An Amazing Day

February 11, 2008

(photos added February 24th)

The Video

“All right, Mr. Demille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Hopefully I’m not the demented, tortured soul that Norma Desmond was in Sunset Boulevard, nor were police present at my house yesterday, but there was a film crew…

About a month ago, AARList moderator (and ATBF co-columnist), Anne Marble heard from a producer looking for a romance reader willing to be filmed about their passion for Barnes and Noble. Looking for once-in-a-lifetime experience, I volunteered. Not long thereafter I heard from Tara Canny. We talked a couple of times over the phone, I emailed photos of my study and living room, and she emailed me a list of interview questions. Saturday morning she and her cameraman – and his mom, who was visiting from Israel – arrived to “scout” my house, decided they liked not only my study and living room, but bedroom and pool area, and made plans to arrive Sunday morning at eight a.m. to begin filming. Then we went into my closet to look at the outfit possibilities I thought might work.

I didn’t get much sleep Saturday night, so the purple circles under my eyes were worse than usual, and when I made myself up, I worked extra hard to conceal them. Little did I know that among the eight-person crew was my own personal make-up artist. And, as small as the world tends to be, after chatting with Shannon Knox, she realized that my husband was the brother-in-law of a very close friend of hers – my friend and sister-in-law Elise, who died last summer after a horrendous battle with cancer. Which meant, of course, that both of us burst into tears…and I needed new mascara.


While I was being made up, the sound woman came in to mike me up and furniture was being moved out of the living room so a curved set of dolly tracks could be laid down. A camera dolly, btw, allows the cameraman to shoot smooth moving shots. As he sits on the dolly, a grip moves the dolly forward and backward along the track at specified speeds. Over the almost-floor-to-ceiling windows that make up one wall of our living room (which I’d cleaned in preparation for the shoot), a huge blanket was hung to keep out any light, and multiple lights and reflectors were also being set up. They perched me on the end of our chaise lounge in front of a blazing hot fire in our white brick fireplace, (it was so hot that the red tea lights Tara had set down in front of the fire for ambiance melted all over the white brick). In my wool tweed blazer I tried not to sweat. I succeeded, but after being filmed and interviewed in that one spot without moving for two solid hours, my leg and back muscles had locked up because without a back to lean on (I was on the end of the chaise, not the head), I had a hell of a time trying to maintain good posture. And, of course, looking at the set-up reminded me how much I miss my daughter in Vermont; as a tech theatre student, she would have loved the entire process. My husband ran around taking pictures so that at least we could at least try and share with her what it was like behind the scenes (his photos are very technically oriented, and focused on equipment) – as did the still photographer who was part of the crew (only Tara and Bo – who has a wicked sense of humor, btw – were out of New York; the remainder of the crew were all local talent, and they were all wonderful, not only doing their jobs, but in taking care of our house and providing encouragement to me throughout what turned out to be an incredibly long day).

Our living room…before they cleared it out and replaced it with equipment…

The coffee table and large green chairs were removed for the dolly tracks and lights; just about all that remained was the chaise lounge and that large black “jug”…the windows you see above on the right were covered by large blankets, although they did allow the ambient light from the windows you see above on the left to remain.

You can see the curved dolly track on the photo to the left below. The man in the red and white shirt handled most of the lighting – the other gentleman was the dolly grip. The woman in the photo to the right below is Tara, the documentarian.

Below is Bo, the cameraman, and the woman responsible for sound.

Where the woman working sound sits in the photo above is just about where I sat throughout the two hour interview. The dolly track curved throughout the center of the room, allowing Bo to videograph not only me, but our fireplace and built-in bookcases, that Tara “dressed” with books she grabbed from my study.

Above is my favorite lighting “shade” they brought… it created all sorts of shaded areas on the wall behind it, although I’m not sure that was videographed at all.

During that two hour segment, Tara sat off camera feeding me questions, all of which I’d prepared for. I did trip over my tongue a few times, but managed to say what I wanted to say. At one point I picked up, individually, each of three keepers I’d chosen (The Real Deal, Ice Storm, and A Dirty Job), and talked about them. Ice Storm was an ARC with “Not for Sale” emblazoned on the cover. Because they didn’t want to film that, they wanted me to replace that book, but I devised a way to pick up and hold it in such a way as to conceal that part of the cover. I felt like Lucy doing the Vitavitavegimin commercial!

