‘Desert Time’ Turns Days Into Weeks

Posted: May 17, 2013

Rural Pen

We spent our first four days filming “As You Like It” at Furnace Creek Resort in Death Valley National Park, a lush paradise of green lawns, tropical gardens and a babbling brook in the middle of the desert.
Nonetheless, after two days of shooting, it felt like we’d been at it for two weeks.
There is something about time in the desert. We all felt it — how slowly time moved. We arrived April 3 and had been busy for four days preparing to film, driving long distances with no cellphone or Internet service. Yet, no matter how we tried to hurry, things got done in their own time — desert time.
I said something about this to Graham Greene, the actor. He agreed, and added, “Filming a movie is its own vortex.” You live in a bubble, in this community of people, consumed with the task. Time stands still.
At Furnace Creek, we met the first of our actors. All three would be with us throughout the 15 days of filming. We were scheduled to start slowly, increase the number of actors and pages per day, climax with the wedding scene, then wind down.
The Hollywood makeup girls spent several hours transforming Grant and Joey into Rosalind and Celia. They brought wigs, makeup, hair products and accessories. Wardrobe contributed to the gender change with padded bras, summer dresses and colorful flip-flops.
We filmed at other locations: the Amargosa Opera House at Death Valley Junction (pop. 4); a China Ranch date grove; a hot spring; the open desert, and at Cynthia’s Inn & Hostel, where we were staying.
Cynthia, who has hosted numerous film crews through the years, said we exhibited the same level of professionalism as a Paramount crew. Plus, we were friendly. On the last day of our first week, we’d filmed in the date grove all morning, afternoon and into the evening. The temperature was almost 100 degrees, it was windy and we fought off “bombers” — horseflies — all day.
Then, we packed everything into the grip truck, climbed into the vans and went to the hostel for a night shoot. By that time, the actors needed to be fed, so I called a restaurant 15 miles away in Shoshone and had them prepare takeout meals. It was about 11 p.m.when we were ready to start shooting.
The crew was hot, tired, dirty and hungry. It was, without a doubt, our most difficult day. This was after our first cook left and before our new one arrived. I think we ate pizza for dinner at 1 a.m. It could have been an ugly scene were it not for Aaron.
He was an actor we’d brought with us from Virginia who did impressions of Carlyle, the director, with lines such as, “One more take for safety,” something Carlyle often did that made our day longer than we felt it needed to be. Aaron had us laughing until tears rolled down our cheeks.
On many days, we spent hours and hours filming a scene until I lost all sense of time and place. My attention was focused on the script, and on running lines with, or correcting, the actors.
Then, as we finished, I would look up and see the bare red mountains lit by the setting sun. I remembered where I was, in the Mojave Desert, a place I never expected to visit.
And it was well with my soul.

Luanne Austin lives in Mount Sidney. Contact her at RuralPen@aol.com, www.facebook.com/rural pen or care of the DN-R.

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