Hey Kids: haven't been here in a while, but here's something for you to chew on. Watch out for LA Zombie, coming in 2010. xxx Blab
Wednesday, August 5th
I arrive in LA for the LA Zombie shoot on Monday after a week in sweaty, humid, stinky New York City. I thought I’d swing down through the Big Rotten Apple on my way to the City of Angels, as it would be my only opportunity to visit my Gotham friends all year long. I stay with my dear friends Slava Mogutin and his sweet boyfriend Brian Kenny, who together comprise the art duo SUPERM. We go to a great party called Macho Mondays at bar Nowhere on 14th street where Blatino hustlers from all boroughs congregate to give Manhattan men a little whiff of the old raunchy midtown days of yore. I also go to see the legendary Grace Jones at the Hammerstein Ballroom, an epic show that I will not soon forget.
After a breezy, temperate two months in Toronto writing a new script, the weather is so dreadful in New York that even after a short walk you are drenched to the skin in sweat. It feels like you are swimming in a thick viral soup. Thankfully the weather in LA in August is much more civilized: hot and dry during the day and almost cool in the evening. I’m staying at the cute Silver Lake apartment of my dear longtime LA friend Billy, who has been in London the last three months working as an editor on the new Ridley Scott film Sherwood or Sherlock or whatever its called. Nottingham? Anyway, I’m proud of Billy, as he started (as Emily) as a 17-year-old dyke production assistant on Hustler White fourteen years ago. He’s come a long way, baby. As much as I adore Billy it’s nice to have his apartment to myself as an escape from all the hustle and bustle of the film production office down on Wilshire Boulevard where the porn stars are being billeted. I will need time by myself to clear my head for all the chaos that will no doubt ensue on a typical Bruce LaBruce set, which is usually something like a cross between the trials of Job and David Cronenburg’s “Shivers”.
Today is dedicated to scoping out the locations that have already been scouted for the movie. Our dedicated production manager, Jeremy B. Warner, has been essaying pre-production virtually by himself over the last couple of months in LA, securing housing, locations, and permits and securing a rag-tag crew willing to work on a micro-budget film for very little compensation save for bragging rights about having survived a Bruce LaBruce shoot. Things have changed considerably in LA since the last time I shot here in 1995. On Hustler White, a guerilla-style film if there ever was one, we were able to get away with shooting entirely without permits on Santa Monica Boulevard and at various other central locations, a feat that would be virtually impossible in the current clamped down and controlled LA where it is said that people shooting even in private interiors have been busted for not having the proper paperwork. How we ever shot that film on 16mm for a grand total of 50K – including post! – remains a mystery to me to this day, and gives me a little bit of confidence that I can pull the same thing off again now in the digital age - but not that much confidence, actually, to tell you the truth.
LA Zombie is a whole different beast. It’s a summer project, something I wanted to do partly to keep in practice shooting, and partly as a good excuse to work with Francois Sagat, the supersexy porn superstar du moment. I almost cast him for a fashion story I did for Tetu magazine four or five years ago when he was represented by Citibeur, a porn company with a stable of Arab models, but I decided not to at the last minute because I didn’t think his signature head tattoo was right for the concept. (It was a gay tribute to Godard’s Breathless, using the same locations in Paris where the movie was shot. Francois would have been cast in the Jean Seberg role, obviously.) I’ve been kicking myself for not casting him ever since, particularly as he has become an international icon. Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, so when a second opportunity arises, you should always grab on to it. Even though we have an extremely modest budget (tiny for an indie film, that is, albeit huge for a porno), I figured I better go for the gusto.
Actually, if you want to know the truth, I had originally intended to make it a cheap art project for a solo show I had a couple of months ago at my gallery Peres Projects in Culver City. The idea was to make artifacts from a hardcore alien zombie splatter porn movie – production stills, props, screen tests, etc. – entitled LA Zombie starring Francois Sagat, and make it seem like it all came from an actual movie which never really existed or ever would exist. But somehow when I wasn’t looking the concept turned into reality, the budget started burgeoning, and really big porn stars started to become attached to the project: Francesco D’Macho, Matthew Rush, Erik Rhodes, Wolf Hudson… Suddenly, this summer, I was embroiled in an epic porn shoot. Oh well, I usually spend August twiddling my thumbs anyway.
So today my lanky assistant Jason North – a stellar name – and my long-suffering director of photography since Hustler White – whose name apparently I can’t reveal anymore because he informs me that if he puts it on my films he can’t get work for a year afterwards! (but you can look him up on IMDB) – I’ll call him Laszlo Kovaks – intrepidly venture forth to look at the assigned locations. First, though, we have to make a trip to the Valley – in Jason’s unairconditioned Datsun (“it has nature’s air-conditioning,” he says as he rolls down his window) to visit our mad genius special effects guru, Joe Castro. Now Joe is worthy of an entire chapter, if not a novella, in and of himself, but suffice to say that he’s the other factor, besides Francois, that inspired me to essay an alien zombie splatter movie in the first place, having worked with, as he has, such horror legends as Herschell Gordon Lewis. Joe shows us his works in progress – canine teeth molded to fit Francois’ mouth, a scary alien cock made from a mold of Francois’ cock, custom contact lenses, a human torso and heart – and he assures us that everything is under control, which I don’t believe for a second. But I do have faith that it will be when we get on set, because I’ve seen him whip up a creature’s grotesque hand in two seconds flat using the kind of legerdemain usually only possessed by magicians.
Jason and Laszlo and I then head for our first location look-see, which happens to be a twenty-five mile drive up into the mountains to a remote place called Angeles Crest, which is actually supposed to be a gay cruising spot! It’s hard to believe that gays would actually drive this far up into the middle of nowhere just to cruise, but you know how they are. After an endless drive we choose a location and then head back to uncivilization. The Valley and the mountain behind us, we visit a nice graveyard in Pasadena, which is kind of oxymoronic, and after a nice Indian meal, drive to our final location of the day, a really cool industrial area under a huge overpass downtown. Exhausted, we head home, our heads full of establishing shots and POVs.
