Tuesday was day one of rehearsals, and lemme tell ya’: it was pretty awesome, hearing Zack and Miri come to life for the first time. Rogen and Banks are genius together (and apart – which, in the flick, is extremely rare): hilarious and rather sweet and touching when called for. The roles fit them like gloves. Shit, better than gloves: the roles fit them like condoms. Like custom-made condoms, even.
Yesterday was two of rehearsals – a term I use loosely, since it’s more of a read-through than anything else. This time, all the leads but two were present. So while I read every other role but Zack and Miri on Tuesday, four more people joined us yesterday, assuming their characters for the first time. And it sounds great; just fucking tremendous. We could’ve put it on wax – if folks’ idea of wax was seven people sitting around a hotel room reading a script aloud. But if we were doing a radio play? It would’ve been air-worthy. We’d have gotten multiple FCC fines for the content, but performance-wise? Totally air-worthy.
Today, we do camera tests (throw the actors into a bunch of their wardrobe/hair “looks” and shoot ‘em under a few different lighting schemes) then a nearly full cast read-through (nearly-full since a new baby is, understandably, keeping one of the leads from making it out for the rehearsal/read-throughs). Tuesday, we’ll start doing some location(s) rehearsing, blocking some stuff out in advance of our Wednesday start of principal photography. Back in the day, that’d make me nervous as fuck. One day of on-location rehearsal? I’d be nauseous at the thought. Now? It’s a different world.
I used to be a real rehearsal Nazi: insisting on at least three weeks of three to four hour days. Over the last few years, though – either based on time restrictions, more faith in the performers, or simply the experience that comes with doing a job for fifteen years now – I’ve learned to lighten up and do more on-set tweaking than anything else. Took awhile to reach that conclusion, though.
- On “Clerks”, we rehearsed in Quick Stop, every night for three weeks straight. None of us had ever made a movie before, and we didn’t have the cash to blow on multiple takes, so it felt like getting the performances and blocking (such as it was, considering Jeff and Brian were simply parked behind the counter most of the flick) as close to perfection made the most sense. We rehearsed “Clerks” like it was a play, really – so much so that by the last week of rehearsal, we weren’t just running scenes – we were doing the whole flick in sequence, minus the cat. The process just seemed to make sense, and because of it, when it came time to shoot, we rarely had to do more than two takes of any given scene. In fact, most of the time, we’d do one take and move on.
- On “Mallrats”, we did at least two weeks or rehearsal, starting in a hotel room and moving it to the actual mall to rehearse the scenes on their feet at their eventual locations. Since I’d only made one movie prior, I decided to stick with the rehearsal process that worked the first time – especially since, like on “Clerks”, we had a lead who’d never acted before; so scene drills and repetition felt necessary. One of the biggest differences was that we didn’t rehearse at eleven o’clock at night. Unlike our “Clerks” cast, the “Mallrats” cast didn’t have day jobs/weren’t doing the flick as a lark; these people were professional actors, paid to be in a movie. And since we were stranded in Eden Prairie, I guess they figured rehearsing beat sitting around their hotel rooms ’til the start of principal photography. We also had the luxury of time on our side, because (with the exception of Doherty) none of the cast was that famous or in-demand. Shannon, who’d just gotten the boot from “90210″, had the time to devote to rehearsals, too. She seemed to like it, even. Everyone did, really. We bonded, laughed, and kinda taught each other our jobs. And out of all that rehearsal time, the Jason Lee style was born.
- On “Chasing Amy”, we rehearsed for at least two weeks, probably closer to three. I’d been dating Joey at the time, so she had constant access to the script. Ben and Lee moved out to Red Bank a month before we started shooting, and we devoted lots of time to rehearsing – mostly in the old Red Bank office on Broad Street. Again, we were in a situation of having little cash with which to make the flick; so getting the performances as close to camera-ready was gonna save us from burning film (and stock and processing costs) and help us make our days. I remember getting uppity with the three leads one day, because we were three weeks out, and they were still on book. “How can we really rehearse if none of you have your fucking lines memorized?!” I’d said, pissed, calling an early close to that rehearsal day. When Ben left the office, he went over to the Dublin House bar on Monmouth for five hours and learned his lines. Joey went back to my condo and did the same. Within two days, Lee was, also, off book. That just seems funny to me now: me being mad at those guys for not having the entire script memorized three fucking weeks away from shooting. On “Catch & Release”, I memorized most of my dialogue on the day, repeatedly going over my sides in my trailer after blocking rehearsal. On the fucking day – like most actors. And here I was, bitching these cats out about not committing all their lines to memory three fucking weeks away from shooting. Oh, how naive I was…
- “Dogma” was the first flick in which I learned that, the more famous your cast, the less likely you’re gonna get the luxury of two/three weeks rehearsals. I think we got about a week and a half or serious rehearsal time. Ben & Matt were blowing up off of “Good Will Hunting”, Salma Hayek had just landed a Revlon contract, Chris Rock was still shooting “Lethal Weapon 4″ in L.A. (I actually had to go out to Los Angeles to rehearse with Rock before he could join us in Pittsburgh). Unlike my previous three flicks, people had lives outside of the movie. And since all of the actors were getting paid the same amount of money to do the flick, in a “favored-nations” deal, the last thing I could do was get shitty and decree “I need three weeks rehearsal with all of you or you’re out of the fucking picture!” Still, you’ve got people like Alan Rickman in the cast; how much rehearsal does an actor of Rickman’s caliber need, really? Ben I’d worked with before, so he knew what I wanted. Mewes had memorized the whole script (his lines as well as everyone else’s) so all I had to do with him was modulate and tweak. Matty Damon was… Matty fucking Damon, i.e. – he’s genius at every role. At the end of the day, that week and a half was all we needed.
