On the set of the "Taj" . . I've just finished helping out Winston Furlong on the set of his debut movie "Taj" being filmed here in Melbourne, starring none other than Arthur Gugick's magnificent Taj Mahal model. What an amzing experience it was and a window into the rather bizarre world of movie making. There were so many cool things I wanted to take photos of but for many reasons I either didn't or couldn't so the pictures here are only a fragmentary taste of my experience but hopefully they're enjoyable all the same. Here goes.
You may remember Arthur paid the land of Oz a visit in January to teach me how to put the model together and take it apart for when shooting was due to start in April and he unfortunately couldn't attend. What a pair of hotties...Heather, you're drooling!
Anyway, Winston, the writer and director, asked Yokomode01(who was there to help as well) and I to produce some plans of the Taj as a prop for the actors to use in a few scenes where they begin to build the model. Here's a section with the various walls. The finished version looked much better.
This is a shot of my first day on the set, filming the Taj set up in a child's bedroom which features toward the end of the movie. My role as official "Lego guy" was to look after the Taj, build it or dismantle it as the scene required and be on hand to fix any breakages during shots. This was often comical to me as an antenna piece would occasionally be knocked off by one of the actors or crew and I would be called in to find the piece on the floor and replace it correctly. Yeah, it was hard work! Many of the non-afols (or "civies as I call them) there seemed downright afraid of the model, scared to touch it or anything. and I lost track of the number of times I was asked "Is it all real Lego?"...
Over a week later I was over to the studio where the main character's set was. The majority of the scenes involving the Taj model would be filmed here.
Here's the set of the main character's apartment with the lighting in place for filming. The lighting was like this during the whole day so it proved handy to carry a torch with you. Also during rehearsals and filming takes the crew needed absolute silence for recording, so wherever you were or whatever you were during, when you heard the call of "Turnover!" you froze! Anyone found making a loud noise suddenly or having their mobile go off got treated to calls of "Slab!", meaning to repent the guilty party would be required to provide a slab of beer for the wrap-up party...Winston, the director, was immune we soon found out...
Here's where we kept the Taj and it's spares with the rest of the props. All of the props were arranged into piles according to scene or room.
Oops! Shut out! Hope it's not a long scene....
Here are the two lead actors Mahesh and Coco playing with the Taj in between takes.
I'm working on the model here while the crew have "floated" (or "moved" in layman's terms) a wall of the apartment set's bedroom to shoot in there. While they shoot, I attach bricks very ssllloowwwllyy and quietly...do you know how loud snapping two bricks together is in complete silence?!
Here the lighting guys set up their equipment for a nighttime scene in the set livingroom. I'm able to snap a few blurry shots quickly before they grumble at me to get outta the way...no, just kidding.
Here my main cat on the set David and I are dismantleing one Taj model down into a "first stage" for a scene where the actors first begin to build and we see the results after a few hours work. Thank goodness Arthur built us two complete Taj models as it allowed us to keep one built which we only slightly modified for some "close to being finshed" shots while the other one we disassemble quite a fair bit for the early building scenes. Having two saved a hell of a lot of time and headaches.
And here is the near complete stage of the built version. Both David and I take photos of exactly how it looks incase we need to reshoot some scenes later and it has to look exactly how it was.
A few days later it time for the all-important scene where the main character smashes the finished Taj in a fit of anger, so we set up for the behind the scenes photographer to get some photos to be used later in posters and advertising. Wouldn't you kill to have a photography set up like this for your mocs?
Getting ready for some destruction. That's Lazslo the Director of Photography ordering his minions about.
Winston and I weren't sure if we should smash both Taj models in order to get two good takes with the downside of unknown downtime in rebuilding both or whether to just 'go all out' and small one really thoroughly and hope it's a good take. In the end Winston opted to only smash one (much to my relief) so we still had another viable Taj model for tomorrow's scenes. Even so, I was still fairly nervous about this scene and having to possibly quickly rebuild it. All the crew were excited about seeing the model getting broken so everyone gathered around just out of camera shot to witness the devastation...
