Continuing my account of my second day of filming on "Boardwalk Empire":
I walked over the threshold and into another world. It was a bar, circa nineteen twenty. It was dark, with lighting rigs positioned outside the windows to control the light levels. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dimness. Once I got my bearings, I could see to my left against the wall was a smaller bar with three or four stools up against it, to my right was a longer bar nearly the length of the room. Behind it was an ornately carved area for the liquor bottle shelves with mirrors between each section. The wood went up to the ceiling. Along the back wall was a three-quarter height wooden partition, with a miniature bannister running along the top, that ran the length of the room sectioning it off from the back offices and bathroom area. In the middle of the space were tables and chairs, with taller round tables along the left side wall and and the far end of the room, where the principal actors would perform most of the beginning of the scene. Strewn about were the lighting rigs and other filming equipment with the crew adjusting things everywhere at once. I was given the larger bar to run and I found my way in and made myself comfortable. At least this time, I had a better handle on what I was doing, I have spent most of my adult life behind a bar. The director was busy doling out the mini-roles to the rest of the background cast and positioning them around the room and I made myself busy looking around and watching the action. I realized that behind the bar, amid the cables and boxes stored there from the film crew, were working sinks and beer refrigerators, drawers and cabinets full of items and modern-day bar equipment. This was an actual working bar the production rented out and redressed for the series. Although everything above the bar that could be seen on camera was period era, below it was all modern. There were only four sorts of glasses stacked behind me along the wall, rocks glasses, high-ball glasses, small Martini glasses and brandy snifters. All were very plain. The liquor bottles were lining the bar against the wall and they all had vintage labels, almost all of them were whiskey of some sort with an occasional gin bottle here and there. There were two prop guys behind the bar with me, furiously running by me back and forth getting everything ready for filming. There were vintage lamps on the bar at each end with dainty lampshades adding to the atmosphere.
I noticed in one of the sinks there was an alchemist's collection of jugs and funnels and droppers and vials. It was the one prop guy's tools for making our "drinks". He had pre-set a few of them, gallon water jugs containing spring water coloured with brown food dye. Precisely fourteen drops in each to make it look like scotch. He finally seemed to notice me and instructed me on which bottle to use, a few of them were considered the "hero" bottles, they had better labels and were in pristine condition, and he wanted me to make sure I give the "hero" glasses (slightly larger and in perfect condition) to the principal actors. The rest were for the background actors chosen to receive drinks during the scene. I waited for the director to finally come over and give me my instructions, I was to slide over three drinks to one of the principals then go down the line, giving out Martinis (clear spring water with an olive on a large wooden stir-stick) and Manhattans (the fake scotch with a little ginger ale) and the regular whiskey drinks to various "patrons" at the bars. Each action was to be done at a particular time during the scene so I had to keep aware of what was going on during the scene to hit my marks at the right times.
There were stand-ins taking the principal actor's places during some quick rehearsals and then, before I knew it, they called for play-back (the recording of music from the era), the principal actors were on set and we began filming the scene!
Michael Shannon plays Agent Nelson Van Alden on the show. He was in this scene and I was very surprised when he walked on set. He is extremely tall, much taller than I am and I'm six foot one inch tall. He's very imposing physically and emotionally. He seems to remain in character and I didn't see him chatting with the background actors like I saw Jack Huston (Richard Harrow, the masked sharpshooter) do when we filmed the carnival scene. I watched him from the safety of my bar and was impressed at the presence he made in the room. Very intense. Very focussed.
Believe me, I was doubly glad I was behind the bar because they had packed the place with extras doing all sorts of things. People coming in the door (which had a little peek-a-boo door in the middle for the password to get in), coming up for drinks, dancing, sitting at the tables, milling about, it was just like the Studio Six used to be on a Saturday night (minus the drugs and drag queens and the drug using drag queens). I got into a rhythm behind the bar and redid the scene over and over every time they called for a re-set. The fake smoke combined with the real cigarettes, non-filtered since they didn't become popular until the nineteen fifties, made me think of the days before they banned smoking and I was glad that I didn't have to work in that environment on a daily basis any longer.
