Friday, February 1, 2008

Zero Effect: Behind The Scenes

Above: Jake Kasdan directs Ben Stiller in Zero Effect.

As part of the Chronological Snobbery coverage of the tenth anniversary of the film Zero Effect (released ten years ago this week), today's post, the final in the series, offers some behind the scenes perspective and features interviews with cast and crew members from the 1998 film.

Shot in Portland, Oregon from late April to early June of 1997, the film was helmed by Kasdan, then a twenty three year old first time director with a famous surname. Casting of some of the minor roles was done out of Portland; Chronological Snobbery tracked down a number of the supporting cast and interviewed them about their experiences working on the film. Rather than intersperse their memories with additional commentary and remarks, I've included their memories in the foregoing block quotes so that they can tell their stories themselves.

Above: Jake Kasdan and director of photography Bill Pope.

Galen B. Schrick, though uncredited in an unspeaking role, grabbed the audience's attention as the first suspicious character to catch Daryl Zero's gaze in the aftermath of a fire alarm pulled to divert attention from the pick-up of a blackmail pay-off. Of his part, Schrick recalls:
Once I was cast, my agent told me that it was a non-speaking role . . . . There was no preparation involved. I just had to show up and deal with whatever was asked of me. "Man with Bag" was only a red-herring suspicious character to divert Zero's attention from the real blackmailer.

I believe I only had two days work on that project, and only two locations. I only appeared in one scene in the final film that included several interior set-ups (in the NW Children's Theater lobby, and the bathroom interior was shot at the Convention Center near Jantzen Beach), and the one exterior shot at NW Children's Theater with all the police and ambulance vehicles and crowds of extras. Essentially I just had to hit my marks to be moving through the right place at the right time for the camera. My whole experience of that film was a very technical thing. That was the one film project where everything I shot was seen in the film. Jake was very efficient that way with his work; not too many takes, and a fairly controlled shooting environment even with all the extras. I remember being impressed with how well young Mr. Kasdan handled the whole cast and crew management issue.

. . . I really only worked around Ryan O'Neal, but Bill Pullman was on the set when I was working. (Ben Stiller did not spend all that much time on the film when I was called - a lot of his stuff was shot in LA.) I do remember that Mr. Pullman was fairly genial and open to the local people working on the film. He was very business-like and professional when working, but certainly did not "cop an attitude" around me.

Spending a little time with Mr. O'Neal was the big surprise for me. Like many people of my era, his Love Story breakout role was still reasonably fresh in most minds, but I was very favorably impressed with his work with Stanley Kubrick on Barry Lyndon - a complete change from what we had previously seen. My time with him in Zero Effect had more to do with the mechanics of filmmaking than anything else. He and I had to enter and leave the bathroom where the blackmail payment was left. Well, "the bathroom" was really a fairly small closet in the lobby of the NW Children's Theater space, so he and I had some face time crammed in a closet waiting on the PA's call over the radio to exit on cue. That time allowed us time for him to talk with me about working with Stanley Kubrick, Ali McGraw, and I believe that Farrah Fawcett may have been mentioned as well.

The next day when we shot the bathroom interior at the Jantzen Beach Convention Center was memorable for Mr. O'Neal's antics on the empty, concrete-floored open space of the center. While the crew was setting up and lighting the large, many stalled bathroom - Ryan O'Neal was running all out, playing catch with a Frisbee. I remember several of the production folks being more than a little concerned that he might fall and damage himself on that dangerous surface, but he would hear nothing about it from them. I remember Bill Pullman making a few catches as well before begging off when some of the producers appeared very concerned about their shooting schedule and the potential for injury. I just remember how surprising and fun it was to see "name" stars acting like kids.
Above: Jake Kasdan directs Bill Pullman in Zero Effect.

Margot Demeter played Clarissa Devereau, the former love interest of Gregory Stark (Ryan O'Neal), who whose subsequent murder by him becomes the basis of his being blackmailed.

Demeter recalls:

Zero Effect was my first audition for a major feature film and I was thrilled to be cast as Clarissa in what I feel is some what of a cult classic film. Working with Jake Kasdan was such a great experience. He had such a clear vision of exactly how each scene was shot. For my first film, I believe that having the opportunity to work on a film with such amazing talent as Bill Pullman and Ben Stiller shaped my views on film as an art form.

Wendy Westerwelle played the clerk of the motel at which Zero stays while investigating the blackmail. In so doing, she shot a single scene with Ben Stiller, whose character Arlo appears:

We filmed at a Motel in Hillsboro Oregon which is a farming community that has many migrant workers living there and some great Mexican restaurants. The scene was very straight forward. I was behind the desk at a sleazy Motel and played the clerk and Ben's character was looking for [Zero].

...

I auditioned for Jake in Portland Ore. and he was a totally sweet boy. I liked him immediately. I could tell he wanted me because he was so warm and kind. I met Ryan in makeup and he was very friendly.

Above: Jake Kasdan directs Kim Dickens and Ryan O'Neal in Zero Effect.

Veronica Rinard served as the assistant director of the Oregon Film and Video Office in 1997 at the time of the film's principal photography. A decade later, she recalls:
I scouted with Jake some-it was really fun to work with someone who was so enthusiastic about Portland. I took my step-daughter on the set-I think it was "take your daughter to work day"--and Ryan O'Neill had a nice conversation with her-he asked if she was interested in being an actress and said that it had been a very good life for him.

...

I thought it was a fun movie and deserved more attention than it got.

...

I thought it portrayed Portland well-again the quirkiness of the script kind of fit, and Jake wanted to show off some of what's cool about the city.