Thursday, August 6th
When I arrive at the production office this afternoon it is suspiciously quiet and laid back. This is a bad sign. In my experience, if pre-production is too smooth and uneventful, the actual shoot could be a nightmare – or at least more of a nightmare than usual. Francois has arrived, looking as internationally iconic as ever, and so has our co-producer Arno Rocca, a French fashion designer/merchandiser who lives in Jakarta and whom I first encountered on Facebook. I met him in LA a couple of months ago with Francois when we first started brainstorming the project. Arno is taking care of the fashion aspects of the film, including some donations from designer Bernhard Wilhelm and fetish company Slick It Up , both for whom Francois sometimes models. He has also invited a Japanese bondage master to participate in the proceedings, so I guess I’ll have to figure out how to fit that in somewhere. I mean, how could I refuse? Laszlo and I hop in our snazzy rented truck to check out the remaining locations with our other intrepid co-producer, Robert Felt, head of the New York based porn company Dark Alley, whom I met there last week. He’s younger and cuter than I expected, and he’s very calm.
Speaking of calm, I’m still worried that there isn’t more commotion in the office. I’m waiting for the first catastrophe to hit, but it’s really taking its time. Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, it hits. Not one but two of the main locations may have fallen through, I am informed, one of them scheduled to be shot tomorrow. That’s what I’m talking about! I knew Murphy’s Law wouldn’t disappoint me. Apparently we have been informed at the eleventh hour that the LA River, where we have a permit to shoot, is owned in its entirety now by the Army Corps of Engineers, and you have to pay them a minimum of 2500 dollars for a permit plus have one of their members supervise the shoot for another fee. (As this is meant to be a full-on sex scene that might be a little embarrassing.). As for Angeles Crest, we are also informed at the last minute that we need a 10,000 gallon water truck standing by for the shoot in case there is a fire, even though we plan on using no pyrotechnics, or even smoking a joint. Perhaps I should have been a little more circumspect in my choice of exotic locations. But then how would I ever be able to experience the terror of the Terry Gilliam curse? Anyway, by the end of the day Jeremy and Robert both work out solutions and alternatives, so apparently the train hasn’t been derailed quite yet. But I have a feeling we’re not out of the woods yet, Talluh. We’ve already had to compress two nights shooting into one at Angeles Crest to cut costs, and although we have a great alternative location to the LA River, it’s dodgy.
In the midst of the chaos, Arno did manage to acquire a real wetsuit for Francois to wear as opposed to the fetish body suit that merely suggested a wetsuit. We’re keeping it really and fashion forward here on LA Zombie!
Friday, August 7, 2009
Today is the day I dreaded and hoped for: the first day of shooting. I had an apocalyptic dream last night in which we were shooting the film in China. We were supposed to catch a train to Shanghai but Laszlo got distracted by an androgynous prostitute who was gripping two large, home-made grenades, one in each hand. Everyone was clutching some sort of crude weapon or grenade as the world had descended into anarchy. Then a huge explosion blew up an enormous building in the background and big slabs of concrete came hurtling down on everybody. So that’s where my subconscious is at.
This morning we shoot our first scene of the production, with Francois in homeless person attire. The location is beside a freeway entrance on Silverlake Blvd where a homeless person has made his home, a collection of eight or ten shopping carts in a line right beside the busy street. I have driven by the site quite a few times since I’ve been here and it struck me how it looks like a pre-made movie set. Sometimes the homeless black man is guarding his carts, so we must be sensitive to his domain. He lives nearby under the freeway overpass. We do a couple of takes of Francois from across the street as he gleans the carts before the homeless man shows up. His name is Nas.a, and as it turns out he’s very nice and he says if we pay him he’ll be in the movie, so we do and he is. This is good, since the movie is really about the homeless, even if it is a porno. He tells me his life story, how he got colon cancer in his home state of Oklahoma and was forced to come to LA to get proper treatment, but he couldn’t afford to go back so he ended up homeless. Displaying his two remaining teeth, he says he’s glad it was colon cancer (it’s in remission) and not prostate cancer because that means he can still fuck. He wears an RCA patch cord as a belt with broken camouflage binoculars slung around his hip. We also shoot at the Ms. Donut shop in Echo Park, but that’s another story.
The rest of the day is chaotic at best, but not too abnormally so for the first day of a shoot. It seems that we’ve lost the Angeles Crest location because now they say we would have had to have a marshal monitoring the shoot, which would add another big expense plus the porn aspect might not go over too well with the law. I’m relieved as I had a bad feeling about the location, but now we have to find a new one pronto. Trying to push that reality out of my mind, we forge ahead with Joe Castro’s F/X look for the zombie. He’s playing around with a hand-drawn look, but I have to insist on the air-brushing that we experimented with at Peres Projects, so I make Joe drive all the way back to Van Nuys to get his air-brushing gun and paints. Delays, delays. Meanwhile Laszlo is looking for one little screw, an adaptor to put his 35mm still Canon SLR camera, which we are shooting most of the movie with, on a big movie tripod. He tries three different stores but no one has it. So we’re an hour and a half late to our afternoon location, which is the same homeless enclave we shot in the morning, but this time with Francois in zombie make-up. Our old friend Nas.a is still there, of course – it’s his home - and as we paid him handsomely earlier, he agrees to perform again. Francois looks great as the alien zombie, and even better when we put in the big gruesome canine teeth smeared with blood that Joe has created from a cast of Francois’ teeth.
