On Location With "The Mighty"
(Editor's Note: Seacoast, NH writer Rod Philbrick's 13th novel "Freak the Mighty" is currently being produced by Miramax Films. The author was recently invited from his summer home in Florida to Toronto to watch the film being shot and meet the cast that includes Sharon Stone, Harry Dean Stanton and Gillian Anderson. Following is the author's tale.)
The trip begins in the humid, pre-dawn darkness of the Florida Keys. The local commuter plane is already sold-out, so catching the 7:30 flight to Toronto means getting up at 4 AM to drive to Miami International Airport.. After an uneventful flight, and a very eventful clearing of customs (we neglected to bring passports!) my wife Lynn Harnett and I are met at the gate by a big burly Canadian waving a placard inscribed with the words "Freak The Mighty". The title of my book, if not quite the title of the movie version now being filmed by Miramax.
The driver delivers us to a large warehouse located on Toronto's industrial waterfront. The parking lot is crowded with semi-trucks, vans, and a whole series of trailers marked with the occupants names. Director, actors, and so on. The largest (and newest) trailer is unmarked, but the white stretch limousine beside it looks as if it could only belong to Sharon Stone - and does.
Inside the warehouse we are taken to the sound stage - DO NOT ENTER IF RED LIGHT IS BLINKING - and stumble through the wire-strewn dimness to the source of light: an interior set of a small modest house decorated for a Christmas dinner. Director Peter Chelsom and his crew are packed inside one corner of the set, blocking and rehearsing a scene, so the first person to greet us is John de Borman, the London-based cinematographer. He's a bearish, gregarious gentleman, and eager to tell me that his severely dyslexic son has not only read my novel, but received an "A" for his book report.
Shooting continues until 9 PM, as the crew busily shifted cameras and adjusted lighting for the three short scenes scheduled to be filmed that day. As everybody knows, a lot of movie making involves standing around and waiting. Which gives me an opportunity to meet and chat with the very down-to-earth Harry Dean Stanton, the legendary character actor. Also Gena Rowlands, who still possesses the luminous beauty that made her so riveting in "Woman Under The Influence", which she made more than twenty years ago with her husband John Cassavetes. Gena tells me she recently finished acting in a film made by her son Nick, who is continuing in the family tradition.
Outside in the hall, absorbed in reading Kurt Vonnegut's "Sirens of Titan", is nineteen year old Elden Henson, the last minute casting choice to play Max, one of the two boys whose friendship is the subject of "Freak The Mighty". Elden is big and burly, a shy but friendly and totally unaffected kid who studies film-making at Emerson College when he's not staring in movies. Over the next 24 hours I would be amazed by his uncannily natural performances, and by the way the cameras picked up every flicker of emotion from his round, expressive face. Moments later a skinny little boy in a wheelchair is waving at me. Kieran Culkin - in real life a quite healthy, if small, fourteen year old - who is playing the brainy little hero of the story. Over the next two days I will learn that Kieran's performances are equally astonishing. He's able to hit his marks, deliver his lines as if he just thought of them that very moment - and do it again and again as the director works for the perfect take.
This is especially evident the next evening, after a long day of staging a "fight" between the two boys. At 8 o'clock it is pitch black in Toronto, and thirty or forty technicians and assistants are jammed into a tiny back yard in a working class section of the city. Illumination is provided by an enormous bank of lights suspended from a crane - think of a night game at Fenway Park. Temperature is just above freezing. I'm standing behind director Peter Chelsom who is graciously allowing me to watch the monitors - and listen on the headphones - as Kieran sits inches away from two cameras. The scene involves Kieran - Kevin in the movie - tinkering with an model ornithopter. His mother, played by Sharon Stone, comes to the back door. They have a short conversation and then Kieran releases the ornithopter (a wind-up bird) and it flies away.
That may sound simple enough, but getting it on film proves gruelingly difficult. Chelsom and cinematographer John de Borman want exactly the right "look" to the scene, and struggle to get it. Young Mr. Culkin obliges without complaint, as does Sharon Stone, and the day doesn't wrap until midnight, by which time your not so intrepid novelist has already returned to the warmth of his hotel room. Which soon fills with the smoke of a Montecristo cigar and the fumes of a small cognac.
Voted 3 stars by Star Pages
See Also: Exclusive Pre-release Photos