Quint is finally reunited with Spielberg! AICN visits the set of WAR OF THE WORLDS: Part 1!!
Published at: May 13, 2005, 3:02 a.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my experiences on the set of WAR OF THE WORLDS, the new Sci-Fi mega-budget extravaganza by someone who knows a thing or two about aliens... I know what you're thinking... I don't know why they'd let me anywhere near Spielberg either, but thanks to a few well placed beings of light and beauty at Paramount I found myself with an invite to visit Steven Spielberg, Tom Cruise, Dakota Fanning and the crew on location during their last day of principal photography of WAR OF THE WORLDS.
I wrote all this report in one big 5,000 plus words chunk. Realizing that's a whole lot and would test the patience of even the most devoted readers out there, I've decided to break the report up into two halves. It actually split quite nicely. Anticipate the second and final report Monday or Tuesday at the latest! Now on with the show!
This visit was in the "maybe" stage for a good while and I thought I was going to hit it in February before jumping on an air plane to New Zealand where I was set to spend a month watching more giant monkey stuff. It didn't work out before I left and I knew they wrapped before I got back, so I figured the visit was out of the question until I got contacted about possibly cutting my trip to New Zealand short by about 5 days in order to make it back in time for the final day of shooting.
Now here was my conundrum... I was getting to visit Peter Jackson and crew every day while I was in NZ, so by cutting my trip short was taking 4 solid days of visiting KING KONG, hanging with the crew (many of them now friends after the time I spent on ROTK and KONG) and soaking up the warm New Zealand summer sun... However, I had spent an almost solid 2 months pestering the poor people on the KONG set and I've never even seen Spielberg in the flesh before, so the decision to cut my trip short wasn't too difficult to reach. I consider myself blessed that I was in a place where I HAD to make that decision in the first place. These two flicks will, surely, be two of the biggest films of the year, both directors icons in their own right and me, the lucky bastard in the middle who got to see them both work.
As it turned out, I got into LA early only to find that Tom Cruise had the flu, so they delayed shooting until the following week, so there was quite a few lazy days in Hollywood where I did lotsa walking around... To the Chinese Theater to watch CONSTANTINE digitally projected, to Amoeba Records to spend hours upon hours flipping through the used DVDs, to In-N-Out Burger... hmm... that's a good burger...
Then the day came. They were shooting nights on location someplace outside of LA that's called Mystery Messa. I got picked up and taken to set... the drive lasted for an hour and a half, but at least I got to see a big car fire on the highway leading out of the city while my driver told me about the history of I-5 (it was apparently built on a long used wagon path) and how often he pulls 36 hour shifts.
Fifty minutes into the car trip, I saw the first sign for the production, a big yellow sign with black letters: WoW. We were off the main highway shortly after that and driving through a part of California I've never been to. Strangely enough the suburbs we passed looked a whole lot like the ones in POLTERGEIST. The sun was setting as we started twisting and turning through smaller, hilly roads. We came upon another sign for the production, this one an illuminated warning: "Pyrotechnics in use!" Shortly after that we pulled into the mostly vacant crew parking lot just as night overtook dusk.
Talking with one of the people at Paramount (who wished to not be identified in case the pigs and feds are reading this) via cell phone, I was told to wait for her at crew parking, so it was just me and the driver for about 20-25 minutes. While we were talking a sudden, bright flash followed by a loud POP! made us both jump. In the distance (hard to tell just how far away... could have been a mile, could have been 2 miles) a HUGE fireball illuminated the surrounding trees and hillside with a brightness almost equal to daylight. They weren't kidding with those "Warning! Pyrotechnics in Use" signs...
Soon thereafter, the Paramount people arrived, including Karl Williams (publicist dude) and the Unidentified Paramount employee I mentioned earlier. We all piled into one of their cars and drove up the steep hillside to the first security checkpoint. Two security guards approached. The Paramount people convinced the security guards that they've owned me for 3 or 4 seasons now and I was up for sale if the guards wanted me. The guard was convinced that I was not the geek they were looking for, so they moved us along.