Now we are really late for our next location, a graveyard way out in Pasadena. It’s the only bone orchard we could find that we could find for a reasonable rate. By the time we get out there it’s 7pm and we only have about an hour and a quarter of magic hour before it gets too dark to shoot. As opposed to the other night when we visited the location, when the place was empty, this time the cemetery seems to be full of cars. It appears there has just been a funeral, and one of the people who works there isn’t so pleased when Francois jumps out of the car in the parking lot looking like a blood-thirsty zombie. We have to quickly shuttle him out of the area before someone freaks out. Our cube truck and generator are already there, as is Johnny Law, our dreamboat art director Steve Hall’s dreamboat assistant. He quickly whips us up a fresh grave, coincidentally under a stone with his own name, Law, engraved on it! Lazslo shoots a bloodied Francois in his bloody white wife beater, bloody white trainers, and bloody white socks, and in his hot black wetsuit, walking across the graveyard to the fresh grave where he starts to dig. It really looks awesome, so I guess the first day of shooting wasn’t a total waste. I don’t hate filmmaking as much as I did yesterday.
Saturday, August 8th
Now I remember why I love filmmaking. What other pursuit allows you to experience despair and jubilation all in one day, and twice over? Jason picks me up in his trusty Datsun and we head for the lofts on Wilshire where the production office is. The air-conditioning there is broke and with all the guys staying there with no openable windows it’s getting pretty funky. Because the big car crash scene has been changed to a location in Topanga Canyon to be shot on Sunday night, we have the opportunity to shoot another full day of Francois in various locations in LA both dressed as a homeless person and as an alien zombie. Sometimes disaster can turn into advantage.
We did have an awesome, experienced First A.D. in place, but he dropped out about a week before shooting when he got a paying gig. A lot of the people who have volunteered to work on this project for little or no money are dropping off like flies because they just can’t afford to turn down other work if it becomes available. I suppose it has something to do with the economy. I guess the economic disaster also explains why there are so many more homeless people than I’ve ever seen in LA. Anyway, without a real First A.D., the shoot is pretty chaotic today. Laszlo and I are basically doing it ourselves, which is a little distracting. At least we have walkie-talkies and GTS, which makes transportation and finding locations a lot easier. So we head out this morning with our little convey communicating with ten-four good buddies and copy thats.
The first location has sexy homeless Francois gleaning along a chain link fence down on a street that overlooks downtown. I was inspired to play up the homeless aspect of the character by watching Agnes Varda’s “The Gleaners and I” for the first time recently, a meditation on those who pick up waste and garbage and basically pick clean the bones of society. Actually my last film, Otto; or, Up with Dead People, was also about a homeless zombie, partly inspired by Varda’s movie “Vagabond”. So I guess I’m pretty much stuck on one idea, except this time it’s going to be a full on porno. How do you like them apples?
The next location is down at the LA River. We’re shooting guerilla style, sans permit, because it’s too expensive, but when we try to go down a tunnel on Sante Fe Ave. at 6th Street under the bridge to East LA, there are two cops sitting on bicycles at the entrance to the river. Laszlo and Robert and I go down to assess the situation, but when we pass the cops and say hello, they just warn us to be careful of the drug addicts around there! I don’t have the heart to tell them that we’re more concerned about them than of the junkies. We just tell them that we have permits to do a shoot in a few days and we’re just doing test shots. So the cops leave and we bring the whole crew down to shoot LA wandering aimlessly down by the lazy concrete river. We even have Francois with his pants down washing in the river, which looks amazing – kind of like one of those videos Farrah Fawcett (RIP) used to do for Playboy.
We head back to HQ for lunch, where Joe Castro will now apply the alien zombie make-up for the rest of the day’s shoot. We order Chinese as we only have the caterer for a late meal today, but the food takes two hours to arrive. It must have come from the mainland. Francois eats his chow mein in full zombie make-up, and we head for our next location, the backyard of my good friend and fellow Torontonian and fellow Capricorn the artist Karen Lofgren. She’s just bought a cute little place in Cypress Park with a back yard, which we need to string a clothesline across for Francois to steal some clothes off of. We are in and out so fast it’s almost frightening. I have just enough extra time to teach my assistant Jason, whose favourite song is Funky Cold Medina by Ton-Loc, how to parallel park. Then we head back to the same location at the LA River to shoot the same shots over again of Francois but this time in his alien zombie look. We’re racing against the setting sun for the second day in a row, but we get the shots. Next is the shot of Francois in the back of the truck going through the two tunnels that lead to downtown LA, including the pretty silver one that is featured in so many movies, Less Than Zero being the most memorable. We get the lights rigged and Laszlo and his grip take-off to get the shot (it’s Laszlo’s idea) while the rest of us drive over to our last location of the day, a place called Ms. Donut on Glendale Blvd in Echo Park, to see if it’s still open. It’s one of those great LA locations that looks like it has already been thoroughly art directed. Three different people on the crew tell me not to bother because they say when the drove by it last night at this time it was already closed, but I have a feeling we should check it out anyway. And sure enough, it’s just about to close but the Open sign is still on and the owner’s son says we can shoot as long as we want for two hundred bucks cash. On the way we had passed the pretty silver tunnel and some 40 million dollar film production had it blocked off entirely and there was a huge blimp light hanging over the entrance bigger than our cube truck. How dare they! We were going to shoot there tonight. So I just get Laszlo to shoot in the green tunnel, which looks amazing, and Laszlo and I vow to come back for the silver tunnel shot later in the week even if it kills us.
Meanwhile, back at Ms. Donut, a crazy lady is talking to herself and feeling old all alone in the store. She’s scribbling in her journals and putting her glasses and sunglasses, both pushed back on her head, on and off. Luis who is making the making-of video turns on his camera and has a long chat with her, and it’s clear that she is homeless and schizophrenic, as in fact a large percentage of homeless people are. We try to get her to sign a release, but it’s not registering and she won’t do it. But we certainly get a lot of great audio! She has many delusions, including that she lost her hand in a shark attack (she clearly still has both hands) and that she’s from Mongolia (she’s white). Ms. Donut’s son, behind the register, is taking everything in stride like the seasoned LA donut store employee that he is. Ms. Donut is clearly a freak magnet, which is why I was attracted to it in the first place. Laszlo is getting his lighting on seriously now, ordering around the grip who came with the truck just to prove who’s boss. Before you know it he has the whole location lit up and we shoot Francois coming in as the zombie to buy a coffee. There’s no dialogue in this picture, and the Donut store improvises the line, “Coffee? Coffee?” I guess I can edit that part out later.
