Entry dated :: October 23, 2009
Metlife Building , New York City

Wall Street 2

Oliver Stone literally put me in the picture. I was seated at an oval table under an eerie light in what purported to be the office of the Chairman of New York Federal Reserve Bank. As the meeting continued throughout the night, people around screamed about the “moral hazard” of saving a failing investment bank. At one point, there was even a call from the White House dooming the bank in question. The frenetic scene is no more than a consensual hallucination directed by Oliver Stone in his new movie Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. The magnificently wood-paneled room is actually the executive conference room of an insurance company, Metlife, which is serving as a location for this part of the filming. The eerie glow comes from powerful lamps lights ingeniously suspended from helium balloons above us. The shouting is coming from actors Frank Langella, Eli Wallach, and Josh Brolin. Although I had only a bit part in this drama, it provided me with an opportunity to see how a Hollywood is made from the vantage point of the set.
The project was initiated in 2005 by Edward R. Pressman , the producer of the original Wall Street, after he saw the fictional villain of Wall Street Gordon Gekko (portrayed by Michael Douglas) on the cover Fortune accompanied by a headline about the return of greed to Wall Street. Pressman reasoned that if 18 years after the movie, Gekko was still the media’s icon for greed on Wall Street, Pressman, a sequel was in order. He owned the rights for the sequel but sought to interest Twentieth Century Fox, which had distributed the original Wall Street. Getting a movie made in
Hollywood when the hero is not a comic book character was not an easy task. Just getting a script that was acceptable to Fox took four years– and 3 different (and very expensive) writers. Even then Fox’s
approval was conditional on the stars and director, as are almost all movie deals. Pressman persuaded Michael Douglas to again play Gekko, a role for which he had won the Oscar in 1988, and Oliver Stone
(who had dropped out of the project earlier), to again direct Wall Street 2. Fox then agreed to finance it. Part of this $67 million budget could be retrieved from New York State and New York City’s tax credits
(which effectively reimburses 35% of the production budget spent in New York.) The Federal Reserve meeting scenes were filmed over a long weekend about midway in the 11 week shooting schedule. Through the seemingly endless retakes in which actors repeats virtually the same lines while extras behind them– each of whom is called by a number rather
than a name– moves to the exact same “mark.” or position, Stone gradually perfects the illusion. Between each take, the time on the grandfather clock in the office is reset to the exact time at the
start of the previous scene. The process is not unlike the never-ending day in the movie "Groundhog Day." But surrounding the illusion-in-the-making is an envelope of reality. It is peopled by a small army of technicians, including make-up artists, hair stylists, script supervisors, technical advisors, continuity girls, stand-by carpenters, wranglers, costumers,
sound boom men, camera operators, film loaders, set decorators, and electricians. They work ceaselessly, rushing onto the set between takes, to maintain and repair the illusion. One of the advantages of a top director such as Stone, is that he can get the best of the below-the-line talent,
in this case such Oscar nominees as Rodrigo Prieto, the Mexican-born Director of Photography, whose credits include Frida, Brokenback Mountain, and Babel, Kristi Zea, the production designer, whose credits include Revolutionary Road, Goodfellas, and The Silence of The Lamb,
and Tod Maitland, the versatile sound technician who won the Oscar for Seabiscuit. Stone him self is constantly moving around the set, viewing scenes from different angles and talking to the actors and extras, often in whispers. At other times, he confers with technical advisors, including two former SEC lawyers who had actually attended the Fed meetings, asking them about such details as how coffee cups would be placed on the table or how precisely a phone call from the White House would be
answered. When any unexpected difficulties arise, such as the camera dolly creaks audibly on its tracks, he jokes with the cast, having a gift for putting actors at their ease. But even with the amicable atmosphere, he has to keep the movie running on a tight schedule. Just the below-the-line expenditures for Wall Street 2, which does not include the compensation for the stars, writers, producers, or the director, is running about $220,000 a day for interior scenes (exterior and crowd scenes can be much more expensive.) So unless he shoots the planned number of script pages a day, he will run over budget. While Hollywood players are often depicted in the media as profligate spenders, the opposite is true when it comes to studio executives supervising a movie that they are financing. Before Wall Street 2 went into production, Fox went through the budget line by line, squeezing every penny it could out of the budget., even attempting to reduce the fees of m major actors (all of whom have a “quote”, or established price per movie. If the shooting ran over budget, Fox could ask that plans scenes be cut out of the script to get it back on track or use money from the post-production budget, which includes putting in visual effects (which are crucial in Wall Street 2 since some scenes are shot with blank backgrounds), adding sound, and editing. So Stone manages to adhere to the schedule, even when it requires him– and his assistant directors-- working grueling 14 hour days in the Federal Reserve Bank scenes.

Questions? Email me at edepstein@worldnet.att.net
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