Base camp was arranged like a long, narrow alley. Instead of walls, each side of the drive was bordered by cars, trucks, tents, Honey Wagons (portable shit-houses) and trailers. We drove down past all these (including the much talked about "tent" and no, I didn't go in) to park. Half a mile away from our parking spot, on the top of a rolling, green hill (yeah, I didn't know they had those anywhere near LA, either) were tons of cranes holding huge lights.
Shortly after parking, I was introduced to Deb Wuliger, the unit publicist on WAR OF THE WORLDS, and I received a sweet Visitor Badge that kept me from being kicked off set by some huge mountain man-security guard watching from the shadows, I'm sure.
Anyway, Deb told me that the shuttle that'd take us the half-mile to set was going to be busy for about 20 minutes, but if I wanted to walk it we could head up as soon as I was ready. I was all for a walk, especially in this beautiful part of the country, so we hoofed it along a dirt path to set.
It was a beautiful night, the air brisk, but not too cold. The dirt path that led to set was only faintly illuminated by the lights onset... the fact that they were half a mile away and we were still able to walk by their light shows just how much power goes into these suckers... The area was almost as beautiful as the weather that night. It reminded me a lot of the moors from John Landis' AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON... Rounded hills, devoid of human structures. Just green.
We passed a large pond that was alive with the sounds of thousands of frogs croaking. It was a strangely melodic and hypnotic sound, all these frogs croaking in unison. There was a small amount of low-laying fog creeping across the pond. We rounded a corner to see some human dwellings after all. These were constructed by the production on location to match those that were shot in Virginia.
The first to grab my eye was a two story white house with the corner blown out. Brick, splintered wood and various other rubble lay around the the hole in the house... Apparently this house has something to do with Tim Robbins' character, but everyone was so tight-lipped about this project that I didn't get any specifics. The other structure was more of a rickety brown shack that didn't look very sturdy at all. Back behind the rickety shack was an even smaller and dingier shed. Both the white house and the brown rickety ones were covered in THE RED WEED. The below pic has the houses and the hills, but looks to be pre-Red Weed... I'd also say that's Virginia, not the location I visited, but Mystery Messa looked a whole lot like the below:
These houses were right at the foot of a hill. There was a steep path leading up to the top of the hill where the set was. The path was bordered by wooden fences, which were covered in the red weed, as well. Also by the foot of the hill there was a carcass of a cow, covered in the weed. This was pretty grotesque, with its stomach opened and hollowed out, the skin starting to stretch over the ribcage... and the red weed covering it looked like some kind of disgusting dried placenta. Taking a closer look (and feel) to the red weed I could smell the latex... I'm sure most of you know it from your trick or treating days wearing various monster masks...
Huffing and puffing my way up the path to the set I noticed there were a bunch of suitcases littering the ditches to the right and left. I don't know if this was part of the set design or just a dumping area for extras that didn't want to carry their shit around when not in use. I finally got to the top of the hill and got my first glimpse at the production.
First off, the hilltop was full of people... I'd say there was easily 100-150 people on the hill... most were crew, some were extras... There were Army people and refugees. Some of the refugees had burns on their faces... or was it some kind of rot? I couldn't really tell, but they weren't very happy looking no matter what it was.
Also on the hilltop were Army vehicles. I was told a little later by one of the crew (I think it was the props guy) that the tank was an M1 Abrams tank and the guns on the two army hummers were 50 calibre machine guns. There was also a "tow missile" in there. These vehicles were surrounded by no less than 4 cherry pickers and 2 massive cranes that held enormous lights of different colors and brightness levels (we'll get to those in a minute.)
Deb pulled me away from the Paramount people and planted me about 8 feet behind the only camera shooting this scene. I figured Spielberg would be in his tent watching his monitors, but I was wrong. He walked up to the camera, which was low to the ground, sat on an apple box (the handiest tool on any movie set, be it indie or mega-blockbuster... a simple chunk of wood that can be used as a tray, a step, a seat, a table... anything), put his eye to the eyepiece on the camera and spoke.
"Ready to go, Janusz?"
