Shooting Star

Houstonís busiest filmmaker relies on Zen calm ó and guerrilla tactics

Then Ramsey misses the flight. By the time he arrives on the second day's set, an aging used car lot south of the city, it's already 3 p.m. Under a brutal sun, he discovers that the air conditioner in his RV is broken.

The shoot is plagued with more difficulties. Sound stages are too expensive, so Carter and his crew have chosen a dozen locations. With careful cropping, a single location can be used for multiple scenes. A restaurant, for example, can become a club, eatery or bar.

But the many locations require several moves, subjecting the crew to unforeseen problems. During a day's filming at Wheatley High School, someone throws bricks through the windshields of several crew members' vehicles. One Saturday, the crew unknowingly sets up the camera on a hill of fire ants, leaving ugly red welts on their ankles for days. By mid-shoot, five of the nine volunteer production assistants have dropped out.

The kids chase Ramsey, playing Richard.
The kids chase Ramsey, playing Richard.
Cinematographer Billy Daniel checks the shot.
Cinematographer Billy Daniel checks the shot.

The budget is a constant concern. They were planning to shoot inside the Astrodome -- until Carter learned it would cost $5,000. (Assistant director Crochet also explains that the interior is still set up as a football field, thanks to Friday Night Lights.) Carter settles instead for a shot of Richard leaving the Astrodome and shaking off autograph hunters.

Even that proves tricky. A sign above the exit reads "Reliant Astrodome." Carter tells cinematographer Billy Daniel to capture "Astrodome" but somehow not the corporate sponsor.

"This is gonna be tight," Daniel mutters.

And Carter notices that the kids playing autograph seekers are all black. "There were never this many black folks at an Astros game in this era," Carter says. He orders Crochet to join the scene, as well as production assistant T.J. Valentine and a journalist there to report on the filming.

"I've already played a radiologist," Valentine sighs.

"I'm just trying to keep it real," Carter says. He instructs the three white people to stay on the edge of the shot, so as to seem more numerous. He couldn't seem more relaxed.


Carter may rely on recruiting raw extras for some of his scenes, but in Resurrection he's also working with proven Hollywood talent. For the first time, he's directing an Academy Award nominee. Charles Durning, nominated for best supporting actor for his work in both The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and To Be or Not to Be, agreed to play the small but key role of the Astros' owner. "There are people who insist on private limos," says Kjornes, who suggested the actor for the job. "Durning you can pick up in a FedEx van."

When Durning's plane arrives late the night before his scheduled scenes, Finley is embarrassed to arrive at the actor's hotel room at 1 a.m. for a wardrobe measurement. But Durning says he's just glad to be working; the next day, he cheerfully signs autographs for the extras.

Most of the actors on Resurrection similarly avoid pretentious airs. The exception is Kenya Moore, the former Miss USA playing Richard's second wife. She refuses several costumes, sending Finley scrambling to find clothes that fit both the period and Moore's prickly sensibilities. When showers pound the set, Moore refuses to walk 100 yards from her RV until someone gets her a new pair of shoes; she's not about to walk through the rain in her own.

Such pampering might be standard in Hollywood. But not in Houston, and not without money or time to spare. "There's not much you can do except tell people, 'This is an independent film,' " Carter says, shrugging.

In Durning's biggest scene, the entire Astros board assembles to tell Richard he's being released. But several actors portraying board directors fail to show up, and if the production has any demographic shortfall, it's aging white men.

So Kjornes is cast on the board. His brother Kevin, a cop, is drafted as well, along with Glenn Taylor, a former Hempstead County judge.

It seems to take forever to get the new actors prepared. Daniel is steaming.

But Carter is in a good mood, as usual. "Me and Billy are in Zen mode," Carter explains to the crew. He gestures above, then to himself: "It goes from God, to Greg, to Billy."

Daniel looks ready to kill. "I just set up my shots," he says, under his breath. "Then I wait."

Filming starts, although good takes aren't to be found. Ramsey's cell phone starts ringing. A line gets flubbed. The sound engineer realizes the chairs are squeaking, so everyone is told not to shift.

Without the squeaking, they can hear the elevator rumbling behind the wall. They have to delay each take until it stops; several takes are aborted, mid-scene, when it unceremoniously starts up again.

Kjornes has been bumming around the set in a blazer-and-shorts combination, boasting that he doesn't own long pants. Finley assumed it would be okay because he's seated behind the conference table.

But the lighting, apparently, gives his knees a glow. Carter instructs Finley to get him some pants. Since everyone is already in place, Finley crawls under the table to slide the trousers over his legs.

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