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Friday, February 24, 2006

Chef Mayhem visits the sets of "The Shaggy Dog"

No, it's not Haunted-Mansion- or Pirates-related, but in honor of the upcoming release of Disney's remake of "The Shaggy Dog" starring Tim Allen on March 10, I thought I'd post this article I wrote for Times Media back in December 2004. The article is centered on a local cameraman (who happened to be my Best Man) and some of his work in other films, but there are some snippets of info about my time on the set with Tim Allen and Kristen Davis. Enjoy!

P.S.: I was allowed to sit directly in the "video village," which is the term for the director's center of operations named for the numerous video monitors which the director can watch as the action takes place, directly behind director Brian Robbins. The scene we watched being filmed was the classroom scene which is featured prominently in the current advertising for the film. The closest brush to fame I can claim, however, was opening the door for Mr. Allen as he brushed by me to get out of the classroom hallway to his next scene, which involved him running around like a fool. All I can say is being a physical comedian must be pretty humbling during the filmmaking process. His daughter Kady was on set that day, too, with some of her friends. Really cute girl - looks a lot like him, but in a pretty-teenager way. Kinda hard to explain, I guess.

RIP.

>>

"Slim Steady" is ready - to take on Hollywood
Special to the Times

STUDIO CITY - It’s 89 degrees on a sunny December afternoon – just another day in Studio City right outside of LA, and Tim Allen is running back and forth like a madman, chasing after an imaginary cat. “Slim, let’s pull back a bit,” said Gabriel Beristain, the film’s cinematographer, to Craig “Steadi Slim” Fikse, who is in charge of Camera A, the movie camera that will film the principal photography for Disney’s “The Shaggy Dog.” Fikse checks the equipment, pulls back for a wider shot, and Gabby nods in approval while watching Allen’s antics through the playback monitors.

“The Shaggy Dog” is Disney’s remake of the first “Shaggy Dog,” which was released in 1959 and starred Fred MacMurray. The film was also remade by Disney in 1976 as “The Shaggy D.A.” starring Dean Jones. But the 2006 version, starring Allen along with Kristen Davis, Robert Downey Jr., Danny Glover, and Craig Kilborn promises to be a strong revision of the original story, in which “a man tries to live a normal life despite the fact that he sometimes turns into a sheepdog,” according to Amazon.com’s Internet Movie Database.

Allen seems self-depreciating enough about the project. “Yep, another chance for folks to see the Toolman on JetBlue,” he joked, well-aware of his status as a leading man in the family-comedy genre. “Tim’s a funny, funny guy,” Fikse said during a break in filming. “He has that sarcastic streak of humor that works so well.”

After making his way to LA in 1999, Fikse began hunting for jobs, doing camera work for music videos, independent films and television. “I was very fortunate to connect with Gabby,” Fikse said, remembering his first work with cinematographer Gabriel Beristain, who hired Fikse for his first work on a significant film – Blade 2, starring Wesley Snipes. “That job really helped me take off.”

Fikse worked on Blade 2 as the Steadicam operator. The Steadicam is a large tool that is strapped to the operator. Fikse purchased his own rig. “It’s very specialized equipment. People down here want to know that you know your stuff, that you’re good enough. So you own your own equipment. It’s typically an owner/operator situation,” Fikse said. A 35 millimeter camera is then attached to the Steadicam. “It’s harnessed around the waist, and a large mechanical arm swings in front and acts as a big ‘shock absorber.’ So when I run around and follow the action, the image will seem to glide through the air.”

Fikse has since worked with Beristain on a number of other films, including “S.W.A.T.,” “The Ring 2,” “Blade: Trinity” (which just opened last week), and next year’s “The Shaggy Dog.” Last year, Fikse also operated his Steadicam on the film “Van Helsing” for director Stephen Sommers. “Sommers is a very talented and gifted man,” Fikse recalled. “He has the ability to really inspire all the crew to do their best. He is visionary, and passionate about his filmmaking.”

As Steadicam operator, Fikse is often right in the face of the stars of the film, since the Steadicam usually controls the camera that gets right into the midst of the action. In the case of “Van Helsing,” Fikse worked with the film’s leading man, Hugh Jackman. “Working with Hugh was an absolute pleasure,” Fikse said. “He’s an actor that really wants to participate in the process – he wants to give his best performance AND have fun with the crew at the same time.

“Hugh was a real gentleman to work with,” Fikse recalled, remembering other leading men that are less personable. “I don’t want to name names,” Fikse laughed. But some actors get in there, give you a take or two, and then walk away. You’d be amazed at how many action scenes are really filmed with a double. In some films, the only scenes that actually picture the star are the close-ups.”

In “Blade: Trinity,” Fikse became friends with Ryan Reynolds, one of the film’s stars who became the comic relief of the movie. “Ryan’s part really was fleshed out during the filming,” Fikse said. “He really turned it into a strong comedic character. Between takes, he would often run over to the side of the set and bounce his jokes off of the crew.” Reynolds created many of his funniest lines on the spot. In fact, Fikse gave Reynolds one of the film’s best lines, which is a joke involving David Hasselhoff. Fikse beamed at the memory of adding his own humor to the film. “Thank God for Ryan Reynolds,” recalled Beristain, referring to the critics’ lackluster support for the film. “Yeah, Reynolds really shines in this movie,” Fikse said. “Blade 3 really works as an action-comedy.”

Back on the set of “The Shaggy Dog,” Fikse goes back to work at the camera. “The Shaggy Dog” is the first film in which Fikse is running the A Camera for Beristain instead of the Steadicam, which is a great opportunity for Fikse, because the A Camera is responsible for all of the film’s principal photography. The film is directed by Brian Robbins, who has produced many television series, but might be best remembered for his role as “Eric,” the leather-clad tough guy in the 1986 television series “Head of the Class.”

Robbins sits behind the Camera A video monitor with Beristain and checks the scene as it is rehearsed with stand-ins for stars Tim Allen and Kristen Davis. The scene is being filmed on location in a real elementary school classroom in Studio City. A cat-wrangler is just outside the classroom, convincing her trained cat to sit on a tree branch and bat its paw at an imaginary insect. The trick is to get a shot that moves quickly from Allen’s face to the cat on the branch just outside the window. Unfortunately, the window’s frame partially blocks that cat from view, and Allen is already on his way to the set. Fortunately, the “tree” is a prop set outside that window that can be repositioned within 10 minutes. Robbins quickly dispatches a crew to reset the scene, and it is readied just moments before Allen arrives on the set.

“Sometimes, working with big celebrities can be tricky,” Fikse explains. “They expect the shot to be ready when they arrive to act. You don’t want to have them sitting around while you are still solving problems.”

Kristen Davis, who plays Allen’s wife, arrives on the set with her hairdresser and makeup artist, followed soon by Allen. The two take their place in the classroom with an actress who portrays a teacher with whom they are conferring. Robbins calls for action, and the scene begins. Allen begins speaking with the teacher, but spies the cat through the window and darts out of the room, leaving Davis bewildered, trying to explain his behavior to the teacher. And, cut.

The action is a filmed a couple more times, and wrapped up to prepare for the next scene. Davis darts off to her trailer, as Allen heads out to the street for some special effects shots in which he is hung from a harness to enable him to appear to run on his hands and knees.

“I guess I’ve always had a passion for camera work,” Fikse recalled, remembering his teenage days working as a videographer, making multimedia productions for his church and editing his senior class video. “It seems that most people with a passion for what they do – yeah, they’ve been doing it their whole life.” And with that thought, “Steadi Slim” is back off to the set, filming the cat from a new angle before wrapping for the day.

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