Today I meet actors in the new Restless Hungarian production office in Budapest. To make it official, Máté spells out the words RESTLESS HUNGARIAN with round magnetic buttons on our bulletin board. Sitting around a huge table, at least four people are on their phones talking in a language I do not understand. Among them are two new people I just met, Dori, the unit production manager, and Andi, a production assistant. One of them has arranged the schedule of costume fittings for actors today. The other has obtained municipal permits for filming at exterior locations. In my jet lagged state I have trouble remembering who did what. Mostly, I am just trying to stay out of the way as feverish activity swirls all around me.
My first meeting is with Zoltan and Christoph, the lighting director and his assistant. We talk through each scene in detail, looking over storyboards, and discussing key camera angles. As a documentary filmmaker, I know virtually nothing about studio lighting but I feel that I am in good hands with Zoli. A long conversation ensues over the pros and cons of different types of dollies. We decide to rent fast prime lenses to give me the option of creating a “bouquet” — a very narrow plane of focus, blurring both foreground and background. I hope this will enhance, in a subtle way, the dreamlike quality of the scenes.
The day is like a dream in itself. Sixteen actors, men, women and children, are dressed for each of their scenes and presented to me. Do I approve? Mostly I do. If I don’t, Eszter gives a very stern look, and then fishes around in one of the dozens of garment bags and pulls out an alternative, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. In one outfit,Tom, age 17, looks like a character out of the 1970s television series The Mod Squad. In another my father, age 5 looks like the perfect Little Lord Fountleroy, except that his lace collar is so immense that his face becomes lost in it. But everything can be fixed.
Virag, the famous actress playing my mother, appears in a svelte grey dress that looks great except for a strange black appliquéd palm frond on her left breast. A minute later she is in a simple blue print dress that looks just right. Peter, who plays my grandfather Andor, tries out the antique monocle that I brought from the United States, holding it effortlessly in his eye. He is dressed in a World War I uniform and looks as if he is about to go over the top at the Somme rather than attend a genteel officers’ mess, but after much discussion I am persuaded that this is what he should wear when he walks with Little Paul along a country road and lends him his saber. But the big question is the saber itself. It is shiny and beautiful, but do we have the right belt/harness for it so that will hang correctly by Andor’s side and not trip him up?
Meanwhile Edina, the defacto boss of everyone on the Hungarian crew, has fallen in love with the vintage teddy bear (circa 1918) I found on Amazon. She begs me to leave it with her when the shooting is done. It’s hers.
After the actors try on their costumes and I approve them, they are asked to sit down to read and sign their contracts. Everyone takes this very seriously. Contracts, stipulations, and the accoutrements of bureaucracy seem integral to Hungarian culture. Is it a vestige of the old Austro-Hungarian empire or a remnant of communism? When I ask Máté about it he explains that the attention to contractual detail is to satisfy the accounting requirements of the Hungarian National Film Fund which will pay a partial rebate on the total production budget. This is a good thing.
Zsófi, the prop lady, shows up smiling. She and Máté went off to do battle with the director of the errant prop house, who relented, and is letting us use our own truck and movers to take the props we need. Major crisis averted, or so it seems. I also had the pleasure of unpacking and displaying for Zsófi the 50 odd small hand props that I brought from the states. It was like Christmas morning, especially since many of the packages contained toys that are for the boy who is me in the film. There is that thing about TIME again. The past is present.
Zsófi herself seems like a different woman from the one I have been haranguing and pleading with on Skype for the past few weeks. She is suddenly in charge, taking initiative, kicking butt, and making stuff happen. Máté says that’s the way it is with her. She goes from zero to ninty in the eleventh hour.
So, all it all, it’s been a great first day. Tomorrow is all about looking at locations.