On the way back to the place where I’m staying Jason and I notice that the homeless guy Nas.a’s shopping carts have disappeared from where we did the shoot yesterday on Silverlake Blvd. Either he moved on or the city swept them away. I guess that’s why they’re called transients.
Sunday, August 9th
Okay you’re not going to believe this one. Today we are slated to shoot the biggest set piece of the movie, the aftermath of a car crash on a mountain road. To even attempt this is pure folly because it is a logistical nightmare and it will be difficult to pull off with our measly budget. But we’re doing it anyway. Thankfully our first remote mountain location has been replaced with a slightly less remote one in Topanga Canyon. It’s about and hour and a half drive from our Wilshire HQ by freeway, but once we get up into the mountains there will be no cell phone service so we’ll be cut off from civilization. Steve our sexy art director has rented two trucks, one for the pre-accident scene and one for post-accident; the latter wreck has been towed to the location by a crazy Frenchman who owns a wrecking company. I ride to the location with Luis, the soft-spoken Cuban who works for Dark Alley and who is making the making-of video. In the backseat are our models, Francois, of course, and Rocco Giovanni, a cute, personable young porn star from Columbus, Ohio whom I met on Twitter. Everything seems light and gay on our way to Topanga Canyon; little do what know what horrors lie ahead.
When we get to the general location, a seventy-acre spread owned by a woman who owns a nation-wide chain of restaurants, I have to choose two specific sites to shoot. The roads are a bit treacherous on the way up, but she has had her property newly paved so it’s a bit smoother. Once I’ve decided on a spot for the wreck, the army of vehicles for our shoot begins to arrive. It’s difficult to fit all the vehicles on the narrow mountain road, and the cube truck has to be left back a few hundred meters, making it a pain in the ass to access equipment. Steve and his two hot assistants start to figure out with the crazy Frenchman how to place the truck wreck beside a telephone pole right on the side of a steep embankment to make it look like it has really crashed. The first snafu of the day – except for when Laszlo had to spend a half an hour fixing the backseat door of one of our rental cars – is that they can’t seem to figure out how to get the wrecked truck off the trailer. Steve attaches it with a chain to the hitch of his four-wheel drive truck, but it won’t slide off when he drives forward. The crazy Frenchman is gunning his truck that’s pulling the trailer in the opposite direction, but his tire gets stuck in the soft ground dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. They try and try but it won’t budge. I have visions of the wrecked truck toppling over sideways off the trailer and down the side of the mountain, pulling the trucks of Steve and the crazy Frenchman along with them. Thankfully before this happens, and with the help of about ten members of the crew, they get the wreck off the trailer and start to finesse it into place.
Having got lost on the way to this rather obscure location, the producer and talent are about an hour late arriving on set, so we really have to get moving if we’re going to get our magic hour shots in the can. Of course the cheap car clamp we’ve rented doesn’t work – those suction jobs never do – so we are forced to rig our own little device to secure Laszlo’s little 35mm camera to the hood. We’re shooting Rocco driving the truck and picking up Francois, who is naked, wearing body paint only, on the mountain road. Even though we told the owner of the property that we were shooting porn, she pretends to be surprised when it’s mentioned today while signing the contracts, so we have to be a little sensitive to the neighbours who have to drive through her property to get off this damn mountain. The driving truck shots are a little rushed as the sun and daylight disappear alarmingly fast this time of year in LA: magic hour is more like magic twenty minutes. We get the shots we need, but not as much coverage as I was hoping for.
After our catered dinner, it’s time for the big car crash aftermath scene, a scenario I’ve always wanted to film. The wreck is in place and Steve and his cute crew have meticulously decorated the scene. Now it’s time for Joe our F/X guy to do his thing. Joe has been a little edgy on set, but he has a lot to do with virtually no assistance so I just let him spin. He whips up a nasty chest wound on Rocco, lying dead in the middle of the road, in no time flat. One of our P.A.s, Deborah, the E.R. doctor, gives it her good housekeeping seal of approval for authenticity. As the hidden smoke machine puffs out some fake steam, Francois emerges from the crashed truck, naked and ghastly, approaches Rocco’s body, and starts to make love to him. Why does such imagery come into my head instead of sugarplums? Well when I was a kid there was gruesome car accident on the highway right in front of our farm. My father and I were the first ones on the scene, and there was a man lying in the middle of the road near his wrecked truck, breathing laboriously. His shoes and one sock had been knocked off by the impact and were lying near his feet as if gently pulled off. It was so weird. He died on the way to the hospital. Why I made it into a zombie sex scene is another question entirely.
From that point on, it’s downhill all the way. We start shooting sex scenes with Francois and his big prosthetic alien dick with the scorpion stinger on the end of it, but the images are so grotesque I myself can hardly process them. I won’t go into further detail at this juncture, but suffice to say that this will not go over well between the coasts, or on them. When it comes to trying to shoot a fuck scene with Francois using his normal dick, it doesn’t quite seem to fit, so to speak. I’m going to have to figure out some way how to make sense of all this in the next few days by adjusting the concept more toward the idea that Francois is a delusional homeless person, which is still a pretty bizarre premise for a porno. But then again, it’s a bizarre world, and we’ve already seen enough plumbers and telephone repair men in porn. It’s time for something a little more… au current. Actually one of my inspirations is the novel Mad Man by the great black gay author Samuel Delaney, about a man who goes around looking for homeless people to have sex with. So you see, it’s nothing new.
We’ve had to save the biggest special effect, involving a beating heart and a fake alien cock coming, for the last scene. The sun will start to rise in an hour, so we are really rushed again. First we were racing with the sun going down and now we are racing before the sun comes up. What gives? Why is there never enough time in the day when you’re making a movie? I’m trying not to rush Joe too much as he’s doing his best. We finally do get the shots, but only just. Poor Rocco has been lying on the damp and clammy pavement for hours drenched in fake blood in a most uncomfortable posture. He is a complete trooper and consummate professional, never complaining and gutting it out. He’s really impressive. Francois is stoic and super-professional as usual. We have just enough time for the final shot, Francois’ exit from the scene, before a glorious, misty sunrise illuminates the canyon. Unfortunately by this time the crew is so exhausted and frazzled that it seems like a bad acid trip. After a long ride back to Silverlake, I finally get into bed by 8am and I really hate filmmaking again.