...and oh baby, let me tell you, it was good! Arthur had already made many connection points weak on purpose in order for the model to break apart nicely and as well as this David and I loosened all the remaining connections we could. And I think Mahesh, the actor who was to smash it, gave it 110% knowing it was a one-take shot, wanting it to look spectacular...actually it didn't smash so much as disintegrate! He hit is so hard and fast that the walls disappearred and the heavy dome just dropped straight down onto the coffee table. Winston seemed pleased with the result.
With time running out for filming and only a few days left in the shedule the next task was to strengthen the remaining Taj model for it's "maiden voyage" as I called it: a climatic scene where the finsihed model is lowered over the edge of a two-story balcony. Originally we were going to make a "stunt-Taj" out of cardboard and hide it under a sheet so that if it was dropped it was no big deal but Winston, in all his wisdom, decided that it would look much better/riskier if you actually see the Taj swing precariously over a busy street below. So here are a few shots where I'm adding studs to secure everything down so that it doesn't slip or fall if it gets tilted. We were a little reluctant but in the end we ended up supergluing most of the four towers together because they were just too prone to falling. The model could still be dismantled and stored in boxes even with these bits glued. Don't tell Arthur...
Now, the plan was that in the meantime I would rebuild the smashed Taj and strengthen that one too so that we had a back up for this scene in case the first one is dropped. Ha! How funny. Being at work full-time meant I could only be onset after hours and weekends, which meant for most of the filming time the art department had to look after the taj models. I wanted to show them how to construct/dismantle the model because it's designed to be transported in components and assembled onsite. However, we ran out of time and the crew were transporting the one remaining Taj to a location shoot already built, so that when it returned it was quite broken. Nowhere near as much as the smashed one but still, now I had one and a half models to repair in one night! I repaired the built one and started on the smashed one but gave up exhuasted (I think I could've built it if I had a whole day but I just ran out of time). We were going to have to shoot this hazardous scene with no backup...looking back it seems fitting that filming a climatic scene should have real world drama behind making it but at the time I was totally 'sh*tscarred', as we say here in Oz...
Here we are in sunny Lygon street, Melbourne, for the balcony scene. The Taj was to be lowered in stages: onto a false roof, slid across and then walked off a scaffold and into a ute parked nearby. Sounds easy huh?
The actors are getting ready to lower the Taj over the bacony onto a rug on the roof below, to be dragged down to the scaffold. Winston and I had practiced this the night before in his garage so we were fairly confident WE could do it, but getting the actors to believe us took some time. They were understandably nervous, which made me really nervous. There were many people about and Lygon street is quite busy: cars and trams go past below. If the model fell during a take or even a rehearsal the whole scene is out and I will have to rescue what I can of it and rush back to the studio to try to rebuild the smashed one as fast as I can. I don't think I breathed much that morning; it took about two hours just to rehearse and get ready for filming...
Over she goes. That's Winston in the blue shirt guiding them. He remained just out of shot for this scene as the rest of us held our breaths watching the video feed...
Land!!!! Success and the Taj is in one piece. I can breathe again. We lost one or two small pices onto the road which got crushed nicely by some cars but otherwise the actors did an amazing job under a ton of pressure. Now it's just a final shot of loading the Taj into the back of the car and seeing it drive off.
And that was it for the Taj shoots and me. So we have one complete Taj in components and the smashed one still in a gazillion pieces awaiting it's fate.
Helping out on the Taj movie set was exciting, stressful, exhuasting, hilarious, silly, amazing and FUN. There were long periods of standing around doing nothing waiting for when I was needed and also long nights and very early weekend mornings. What an incredible experience! I feel very lucky to have been a part of this movie and am indebted to so many people, both Winston and the film crew for putting up with me and my many innane questions, yokomode01 for helping out heaps and being my fellow "Lego-nerd" on set, but also Chris Phipson, Kelso and Brian K for hooking me up with Arthur last year at Brickworld, without which I wouldn't have been a part of this. I really wanted to come over to the States this year for Brickworld and thank you guys and Arthur but unfortunately it wil have to wait for next year...Thanks guys, it's my shout next year!
If you'd like to read more about the Taj movie, head to the website.
If you'd like to see more professional-looking behind the scenes pics from the very talented BTS photographers Michelle, Alysa and Justin, check out these slides.