A Report from the Set of ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’
by Laremy Legel
One of the great misconceptions the general public holds is that movie-making itself is glamorous and exciting work. While parts are exciting (the money) and moments are glamorous (the red carpets) the process itself is mostly comprised of repeating the same thing over and over into a camera until you get exactly what the director is looking for. The average scene is shot more than a dozen times, with different inflection and then the director and editor head off for months to see what they’ve got. I would say it’s impossible, simply watching a scene filmed, to determine whether or not the movie will be any good. What music will the director use? Will the transitions work? Did they actually hit the vibe they were shooting for? So much more goes into a movie besides filming, so any judgment based upon witnessing the filming is kind of like judging a book by its cover… from 1000 yards.
Bearing that in mind, you should know that we only saw one scene being filmed while we were on the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still. I wrote most of it down, so I think I can piece it together pretty well. It was 111 seconds of action that they spent an hour on (because once you yell “cut” you have to set everything up again). Here’s my recollection.
The scene had Keanu (Klaatu), Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, and a doctor in it. The scene took place in what looked to be a makeshift hospital, but it had a more military vibe than anything. Keanu, Jennifer, Jon and the doctor were in one small room, with Keanu laying on a bed as patient, covered in tubes. In a larger room that connected to the smaller room two lab employees performed tests. It was scene 44A (if you’ve got your script handy). Keanu’s face was covered with an air respirator which obscured his words somewhat.
In the background two lab employees work on something.
HELEN (Jennifer Connelly): (in awe) He’s dreaming. Any responses?
DOCTOR: He’s lit up the FMRI like Times Square.
ACTION: KLAATU BEGINS TO FLAIL WILDLY ON TABLE.
MICHAEL GRANIER (Jon Hamm): Code White, subject is conscious! Does it recognize you? Say something to it!
HELEN (Jennifer Connelly): (To Klaatu) We’re trying to help you! You have nothing to fear from us.
KLAATU (Keanu Reeves: (Repeating Line) Nothing… to… fear.
Then Scott Derrickson would yell “cut!” and they’d start all over again. There were quite a few dramatic pauses in the scene and at one point afterward Jennifer Connelly approached Scott with a concern, something about how this scene matched up with another. She said, “I looked at the script and there’s no other scene besides me walking down a corridor?” It was evidently a question about where her character was before the scene and Scott went elsewhere on the set with her to discuss it.
That was pretty much it. They allowed us to watch the scene from monitors with headsets, but we weren’t in the room or anything. It all took place about ten yards from us. They did the scene quite a few times and the doctor would try out different lines for his “Times Square” line, I think he used “Off the Charts!” once too.
After our “scene” we headed to lunch. It was delicious, I had lamb, corn fritters and a vanilla ice cream sundae with walnuts. My beverage choice was Coke fresh from the can. We had about 45 minutes for lunch, I think I read a book for most of that. Hmmm, now that I recollect this experience perhaps making movies really is glamorous. After all, you can’t beat a good corn fritter.