by Cassandra Faust
The film industry here in Vancouver has suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in recent years and is struggling to survive. What with the writer's strike a few years back shutting down some productions and the recession squeezing the industry until it cried for mercy, the recent legislation passed by the governments of Ontario and Quebec green-lighting tax incentives to lure productions their way while the government here sits on its collective hands, Vancouver is in very real danger of losing more and more productions, which could put hundred, if not thousands, of residents out of work, including yours truly.
However there are still a few big productions that haven't pulled up stakes - Fringe, Supernatural and Pysch in the TV market and big budget movies like Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch and the A-Team remake.
I was fortunate to work as an extra on the A-Team not too long ago and my time on set was something of a surprise. I mean, let's face it, when Hollywood decides to do a movie version of a classic series, the results are frequently cringe-worthy. I'm speaking here of Bewitched, The Honeymooners, Get Smart, Lost In Space, the upcoming Green Hornet film and countless others. The studios seem content to bank on the brand name while putting very little capital or effort into the film themselves. The result: bad scripts in the hands of bad directors and bad casts... bad film.
So it was with low expectations that I stepped onto the set of the A-Team. When I left the set for the day, my thinking had changed radically.
This remake of the classic 80s TV series about mercenaries for hire and on the run stars Liam Neeson as John "Hannibal" Smith, Bradley Cooper as Lt. Templeton "Faceman" Peck, Sharlto Copely (of District 9) as Capt. "Howling Mad" Murdock and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as Bosco "B.A." Baracus all of whom were present for the day's filming.
The location was a small train station near downtown Vancouver which filled in for the Customs and Security Checkpoint for entry in to Oslo, Norway. The scene itself consisted of the team getting through the security check while using false passports created by the Faceman.
The passports are perfect forgeries... almost.
The scene plays out like this: the four team members are in four lines. Hannibal is first with B.A. on his right. Murdock is next on B.A.'s right and Faceman is at the end. Hannibal is dressed in a Navy Blue suit and shirt and Neeson looked like a million damn dollars. Faceman has a few-days-growth stubble beard, is gnawing on a toothpick and has not a hair out of place. These two easily get through Customs and await the rest of the team on the other side of the booths. The comic relief duo of B.A. and Murdock are having a slight problem.
You see Murdock is disguised as a Jewish businessman with a tan overcoat and black yarmulke while B.A. is dressed, head to toe, in a traditional African Dashiki (a beige embroidered) robe with matching cap. The problem: I learned from the script pages that Faceman had apparently prepared the false documents in a hurry and having had very little sleep. The result is that he gave Hannibal and himself the exact same name and identity (although this fact escapes notice) but he has inadvertently switched the identities of B.A. and Murdock, making B.A. the Jewish businessman and Murdock the traditional African.
While Hannibal and Faceman look on, this oddity become apparent to the customs agents examining their passports. Hannibal tells Faceman there's trouble and to get ready to move. B.A. shoots a venomous look at Faceman for putting him in this position. While Murdock's agent's attention is on the computer screen in front of him, Murdock surreptitiously reaches up and slides the yarmulke from his head.
B.A. bluffs his way through with a big smile that offsets his fearsome appearance and he is clear to go. But Murdock's agent, seeing that he is listed as being Swahili on his passport, speaks to him in Swahili!
All seems lost, then, of course, Murdock proceeds to prattle on easily in Swahili like a native. The Custom Agent smiles, hands back his passport and clears Murdock through and the team is on their way. As I don't speak Swahili, I don't know if the idea here is that Murdock is really speaking Swahili or is just bluffing his way through with gibberish the African-American Custom's Agent pretends to understand as this is Norway after all. My guess is that Murdock does indeed speak coherent Swahili.
And that was the scene.
But not the end of this report.
One other component of the day was the presence of the A-Team van in a side room a few feet from where we were filming. For the record, it was the same van from the TV series - a black GMC with red trim and fog lights on the roof. What the van was doing there I have no clue. Maybe it was going to be used for promotional photos or something. I don't know. It seemed odd to me that the film, set firmly in the modern day, would feature a team riding around in a van from the 1980s. Well, whatever the reason, at least it was the right van.
I'd like to take a moment to comment on the production as a whole as well. If you'll recall, I began by saying that movie versions of series tend to be lame. Well, I'm pleased to report that this does not appear to be the case with the A-Team.
And here's why.
First of all, Neeson has a good track record of selecting projects with a good pedigree and judging from the relaxed, creatively charged set, this looks to be another of those productions.
Also the cast and crew were loose and open. Copley talked and joked with the crew and extras between shots as did Jackson who was so outgoing that, at one point, began dancing on the spot. That's right, dancing. Because music was played during set ups with, I believe, director Joe Carnahan serving as DJ. This was a first for my film career. Also, given how the cast of a film or series can sometimes be standoffish on set, it blew me away when the director urged us extras to dance with Jackson! By the way, Jackson was the spitting image of Mr. T. As an ultimate fighter, he's got the size and presence. Plus he had the full beard and what looked like the Mohawk (he was wearing a hat the whole time) to go with the snarl needed to play the part. Although he was like a big teddy bear between takes. The whole cast looked spot on to me and did a good job bringing their characters to life. I've not watched the A-Team in a long time, but I felt like I was watching it during filming.
Now don't get me wrong, this relaxed atmosphere was not a reflection of a slip-shod production. While the shenanigans above were going on, the crew - many of whom I recognized from WATCHMEN - quickly and efficiently went about their work.
The best way to sum up the feeling on set was one of relaxed focus. By that I mean that cast and crew could afford to goof around a little because they were confident they were all in the right groove for the project, that the production was firing on all cylinders. There were no lengthy delays for the set ups or head scratching as the production team tried to figure out what to do next. The production just rollicked along. It looked to me like the plan was coming together.
All this bodes well for the film. Does it guarantee blockbuster status? No. But at least it appeared to me that all the elements were present. Of course, like a cake, one can have the ingredients mixed just right but you don't know if the cake is any good until you pop it out of the oven. The A-Team comes out of the oven in June so we'll have to wait to see if that creative atmosphere carries over onto the screen. The A-Team looked A-OK to me!
As an added bonus I've included the A-Team logo that was on all of the paperwork associated with the movie. Whether this is something whipped up during filming or the official logo, time will tell. But I thought folks might be interested in a sneak peek.
So until next time, this is Cassandra Faust signing off. See you at the movies!
Who Is Cassandra Faust? Back in November of 2007, Comic Related was introduced to an individual who works in the film industry. This individual, who called herself Cassandra Faust, was good enough to share an ongoing series of first hand reports direct from the set of the Watchmen film. She's continued sharing additional information even after the close of production. Ms. Faust worked as an extra during the filming and offered a great summary of what she witnessed during the creation of that landmark comic film. As she journey's on to other products, she returns from time to time to drop a mix of fun behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Check out the full history of Cassandra's set reports here!
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