By Writer/Producer/Director Terry R. Wickham
Though we didn’t shoot anything for The Devil’s Five on Monday September 21, 2015, it was still an incredibly pressure packed day. There were some reasons why.
The first was that none of the main crew got home until well after the sun was already rising. So getting some crucial sleep wasn’t going to be easy, especially when some important things had to be taken care of on that Monday.
For me sleep was going to be interrupted because after hitting the bed around 5:45 am, I had to wake up at 8 am take my daughter to her school bus. I did go back to sleep just before 9 am and slept until 11 am. So maybe I got just over 4 hours in total.
The other things that had to be taken care included both rental vehicles used for the movie’s opening scene (which by the way were totally fantastic to drive, with all the modern gadgets, voice activated GPS, awesome stereo systems and comfortable roomy plushy seats) had to go back to the car rental company.
Our star actor Ralf Scheepers needed to check out of his hotel at 12:00 noon, so I had to get him at that time and he was 30 minutes northeast of where I live.
Our west coast investor had to drive two generators back to the equipment rental company, which was located at least an hour east and then return one of the rental cars.
The next wrinkle was that my daughter had to be picked up from school around 2 pm, but Ralf’s plane was to board at JFK Airport at 3:15 pm and take off at 4:15 pm. So with that in mind, I knew that it was critical for me to drive Ralf to the airport right after getting my little girl. One of my favorite moments occurred while doing this, when I told my daughter “Let’s race to the car.” Ralf being the great guy he is, stuck his hand out the passenger’s door window to give Rosie five as she sprinted for the back door.
The west coast backer returning the generators & rental car, had a flight scheduled to take off at 6 pm.
Keep in mind that both people had to go through today’s security measures at the airport, meaning they had to be there early, especially Ralf needing to go through International Customs. Plus factor there was no possible way we could afford to buy another ticket for either person, so it was paramount they both made their flights.
So when I looked at all of this and factored in the time frame things had to play out, including driving time, traffic etc. I realized there was only one solution that would allow everything to possibly work.
I shared my plan with the Washington State based supporter and explained it might sound a bit scary because he wasn’t familiar with the area, but it was the only way things could work. First of all there was no way we could both return the vehicles at the same time. I calculated that he wouldn’t get back to the Massapequa area until around 2:30 pm at the earliest and that would make it too late for me to join him. I explained I had to take Ralf to JFK first, so he could make his flight and then I would drive back home, get the other rental vehicle and return it after.
I figured that he should return his vehicle during this time, so that he could make his flight. I told him the only way he could achieve this would be to return the truck back to Enterprise in Massapequa Park and prepay for the vehicle I would be returning later that afternoon. I told him after doing this he should walk across Sunrise Highway to the Massapequa Park Long Island Railroad station and buy a one-way ticket to Jamaica (if he bought the ticket on the train he’d incur a penalty fee). I further explained once he was on the train, to ask the conductor which track he’d need to walk over to in Jamaica to catch the Air Tram that would take him to JFK Airport. Then make sure he got off at his terminal.
I explained we couldn’t make any mistakes because unless we hit everything perfect it was the only way we could accomplish everything within the time available. My scheme was so tightly wound that Ralf was both pretty nervous about missing his flight, but I was pretty confident it all could work. But I will admit it was pretty tense and made for a bit of a hairy 70 mph ride all the way to the airport, but in the end my plan all worked out.
Unfortunately three consecutive 14-hour days with only 4 hours sleep on Monday didn’t improve my health at all, ultimately bringing 2 days straight of diarrhea. I could hardly keep anything down and my appetite all but disappeared. My body was telling me I was doing too much with the pneumonia clearly still in my system. So I stopped doing everything and rested for two days. Just when I started feeling better on Friday, the second shooting weekend hit Saturday September 26th, 2015.
One of the great things about the second weekend for me and my wife Paula, was that our friend Kenwick Cook decided to fly in from Bartlesville, Oklahoma to be part of the film. I picked him up on Thursday night at JFK and it was great for us catching up, since the last time he’d been in New York was 2001.
Ed Gorman stepped up to the production plate again the second weekend, volunteering to pick up Diana Noris from the airport as she arrived from Miami to play “Vala Schneider.” Looking at it now, Ed was absolutely the perfect person to ensure Diana got to her hotel. Our financial contributor from the west coast made sure to cover Diana’s hotel for the weekend, which was a big help.