Tuesday, August 11th
As the shoot of the car crash aftermath was a bit of a Pyrrhic victory on Sunday night - we got the scene, but it almost killed us – we’ve decided to postpone the Monday magic hour shoot of Francois coming out of the ocean and start up again on Tuesday morning. The horrible feeling I experienced at Topanga Canyon that I know very well – that psychotic, disconnected, negative feeling you get when you’ve been shooting all night and the morning sun bares down on you like an angry giant – has dissipated, and I’m ready and raring to go again this morning. It isn’t going to be easy, however. We’re shooting at the LA River location without permits this morning, and the tunnel entrance, as we experienced the other day, is like Grand Central Station. How we’re going to pull this off I will never know. But I’m a big believer in what Jimmy Stewart says to Kim Novak in Vertigo: “You see! There’s an answer for everything!” Of course she ended up dead and he a broken man, but at least they had answers!
As you can imagine, there are things, candid as I am, that I cannot talk about in this shooting diary. Things… you wouldn’t understand. Things… you couldn’t understand. Things… you shouldn’t understand! But as the picture develops, the details will become clearer. That’s all I’m going to say for now.
Our guest cameo today is being essayed by none other than Tim Kuzma (not his real name – he does have a career to pursue!), the great character actor whose face you would recognize from such movies as Fight Club and Halloween. He is playing a fugitive from the IAG bailout that is trying to abscond with a briefcase full of cash until Wolf Hudson, dressed in identical Wall Street attire, tries to stop him. The location, the tunnel to the LA River between 4th and 7th Streets at Santa Fe, seems to be an access to the mighty concrete waterway that everyone uses, and I do mean everyone. As it is a day shoot we are just using reflectors and filming under the shade of the Fourth Street Bridge, but we are still a very obvious crew of about a dozen people and two actors using the location without a permit. As we begin to shoot the action in front of the tunnel, a variety of vehicles come through to interrupt us, everything from civilian joy riders to utilities workers to huge tractor-trailers moving heavy equipment. Every ten minutes or so someone on the crew yells “Car”, like in a street hockey match, and we have to clear the cameras, tripods, and equipment to let them pass. To add to the absurdity, next out of the tunnel emerges a group of about three dozen tourists on foot - many of them Japanese - led by a tour guide. What next, a marching band? A ticker-tape parade? We shoot at break-next speed and even do some modest special effects, accomplishing a pretty cute little scene. Francois arrives in full zombie and we get his reaction shots, plus we improvise a scene in which he drags the body of one of the AIG crooks into his homeless lair for his nefarious purposes. When we’re done I can’t believe we actually did pull it off.
The shoot in the evening is at another downtown location over the bridge in East LA. It’s a warehouse district, where apparently we have permission to shoot and some sort of permit, but the permit system here is so convoluted that it’s hard to figure out what we have access to and what we don’t. Here, in a little cubby-hole in the parking lot, in front of a big fat graffiti tag, we shoot our first full on zombie sex scene, replete with Viagra, big hard dicks, and glorious come shots. As we are working with two porn veterans, I shouldn’t be amazed at how well they can perform sex under such difficult and rushed circumstances. Milan, our cute Peruvian prop guy, has gleaned an old mattress from the vicinity for them to fuck on, and I must say Francois in full alien zombie manhood in front of the graffiti that matches the colour of his alien skin looks quite spectacular. We do both alien come shots (he comes black ink) and regular human ones. It feels really great to get a full on hot porn scene in the can. We’re also over the hump now – four days of shooting completed, three to go – so I feel much better. But many obstacles still lay ahead, as you will soon see.
I have to say how proud I am of Robert, our on-set producer, Jeremy, our production manager, and Laszlo, our intrepid D.P. (When Laszlo asks Wolf Hudson about the character of D.P.s – meaning Directors of Photography – in the porn world, Wolf thinks he’s talking about another kind of D.P. – double penetration! So on set from now on I am threatening to call Laszlo “Double Penetration.”) They’ve really stayed pretty calm and collected under extraordinarily difficult Labrucian circumstances, so kudos to them all.
In the warehouse this evening where we’ve set up our base, John, one of our dedicated P.A.s, discovers a black widow spider! They aren’t very big, but they’re deadly! I ask him not to kill it – she can’t help it if she’s venomous – so he puts her in am empty water bottle and frees her outside. That’s all we need, for one of the cast or crew to get a deadly spider bite. Luis, our making-of guy, already stepped on a nail that went through his shoe into his foot at the LA River this morning. Fortunately we have Deborah, our E.R. doctor P.A., on set, who administers to all our victims. Low-budget film locations often operate somewhat like triage anyway, so it’s no biggie.
Our last scene of the day is the one that Laszlo and I missed the other night because we got cock-blocked by a big budget Hollywood movie – our shot going through the silvery downtown tunnel. It’s the same rigging as before, so I just let Laszlo do it himself as second unit. Jason and I drop some cast, crew and equipment off at the production office, and then we head off to get some food. By chance we find ourselves in Hollywood near the Spotlight, one of the last remaining hustler bars in town, so we have to stop off for a well-deserved cocktail. Then we grab some Popeye’s – it’s 99-cent night, a breast and a drumstick for 99 cents! – and head home. Since shooting began I’ve really become hyperaware of the number of homeless people in LA, and here in Hollywood tonight I notice an alarming number of them again, usually with shopping carts or sleeping right on the sidewalk. I also saw a number of them out near our Topanga Canyon location on the west side. It almost seems like some kind of epidemic.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2009
Okay there’s this automatic shoulder seat belt that straps you in as soon as you turn on my assistant Jason’s car, so every time he starts up the engine and I’m not paying attention it almost strangles me. This is a good metaphor for my experience on LA Zombie.
