by Will Murray
Something strange is going on
in Somerville, Massachusetts. In an anonymous industrial warehouse
converted into a soundstage, Lorimar / Warner Bros.' comedy-fantasy Second
Sight is filming. A section of the warehouse has been dressed to
resemble a Chinese restaurant. There, director Joel Zwick is preparing to
levitate the actress whom fellow cast members call "The Flying Nun."
Sally Field is nowhere to be
seen, however. Instead, actress Beth (High Road to China)
Armstrong, attired in a plain grey habit, is patiently watching the piano wires
being tested. At a signal, she's hoisted into a brutally vertical angle.
Co-stars Bronson (Perfect
Strangers) Pinchot and and John (Night Court) Larroquette position
themselves on either end of Armstrong. But there's a problem with the
lighting. The wires show. As Armstrong waits, her co-stars offer her
real support so the unnatural position doesn't tire her. The lighting is
adjusted until Zwick, watching from a video monitor around the corner, calls for
Larroquette and Pinchot --
who's attired in an absurd pair of blue pajamas that might have been handed down
through generations of the Merlin family -- begin a kind of tug of war with
Armstrong as the rope. Larroquette uses both arms, Pinchot only one
Murray!" Larroquette shouts. "If you want to deal with me,
you'll have to put her down!"
To which Pinchot, whose
character is not named Murray, replies: "I can't let go! I'm
holding onto resentment from the earthly plane!" And he gives vent to
a maniacal, "Hah hah hah hahhh!" laugh that shakes his long,
lanky hair. He sounds like the Mad Magazine version of The Shadow.
Just then, the fourth
co-star, Stuart (Fatal Attraction) Pankin, rushes to the rescue. He
shoves a handful of Goobers into Pinchot's chortling mouth. Pinchot feigns
a faint and Pankin catches him.
"Cut!" He's not satisfied.
"Why don't you all try
acting?" Larroquette deadpans. It's hard to say if he's serious, he's
serious so seldom.
And it's hard to tell what Second
Sight is all about. Even Zwick has trouble.
"There are two
storylines," he explains. "The major storyline involves a nun, a
detective and a dead guy. OK? The dead guy, however, is presented
through a living character named Bobby McGee, our psychic. It's his spirit
guide, Murray. Murray is very jealous because the woman he used to live
with before he died, who is now a nun, seems to be developing an affection for
the detective, Wills. The secondary story is that the nun meets up with
Wills because there's an abduction of a cardinal who is just about to be elected
Bronson Pinchot plays Bobby
McGee, who name derives from the Kris Kristofferson song, "Me and Bobby
Bobby works for Boston's
Second Sight Detective Agency which is called in to solve the cardinal's
abduction. Pinchot's character possesses, among other powers, the ability
to channel the spirits of the dead. But Pinchot is quick to add that Bobby
is no omniscient seer.
"He's really more like a
psychic Helen Keller," Pinchot remarks. "He's smart and he has
this skill, but he's not very articulate. The main problem is that he has
more coming through him than he has the verbal skills, or even the physical
stamina, to handle. He'll overload constantly. Especially after his
spirit guide gets pissed off at him and steps to one side."
Bobby's guardian is Dr.
Preston Pickett, played by Stuart Pankin.
"He's a PhD,"
Pankin explains. "His job is to control and document the psychic, who
is basically an innocent, with pictures and tape recorders. Although it
really isn't explained in the movie why he has hooked up with this detective
agency, I've justified it because it gives the psychic the opportunity to be
exposed to all kinds of stimuli in the real world, including dangerous
stimuli. Instead of putting him in an institution, we use him for good and
"One of the things that
calms Bobby down when he's out of whack are candies -- Goobers
particularly," adds John Larroquette, who plays the agency head,
Wills. He's trying to explain the scene shot earlier in the day.
"So, Preston comes back with the candy and sees that we're having a tug of
war and he's holding her up by his fingertips because he can do that."
"That was something that
I came up with," Pinchot reveals. "The guy that I channel,
Murray, used to be the nun's boy friend. She sent him out for rum raisin
ice cream and he got killed. Now, she's getting eyes for John
Larroquette's character. There was a scene where we just tussled over her
until the doctor came in. As we came closer to doing it, I said, 'That's
just not going to wash because somebody's who's already in the Fourth
Dimension is not going to have a tug of war with John. We're going
to have my fly her with one finger.' And they said, 'No. We don't
have the time; we don't have the budget.' And I said, 'You either have to
do it or I'm not doing the scene. I can make chairs fly out of the
way when I'm that character. You can't retard what you've already set
up.' So, they said, 'Fine.'"
