Shooting Star

Houstonís busiest filmmaker relies on Zen calm ó and guerrilla tactics

"There are so many metaphors for what's happening right now," Carter says, laughing. "Nasty…immoral…"

"She's just doing her job," Kjornes cries. The entire crew cracks up. Finally the take starts beautifully. Durning delivers his lines with perfection. Ramsey, in character, seems bitter, drunk, sardonic. The tension grows thick. Ramsey stands up and leans in to shake his fist at the board -- and Kjornes bursts into laughter.

"I'm sorry," he cries, tears rolling down his cheeks. "I'm sorry."

David Ramsey, sporting his 1970s-era wig, with 
director Greg Carter.
Daniel Kramer
David Ramsey, sporting his 1970s-era wig, with director Greg Carter.
Carter's parents: Betty diverted some IRA funds to 
help her son finance his first film.
Daniel Kramer
Carter's parents: Betty diverted some IRA funds to help her son finance his first film.

"I think we gotta do that again," Carter says, grimacing.

The fierce pace flows into the final night of shooting. Most days, they've been on set from about noon until two or three in the morning. More than 20 hours of digital tape are in the can; production assistant Jordan Sartell says he didn't even realize Ronald Reagan had died until days later, when he happened to glimpse a TV screen in a bar where they were shooting.

Tonight was supposed to be the wrap party, but delays have forced an extra day of shooting. It's not until the final day that the last site is chosen: the home of Quanell X, the black activist and one of the movie's backers. The house is sumptuous, with a grand entryway and a kitchen right out of Martha Stewart Living.

It will be the location for a particularly tricky scene: a sweeping tracking shot that follows Richard's first wife, played by Sara Stokes, as she bursts into a party, searching for her husband and confronting his friends. It's one long, continuous take, unbroken even when she bursts into the bathroom and finds him canoodling with her best friend.

Problems delay the action until 11 p.m., and even Carter seems on edge. For the last two days, he's been filming into the wee hours, then getting up early to teach at the Rice Media Center. He's tired. He admits his back is hurting.

Sartell, the production assistant, is in charge of the scene board that numbers each take; tonight, he's been changing the movie title with each take, each title reflecting the growing despair. The Day After Tuesday becomes the first take. Take Two, Apocalypse Soon. Take Three? Your Movie Is Doomed.

Through the exhaustion and annoyance, the camera rolls again. This time, the extras look appropriately like they're partying heartily. Stokes seems properly worried, then agitated, then angry. And when Ramsey, playing Richard, emerges from the bathroom in his hospital gown, shouting at her to let him explain, it's somehow real. The entire crew is riveted.

"Hey, you did it, bro!" Carter cries. "That was almost perfect." Still, there's a sound problem. "Everybody back to one!" They pick up the pace. Take four. Almost there. Take five. Take seven.

Finally, Carter pauses. He and Daniel camp out on the floor. Cast and crew gather around to watch the scene's replay on the monitor.

For a better view, they stand on their toes and lean on each other's shoulders. They have never been this quiet -- or this rapt.

When the taped scene ends, Carter beams.

"It's really good," one amazed extra whispers to another.

"Maybe there is hope for this movie," Sartell says. A crew member outside bursts in to ask him how it went. "He got it," Sartell whispers in disbelief.

But there is no applause, no pause for reflection. Carter releases the extras with a quick thanks for their cooperation. "Peace out," he says.

Inside, it may be midnight, but Carter will work his crew until 5 a.m. -- until the last scene is shot, the final image captured.

And the last problem is solved.

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