EXCERPTS FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DIARY
SUNDAY, OCT. 15
I knew something bad would happen at some point, but I never thought it would be this bad. Two days ago (Friday the 13th) I put my hand through a window and severed four tendons.
The second I looked at it, I thought "There goes my film. It's all over." My crew just stood there and stared, horrified. One PA came up for a closer look and cringed. It was pretty gruesome - the cuts went down to the bones and you could see the muscle and tendons, neatly sliced by the glass.
How did this happen? A professional stuntman, Bill, came out to double for Joe Ragno in a scene where Joe gets tackled to the ground. I had him for day at the low, low price of $100, so I figured I'd get my money's worth and pack in whatever stunts we had to do.
We did the scene with Joe first and it went fine (Bill brought mats from NJ). Then we moved on to the scene where my character breaks into the house by smashing a small windowpane. Evidently, we had ordered breakaway glass, but there was some foul up and it never arrived. I should have waited, but the people who owned the house were due back in New York any day and I was worried they might show up unexpectedly and freak out at all the people hanging around and the mess we'd made. Also, we'd found an entire extra window in the garage (lucky us) and had rigged it up. It seemed simple and I just wanted to get it over with.
I decided Jimmy would just bash the pane with his elbow (I definitely grew up watching too much TV). Bill gave me this plastic elbow pad, which I wore under my shirt. Roll sound, roll camera, action.... after the fifth or sixth whack I said "cut" and grabbed my elbow in pain. This was a strong window. I decided then it wasn't a smart move risking any body parts and so we all hunted for something good to smash the window with.
The first thing that caught my eye was a shovel with a nice steel handle, but then someone found a stone rabbit in the vegetable garden that was better than anything I could've dreamed up. The plan was to ram the rabbit, ears first (it had long ears that went straight up), into the pane. As we got ready, Bill, to his credit, told me to pull back just after contact to avoid flying glass and to hold the rabbit further back - my left hand was on the rabbit's head, maybe six inches below the ears. I adjusted my grip, but only slightly, and then we rolled.
I gave the window a solid whack. Nothing. Not even a crack. What the hell kind of glass was this anyway? I should've known then to stop messing with this window, but instead I thought, "That'll be even more realistic - Jimmy has to whack it a couple times." So, I wound up again (we were still rolling) and gave it a little more umph. The pane caved in and the rabbit, which was pretty heavy, slid through like it was greased and my hand slid in right along with it.
On the way to the hospital (a solid twenty-minute drive), I pulled the towel off a few times to see how bad it was. It looked worse every time. Dan [assistant director] was trying to distract me by telling me about see-through stitching thread and skin-colored band-aids. We could mask the whole thing. I must've been in shock because I almost went for it. Then I began racking my brain for actors I could call to replace me.
We got to the hospital and the nurse at the emergency desk had this super casual, "I've-seen-it-all" attitude. She made me fill out a form and then told me to sit and wait. Eventually, another nurse came out and escorted me into a large room where I was given a bag of ice and a bed.
There was a little girl with a piece of popcorn stuck in her ear and, directly across from me, an elderly woman who had fainted. She was swaying back and forth in her bed, saying, "Where's my purse? Where's my purse? Oh, God." She was gradually building herself into an hysteria. "Somebody help me find my purse! Oh please! Won't anybody help me?! Somebody's taken my purse!!"
I started thinking of "One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest" when Cheswick starts losing it because he wants his cigarettes, which Nurse Ratchet had locked away. "I want my cigarettes...Not his cigarettes, or his or his or his or yours. I want my cigarettes! Mine!! I ain't no little kid! I want something done!!"
What did Jack do? Went straight over and punched his fist through the window and grabbed a pack of cigarettes. No problem. It was Jack.
Anyway, I started worrying that my crew might be packing up and abandoning ship. After all, my last words were something like "There goes my film. It's all over." Then this old guy with a volunteer sticker on his shirt walks through asking if everyone's comfortable. Bad joke, right? I waved him over and said I needed to make an urgent call, was there a phone I could use? Five minutes later, he comes back with a cordless. The only problem was, I was out of range.
So, he pushes my bed out into the middle of the room. I get a dial tone and punch in the number. Busy. I try a few more times until I finally get a ring. Just then, the head nurse walks up. "What do you think you're doing?" She starts wheeling my bed back. "No, please, you don't understand. It'll just take a second..."
She grabs the phone out of my hand, gives it to the old volunteer and tells him to return it to the main station. "It's for hospital staff use only." Ten minutes later, she's back and wants to know where her phone is. Huh? Next thing I know she and another nurse are patting me down because they don't believe me!
ThenÉ "Where's my purse! Oh, dear God, won't anybody help me?!" At this point, if the old woman seizes up and croaks, I have to confess, I'm relieved. For me, for her, for everyone.
The surgeon finally shows up. He takes one look at the hand and shakes his head, "Boy, you really did it." Encouraging.