When we shot our second day inside Riverhead Town Hall, Saturday September 26th, 2015, I changed my approach by having the crew arrive before our first set of actors. I didn’t do this the first weekend because we had so much to do and everyone that day was pretty much involved from the get-go.
The first scene on the 26th was the short scene inside the Police Control Room. Things went without a hitch as actor David Denowitz brought his leadership qualities to playing “Captain Friedkin” and actor Joseph Valentino did a wonderful job as “Officer Garcia”, especially after I decided to add his character last moment.
Following this, I thought we would be able to get right into finishing the Interrogation Room last couple scenes that we couldn’t complete on Friday September 18th. Unfortunately the length of time it took Diana Noris to get made up in her full possession make-up took much longer than anticipated and caused a delay.
Speaking of Diana Noris, I have got to hand it to the actress for making the most of the second weekend on the film. She really embraced playing in her words a “bad ass” and when she was in her make-up, under the flashing lights and black lightning, she could be quite frightening.
I’ve also got to credit Special Make-Up Effects Artist Church Haley and his Assistant Beatrice (Stash) Sniper for doing an outstanding job of making Diana look terrifying. Their make-up design reminded me of The Exorcist, which can never be a bad thing when making a movie about the Devil.
Once Diana was completely airbrushed with special black-light make-up (you could only see the spooky details with ultraviolet light, which came from handheld lamps emitting long wave (UV-A) ultraviolet light), the actress was transformed into a demon. This artistic approach was a choice Church wanted to utilize on The Devil’s Five, since he’d never seen it in a film. Diana ghoulish appearance helped the actress release her inner-demon, something she accomplished by unleashing a trail of carnage in the film.
Special make-up effects don’t help short shooting schedules and are not predictable in terms of how they will ultimately play out on set. But we had some real acting troopers who rolled with the gore. These included actors David Denowitz, James Tansey and Vanessa Michelle Charles.
Church Haley said that when he & Beatrice cast Vanessa’s head, that she had one of the best attitudes he’d ever worked with, staying calm under all the casting material and seemingly making the most out of the situation.
Speaking of which, once of the most impressive feats from Saturday September 26th was Diana’s willingness to endure the real physical pain that came with being shot by a paint ball gun. The Latin actress not only took hits to her mid-stomach area but even errant shots that impacted her unprotected bare arms, which showed her physical & mental toughness and earned the respect from everyone working on the film.
I have to to say what a pleasure it was to work with Stunt Coordinator Matt Solazzo. He came with a plan on how the physical action would play out safely for the actors, while giving the movie maximum impact. This really took pressure off me and I loved having Matt’s kind of expertise on set.
The biggest challenge of September 26, was filming the massive 3-page Scene 27. The sprawling, comical and horrific scene was photographed in the front door area of Riverhead Town Hall and included all sorts of denizens that would populate a police station front desk area at night.
Oklahoma native Kenwick Cook begins the scene as a very humorous drunk, who has the pleasure of brushing up against a couple of sexy ladies of the night, played with zest by Canadian actress Nadie Lahaie and French actress Elia Coutte.
I positively loved how Nadie fully embraced played the sexy character of “Babs.” She came completely ready with not only the right physical attributes, but a quiet enthusiasm that convinced more than one person, she was the part she was playing. Plus I thought Nadie made a smart choice of utilizing the weekend as a little vacation for her family, since she lived a good distance away in New Jersey. Nadie and her husband actor, Joseph Valentino, brought their young child along and just enjoyed the production ride.
Before we could begin shooting this scene, I was surprised when Elia Coutte asked me if I thought she could leave early that night, because she still wanted to go to work. I had to ask her if she realized where we were shooting (Riverhead) and how far away it was from where she lived (NYC) and why she would even think about scheduling work on the night she was shooting a movie. I told her I wouldn’t count on it and it did give me a little laugh because filming NEVER goes quickly. To Elia’s credit, she did stay for the entire duration of what it took to shoot and the movie is better because of that.
My Devil’s Five partner George Brianka (Director of Devil’s Five segment Don’t Say These Words) slipped right into the slimy pimp character “Mr. Jingles.” George was so convincing that I thought maybe he should think about changing his profession (and I don’t mean acting) 🙂 George took the role very serious in a nonchalant way, which just worked great for the shady character.
It was fun seeing some of the cloaked figures (Richard Kern, Jesse Ray Sheps and Michael Pope) from the segment Stash, make an appearance in The Devil’s Five, which help thread the movies together as one cohesive feature film.
