June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:17 PM
"Across the front of the bus, the display reads In His Service, and a crowd is gathered nearby.A revival has not come to town.Rather, it's the movies. And that's bound to draw at least as big a following. Outside Sandy's Barber Shop on Winslow Way, a moving van spills lighting and camera equipment onto the street; the revival bus, rented for this occasion, sees much coming and going, and costumed figures can be glimpsed through its windows. A grip marches around on its roof - we believe he's a grip; it's early in the production, and we are still confused about some of the players - laying cables for a fluorescent tube that will be affixed to the side for lighting. Much equipment is toted inside.Maybe we'll see someone famous, a teenage girl says to a friend, watching from across the street. In fact, they won't. But that's not the point.Nearby lurks a somewhat hulking figure, draped in a greatcoat and bearing a look of perpetual concentration.He is Garrett Bennett, and Farewell To Harry is his film.When he can be drawn out of his thoughts - not often, at least on the set - he is affable, informative. This is one of those moments.It's 'bus-for-train,' Bennett says drily, straying long enough to explain the scene, and riffing the old day-for-night technique of using camera filters to simulate shooting after dark.It's a vintage bus, and we're shooting the scene tight, he says. It'll play with (railroad) sound effects, and you'll never know.The bus will soon be cruising up and down Miller Road, a camera running along the center aisle to close on an actor's face as island scenery blurs past the window. This will occur several times before the crew is discharged for the day.And before the film is a wrap, the company will have schlepped its equipment and props aboard a Seattle-bound ferry; into the Lynwood Theatre; to the old Moran School theater at Messenger House; and to who knows where in Port Townsend.Many hours will be spent at both ends of the camera, as will enough money to buy a very nice Bainbridge home.Not that anyone watching on Winslow Way knows any of this. But while nothing within view could be called dramatic, the scene inspires intense fascination.These people, a woman says, looking around the street, have stardust in their eyes.* * * * *Dimly lit, run-down and bare of rafter and beam, the production office on Madison Avenue would make a pretty good movie set itself. And in its own way, it is a stage for its own variety of stars.Several dozen crew members, hungry after a long morning of shooting, nosh on ham, scalloped potatoes and green salad, served buffet style. Several mill about outside smoking cigarettes.These are the faces attached to the names that will roll across the screen in the closing credits -- gaffer, grip, sound mixer, assistant to the director. And unit production manager, otherwise known as Lisa.Spending most of her time in this office, she sits at a desk outfitted with a laptop computer, several fax machines, a telephone, and many notebooks and ledgers. No one who sees Farewell To Harry will have any inkling of her existence; without her, we sense, there would be no film.Consider that the props have come from as far away as Alabama, half the crew is from California.More of both will fly in throughout the three weeks of production, and will have to be routed in the proper direction. New forms will be required, new contracts signed, resources tracked down, deals cut.The day is, by Lisa's account, one minor emergency after another. One day, there won't be enough hat boxes for props (hundreds are needed); another day, it will be...something.The best part of her job?There isn't one, she says. I basically just deal with everyone's problems...I feel like I'm a mom to the entire 50-person crew.If the producer brings in the money, the UPM controls its outflow. As we watch, cash is disbursed for some minor purchase, an unrecorded but outstanding debt - You still owe me $30! -- is called.The stakes are a matter of perspective.This independent film's budget is miniscule by studio standards, and wouldn't cover 5 percent of a big-name talent's salary for a Hollywood feature.But again, that's not the point. As the crew will demonstrate, much magic can be produced on a small line of credit.The writer: They've been shooting 12 hours a day. How many hours a day do you work?Lisa: About 16.The writer: That's a long day.She lowers her eyelids, nods her head slowly up and down.Yeah.And she pads off in the direction of the scalloped potatoes. * * * * *There is a fundamental professional unease that comes with interviewing actors. One always wonders: Are they being sincere?There is a moment, toward the end of the interview, when things devolve into the sort of silliness one fears, when Joe Flanigan gives William Bill Hall, Jr., a hug and declares with exaggeration, This guy's the greatest!But mostly, our fears go unrealized; they are down to earth and personable, one marveling at the hospitality of his Bainbridge host family, the other inquiring about the best places to hike on his next free day.We meet Flanigan and Hall the morning after the Mariners have been knocked out of the playoffs; the latter, a Seattle resident of 40 years, is wearing a