"Janusz" is, of course, Janusz Kaminski, cinematographer to the stars. He's shot every one of Spielberg's films from SCHINDLER'S LIST on. Kaminski got about another minute to talk to his lighting guys before he gave the thumbs up and they rolled the first shot of WAR OF THE WORLDS that I got to see filmed, with Spielberg himself controlling the camera. For those curious, this was scene 105A according to the slate.
This scene had no stars in it, focusing on an Army commander yelling orders into a walkie-like device, communicating with someone piloting a fighter jet, I'm assuming. I didn't catch everything that was said, but I'll report what I did get...
The gist of the scene is the army is trying to protect the refugees from the invaders. I heard some really geek-happy lines like "Do you have a visual on the pods?" and "I need you to hit that lead tripod!" This was followed by the lights flashing, mimicking an explosion, I take it, and the guy on the other side of the walkie saying "No effect! No effect!" There is a call for more jets... something about "Bringing in the Raptors." Raptors meaning jets, not dinosaurs... I think. hehe Then I heard, "I got fireflies decimating my friendlies!" The end of the conversation is the guy on the other end of the walkie getting hit and bailing out of his aircraft.
Spielberg said, "Cut. Good." And they checked the gate, then changed lenses. They went again. The lights flashing alternating red, bright white and green during the scene. The green was specifically cool to see... call me a geek, but seeing tanks and Army men bathed in green light when they're trying to fight off alien invaders really gets my juices flowing.
After stopping the take once because some of the Army personnel were looking too close to the camera, Spielberg got what he wanted and moved on. I'd like to note that all of the Army personnel were active Army members from the area.
Without moving the camera, they changed lenses again and shot a new scene, which had lots and lots of blanks being fired.
This shot had the refugees running towards and past the tanks while the army is trying to hold the mob back. All the time, the tanks and 50 calibre Humvee mounted machine guns are shooting in the opposite direction (the direction the mob is trying to run to, for some reason). Red, white and green lights flash here at specific points, too. Tom Cruise was in there, somewhere, but from where I was standing I couldn't really see him.
Before this shot was set up I was introduced to a fellow by the name of Laurent Bouzereau, who is Spielberg's main man when it comes to LD/DVD packages of his movies since the mid '90s. Of course, the first thing I did was inquire about a 30th Anniversary JAWS SE. Strangely enough, he didn't think that was going to happen, but just recently a new DVD has been announced. The Special Features look to almost exactly mirror the first DVD that came out, but I hear that the original Mono soundtrack will be on this disc. Thank God! I hate the canned splashes and little pops the gunshots make in the updated sound mix. Not to mention the absence of that great sound the last shot makes when Brody blows the hell outta the shark. Um... I mean, the DVD looks cool. I'm not a JAWS nerd or anything...
Bouzereau told me a story that I must confess I'd heard before, but it's a good one. He asked me if I knew the French title for JAWS.
"Yeah, Les Dents de la Mer." Which means THE TEETH OF THE SEA. See... I'm no JAWS nerd...
He told me how the original title for JAWS 2 was Les Dents de la Mer Deux, as picked by Universal... That looks fine on paper, however when spoken aloud that sounds like THE TEETH OF THE SHIT. So, they decided upon Les Dents de la Mer Deuxieme Partie, which translates to THE TEETH OF THE SEA PART TWO. Told ya' it was a good one.
So, the shot of the refugees running was up. I didn't get any earplugs, so I braved the loud blanks... I've heard small, AK-47 blanks shot before and that was loud enough to make me jump... You can only imagine how loud a 50 cal. machine gun is... or a tank firing, for that matter. It was enough to vibrate my very spine. If you knew how well insulated my spine is, you'd know that's saying a lot.
The shot was gotten pretty quickly and I wandered around, trying to get out of the crew members' way as they were turning the camera around to shoot down the hill, towards the flatter land where the two houses were. Deb found me and introduced me to a nice lady named Lee Anne De Vette. I had no earthly idea who she was at the time, but I later found out that she was Tom Cruise's sister and publicist.
We chatted a bit before she said, "He wants to meet you, so if you're ready..." I was thinking, "He? He who?" But my brain immediately answered back; "You know damn well he who..."
And so it was that she took me to meet Steven Spielberg.