He gives me two choices. Put my hand on ice, literally, wait a day and get booked into the operating room for major surgery (general anesthesia, the works) or go into the next room right now, slap a tourniquet around my shoulder, get local anesthesia and get it over with. Door number two, please. (I have total faith in modern medicine. I mean, if they can reattach a guy's pecker so that it works again, reconnecting a few tendons must be a piece of cake.)
Five minutes or so into the operation my arm is starting to tingle and my shoulder is tightening up. Can't feel the hand at all. I shift a little and the doctor, who's wearing magnifying glasses, tells me to stay completely still. "You move your good hand and it looks like an earth quake in here. Everything's connected." Meanwhile, he's counting off the severed tendons. "There's number two." Dig, dig. "Number three." Poke, poke. "Whoa, there's another one. Boy, you really did it."
By now, I'm completely depressed and I can't feel my arm, which worries me a little. "You can have a tourniquet on for two and a half hours before you risk permanent injury." OkayÉ
Dig, dig, poke, poke. "Want to see a live tendon? Might be the only time in your life you'll get to see one." Sure, why not. I turn my head and he's got the skin all peeled back and there it is. Looked just like a thin strand of white spaghetti.
Then my shoulder started to hurt.
"Oop, you've got some nerve damage." Dig, dig. "Want to see a live nerve? Might be your only chance."
I got back to the location a few hours later, wearing a humongous, temporary cast and everyone is still there. Not only that, they shot three short MOS scenes! When I started asking if anyone knew of any actors I could call to fill in for me, they just stared back. Finally, one person - I think it was Joe Ragno - said, "Fuck getting another actor. You should stick with the part." Then several others chimed in, all saying the same thing. I nearly cried.
It would be impossible to shoot around the hand. We'd only completed Day 3 in a scheduled 24-day shoot. So, we started thinking of a way to explain the hand and several hours, beers and painkillers later, Patrick Fitzgerald and I came up with a new opening sequence.
Yesterday went great, considering. The crew was working extra hard and we rushed the camera rolls that were shot Wednesday and Thursday into the lab to see if there was any usable footage on my character (Jimmy would now have to have a bandaged hand for the entire movie so any takes where my left hand showed would have to be tossed). With a small bribe (bottle of Stoli), we got the film transferred to tape and delivered in a day. Miraculously, my left hand was either blocked by something or below the frame in most of the shots! Freaky.
Tomorrow I return to the hospital to have a lightweight splint put on. Things are looking up and, in a way, I suppose it could've been worse. After all, I'm writing this, aren't I? (I'm right-handed)
SUNDAY, NOV. 5
It was bitter cold today and there was a stiff wind. Old man winter is definitely starting to roll out of bed. Today we went to the Pulaski Bridge and weather was all-important.
We had to shoot on a Sunday when the traffic would be fairly mellow and this was it. While cold, it was clear out and the skyline looked great (a producer once told me that having the New York City skyline in your film is a major plus when it comes time to selling foreign rights).
One problem I hadn't figured out yet was how to throw the briefcase from the bridge without getting kicked off. The Pulaski is a draw-bridge which means there's a bridge tender who'd be looking down at us the whole time. I figured I could shoot the entire scene and then just huck the briefcase at the very end and, if he came out to kick us offÉ oh, well. But, what if something went wrong? What if Nils missed the briefcase, like a skeet shooter missing a clay pigeon? Plus, I'd brought three briefcases and really wanted to throw all three off - I wanted at least two different angles.
I toyed with the idea of tying fishing line to the briefcase, but the more I thought about it, the less I wanted to do it. People might see the line, and how lame would that be?
I finally decided to just ask the guy if was okay. I mean, we're not talking "On Golden Pond" here. This is the shit brown Hudson.
The bridge tender was very cool. He just shrugged. "There's a helluva lot worse stuff down in that water than a briefcase. Besides, do I look like I work for the EPA?" Definitely not. Bombs away!
The shoot went off without any major hitches. However, there was one tense moment just after we arrived. There were a couple loud, vicious dogs in a junkyard below the bridge. A few of the crew hung over the rail and started yapping at the dogs. Then this guy emerges from the shadows. What a sight. Huge dude with a shaggy beard and layers of old grungy clothes with a rope tied around his waist. The kind of scary homeless character you see in a bad Hollywood movie - usually hanging around a garbage can with flames leaping out (ala "Bonfire Of The Vanities").
Anyway, Grizzly Adams was none too amused by the taunting of his dogs. He mutters up at us and then leaves his kingdom of filth and starts heading up the stairs. Uh-oh. "Stay calm. Don't provoke... "
I got my biggest guys on the crew to stand in front - show of force. But, turns out all Grizzly wanted to do was register his unhappiness with the bridge tender. He thought he had the law on his side and we had no right being there. Too bad, Griz. This was one location we did have a permit for.
BACK TO SCREENMANCER