commemorative T-shirt from happier times -- 1995. He has been taking abuse from the crew with good humor.Hall may not be a character actor, but he is certainly a character. He has a face that implies mischief, and a voice like old whiskey - one that belongs on a radio dial somewhere, spinning cool jazz at 2 a.m.The writer: So. You're Harry?Hall: Have been since I was born. I've tried hair-remover, defoliants, everything...Nothing works.As we said, mischief. Hall earned some distinction as chauffeur Hoke in the stage production of Driving Miss Daisy, and had a lesser role in that film. A more recent gig was called Dark Drive. The project went straight to video, but he believes it was No. 1 in Japan for a while - or so he was told one night in a bar.He read for Harry because he liked the script.I got through the first five pages, Hall says, and I didn't see 25 car chases, I didn't see 30 acts of mayhem, and I didn't see five sex acts.I thought, 'Wow, a real movie.'The role might have gone to someone else, but a deal to get a big-name actor (we're not saying who, but fans of Maverick and The Rockford Files would have been pleased) fell through.Fate having intervened on Hall's behalf, he is asked to bring to life the character Harry Wyle - equal parts cynic and samaritan, inheritor of 800 cases of bad booze and a hat factory in an age when no one wears hats.He is afraid of the real world. He is, Hall says, a real character.Flanigan too praises the story, in which he plays frustrated writer Nick Sinnett - with whom Harry will drink, fight, play poker, confront personal demons, spar over a shared love interest, and transform a factory into a Vaudeville theater to realize a shared dream.With television credits that include ER, Dawson's Creek and Murphy Brown, Flanigan was selected from 100 actors who read for the part. He sports studiously mussed black hair; the crew liken him to Alec Baldwin and David Duchovny. He seems very low-key, and he likes Bainbridge. There's basic level of tranquility to the island and its people, that just lets us relax and do our jobs, Flanigan says, as opposed to the crisis addicts in L.A.He has a wife and 6-month-old daughter at home in California; he misses them.For half an hour, they discuss their craft, their credits, their lives; we scribble a few notes along the way.And then there is the hug. And then lunch.That's the best part of it -- catered food, Hall grins. Usually, my meals at home are a hotdog, maybe a baked potato with chives on weekends.We are not sure he's telling the whole truth. This much we believe - he still hasn't read the whole script.There's a few surprises life still has, Hall says. You don't like to eliminate them.* * * * *A movie set is much like a small community.Interlopers are immediately apparent, sticking out, in this case, like a badly mangled line of dialogue.They can, in fact, be dealt with brusquely. There is a young woman named Belinda who is charged with ferreting out such intruders, and who can call an unfamiliar face to account with but two gestures -- a finger that points, then crooks.She is the set P.A., or production assistant. One does not argue with her.It's my job to know where you are, Belinda tells us flatly.The drop of a name -- Garrett and I are going to look at 'the dailies' later -- earns a spot in a corner, and we are from then on left alone. On the set, as in much of life, it pays to be seen standing next to someone important.We are in the old Moran School theater at Rolling Bay, a dilapidated building that has been turned through the round-the-clock wizardry of designers Eloise Stammerjohn and Tim Crane into a hat factory, and more. The building has become a world unto itself, with 16 imaginative sets scattered throughout its corridors.On film, the sets show a sepia tint that suggests an aging photograph. It is convincing, romantic.And so, on this and many subsequent visits, one tries to find a spot that is out of the way. There are few such places, and one feels constantly under foot - or worse, in front of the camera.It is here that one realizes for all its glitz and glamour and narcissism and stars, filmmaking is essentially a blue-collar profession. A cadre of gaffers (electricians) and grips (lighting technicians) are in near-constant motion between takes, far and away the most time spent. Props are carted about and arranged, towering lamps moved and bulbs replaced, giant screens positioned to reflect or diffuse the artificial light just so.Ten minutes may go by, setting up a shot that will last 30 seconds. This will go on 12 hours a day, six days a week, for most of a month. It looks exhausting.It's a lot of hurry, hurry, hurry - stop - wait, wait, wait, says key grip Ed Bartel of Los Angeles. You go from just watching the race to being in the pit crew.The writer: What's the appeal? Why do you do this?Ed: It's the opportunity to do different things, see things, go places. I've been in the middle of runways, on the tops of telescopes, in helicopters, to NASA - places I would never have had access to.It is, he says, on-the-job film school. Someday he hopes to direct. One learns many things on the set. For example, the sound mixer avoids green peppers for lunch, in part because he doesn't like them, in part because they might cause tummy-rumbles