Pinchot isn't being
temperamental. His co-stars give him credit for not bluffing his way
through his character(s). Pinchot demands a strong adherence to psychic
tradition as well as plot logic. And more to the point, Second Sight
is primarily a Bronson Pinchot vehicle.
"I was going to do
another movie at Lorimar," Pinchot reveals, "which was also somewhat
supernatural. It was about this bodiless being from outer space that comes
to Earth and kidnaps this car repossessor and makes him find this space
crystal. The little car repossessor was going to be me. That didn't
work out. I decided at the last moment I didn't feel right about it.
"Lorimar had already
gotten fixed in their heads that I was going to do movies with them and they
sent me this script," he adds. "I said, 'Great
idea. Strange script.' And they asked, 'Would you be interested in
sitting down with a writer and he producer and working on it?' And I said,
'Yeah. Sure. That would be fun.'"
As production drew near, the
choice of a director became a problem. Pinchot suggested Joel Zwick, who
has directed every episode of Pinchot's TV sitcom, Perfect Strangers, and
with whom he feels comfortable. The studio quickly hired Zwick.
Despite a superficial
resemblance to Ghostbusters, Zwick has a much different take on Second
Sight, which some cast members jokingly call The Three Stooges Meets
"I don't see this as a
special FX movie," Zwick says. "We rely more on comic acting
inventiveness than Ghostbusters did. It is a fantasy.
There are a number of special FX. Essentially, my vision has been to work
with the actors and not to put them in front of a blue screen and ask them to
act a problem that they can't even see."
In one sense, Second Sight
is haunted. The ghost of the writer's strike, still unresolved during the
shoot, hangs over the Tom Schulman and Patricia Resnick script.
script I went into production with was -- nobody's fault -- a few drafts away
from what I would have done into production with if I didn't have a
writer's strike," Zwick says. "Because of that, the actors and
myself have had to work on the set to reinvestigate the dialogue and the logic
of the scenes. So, I venture to say that virtually everything is created
as we go, using the script as a starting point."
"It was very terrifying
at first," says Bess Armstrong, as she waits in her trailer for her next
scene, the dreaded ice cream sequence. She plays what she describes as
"a nun with a past," Sister Elizabeth.
"She's now working as
executive secretary to the Cardinal of Boston," Armstrong notes.
"She's a woman who pretty clearly doesn't belong in a convent but
has made that choice through emotional trauma. They way we play her, she
makes no moves. She's quite honorable to her vows, until the
denouement, which we won't talk about." She smiles sweetly,
like a nun.
A crewman pokes his head into
Armstrong's trailer and announces, "Time to make you green!"
"What we do for
art," she says dryly.
"Let's dump ice cream on
these suckers!" Zwick chortles gleefully as he arrives on the restaurant
set. It's clear he enjoys his work immensely. Either that or he has
directed too many episodes of Perfect Strangers.
Larroquette and Armstrong
take their places, toe to toe, facing one another. They're definitely an
odd couple. Imposing in his grey double-breasted suit, Larroquette (STARLOG
#138) towers over the wan Armstrong, who has to tilt her head back to look him
in the eye.
Overhead, riggers are
checking the ice cream tub. It's the size of the tubs they scoop cones out
of. They send it running back and forth along an invisible-wire track,
making sure that it doesn't tip until it's directly over the clinging
couple. It seems to work fine. But it isn't loaded yet.
Then, the tub is filled with
semi-liquid ice cream. Around the corner from the set, Zwick hunches over
his video monitor, practically licking his lips in anticipation.
Zwick calls for action.
Larroquette and Armstrong exchange some dialogue and the tub begins its
run. On cue, it tips -- and a liquid stream of vomitous green ice cream
splashes on Larroquette's shoulder.
It completely misses
"It's a little [bleeping]
late," Larroquette complains sourly. Neither he nor Armstrong have
broken their embrace. The ice cream drops down Larroquette's well-tailored
"The ice cream
missed," Zwick says matter of factly.
says, pausing for effect, "was a miss?"
"Then, somebody better
shoot the [bleeping] seagull that just flew through here."
Zwick ignores Larroquette.