We did the scene over and over to make sure it was right and then took a short break while they re-set the camera angles.
Once back, we continued to shoot the scene over and over. The prop guys had to refill my bottles a few times and I went through a lot of glasses, the more I was there, the more I felt like I was working at Studio Six again (although I would have had half a bottle of Ketel One by now!). After another short break, they re-set the camera for an overhead shot. By now in the scene, we were getting raided by the prohibition agents, who come busting through the door and rough everyone up. They gave each of us our different reactions and we rehearsed the scene a few times. Then they brought in the prop department who made the door jamb breakaway so it had more impact when the agents bust in. Surprisingly, it only took a few minutes and we were back to filming. Stunt guys were brought in and we continued the scene, once again the word "reset" was used over and over, back to the first mark, do the actions and then all over again. We finally broke for dinner so we could film the next scene.
The craft service was excellent as usual, they feed us so well I went back for seconds and dessert. It's amazing, they actually have a carving station, several different salads with all the fixings, various sides, everything was delicious. All of this in a YMCA in the middle of Brooklyn. There was a door to the rest of the building with a little window and the kids from the other side were constantly peeking in on us all in costume, it must have been as exciting for them to see us as it was for me to be doing this.
The break was over and we had to return to the set for the next scene. This time, the agents had arrested half the people and one of them recognizes Agent Van Alden, the other bartender and I are being interrogated by a prohibition agent at one of the tables. They were packing up all the liquor bottles and carting everything away. Here, the other actor playing the bartender and I began to talk. It was funny, he's done all three seasons and played a bartender in the third episode of each season. His name was Jack (I think, it's been a while) and he was very funny. During the scene, we had to mime an intense conversation but he kept saying funny things trying to crack me up and he nearly succeeded a few times. I would have killed him if he made me ruin the shot by laughing! Then, later in the scene, the agent does a cross of the bar to us and begins the interrogation. He was a veteran background actor and was interesting to talk to, giving me some very good advice. He had a lot of fun stories and it was great to hear, taking our minds off the the fact that it had been such a long day.
We did a few more camera angles, replaying the same movements and waiting outside in the cold while they moved things around and then, after letting nearly everyone else go, told us we were done and could go to wardrobe to change.
I had to pee so badly, I ran the few blocks to the church where wardrobe was and made a beeline to the men's room, relieving myself with a heavy sigh. That's when I heard the outer door to the church slam open, heavy footsteps running by the bathroom and then an excited voice saying, "Where are the bartenders!!!" I immediately knew what it was. They needed us for another shot. I zipped up and found the PA and we grabbed Jack on the way back to the location set. Evidently the last camera angle faced a mirror the reflected the table where we were being interrogated and now we were missing. We needed to be sitting there for continuity. Ugh!!! We did a few more takes, blessedly, and then they finally struck the scene and we were free to go.
I quickly changed, said my good-byes to everyone and made my way across Brooklyn and then Manhattan in order to get to Port Authority. My mobile was dead and I was so exhausted I thought I would die, too. I realized we just worked 14 hours on set. I get to the bus station and all the doors are locked but one, with a guard there checking for bus tickets. I found mine, showed it to him and then ran down to the gate where the Atlantic City buses are. Nothing.
Nothing. I look at the schedule and see that I missed the bus by twenty minutes.
The LAST bus.
The next one didn't leave until seven thirty in the morning, five bloody hours away! I had no mobile, no money and it was freezing. All of the seats in the waiting area were full so I sat on the concrete floor, dozing off now and again. About a half-hour before the bus arrived, I had found an outlet and got a little charge going on the phone. I boarded the bus, sat down in a heap and promptly passed out as the bus whisked me from the island of Manhattan to the island of love.