It was day 14 of 20 and we were preparing to film the scene in which detectives survey the crime scene where Maria lies on the bed, murdered. The day was hot, with temperature in the mid-90s and inside the house was very uncomfortable with so many people in such a small space.
The camera was set up in the hallway, looking in toward the bed where Maria lay. We did a first run-through with the detectives walking in and standing over the body. In the dialog, one detective chides the other for his garish shirt. The conversation progresses, alternating between serious investigatory remarks and gentle joking among the cops.
I was in the kitchen, which is adjacent to the bedroom, listening and watching the monitor. When the run-through finished, the detectives re-entered the kitchen to prepare for the next take of the same scene. (They enter the bedroom from the kitchen in the scene.)
All of a sudden Roger burst into the kitchen and said, in front of cast and crew there, “Alright, we can’t do it this way. We can’t have the detectives being disrespectful to the body that way. They can’t joke among themselves when she is lying there dead. We are taking out all the jokes.” He was very upset.
I asked him what on earth was going on. He explained that one of the camera operators (a woman) was crying and was deeply disturbed by the jocular dialog in the face of the sadness of the scene.
I said softly, trying to make the discussion just between us, that the script had been read by him and everyone else. The dialog had not be changed, so they should all have been on board with it. I said that whoever was having a meltdown was probably doing so in response to unrelated stress and that she needed to be told to behave more professionally. I ended by noting that he had agreed to direct the script as written. I said we were not going to change the story or the scene just because someone was getting emotional over it.
Roger didn’t back down. He said loudly, “I just can’t shoot it that way. I won’t do it.”
I was trying hard not to explode. I wanted to go in and yell at whoever had lost a grip on their emotions. And I wanted to scream at Roger, “Do your damned job!” But I put a lid on my own reactions and looked at Chad Halbrook, our lead actor, for help. Chad immediately read me.
Chad stepped in front of Roger and said that joking is how people handle bad situations. It is totally normal, he said, for cops to joke among themselves in the face of a murder scene because it is a coping mechanism. He ended by firmly saying, “We have to film it the way it is written.” He was getting through to Roger, who was calming down.
Roger replied that we could change the script a bit to make it less offensive. Both Chad and I took turns explaining that it wasn’t offensive, that the cops made no remarks about the body, the girl, or her death. They merely chided one another with meaningless prattle.
Finally Roger agreed and we returned to filming. It was remarkable to me that no one in the cast or crew seemed affected by the to-do. I was very grateful for that.
After that incident, I vowed that if I ever did another movie, I would have the cast and crew sign a statement that they’d read and understood the script, and that they would in no way object to its being filmed as written.