Okay. So I skipped a week. Would you like to know what I’ve been doing all this time? If only I could remember…
But I digress. And whatnot. When was Columbine? April 20, 1999. Why do I care? Simple. Because that dates when the pre-production phase of “Two Family House” had begun. We’d been in prep for approximately two weeks when the Columbine massacre was suddenly being reported on the news. So that means we started our prep in the first week of April–or close–leading us to mid-May start of priniciple, in turn leading us to wrap before the fourth of July weekend (for some reason movies are always backing themselves into schedules by choosing outside dates that they arbitrarily need to beat…on “City Island” we had to wrap by Labor Day–a fact which drove more business and artistic decisions then a normal person might find healthy…)
Anyway, Columbine was dead-center (pardon) in our prep process and provoked one of my friend/editor David Leonard’s, most bleakly memorable ripostes. Upon hearing that the kid/shooters were social outcasts disliked by their peers, he said “Whatever happened to pushing the other kids books off his desk?”
I’m guessing we were shooting by early to mid May. We worked in a triangle of New Jersey and Staten Island–though the film is set on the latter, the exterior of the house was all that was shot there (for the house–we used a few other locations, namely a wonderful bar the name of which escapes me but where they served brilliant Kilbassa). The wonderful crap house we found for Buddy to buy for his wife and dream of turning into a business was perfectly lousy on the outside…but was far too dilapidated to even consider bringing in a big crew to shoot for a few weeks. Instead we found–just across the water in Jersey City– an enormous old Victorian house in junky but stable condition. Which was good–we wanted the freedom to do what we needed to the interior of the place and its unrestored, uncared for interiors didn’t exactly scare the art department away from making a few “alterations”. The family that lived there promised to leave when we were ready to shoot but we’d heard from other people they’d rented the house too that they tended to hang around and begin to make problems. The answer, then, was simple. BRIBE them. We did. Four round trip bus tickets to a warmer climate were dutifully procured for them while we hunkered down for a few weeks in their house.
My fine producer Adam Brightman and my fine cinematographer Michael Mayers were truly my co-directors in this venture. It’s hard to explain to the outside world how little a director can accomplish if both of these key roles are miscast–believe me I’ve been in that position (poor producing and camera) and the result is arguably (arguably?) my worst film, though I worked just as hard on it as I have on everything I’ve done. Adam and I pieced together the logistics of the movie and, given its limited budget, had to come to terms with what we were willing to splurge on (creating fake snow, for instance, for the ending when Buddy leaves the local bar and takes a lonely walk home, having been snubbed by his friends)…and what we could just get by with (I’m not saying…)
Mike Mayers–who has since disappeared into the high-paying world of series television–was/is a DP who had a rare and dissonant combination of talents: he never held you up or made you wait…and at the same he was never satisfied with just “getting it”–he was always tweaking a shot, re-framing, adding or finding a little something extra. I think his work on “Two Family House” is world class–the camera never stops moving and yet is never ostentatiously distracting…the film has a dance to it that is all Mike’s doing. The last I heard he was in LA shooting “The West Wing”. Oh Mike. Why hast thou forsaken us?
More on the shoot and the aftermath in a minute. Meanwhile, can you get more meatball than the following clip from a late-sixties Dino TV show featuring the very Italianate Tony Bennett?