and the dessert night air had taken on a brisk chill while people bundled in coats and blankets started to make their way to the set a bit off in the distance. Many of us shuttled over in vans, but some chose to walk through the orchard fields cutting across the railroad tracks. We waited patiently in side tents while the set crew continued setting up the lights and other hydraulic equipment. While the crew is hard at work, one of the Assistant Directors comes over to explain what was to happen in the scene.
It’s to be the shot where Camel (Jim Norton) takes Jacob (RP) to meet August (Christoph Waltz) and see if he can get a job with the circus. The AD goes on to explain that this scene introduces the hierarchy of the circus through the train sleeping cars. It is to be one long, continuous shot like the kind Martin Scorsese is known for. It starts at the back with the Roustabouts, some of which are too poor to afford sleeping attire. It moves up through the clowns, sideshow performers, coochie girls, show girls, big top performers and finally to the cabin of August and Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). It will be a very quick shot, but there will be a LOT of detail for the eye to capture.
Jackie’s detailed account through the sleeper cars continues after the jump!
We are then escorted through the blackness of the night over the uneven terrain of the field towards the train. We are placed in our respectable sleeping cars as Francis Lawrence (director) Rodrigo Prieto (director of photography) and Jackie West (costume designer) scope out the scene. I am in one of the middle cars along with the Tattooed Woman (Kelly Erickson) and the Female Contortionist (Mary Newman). Each car is decorated differently but all look like they are out of a time capsule. It had a lived-in feel with personal items strewn about.
The section of the car I was in had two bunk beds on one side and an elevated couch on the other. I was positioned on the couch sideways facing the back of the train with my back to the wall. The tattooed woman was sitting next to me, but she was sitting crossed legged facing the back of the couch exposing her back to the aisle. She was topless, aside from pasties, to show the intricate tattoos on her torso. Her action for the scene was to give me a manicure. The Female Contortionist was positioned on the top bunk across from us. We were trying to think of a pose she could do to bring her head lower and in the sight line of the camera. It was decided that she would lie on her stomach and stretch her legs up and over her head to rest her feet on her shoulders. She did it with ease while my muscles knotted up just watching her!! (Little did we know at the time how many takes she would have to do this pose repeatedly!)
I could see down the aisle of the train and into other cars. Everyone was getting into their places, while hair people were scurrying around doing last minute touch ups. They were followed by make-up people with spray bottles and sheen to give us each that sweaty hot summer night look. Jackie West walked by me surveying the sights and asked me if I smoked. I responded that I do not personally smoke, but that Lucinda could! So she summoned a prop person to give me some herbal cigarettes (no nicotine). She thought it would complete the look if I was relaxing with a smoke while having my friend work on my nails.
Once everyone is in place, there is a rehearsal. We heard ‘action’ being yelled at the far end of the train, the contortionist quickly gets into her pose, the tattoo girl strikes a match while I puff to light the cigarette. Camel acknowledges me, while Jacob gives me a nod, and does a double take as he sees the bareness of the tattooed womans’ back. They continue on, followed closely by the camera operator and we keep in character until we hear “cut!” The actors and cameraman walk back towards the beginning and are met half way by Francis and Rodrigo at our sleeping car. Francis discusses the shot with Rodrigo and other crew while Robert patiently waits, taking a swig now and then from his Lipton Green Tea bottle. The next shot will be filmed and Robert glances around for a place to stash his drink. We hide it beneath the pillows on the couch so it will not be in the shot.
Right about now is when I realized that I needed something to do with the ash from my cigarette. I am looking around frantically before they start the shot and spy a decorative tin lying on one of the beds. I pray that the prop person will forgive me as I decide to use it as an ashtray. I figure that its better than letting the ashes drop and or perhaps burn some of the vintage items. Right?
Suddenly in mid-sentence as we chatted, the train begins to shake and rock. Someone gave out a short yelp thinking it was an Earthquake, but it was suddenly realized that this was part of the movie magic used to make it look like the train was really moving. That is what all the hydraulic equipment was for!!!! With the train tossing about realistically, we could hear “Action!” and began to get into our characters relaxing on a hot night.
Each time Rob and Jim passed by, it was a little different. I played around with ways to hold my cigarette, and whether there should already be smoke in the air before they arrive. After a few takes, we realize that there is a bit of time for them to get through to our car. So the contortionist waits to get into her pose, and I hold off lighting the cigarette so as to not go through them so quickly. After several takes, we have the timing down to wait for a sound or glimpse of the action moving towards us … until one take when we couldn’t get the cigarette lit. It was hysterical because we could hear them coming and the tattooed woman was striking match after match to no avail. She finally got it lit and went to hand it to me to light on my own while she grabbed her props and got into position. During the lit match hand off, I dropped it!!! We both jumped up and were scrambling to find it. Somehow it landed on my lap in just the right position so that it was still lit, and not burning anything. I swiped it up, lit the cigarette, and we both frantically hurried to get in our ‘relaxed’ positions while the female contortionists tried to keep a straight face from above. We managed and I was able to exhale smoke just in time as Jim and Rob rounded the corner.
Next, was several more takes doing the same thing, only with the cameraman in front of them moving backwards. Again, hats off to the camera operator. The poor guy was exhausted and stumbled back after each take. After a couple hours of this, there was a pause as we assume the director is reviewing takes and discussing with his crew. I notice that the Tall Man (Jonathan Moore) was still standing in his position between two of the train cars. If ever there is a time to rest your feet, this was it, so we invited him into our car to take a load off and relax on the lower bunk.
The break soon ended as they were ready to pick up some shots from the middle of the train (our car). So in between takes we chatted more with Rob and Jim. Jim gave us all a lesson in the alcohol known as Jake, which is something his character devoured. Rob talked about how he was up late the night before, up early for a press junket for Eclipse, and then accidentally arrived on set 4 hours early when he could have been sleeping! Nobody can accuse that man of not being a hard worker!! He was exhausted but you would never know it as he was always on point during the shoots and friendly in between takes.
Four hours, 36 herbal cigarettes, and 36 takes later we were released from the scene. We all staggered back to base camp to change. I stopped by the hair and make-up trailer to turn in my wig, when Rob walks in and gives me a look of shock. After working with this man for several days, he said to me “I didn’t know you were blonde!” We realized he had never seen me without my wig and both got a laugh out of it. It was a lovely end to a long night.
What an amazing recap I was enthralled when she shared this story. Imagine how awesome the shot will look. We sincerely hope it makes the final cut. Thank you for sharing, Jackie! We adore you and wish you the best in career and life.
You can follow Jackie on twitter @jackiezane and check out her website www.jackiezane.com. Water For Elephants promo is gaining steam! To further get in the mood, head over to The Butterfly Circus to see a critically acclaimed short film Jackie was involved in. Can’t wait to see Lucinda in action! xo