Actress Anna Maganini Details a Day of Shooting Her Film, ‘Dead Weight’

"It’s a big day. Lots to shoot. Two different geographical locations. A hike is involved. Yes, it will be ambitious," writes Maganini

Movie Shoot – Day 10

It’s a big day. Lots to shoot. Two different geographical locations. A hike is involved. Straight up the mountain. Yes, it will be ambitious.

Actor-Man and I are filming the top of the mountain scenes, when I finally reach the peak. It’s 45 minutes of reasonable hiking. No sweat. The crew isn’t too thrilled, especially after the hot springs hike a few days back. I keep saying, “this one isn’t so bad. Just a little longer, right up ahead”. But “right up ahead” keeps not coming up.

I pick the wrong conversation topic and realize it too late. “Did you know there’s feral wild dogs that run through these hills? And feral cows. And bulls. I’ve heard they charge people.” Yeah, not what the crew needed to hear. It doesn’t help that we see fat, splashy dung patties everywhere. Shit threats. A kind of “this is my territory and you’re trespassing at your own risk” message. Every time I see one of the menacing piles, my heartbeat kicks up a notch and I sneak a look around.

Oh, here’s a nice area near the top. No sign of feral bulls. Except for the ever present dung heaps. It’ll do. Not quite the place I wanted. But judging from the looks of the crew, this had better be it. So – it is. We plop down for a break before setting up.

Ok. Time to gather my energy, my commitment, my acting mojo. Quit worrying about feral bull dung patties and the nagging, cajoling, and encouragement that goes into getting reluctant people up a mountain.

I do my deep breathing while they eat or smoke or drink or whatever it is they do. Right now my eyes feel jumpy, my spirit feels jumpy, my body feels jumpy. I need to calm down and reenergize myself. Forget the bulls.

I go off by myself and scream – but to myself. Silently. So as not to attract bulls. Or the crew’s stares.  Finally, I’m ready, sort of.

…Actor-Man and I are really romping through the scene. The crew is in the Zone. And Lou the photographer is snapping away. We’ll have lots of photos. Then suddenly….

“Bulls!” somebody hollers.

I cringe for a moment, expecting to be charged and bowled over by a multi-ton bull. But no, we can breathe again. The bulls are having some kind of Mexican standoff. We watch fascinated, as three male bulls square off, mooing and bellowing at each other. Each fiercely holds down a corner of his triangle. After a half hour of this, it sure looks like none of them will back off. Boy, are these feral bulls stubborn.

After a while, their bellows grow hoarse. Then they quit bellowing altogether and just stand there. And we can thankfully get back to work. Actor-Man and I do the bang bang segment (no guns involved), the dropping the bag down the mountain thing, the heartfelt talk thing, the clothes blowing back up in the air thing.

The clothes blowing in the air thing brings up the naysayer voices.

-That thing with the clothes will just look silly. No one is going to believe that an updraft blew all the clothes up.

-Let’s just try it, shall we?
-How can it possibly look real?
-We’ll have the crew members throw clothes up in the air that fall on me.
-That’s silly.
-Just try it!

The crew members are all laughing as they pelt me with clothes.

-No! Throw them UP in the air. Not AT me! UP! So they drift down. Yes, like that.

It works – sort of.

-I think it’ll look good in editing.
-I think it’s not gonna look real. It’ll look silly no matter how you edit it.
-We’ll see. I think it will.
-OK, if you say so…

Several hours later, I’m happy. That came off better than even I had thought. We’re packing up when we look at the bulls. They have not budged in hours. We leave them there, frozen statues in spotted cow colors. I guess their motto is, if I can’t win, I won’t let you win, even if it makes me lose and I die here shitting cow dung patties. A good lesson on the dangers of stubbornness taken too far.

As we head down, Tony the Italian paisano caterer has arrived with a late lunch way down the mountain. We can’t see him, but we sure can hear him. He leans on his car horn. “Come and get it!” His shrill voice and that car horn sure carry.

After lunch, a bit of travel and on to our second location of the day. We’re setting up for a nighttime shoot back at the gangbanger gunslinger location. The one where we got shot at yesterday. We hope the lateness of the day means the gunslingers are gone.

Afternoon fades into night. The crew have set up in a beautiful narrow little canyon, devoid of gunslingers. The hues from the camera lights and the campfire they’ve started creates a beautiful interplay of soft blue and orange hues.

Tony is now back with dinner. The car horn, the screaming, and this time, a bell of some sort, tell us he’s here. I head down to join Lou and Actor-Man, who have already gone down. Tony awaits with a shrimp scampi. And there’s something else. It appears we have a visitor that Actor-Man has made friends with – Robert, a guy decked out like he’s going on safari.