David Francis Calderazzo as “Sergeant Biehn” really took control of shepherding the hooded trio into the police station and he carries himself like a total professional. David has a controlled way of speaking that struck me as an experienced police officer. It felt like he’d been part of the force for many years, which shaped his calm, patient approach as the character.
Vanessa Michelle Charles was just as effective as his partner “Corporal Hamilton.” Not only did Vanessa look the part of a police officer but she stood her ground until the last possible moment, when the demon took control.
What I liked about both David and Vanessa was their restraint that read on screen like real cops, who were more than use to dealing with such strange folks. They also spoke like they knew each other, which was something I really hoped would come across as partners.
Actor James Tansey totally grounded the scene as the “Front Desk Officer.” Tansey had such a lived in voice and acting approach that he made the scene feel like it was actually happening before our eyes. I credit this to his years not only as an actor, but his real life experience.
I thought Tansey’s most important qualities were his seen-it-all demeanor and sarcastic tongue. The movie needed a bit of levity without slipping into silliness and Tansey’s chemistry with the drunk, hookers, pimp, Stash figures and other cops provided just the right approach. I will be surprised if the audience doesn’t laugh a couple times because of his performance and interaction with riffraff during this scene.
I have to say I really was thrilled to include Lawrence Levy in the Scene 27. Larry was the town representative who was on site on both Friday September 18 and again on Saturday September 26th. I am eternally grateful for Larry being so patient with the production and his understanding of the process of filmmaking, which is so time consuming. If it would have been anyone else, I’m not sure we would have got such tremendous support.
Sunday September 27th was the last day of principal photography on The Devil’s Five. We were back at the airport runway in Calverton.
This was the night of the “Super-Harvest Blood Moon”, which kept most of the cast & crew looking up to the sky to see the total lunar eclipse throughout the night. Some folks thought it would be smart for us to stop shooting and film the rare occurrence, but based on the fact the ambulance could be called away at a moment’s notice (like it did the previous weekend), I never even entertained the idea. I will admit it was very cool seeing the airport runway really lit up after the eclipse, because the moon really radiated down brightly upon the 7,000 feet of concrete.
Ed Gorman came through again with getting us an ambulance and I will be forever grateful for every bit of effort he put forth. Ed worked magnificently again with the cast and crew supplying the technical side that allow us to shoot very comfortable in and out of the emergency vehicle.
First we shot the final scene with the four lovely ladies, which was a lot of fun. Their optimistic attitude made it easy for the rest of us to just have a good time filming them discovering an abandoned ambulance in the middle of a lonely road. I was particularly pleased what each actress brought to the screen.
Statuesque actress Tyler Kipp was really striking as the long-legged “Minka.” Besides her obvious onscreen beauty, Tyler had an innocence that helped the scene when she looks into the ambulance window to see the inside covered with blood & guts. It some way her reaction reminded me of a deer caught in headlights.
Rachael Scarr proved to be right for the role of “Myra”, the person driving the car, because she kept everything together when they all started to lose it. She came across as a natural leader. A character who was unflappable and always concerned about the well-being of all of her friends. Plus she it didn’t hurt that her personality matched her good looks.
Sarah Greenspan has a great voice (she is a Dramatic Mezzo-Soprano Opera singer). The dark haired actress used it to express the bloodbath she finds in the ambulance. Her reactions in the scene help bring up the intensity. Sarah’s natural curves brought out a voluptuousness the movie needed and made her such a real woman. I also think that she looked magnificent in contrast to the three other girls, because they didn’t look the same.
Chanise Renae was a gas. The shortest of the four ladies, she was a little spark-plug that brought a comical side to the scenes involving the girls. She made all of us laugh though she took the movie seriously. It was obvious that Chanise was having a good time and I think she rubbed off her optimism onto everyone. I also appreciated that Chanise drove her co-stars to both shooting dates. I do believe that extra time they spent together in her car, helped develope a friendly bond that was noticeable on screen.
Church Haley supplied all the gruesome innards strewn about the inside of the ambulance and I think his work really stood out in this scene.
The second to last scene of the night featured Richard Kern playing “Dr. Goode” and Lauren Daugherty as “Nurse Linda Davenport” attending to “Vala Schneider” (Diana Noris), who seems to be in some sort of comatose state.
Richard brought a sternness to the scene that was balanced by Lauren’s softness. Rick had grown a beard to play the doctor to make him look distinguished as the medical leader. Rick’s reactions to what happens during the course of the scene were perfect for what was needed.