later in the day. The mics are sensitive enough to make that a concern.Throughout the day, the first assistant director manages the proceedings with a series of barks that are heeded as surely as those of a drill sergeant. On big-time productions, a crew member says, it is estimated that every wasted minute runs up the cost by $1,000.You gotta be on it, he says. Time is money.Once everything is arranged, a few run-throughs are slated. The crew quiets down, respecting the actors as they enter the mood of the scene. Lines are recited, the action tracked by a camera. Once the director and cinematographer are satisfied, a hundred different elements come together in a single moment.Picture's up! Everyone very quiet please...and...action!A white-haired actor walks solemnly toward the camera, a hat box under his arm, and stops.What's this about Harry dying?Cut. Again.What's this about Harry dying?Cut. Again.What's this about Harry dying?Cut.Good.Then everything is rearranged, and the next shot is filmed, another of the countless snippets of action and dialogue that will be edited together into a coherent story line.Mastering a turnaround, for instance - in which both halves of a conversation are filmed - involves shooting an actor from one direction, then moving all the equipment across the room and repeating the scene in reverse.At the director's right hand sits a young woman named Katherine, and as all of this transpires, it is her job to make sure there is no lapse in continuity. Her philosophy: Write absolutely everything down. That includes everything on both sides of the camera -- what the actor is wearing, what lens is used, which hand a cigarette is in, how far it has burned down.It's like the mystery job, Katherine says. There are people who've been on a set for years who still don't know what I do.Outside the theater, the sun has been down for several hours; director Bennett readies the crew for one last shot, which calls for the leads to slump down in their wooden chairs in silence. On the set, he has been described as having one look - concentration. This is inaccurate. Sometimes, his brow furrows slightly, and the look of concentration is replaced by one of intense concentration. The crew members are secretly amused by this, and several can do frightfully funny imitations.Director: They're in the theater at the end of a long day.Crew member: Like us?The comment breaks a mood that has been sliding into fatigue and tension; in the back of every mind is what is referred to as the martini shot, the last take of the day.Despite the long hours, some apparently take the term quite seriously; on the set, we hear rumors of ongoing late-night revelry at a local bar and grill. Grips will be grips, one crew member says, shaking his head.The camera is about to roll, and we make no further inquiries.* * * * *Over time, one becomes a familiar face on the set. The crew members are very gracious, and Belinda (who does smile) no longer shoos us away.We find ourselves slightly intoxicated by this little world - disappointed that it will soon go away - but humbly decline an offer to be an extra in a newspaper office scene. The actress who asks could convince us to do many things, but working in front of the camera is not among them.It is late in the week, and late in the evening. After 12 hours of shooting, Bennett and his production team - Neil Weinberger, Letty Hummel, Ann Wilkinson - are in a digital editing studio in Winslow. A rough trailer is being pieced together. The saga of Nick and Harry unfolds before us. Ann falls asleep in a chair.Bennett: What does this evoke to you?The writer: Um...I'd go see it.They're worried what we think; we're worried what they think. Funny.Like Harry Wyle and Nick Sinnett - who hole up in an aging hat factory to escape the corruption of the real world around them - the film exists in a certain backwater of time; low-budget, thoughtful, earnest, in a stardust industry that has little use for such qualities.Bennett admits he hopes that many people will see it. But there is an intrinsic joy to seeing the work of the set designers and the grips and the gaffers and the camera ops and the talent bring the writer/director's vision to life.The story may be a little different than you envisioned, Bennett says, but it's way bigger than you could ever imagine.It's beyond you.A week from now, after location shooting in Port Townsend, the company will disperse to their families or other projects. Months of editing and scoring lie ahead, as does the search for a distributor. Perhaps in the next year or so, audiences at Sundance or Cannes or the newly important Toronto Film Festival will get a chance to see Farewell To Harry.They will see a story of two men possessed of a friendship that survives extraordinary strains. They will see an old Bainbridge theater that has been turned into an old hat factory, to be turned into an old Vaudeville theater, to be turned into an empty old room in an older and probably better time.Perhaps many people will be moved, awards won, money earned. Perhaps Garrett Bennett and Bill Hall, Jr., and Joe Flanigan will find themselves famous or wealthy. But for three weeks on a small, independent film set, where a grand dream can at once be realized and shared, that's not the point. "