PD index


Report made by: "The Galloping Gore-Met"

TORONTO - Wednesday Oct. 20, 1999

This was the last night of a marathon 36-day shoot, with the crew going on hiatus until early December. Arriving on the set somewhere around 11:00 PM, we found ourselves in the middle of the set-up for a scene. Standing outside a building that had been converted into a branch of the Chelsea Clinton Savings and Loan, I chatted with some of the crew while doing my best to stay out of the way. As a couple of crew members came out of the building with various pieces of the set I looked back to avoid tripping over a pile of what I had thought was some garbage piled on the ground only to realize that I had been standing beside the burnt and bloody upper torso and severed leg of some poor sap who meets a grisly demise in a scene being filmed later that night! As it was going to be a while before filming on the next scene began I had an opportunity to visit the trailer containing the Robocop suit. The fibreglass suit was cast from the original molds created by Rob Bottin for the first film, and the suit is maintained on set by two members of Bottinís staff, up from California for the duration of filming. As this is Robocop 10 years later the suit has been aged to look it. I was quite impressed to find that all of the dents, scuffs, and bashes were painstakingly painted onto the costume as it indeed looks 10 years old. The suit is comprised of 60 different pieces and it takes a full 30 minutes to suit up actor Page Fletcher, best known as The Hitchhiker in the cable series of the same name, who plays Robocop in this series.

Beside the trailer stood the extras tent, I took a quick peek inside to see half a dozen people in OCP Detroit Police uniforms playing cards, waiting to shoot their bit in the scene being filmed that night. The OCP costumes are the actual costumes from the first film. Opposite the tent were a half dozen OCP Detroit Police cars, which have bar codes instead of license plates. Out front of the Chelsea Clinton Savings and Loan stood some Detroit Press paper boxes and an Omnicorp mailbox. No detail is too small, all the way down to the charity donation boxes on the bankís counter that have pleas for donations to pay for haircuts for the scripters.

Director Julian Grant is one strapping, long-haired human dynamo of a man, exuding humour and boundless enthusiam like a blast furnace. Producing a film is work, directing a film is more work, producing and directing a film is enough for a coronary, and Julian is doing four films at once! Even at the end of over a month straight of filming, and all the logistical nightmares that go along with it, Julian is good-natured and respectful of his crew. The scene being shot this night will be in the first film. A new character was created named Bone Machine, a rogue ex-OCP officer with an experimental suit of body armour that had been shelved but was covertly passed to him by a mysterious connection in the upper echelon of OCP. Bone Machine is played by Richard Fitzpatrick, a large and impressive actor who had the part written especially for him. The Bone Machine suit is a black suit of body armour with a large pack on the back with various tubes connecting to four-barelled metallic cylinders on the end of each arm, able to fire a variey of weapons, including tear gas and automatic machine gun fire. The cylinders themselves weigh over 30 pounds apiece, have 9mm Czechoslovakian machine guns outfitted with blanks inside, and have to be supported by wooden crates as Fitzpatrick waits to shoot his part. In this scene Bone Machine bursts through the wall as Robocop is attempting to arrest a group of anarchists robbing the bank. Disabling Robocop with a volley of gunfire, he then kills the anarchists, one of whom has explosives strapped to his torso. In a last-minute decision Grant decides to not only have the explosives blow the anarchist in half, he wants the upper half of the torso explode through a window and out into the street below. Before this sequence is shot the crew breaks for lunch.

Iíve never been on a film set before and the first aspect of the actual process of making of a film I noticed is the hurry-up-and-wait nature of the business. While one part of the crew works at their jobs the rest of the cast and crew wait. And wait. In order to make that wait as comfortable as possible, a cube van called a snack truck sits out on the street. Itís a help-yourself smorgasboard of gourmet coffee, tea, soft drinks, fruit, baked goods, and a rack with at least 20 different kinds of candy. Sugar, caffeine, and cigarettes are the fuel a film shoot runs on. Across the street from the set is a pub that is catering the shoot at this location. For lunch there is a heaping buffet of roast pork loin, pineapple chicken, potatoes, vegetables, five different salads, breads, rolls, and soft drinks. OíBrien tells me, "a well-fed crew is a happy crew" and this crew is certainly not going hungry. Over lunch director Grant excitedly outlines his plans for the series, telling me he intends to make a gritty, no-nonsense story, dark in tone, with plenty of action and as much mayhem and grue as he can get away with for what is ostensibly a cable TV production. His affection for the character and the franchise is obvious, and as careers are riding on this production he intends to do everything in his power as both producer and director to satisfy the discriminating Robocop fan.