But make no mistake, don’t mistake Lauren’s caring touch for weakness in anyway. The diminutive actress was so believable doing everything within the ambulance that Ed Gorman said she could be an EMT right now. I watched in amazement as she put away the flat board on the side of the ambulance and just worked within the vehicle like it was second nature to her. She did her homework and it showed.
The main nucleus crew members continued to do the excellent work they carried over the entire 5-day shoot. Edwin M. Figueroa was my visual partner capturing all the mayhem with his RED camera.
Producer Richard Kern was invaluable delivering all the filming equipment in his van and trailer and providing the comforts for all crew to take shelter under. Just as important was Rick supplying the two generators needed to power all the lights and other equipment for us to actually shoot. Without them, we could not have illuminated the film that Sunday night.
Make-Up Artist Sarah Cruz was her beautiful wonderful self, getting every actor ready to be photographed.
Production Designer Michelle Rickert put all her time and effort making sure every prop and costume was on set and ready to roll before the cameras. This included covering logos and names whenever needed.
Sound Recordist/Designer Patrick Reilly has become one of the team. He was there making sure we got everything covered from an audio perspective and his friendly personality made everything go so much smoother. It might seem that you get this automatically, but that is not the case. Pat cared not only about his function, but the film as a whole and this carried over to the way he did things.
Kelli Wilcoxen stepped in as the 1st Assistant Camera for the entire weekend and we didn’t lose a beat. The woman knows her stuff and helped make Edwin’s job a little more manageable. She also knows her way around a film set and completely understood the long hours and sometimes grueling work. I can’t thank her enough for being part of The Devil’s Five team.
Production Assistant Sean Sullivan really gave the production the added help we needed. He was there helping the camera crew and so much more.
All in all it was the shortest shooting day/night of the entire schedule, being completed in about 11 hours.
The biggest problem that resulted from the second weekend was that by Monday night I felt a sore throat come on, which then became a runny nose and cough until the end of the week. A trip to my doctor and getting his prescribed antibiotics on Thursday, eventually rid the bug from my system.
I want to thank every single person that took the cinematic journey with me to make The Devil’s Five. In no way does a director make a movie alone. I had tremendous help from a long list of people and businesses who cared enough to support the film.
By every measure, it was not easy. I’m very proud that we shot what was written without comprising my ambitious goals. Many producers would have cut back the script/production to make it less costly and easier to accomplish but we didn’t do that. I stuck to my guns and the production team did everything they could to help realize my original vision, despite the fact we didn’t have the budget or the time to really do it.
The fact that we did accomplish it, says a lot about everyone who was part of it’s creation.
Editor Kris Ramsey (who stopped by the last shooting day to say hello) has already begun the process of synchronizing picture & audio. I will venture forward with the talented post-production folks to make the movie the best it can be. That you can be sure of.
Back in 1987 I tried making a feature film called Perishing Hearts. It was a very ambitious undertaking as the screenplay ran way too long (close to 200 pages), I didn’t schedule enough time to make the movie (2 weeks leave from the US Army) and I wasn’t experienced enough to realize this before attempting it.
Throw in an inexperienced cast (high school students from Lake Charles, Louisiana area) and it made for a difficult, in not impossible feat to pull off. A couple days into the shoot, in fact after filming 30-hours straight, my amazing Director of Photography, the late Jay Bullbear, passed out from exhaustion and one of my lead actresses had a nervous breakdown.
All of this forced me to take a drive by myself to evaluate the situation and I ended up at a stream-like river, which I believe was Two-Mile Creek or Hominy Creek . It was by this water that I had to probably make the hardest decision to date as a filmmaker. Do I throw in the towel and walk away from filmmaking altogether, because I realized I had failed on this attempt or go on. After some very difficult, gut-wrenching moments and truthfully some tears, I made the decision to abandon the project but not to give up.
Since I had the actors, the time left in Oklahoma and the talented folks working with me like Jay, his late brother David Maker and our pal Kenwick Cook, I decided to make a romantic music video called “Exquisite Delusion”, which utilized the song “Colors/Dance” from George Winston (look for a photo gallery from that video in the near future).
Here are some photos from the March 1987 location scouting of “Blackburn Bridge” and graveyard near Hominy, Oklahoma. Also shots from the pre-production period (April-May 1987) where I rehearsed my actors, then traveled with my three cast members from Louisiana, through Texas to Hominy, Oklahoma. Some of the photos show my dear friend and super-talented Cinematographer Jay Bullbear, who is unfortunately no longer with us.