It was 12:30 in the afternoon when the “morning” session ended. I took off my jacket, had my makeup touched up, and waited for the crew to set up on our entryway. And then we filmed the “welcome” and “farewell” segments, both of which required me not only to come up with some punchy lines, but to deliver them while walking! I was forced to call upon all the skills I learned in a between-the-semesters class I took for one credit while in college in order to say my lines, walk, make gestures, and then, at the end, shut the door without slamming it. I failed on that last count during the first take of the farewell scene, which got quite a laugh from the good-natured crew. Even though my mother used to call me “her little Sarah Bernhardt,” I am no actress. Meanwhile, because it was such a sunny day, Tara was wearing a blanket over her head – other than that it was black and not blue, it looked as though she was wearing a burka – to keep the sun off the hand-held video monitor she held to check framing.

Below is a view from out our front door; they shot the establishing and closing shots from here. The man in the forefront is the still photographer who shot photos throughout the day. What you can’t see in this photo is the berry-filled branch my husband snipped off a tree by the pool so they could clamp it from a gutter and include some additional color in those shots.

Then it was time to set up in the back by the pool. The photo below was taken from our living room. The left side of the photo is where they photographed and video-taped me walking and reading. The book I used during this segment was an entirely different book altogether, and remembering to display the cover while walking and then holding it in front of me, before opening it to begin reading, required more than one take as well. Once that little snippet was shot, we broke for lunch they’d brought in.

The other end of the pool area, where they set up their equipment… the photo to the bottom right looks as though Bo is shooting directly into the pool.

After lunch they began to set up in my study, aka The Library. In order to get the room’s full impact it’s necessary to have a 360 view, and with the dolly, they came close. Bo liked my hat rack, and once he heard that my daughter and I are trying to bring hats back, he established the opening shot for that scene on my new gray fedora. By the time the equipment and lights were set up in my study, there was very little room for anything – or anybody – else. Which meant that when I “introduced the room,” it took almost an hour of shooting to get the look they wanted. This time I had to walk and talk at the same time, and also needed to hit a mark and maneuver in a tight space without tripping over the dolly tracks…all without looking down. We did this so many times Bo remarked that he planned to do as many takes as I had books in the room.

Although my little moment was finished, Tara and Bo and much of the crew remained in the study for almost another hour, shooting the rest of the room, focusing on some of the books I’d mentioned during the interview, and filming the room’s walk-in closet, which holds the “annex” of my library. <g>

Below is what a partial viewpoint walking in to my study to show some of the lighing. Below that are several photos of my study without any equipment; Tara asked me to take them so she could see what it looked like prior to shooting.

The photo to the left below is from the point of view of the cameraman as the establishing shot of my study. He focused on some of the books under that gray vase, then panned over to my hat stand, then over to me as I walked through the door.

The photo to the right above is the interior of my walk-in closet, which is, as you can see, also filled with books.

By this time it was five in the afternoon, and my makeup had been touched up so many times I knew I’d need to remove it off with a trowel, but still we were not done. Tara had noticed a square trunk that I’d opened to get my hands on my favorite historical romance and the first romance I’d read (for some reason, I keep my Julie Garwood and Catherine Coulter books in that trunk), and decided it should be moved into our bedroom for another vignette. I was enchanted when I walked into the room because they had lit it with such golden tones that it had never looked better. After placing Castles and The Sherbrooke Bride in our bedroom’s bookcase, we rehearsed my taking the two books out of the book case, showing them – in a natural way – to the camera, walking over to the trunk, opening it, and lovingly placing the books inside before closing the trunk and walking out of frame. Then we rehearsed the opposite, with the books starting in the trunk and ending in the bookcase, before Bo decided the original plan looked best.

It was now six o’clock in the evening, and by the time all the equipment was out of the house, the furniture moved back into place, and everything set to rights – although I still need to re-shelve a lot of books Tara moved around for various shots – it was closer to seven. Ten hours of shooting for…a three to five minute piece. The “film,” alas, will not be showcased at Sundance but will instead appear on Barnes and Noble online as part of a series with different readers, including a couple who write a mystery newsletter, the “Dakotas” of reading groups in New York – it’s more than a hundred years old and readers must be invited and vetted before being allowed to join – and perhaps Art Garfunkel, who has catalogued his reading for decades. Tara thinks the series will begin airing in March and that it should stay online for at least a year. She’ll be sending us a DVD for posterity.

I hope I represented romance well…I think I did. My two concerns throughout the day were that I give no fuel to the “romance is ridiculous” crowd, and that I didn’t look horrible on film. I know that Shannon did her best to assure that at least my face photographed as well as it could, and hopefully my outfit was as slimming as possible. But I won’t know until I see that DVD. Before they left a couple of guys on the crew asked how many times I’d been on camera before, and were surprised when I said this was my first – and likely my last – time. Yes indeed, these were very nice people who did their best to give me the confidence to get through the day, which was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

My “Book Obsessed” video from B&N.


TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books


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