...

Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge played the exterior of the planetarium, and the interior was at OMSI (Oregon Museum of Science & Industry). They also used the Northwest Neighborhood Cultural Center.

"The script was written for Portland," Rinard told the Portland Oregonian in 1997.1 "They really want to show off the city."

David Doty played Officer Hagans, the police officer with whom Stiller's character consults in trying to obtain some records. (Doty also appeared in the ill-fated 2002 Zero Effect TV pilot, and was interviewed in yesterday's piece on that production.). He knew Kasdan for some time:

i first met jake when he was 17 or 18. he had just finished high school and had written a play that he also directed called, i think "losing sleep" he wanted an actor named jack kehler, a friend of mine, who was busy so he mentioned me. i read for jake and that was it. i did one more play with jake and then he called and said he was doing a film, would i like to be in it. i said sure. just give me a call time. iv'e been in every film he's done since i thought he was brilliant when he was 17 and still think so. didn't do too much prep for the role as it was pretty much all right there on the page. the scene, with ben stiller. who was great to work with, was slimmed down about 80%, but understood because the cut, off my reaction. to the next scene really worked.

Aleta Barthell played a health club staffer who directs patrons out of the building during the aforementioned fire alarm sequence. Looking back ten years, she remembers:

I was called in to audition for the part of "Staffer #2" for the film. I was told that it was a "quirky, detective story." When I read the part of a staff person evacuating a gym...I played it as an impudent worker, put-out with having to evacuate all of these people. Jake laughed, and I got the role.

When we filmed the evacuation scene at the gym, Jake had chosen two actors from the extras who had dressed outlandishly (one in a vibrant bow tie) to misdirect the suspicion of who had planted the item in the bathroom. We did a lot of takes with these characters...the two of them seeing one another, then moving away from each other, etc. Zero was watching all of this while the gym was being evacuated. In the end, these two characters were cut from the scene. I was still visually in the film, but they dubbed my voice and lines in afterward, because during the shoot, I kept referring to the guy as "Bow Tie" and telling him he had to go as I moved him out of the building.

I was very impressed with Jake as a director. Everyone had heard that he was "really young" (in his 20's) and was doing this big film. The Jake that I saw was calm, positive, very approachable and in the face of enormous pressure to keep things rolling and moving, he persisted in taking his time to experiment with different ideas during the shoot. I thought this was admirable, and it made the experience great for the actors. It really allowed everybody to play off of one another. I saw him and Bill Pullman have a tremendous time trying out new ideas.

I didn't interact with Bill Pullman directly, but remember that he sent for a stack of headshots and signed them in between takes for a line of little kids that kept calling him "Mr. President" and asking him about Independence Day.

The person I especially remember is Ryan O'Neal, who played Gregory Stark. It was the second film I had ever done, and the largest one. I was nervous, and he affably made me feel comfortable and explained what was happening at different points in the shoot. After seeing the final film, I thought that he really shined in his part.

When I initially read the script, I loved all of the twists and turns that the story had in it. I was especially impressed with the role of Gloria Sullivan. The role was cut down considerably in the final version, and I felt it missed the depth and zing that Jake had written into Gloria. She and Zero were much more of a match for each other in the original script that I read. I thought the film came out well, but was sad to see Gloria somewhat diminished.

J.W. Crawford played a convention employee in a scene that was ultimately cut from the film. Describing that sequence, he observes:

My agent called and said they had submitted me for a small speaking role in a little film with Ryan O'Neal. The casting director asked to read me for several "day player" roles. I was called back to read a funny little scene for Jake Kasdan as a "Convention Employee". It was a quick little bit with the Kim Dickens character showing up at a convention and confronting this creepy little employee at the registration table. She knew she was being tailed by Ben Stiller and was making it look like she was trying to track down the guy who was blackmailing Ryan O'Neal. Except that I couldn't find the person on the list and was about as motivated as someone on doggie downers. She was in a hurry and getting nowhere with me so she gave up but not without me hitting on her. She just kept walking away from me (and Stiller) as fast as she could. There was no real preparation for me....I guess playing creepy just comes natural!

I met Bill Pullman and Ryan O'Neal at my wardrobe fitting the day before we shot my scene. I didn't really do anything more than shake their hands. They seemed like nice guys. Ryan was on his cell phone the whole time talking to a friend in L.A. about the film. He was smaller in stature than I would have thought.

...

I was introduced to Ben Stiller by Kim Dickens who actually invited me to join them at their table for lunch after our scene together. That's not something that doesn't happen too often when you're a day player. They were absolutely down to earth and terrific people. Ben made my day...year...maybe lifetime when he told me that my work was "really funny stuff"! WOW! Jake Kasdan joined us at the table for a few minutes and he seemed happy with my work. He was a real actor's director! Later, the day of the Portland premier, Jake asked one of the producers to call me and let me know my scene had been cut. He said he wanted me to know that it had
nothing to do with my performance. Now that is real class!

These interviews conclude Chronological Snobbery's five part series on the tenth anniversary of the 1998 film, Zero Effect. All that is left to say is: "That spooky rumbling is a distant timpani," the curious phrase that Kasdan slowly reveals, word by word, on his commentary track to the DVD of the film. (He shared the phrase in that fashion just to ascertain whether or not anyone actually listened to the commentary.).

1. Kristi Turnquist, "Movie Cameras in Portland Roll again, Shooting 'Zero Effect'," The Oregonian, April 21, 1997.

2 comments:

Rick said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this series. It's fabulous and does great service to a fantastic movie.

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