His big Desert Storm Humvee is loaded to the nines with every kind of computerized gadget, tracking device, telescope, radar, scanner, viral map, night vision camera, satellite radio, and eletronic gizmo ever invented. The tires look like they belong on a tanker truck. I’m sure there’s a few guns in there too, maybe the same ones we encountered yesterday. A SWAT command mobile unit wouldn’t be as loaded.

“Wow!” I say as he invites me to look inside.

-Hey, Actor-Man here tells me you guys are shooting a movie, huh?
-Yeah. And you are…?
-Robert, nice to meet you. We’ve been watching you.
-We? Who’s we?
-All us neighbors. Through our telescopes. We live in that sub-division way down the mountain.
-You have telescopes at home too?
-Sure, we all have telescopes. At home, in our cars, on our guns, you name it.
-Yeah, we were wondering what you were filming. We watched you all day yesterday.
-All day? You can see that far?
-Sure, I can tell you what you had for lunch.
-Hopefully not what I shit for lunch.

He laughs. I’m not really kidding.

-So you guys ran from the target shooters yesterday, huh? I don’t blame you.

He’s a jovial guy, quite friendly, charismatic even. Dare I say, even quite attractive, in a desert rat, safari-man kind of way. I don’t think he bears any ill will, but it sure is unnerving to know a whole town has been spying on you at super magnitude.

-Well, nice meeting you. I’ve got to get back to my crew. They’re waiting for me to bring dinner.

-Oh, I can help carry it. Actor-Man has invited me to the set, to see what’s going on.

-What??? Actor-Man? But… he’s not the boss. And we have a permit.

-I just wanted to see. If it’s a problem, I’ll leave.

-No, it’s not a problem. That’s Actor-Man who pipes up.

My blood starts to boil. I feel very protective of my crew and my film and what we’re doing.

-Well, I will have to see if it’s all right with everyone. I’ll come back and let you know.

I head back up the canyon with dinners for the crew. I think, maybe it’s OK. The guy is pretty nice. He’s just curious. I tell the crew. And all of them hit the roof (if there was s roof).

-What does Actor-Man think he’s doing? Why is he making decisions that affect all of us? This guy’s a stranger, we’ve got thousands and thousands of dollars in gear, and yesterday we almost got shot by some of these gangbangers!

-I know, I know.

I don’t want to say that Robert is so nice, he’s kind of co-opted me as a friend, and that he’s got more gear in his Humvee than all of our gear put together, so he really doesn’t need our gear, and he certainly doesn’t look like a gangbanger. I am torn between the two sides. Just then Actor-Man brings Robert up, even though I had told them to wait. That sends my blood shooting through my head.

-I can’t handle this.

-I’ll handle it.

That’s Mr. Alpha Military Crew Guy.

I am quite willing to let him carry this one. He quietly takes Actor-Man and Robert a ways off and speaks in dulcet but manly tones. When he returns, both the other two are headed down the hill.

-He was a nice guy, I say. Though full of guns and telescopes…

-Nice or not, we have to be careful who we bring on set.

On the bright side, the shrimp scampi is to die for. Some of the crew make fun of Tony the caterer and his walk and his weird greasy ways, but I think he’s come through really good for us. Sure, his food sometimes tastes of discount store food. But all in all, pretty good. This shrimp scampi is good enough for three servings on my part. Never mind where he got shrimp in this desert; 24-hour desert Walmart, I suppose. Best to just enjoy it.

Soon even the angry crew is laughing when I tell them about Robert’s safari HumVee truck, and how the neighbors are eying us through their telescopes right now as we eat our shrimp scampi.

-Do these people have nothing better to do?

-That’s what they do here – look through telescopes and shoot guns. And run dune buggies and HumVees through the sand at night. It’s the way of the desert.

Actor-Man returns sans Robert. A new crisis hits when we realize the scene I have written just does not work. It – just – does – not – work. And it’s obvious to everyone. How did I write such a badly motivated scene? After a lot of rigamarole and squirming and arguing and hemming and hawing and re-dos, we manage to save it. We change everything, pretty much improvising our way through it. Somehow it comes out. I think.

But I sure was sweating there for a while. Wondering if I should give up filmmaking and screenwriting. And finally, the longest day of our entire film shoot is wrapped. Witnessed, I’m sure, by dozens of roving telescopes…

Dead Weight’, a desert survival tale, will screen at the Golden State Film Festival at the Chinese Theater, 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028 – on Tues., Feb. 25 at 9:30pm. Tickets – (look under ‘D’ for Dead Weight) – Please do come out and support local filmmakers! The filmmaker you support may be the filmmaker who hires you one day!

Anna Maganini is an actress/writer/filmmaker with credits on TV shows like Black Monday, SMILF, Dexter, The Mentalist, and more. The film ‘Dead Weight’ is her directorial debut. It has screened at several film festivals, including Las Vegas International and WRPN Women’s International Film Festival (both nominated her for Best Actress).

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