Back on the set itís time to finish tonightís filming. Various set-up shots have been done and itís now down to the final FX sequence in a night of FX sequences I got to see filmed. Earlier I stood off-camera in the directorís area where Grant watchs the action from two of the cameras in a pair of monitors mounted on a stand. As they prepared to shoot Bone Machine firing his guns I heard the cry "Eyes and ears!". A crew member came around with a plastic tote filled with earplugs and safety glasses. As the weapons fire is genuine the sound is deafening and for insurance reasons everyone on set must use the safety equipment. To simulate the tear gas smoke in this scene they burn rubber cement to get the right effect, making one noxious stench. Perhaps the most fascinating effect I saw done are the sparks that fly off Bone Machineís armour when the anarchists return gunfire. A special gun worked off-camera by an FX specialist fires small pieces of magnesium at actor Fitzpatrick, which spark and fly off on contact, making those richocet FX off the suit that we have seen in the previous films. For the final sequence they bring out an apparatus known as an air ram, this is a device common to action films which is used to send an actor flying through the air as if being pushed by the concussion of an explosion. If youíve ever seen a single episode of "The A Team" youíll know what Iím referring to. Itís literally an air-powered catapult. They put the torso Iíd previously seen laying in the street on the platform and cover it with rubber cement to make it burn. Grant decides to set-up a camera at the window the body is to be fired through and to shoot the torso directly at the camera. They clear the set and I stand behind Grant to watch the effect on the monitors. The FX men crouch out of sight to light the torso on fire and work the air ram. They wait until the flames build up to a good height on the torso and after a short countdown the air ram is fired and the burning torso flies right into the camera, which is behind a plexiglass shield. As soon as the torso hits the camera Grant shouts "CUT!" and the safety crew scramble with fire extinguishers and put out the flaming mess. After a couple of tense moments they verify that the camera survived the stunt and they decide to shoot a second take. The stunt is again successful and a little more impressive, the camera survives, and the crew move out into the street to shoot the last part of this sequence, the torso being ejected through the plate glass window. At the suggestion of one of the FX crew they decide to put a couple of sandbags inside the torso to give it weight as there are concerns the torso wonít break the specially-installed window. The crew member is concerned about the cost but Grant jokes "Iím spending $12 million, whatís a sandbag?".

By this time itís nearly 4:00 AM, as the crew moves a pair of OCP cars into the shot to get the flashing lights on the wall of the building as the torso comes through the window, the odd taxi cab and delivery truck slows down and stops to gawk. Grant sets up his monitors and chairs out in the street a safe distance from the window while the crew evacuate the building leaving only the FX men inside. The cameras are set up on the sidewalk below the window behind plexiglass shields. Through the omnipresent walkie talkies the scene is set, the cameras roll, and the torso is lit. From outside we see the glow quickly grow to a flaming crescendo and the command "FIRE!" is given. The torso hits the window, smashes the glass, and falls back inside the building. The crew inside frantically put out the fire as the cameramen go back to the cameras to set up for a second take. As they approach their cameras a rather large shard of glass drops like a guillotine blade out of the window frame, smashes on the lawn below, and there is much cursing and shouting and frayed nerves. The effect is set up again and on the second take they successfully eject the burning torso out of the window and it bounces off the hood of one of the OCP cars before coming to rest on the lawn. The crew put out the torso while we look at a still taken by a crew member with a digital camera. A beaufitful picture, a masterful effect, and a wrap until early December. Grant thanks the cast and crew and invites me back to the set in December. The end of an entirely fascinating first-hand look at "Prime Directives" comes to an end somewhere around 5:00 AM.