One other thing. I still haven’t received the 1st A.D. that I’ve been begging for since the beginning of the shoot. A director without a First A.D. is like a captain without a first mate: lost at sea. The First A.D. is the glue that holds the whole shoot together, coordinating departments on set, wrangling the actors, telling everyone how long until the set-up is ready, and generally keeping the peace. He does all the yelling and runs interference for the director. The lack of a First A.D. has really been one of two factors that has caused us the most problems. The other one I can’t really talk about, pending litigation.
Today we’re back at the same location as yesterday, a very cinematic spot under an overpass in East LA. Jason and I are stuck in traffic on the way to set, and then after we stop at a McD’s drive-thru we get lost and I spill my coffee (which on this shoot is a rare commodity) all over the car floor. (For some unknown reason there are never thermoses of coffee on set. It’s almost inhumane.) I take it as a bad omen.
We’re set to shoot at magic hour, a scene involving homeless people sitting around an improvised living room beside an empty refrigerator box. Our two special guests today, Tony Ward, my co-star from Hustler White, and his best friend Santino Rice, who you will remember from Project Runway, are contributing cameos as homeless people. They arrive on set self-styled and in character, sporting the kind of homeless chic that you sometimes see in LA: the models and actors who come to Hollywood to pursue a dream, take a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and for whatever reason end up living on the street. Santino and Tony play characters who discover that their friend has O.D.d and he’s lying dead in the refrigerator box, which scares them off; enter Francois, the homeless alien zombie, who crawls into the box to fuck the poor soul back to life. We’ve dress up two members of our crew as homeless extras, and we’re good to go. The boys give it their all, adding a little extra kick to an otherwise uneventful scene.
Next I have to pick up a shot that I missed last night, wherein Wolf Hudson, dazed and confused, watches Francois leave the scene and then exits himself. Wolf is a trained dancer, so it’s too bad I can’t fit those skills into the scenario. A porn musical may be in order. (Actually I think there’s already one in production. I just saw it on Twitter.)
After the sun goes down it’s time to shoot the last scene of the day with our next victim, hot black Cuban porn star Eddie Diaz, who has come in from Miami. The scene has his body being dumped from a car in a parking lot, which the alien zombie finds and drags off to have sex with and bring back to life. I was originally planning on them having sex in the middle of the lot, but it’s been getting chilly here in LA in the evenings even in August, so we’ve decided to move it indoors in the warehouse that is our temporary base of production. Laszlo has done an amazing job with his limited resources of lighting the parking lot under the overpass. He really is a great lighting D.P.
Now is the time that the proceedings start to turn a little sour. For some reason unknown to me, Eddie is about an hour and a half late on set (definitely not his fault!), which means we’ll be rushing again with the clock to get all our shots before we have to be out of the location at 2am. There are other complications having to do with special effects that I can’t really get into, but suffice to say there are other delays over which I have no control. Our little production is definitely running out of steam, but we keep persevering. No matter how rag-tag and sketchy the shoot becomes, it’s always important to do whatever it takes to get the scene in the can. It’s my mantra: Get the scene in the can. Get the scene in the can. Some of the obstacles we have to deal with are almost unbelievable, and very LA. For example, tonight someone who lives near the location has been complaining about the noise from our very loud generator. I ask my production manager who it could possibly be, considering the location is literally in the middle of nowhere. It turns out to be some squatters who have set up camp under the freeway overpass, which is already relentlessly noisy. These bourgeois homeless also complain when we inadvertently discard an old couch from our set on their “property”, insisting that we remove it even though there are abandoned shopping carts and old pieces of furniture all over the place. Get a condo!
Steve our art director tells me a funny story about the Topanga Canyon shoot. Well, funny in a gruesome sort of way. The day after, the crazy Frenchman picked up the wrecked truck to tow it back to the junkyard, but it was still covered in blood. He towed it all the way through LA and back to the Valley in broad daylight as the other drivers on the road recoiled in horror, thinking it was from a real accident. Imagine the crazy Frenchman chuckling maniacally while driving. Well, I thought it was funny.
The sex scene with Francois and Eddie is pretty hot, although I must confess that I always lose interest in the explicit scenes when I’m shooting a porno. I guess that probably isn’t a good sign. The mechanics of porn really aren’t very sexy at all, and it’s very difficult to shoot sex in a novel way, so it always seems like the same thing every time you do it. You’re lucky if there is real chemistry and you get a truly hot scene that gives you a hard-on while you’re watching it, which was the case the previous night with Francois and Wolf. But at least Francois and Eddie do have chemistry and they’re both hard, so I guess that’s all you can ask for. We finally get the alien zombie make-up on him just in time to complete the sex scene before the butch lesbian owner who keeps threatening to call the police if we shoot one meter off the property kicks us out of the location. It’s been a very stressful day, but what else is new?
Thursday, August 13th, 2009
Just when you thought you’d reached the bottom of the barrel of dead fish, another dreadful day rears its ugly, Medusan head. Today we are on location at Peres Projects, the LA-based art gallery that represents me as an artiste, so you would think that the contained set would simplify things a bit. Dream on! Jason, my faithful Kato, the gangly, angular lad that is my assistant, picks me up on time as usual and we head west, only getting lost once or twice here and there along the way. At the gallery my art director Steve Hall (who, incidentally, does art direction for all the biggest fashion photogs and designers, Christian Louboutin being the latest), has constructed a beautiful set inside the gallery: the absurdly huge interior of yesterday’s refrigerator box a la Snoopy’s doghouse. It looks like a great art installation all by itself. The hunky and talented artist Dan Attoe, also represented by Javier Peres, happens to be there with gallery assistant Wilson, moving some of his paintings, so it’s good to see some of the Peres family again. Steve is such a congenial and collegial presence on our schizzy set that whenever he leaves everything seems to start going south, morale-wise. The presence of his gorgeous assistants, Johnny and Milan, who, he proudly tells me, are generally hotter than the models on his fashion jobs, doesn’t hurt either.