- On “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”, I never rehearsed with anybody but Mewes, really (and maybe one or two days with Shannon Elizabeth). Since the flick was so cameo-driven, it would’ve been impossible to get any kind of full-cast rehearsal going (make people show up and stay all day just to rehearse six or eight lines? ludicrous). So the rehearsals on that flick mainly consisted of me teaching a heroin/oxy-kicking Mewes how to be Jay again – and even that wasn’t tough, considering he’d played the role four times already.
- For “Jersey Girl”, I got a week of rehearsals. We had Lopez for two days, though, since he manager wouldn’t let her rehearse until Miramax closed her deal – even though she was with us in Philly, sharing an apartment with our leading man. Said leading mad had sold me on doing this flick with him a year and change earlier, at a party in a house that’d one day be mine, when he said “I wanna do something like ‘Chasing Amy’ again – where it’s character-driven, and we rehearse for like a month before we shoot. I miss that.” What I didn’t know was he was just feeling a bit of the ol’ libations-fueled sentimentality in that moment, and that when it came time to actually rehearse, the chances of Affleck finding a month with decks cleared enough to concentrate solely on rehearsing were nil and none. Ultimately, it didn’t matter: this was my fifth film with Ben and he knew what I wanted, performance-wise. Carlin came loaded for bear; all we did in rehearsals was find his inflection and accent. Tyler is just always great. And Raquel? She mostly came together in editing (I mean, she was eight when we shot the flick). That week was all we needed, really. As it would turn out, we could’ve done six months of rehearsals, and still gotten fucked by the critics and at the box office. Sadly, that movie was doomed from the start.
- “Clerks II” was a different story. We rehearsed for around two weeks on the flick, both at my house and at the Mooby’s. Most of that rehearsal time was spent with Brian and Jeff, since they carry the lion’s share of the flick. Jeff had memorized all his lines prior to our first rehearsal, so he was already pretty much off book. After one day of rehearsals with Rosario, it was clear she didn’t need any work whatsoever, so natural was her delivery. Jen and Trevor I spent the second most amount of time with, trying to find the characters. Trevor’s Elias we arrived at almost by accident. He was written as borderline-retarded, but Trevor was just too good looking to play that. So instead, we went with extremely sheltered. When Trevor ad-libbed a “’cause” at the end of one of his lines, and I said “That’s it! That’s the guy! Do the whole performance like that!” What really helped our rehearsals on that flick was being able to do them on location. Since most of the picture took place in and around the Mooby’s, the moment it was construction-sound enough to get inside of, we all started meeting down there to rehearse – because then, we could also block it (the physical activity/actor placement of a scene). But it’s rare when you have a flick that’s set in one location, so you’re not afforded that kinda of time with the space you’ll shoot in/on very often.
Which brings us back to “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” I’ve got a guy whose inflections I wrote for/to reading the scenes and sounding like he’s not acting at all, as much as being the character. I’ve got a chick who could read the Bible aloud and make it seem charming. They’re naturals. They’re excellent. There’s no need to sweat inflection or do drills; they innately get what they’re reading and say it like I heard it in my head when I wrote it. And while they’re not off-book yet, I’ve learned a thing or two about actors and their lines-memorization abilities since that “Chasing Amy” rehearsal back in ’96; I’m not sweating that kinda thing anymore.
It’s weird to work one way for so long, and slowly realize it’s not necessary anymore; that it was just something you did when you didn’t know any better. I hired pros; aside from on-set tweaking and an extra take or two, they don’t need to be broken like wild horses or worked like puppets. Those days are behind me now. Now I spend more time thinking about/working on what the flick’s gonna look like – which, I guess, should be the primary job of the director.
Ratface has done a great job with the sets, as usual. Sal, too, knocked the costumes out of the park. Purcell (the man behind Mooby) has created another stellar corporate logo for our fake world (as well as a few not-so-corporate logos, and a brilliantly simple chair-back design). Scott and Laura have found a way to get Dave and I everything we asked for. Milos has tamed the production beast into a sensible, manageable schedule. Everyone’s ready to pull the trigger (or the pud, considering the subject matter). And I am, too.
We start shooting our eighth film on Wednesday.