When Comics2Film editor Rob Worley told me I was getting spend the day on set of Frank Miller's new film 'The Spirit' based on the comics by Will Eisner I was pretty excited, so much so that I leapt to my feet, banged my knee and cried out with a mixture of joy and pain. I had never been on a big budget movie set before and I couldn't be more ecstatic to have my "first time" be on a Frank Miller set.
We arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico on Tuesday afternoon. 'The Spirit' was shooting less than 3 miles away from the airport and on brand spanking new state of the art sound stages, Albuquerque Studios. 'The Spirit' is the first film to be shot in the new studio and has taken over stages seven and eight.
Upon arriving at the studio we were asked to check in with the Production Coordinator. On our way we were greeted by warm smiles and waves.
As I signed away my first born child to get my on set pass who comes up behind me than none other than Dan Lauria, best known as Kevin Arnold's father in the television show The Wonder Years. Lauria was in to shoot his scenes as Commissioner Dolan and was asking around for a script as we made our way out of the offices and back into the hallway.
The adage of sit around and wait is often used while in production and it hold true for members of the press who go to set visits. Our next destination was delayed, an interview with Producer Deborah Del Prete on the set.
As we waited in the hallway we got to see Gabriel Macht's stunt double saunter into the hallway and back out again in a flash. He was decked out in a black eye mask, black button down shirt, black pants and thin red tie. Soon the hallway was a flurry of activity as everyone rushed off to the catering tent for lunch. We soon followed.
As we stood in line for grub, you could hear him before you could see him. Samuel L. Jackson, decked out to play the film's heavy "The Octopus", was at the back of the catering tent sitting and chatting with some crewmembers. He was the only cast member at lunch with us. Wearing a maroon turtleneck, black pants with a bit of sheen to them, and sporting a baldhead, Jackson's presence was felt instantly. Like most catered lunches on set, there was plenty of food that tasted great, but was probably not that good for you.
Once lunch ended we were finally able to venture onto the set. We quietly made our way onto stages 7 and 8, which were a blanket of an indescribable lime green color that surrounded us. There were not a lot of set pieces to speak of, a mock up of a fire escape, a small area covered in dead grass, empty barrels and dead trees, a brick wall about 10'x 10' as well as a large grey van with the words Ditko Speedy Delivery Van written on the side. Deborah Del Prete, the Producer of the film spoke to us for twenty minutes. She had a thick New York accent and had the confident New York attitude to go along with it. It was evident that this was a woman who was incredibly passionate about bringing Will Eisner's The Spirit to life.
After our conversation with Deborah, we heard rolling, speed, action as Gabriel Macht, who plays The Spirit, was dangling off fire escape and attempting to maneuver himself back onto the ledge. At one point Miller asked Macht why he was smiling to which he responded, "Because you told me to." Miller laughed, "I said SNARL not smile."
After the shot was completed we were shocked to find Frank Miller himself walking up to greet us. This was an unexpected part of our visit as we were anticipating that Miller would be far too busy to take any time to speak with us.
My first thought when he approached was a vision of him as The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, but with more grace. He is thin and lanky and moved with ease. He looked tired and was most likely running on adrenaline. When he spoke of Will Eisner you could hear the passion in his voice for both the man and his work. He was also quite charming and had a great whit about him answering all of our questions, but being smart enough not to give anything away.
We walked over to stage 7 as Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson shot a small portion of a fight sequence. Jackson was now wearing a long grey and black coat with a grey and black striped fur collar. The coat itself was covered in giant swirls that resembled tentacles.
The shot had Jackson holding what looked like a grenade launcher, but we could not confirm this to be fact. Jackson turns and Macht throws a punch into Jackson's face. The sequence and motions were very exaggerated. We were standing by the monitors and to the left and right were these amazing story- boards detailing a number of the shots. Pictures of Eva Mendes' were so detailed that they looked life like. "Cut!" When the words were yelled, Macht took a quick break to speak to us.
Gabriel Macht isn't well known yet, but like Gerard Butler before him who came from virtual obscurity to land the lead role in '300', Macht will no doubt be propelled into leading man status once 'The Spirit' is released.
Macht is quite handsome even though a painted on black mask covers some of his face. He too speaks very passionately about the film and his role in it. He is incredibly modest and humble. Even twenty-seven days into shooting, he still can't believe he is here on the set in a Frank Miller movie. He thanks all of us very much for coming and I find myself developing a bit of a crush on the very sweet, Gabriel Macht.
As we make our way off stage 7, I take one last look around. Though there isn't a great deal to see accept lime green curtains, one can feel the magic that is happening on these sound stages and the passion and excitement everyone feels for this project. Everyone seems genuinely happy to be there and there is a hint of sadness when we mention the shoot is half over (filming is scheduled to be completed December 14th).
We go back to the production office where we started and return our laminated badges and we in turn our given our first-born children back. As we get back into the vans and drive off, the sun is setting in Albuquerque. I turn back to see the sound stages basked in orange and pink light from the sun. It was an amazing day, a great "first time" set visit and I wonder if Gabriel Macht needs an assistant or maybe even an intern.
The Spirit opens January 2009.