As a certain key crewmember is late, as usual, I change the schedule and start shooting some other stuff. First I do a pick up of the scene from the previous evening, with Francois crawling out of the refrigerator box he had gone down the rabbit hole into, which we shoot in the Peres parking lot. Then we go right into the sex scene between Francois and the porn actor playing the dead junkie in Steve’s interior fridge box, whose name escapes me at the moment. I cast him because he’s an older model, in his forties, with grey hair and a weather-beaten look. I’ve been asking Robert Felt of Dark Alley, our solid and steadfast (and cute) producer, to help direct the sex scenes, as he is more experienced at it than I, and as I said, I tend to lose interest. He does his best, but unfortunately we’re having some trouble in the wood department – if you know what I mean – on set today (not Francois – he’s always hard as a rock!), so we have to stop and start several times to try to “erectify” the situation, but to no avail. But that’s okay because Francois comes in a glorious Technicolor fountain, without special effects, and that’s good enough for me. The other porn actor seems a little – er – unpresent, so he really does seem to have a kind of homeless quality. If we’re lucky people with think he’s the real McCoy, someone we just dragged off the street and put in a porno. And why not? A job’s a job, right?
Now it’s time for our F/X man, who has just arrived on set, to do up Francois in his zombie look. We are racing with the clock again as we are supposed to be at the ocean at 5pm to shoot the very first scene of the movie: the alien zombie emerging from the Pacific. I must admit that going into this project I had no clue about the F/X process at all, and we definitely didn’t factor in enough time in the schedule for them. That’s why we are perpetually late and always hurrying to finish in time. There are also other issues with the F/X department that I can’t get into, but together it’s a kind of perfect storm of frustrations and delays. It doesn’t help that catering is also two hours late on set today, for god knows what reason. Maybe I should check my horrorscope!
I’ve started to chill a little on set in terms of not getting so anxious about things over which I have no control, so I just sit and tap away at my shooting diary and let the clouds roll by. Finally Francois is ready for his alien zombie close-up and we shoot him coming as the creature with his big, scorpion-tipped cock in the same positions as he fucked the homeless porn star before. I have no idea if the shots will match, and furthermore, I don’t care. As I’ve recently stated, in print, and for the record, continuity is bourgeois.
It’s already 6pm, so we’re frighteningly late for our next location: El Matador Beach, the exact same spot where we filmed the final scene of my movie Hustler White. In that scenario, my character, Jurgen Anger, thought that Mr. Ward was dead, so he was going to throw his body in the ocean, but Tony regains consciousness and we make out. In this scene, Francois Sagat as the alien zombie emerges from the ocean and sets off in search of dead bodies to fuck back to life. You see how it all connects.
A minimal crew of five – me, Laszlo, Robert, our assistant cameraman John, and Francois – drive in our rented truck from Century City all the way out to the location north of Malibu in rush hour traffic, arriving at precisely 7:06 pm. As it is dark by just after 8pm these days, we better get the lead out. We rush down the steep path to the beach with our equipment and set up as Francois puts in his fake teeth and I bloody them up. The water is freezing, but Francois gamely wades in and we shoot the scene as dolphins frolic by in the BG (unfortunately I don’t think we get them in the shot). We manage to get our coverage just in time, finishing as darkness falls at precisely 8:06pm.
It feels so strange to be back in the same place where Laszlo filmed Tony and I executing what probably remains the longest kiss – or at least gay kiss – in screen history fourteen years ago, but life’s funny that way. Despite all the hardships and pain and suffering we’ve all endured this past week, this moment somehow makes it seem all worthwhile. But there’s always tomorrow…
Friday, August 14th, 2009
Perhaps I spoke too soon – I mean about the “all worthwhile” part. Today starts out innocently enough, but by the end of the night I’m ready for 28 days at Betty Ford, and I’m not even an alcoholic. Is there rehab for directors? My name is Bruce LaBruce, and I’m a director. Recovering director.
The day starts off innocently enough. It’s the last day of a difficult shoot so it almost feels like Xmas. Kato picks me up as usual in his Datsun, it almost strangles me as usual, I drink my usual coffee on the way to set, and we arrive just a little late. We’re back at Peres Projects, but it’s the only location of the day so I’m deluded into thinking that things will go more smoothly. They won’t. But at least there’s coffee on set for the very first time during the whole shoot. Better late than never!
The beef has all arrived today on schedule – three of the biggest male porn stars in the business in all their testosteronal glory: Matthew Rush, Erik Rhodes, and Francesco D’Macho, the latter hunk all the way from Madrid. I’ve never met any of them before in person, but they all seem like nice chaps. Erik in particular seems like quite a gentle giant: his proportions are so big it’s kind of hard to process. He’s the one who was dating Marc Jacobs there for a while. A fourth side order of beef, Adam Killian, has been invited to set by our producer Robert, so we have enough meat here for an Argentinian barbecue!
A complication arises, however. When it comes time to shoot the first sex scene, which is without gore, the brawny men balk, claiming that they didn’t realize they would be expected to do an explicit scene. It’s all a bit of a misunderstanding: they thought that because it was an arty Bruce LaBruce movie, they would be doing something else. They’re all totally into the blood and gore, but for me the whole point is to mix the horror/gore genre with porn. I explain to them that BLAB movies always have explicit sex – we even shot porn scenes for Otto; or, Up with Dead People, although most of them ended up only as DVD extras. Erik takes me aside and says that he’s not trying to be a demanding diva, it’s just that he wasn’t expecting to do a sex scene, but since that’s what I want he will go ahead and do it and give his all. It’s really very sweet of him and the rest of the boys. It’s a good thing too, because poor Robert, our producer, was almost in tears. We’ve been through hell and high water all week long and he’s remained remarkably calm and low key, but when this potential little mutiny came up, it’s the first time I saw him visibly upset. But it’s all good, because we shoot the sex scene, including oral, pissing, and fucking, all in the white Kubrickian dungeon that Steve has dressed, and it seems pretty hot in porn terms. I do make a big mistake by not asking them all to come there and then, however. I have the notion that I want them to come later on the bloody, gory set, the aftermath of a shooting, but by that time I will discover that they’re no longer in the mood for come shots, and who can blame them?
Arnaud Roca, one of our fearless producers, has invited a Japanese bondage master named Eric Du, aka Domasan, to do a little of his rope bondage on a model as decoration for the dungeon. It’s a lot of work for a couple of quick cutaways, but what the heck. Jim, the boyfriend of our production manager Jeremy, also bravely volunteers to get roped up. By now almost everyone on the crew has been enlisted as an extra for a cameo, but after standing in a latex sarcophagus with huge knots of red rope covering his face for an hour, I think Jim got a little more than he bargained for! He’s a good sport about it though.
Since the shoot is over and it’s the last day of my diary and no one can any longer threaten to drop out every day if he isn’t paid up front in cash even though he’s consistently late by about 3 or 4 hours and is always completely unprepared for the day’s shoot, I guess I can talk a little bit more candidly about the other factor that shall we say complicated the shooting of LA Zombie. In the past I would have named names and consequences be damned, but I’ve mellowed a bit since I married a black Cuban Santeria priest and settled down, so I’m not going to go into too much into detail. Like I said earlier, it’s partly my fault anyway for being so naïve about how much time it would take to set up all the F/X, but when you are only given half or a quarter of the time you expected it does make it exponentially more difficult. When you add in the X factor – that you are also making a hardcore porn movie and you have to deal with that whole big kettle of fish sticks on top of it – then it really does become a recipe for disaster. All that, and no A.D., ever. To be honest, it really is a miracle that we actually accomplished as much as we did, not only completing every planned scene, but also adding some extra improvised stuff on top of it. So although I didn’t get in quite as many of the effects I wanted – lots of gore, but not really much splatter – I can’t really complain too much.
Back on the set, it’s time to shoot the scene in which two drug dealers, played by my friends the gay Cholo rapper Deadlee and tattooed model extraordinaire Trevor Wayne, make a drug delivery to the S and M dungeon and end up shooting the four beefy fetish freaks. I intended some not necessarily realistic but over-the-top splatter; however, splatter is not as easy as it looks, especially with no budget. Steve tries to put some chunks of raw liver and intestines into some air-pressurizer contraption that he’s rented, which has the net effect of lobbing the liver benignly across the room as if tossed by a little girl. Meanwhile, our F/X man is running around like a headless chicken trying to organize effects that we won’t possibly have time to shoot. I try to calm him down and concentrate on doing the final alien zombie effect, an extreme latex make-over of Francois’ face that makes him look like he has a face full of animal teeth. I sit patiently beside him and talk soothingly as he does his magic. He really is a genius, under better circumstances, and I have to admit that despite the pressure he is under he has come up with a spectacular looking alien. The only problem is I’ve been informed that the grip truck operator, who has been reasonably patient throughout the shoot, is now saying that he is shutting off all the lights at 11pm, end of story. That gives me two hours to have Francois camera ready, capture four come shots, do some blood and splatter effects, and shoot the creatures interaction with the four dead porn stars, whom he reanimates, including his entrance and exit scenes and his slien come shots. It all comes down to this. If I don’t get enough footage to flesh out the basic concept of the piece, the entire project comes to naught. The whole week of shooting rests on whether or not I can get the next two hours on screen. But no pressure!
The art gallery is a disaster area. There have been set visits all day by various members of the media and other interlopers, and the cast and crew have tracked blood everywhere. People start slip sliding away, and the general atmosphere becomes chaotic and disconnected. The poor porn stars have put up with a lot already, and now I expect them to do their come shots while covered in blood and gore. Two of them actually manage it, which is awesome because it will help to sell the scene. Francois, ever the trooper, is now dealing with this new face prosthetic, which has involved having toxic chemicals sprayed in his face by an unsteady hand while he is practically suffocating. He looks at me with his one remaining uncovered eye, which has a zombie contact lens on it, and gives me a wink. What an amazing man.
So in spite of the tweaky energy of the set, which is once again reminding me of a bad acid trip, I finally get the four studs of the apocalypse on the bloody set, Francois is prepared (although his teeth keep falling out), Laszlo has the three plastic-covered cameras in place, and we’re just waiting on set for the F/X alien cock which squirts black squid ink to be put in place. Somehow it all comes together at the last minute and we get the shots I need of the alien zombie coming all over the dead hunks of bloody beef just before we’re about to be tossed out. The gallery looks like an abattoir, but I can’t worry about that now. Javier Peres, the owner, has been on set all day, and he’s cool with it. We’ve been through a lot together, so nothing I do every really phases him. The crew will have to clean up as best they can. I still have to get the shots of Francois leaving the building and walking down the street. I do the set-up with James and then leave him to it. I can’t stay on the set one second longer. Santino Rice, who has been hanging around half the day keeping up the energy, generously consents to drive me home, and I make a hasty French exit, getting home just after midnight.
Saturday, August 15th, 2009
Wrap party tonight at the Spotlight! It’s the very location of the wrap party for Hustler White some fourteen years ago, so I anticipate it with a moist-eyed nostalgia. What more can I say about the shooting of LA Zombie? (La Zombie is probably more appropriate!) What started out as a modest conceptual idea for an art exhibition is now a minor motion picture set to go into post-production. (I will be editing it in Berlin in the fall, so it should be done by Xmas.) I knew we were trying to do something fairly ambitious for the extremely limited funds that we had, but in some ways I think we actually pulled off the impossible in a way. Sometimes pure force of will is all you can rely on. The project may still turn out to be a fiasco, or it may be true art, but one thing is for sure: it was an intense experience that I’ll never forget, no matter how hard I try. Summer project! At least I wasn’t sitting at home in Toronto twiddling my thumbs.
Los Angeles, 2009