The shot has misfired. If he send the pair away to get cleaned up,
expensive shooting time will be lost. And there's only so much ice cream
on hand. After conferring, Zwick hits upon an elegant solution.
They'll dump the remainder on the hapless actors and splice the two shots
Stoically, Larroquette and
Armstrong maintain their clinch while the tub is recharged and readied for
action. Zwick, back at his monitor, signals the effects man.
The tub rolls. It
tips. This time, a veritable avalanche of emerald slop cascades down,
inundating Armstrong and Larroquette thoroughly.
"Rum raisin?" he
Zwick, laughing, calls it a
Larroquette sloshes off,
thoroughly slimed, while Armstrong, her composure intact, calmly announces,
"I would like to thank the crew for their control during that
take." Her gratitude is genuine. Had anyone burst out laughing,
both takes would have been ruined and she would have had to endure even more of
an ice cream bath.
A week later, the cast has
left town, and filming has shifted to the benighted streets of Boston.
This is the second unit, otherwise known as "the plane unit."
It's named after the maimed American Trans Air 727 that's discreetly parked on
North Street, near Boston's Fanueil Hall.
"The three heroes think
Will is in Pittsburgh," explains second assistant director Glen (Beauty
& the Beast) Trotiner. "So, they've gotten on the plane to go
help him. It turns out he's still in Boston. Bobby
psychically takes over the plane by way of Murray. The plane gets this
mysterious aura around it. It starts out of the line of taxiing
planes, comes racing out of the airport, up the highway and drives through the
Callahan Tunnel. The wings come off. The tail comes off.
People fall out. Luggage comes out. Eventually, it winds up in an
alley where it surprises the killers, who are firing at Wills."
previous evening, Trotiner explains, they had shot the beginning of the sequence
at Logan Airport with a real 727.
"We dressed the tarmac
to look like a highway. We took cars and put them on the tarmac and put
down a yellow line, and they were driving up and down it. We put some
signs up, and we drove the plane down. You see the skyline of Boston over
the water. It looks like a waterside highway."
Some miniature work will be
done in post-production, but for the scenes actually shot on Boston's infamous
traffic-defeating streets, the balsa wood and aluminum prop plane is
utilized. Over 60 feet long and wingless, the tail end is a gaping maw of
orange passenger seats. Police guard it carefully from a growing crowd of
gawkers. A passing airline pilot walks up and earnestly asks about the
prop. One wag, attempting to impress his friends, raises a hand and calls,
FX coordinator Larry
Cavanaugh details the inner working of the prop, actually a modified parade
"It was fabricated in
California," he says. "The guy who built it is pretty
ingenious. He's famous for building the floats in Pasadena. It has a
454 Chevrolet engine in it with an automatic transmission. It's
rear-engine driven, and it has a truck chassis underneath it. The driver
in the pilot's compartment sits there and has all the controls, steering and the
whole thing. It's pretty maneuverable. It'll do 45 miles per
For the scene about to be
shot, Cavanaugh, an explosives expert, has rigged the plane with spring-loaded
titanium arms and spark tubes to generate friction sparks.
Patiently, Trotiner oversees
the setup. Midnight comes and goes. Finally, deep in the night,
they're ready for a dry run. The plane float lumbers around the
corner. Stunt cars scramble from the monster's path on cue. It looks
Then, they go for the real
thing. This time, the plane careens into view. The pyrotechnics go
off spectacularly. A car swerves to avoid it. Another, coming down
the street, screeches to a halt, and shifts into reverse with alacrity.
The plane's nose chases it the length of the street. Extras dressed as
Bostonians react with amazement. Real Bostonians who happen upon the
scene, absorb it with something more akin to incredulity. Only Hollywood
would attempt to drive a jet through Boston's excruciatingly narrow streets.
As the plane sweeps by with
amazing agility, sparks spit from the tubes concealed in its ruined tail.
Luggage tumbles off and extras are visible, frantically clinging to their
precariously perched airline seats.
The shot comes off with only
one hitch. One of the swerving cars blows a tire on a curb.
Fortunately, the take is fine.
"This is the fantasy
part of it," says Glen Trotiner, a regular STARLOG reader, unabashedly
delighted to be directing a special FX unit. "We've done some
levitations and some things coming in and out of rooms mysteriously. This
is the climax. The bullets stopping in mid-air and the psychic lunar ecl
-- uh, better not tell you!" He cuts himself off with a chuckle.
And then he goes back to
work. It's nearly 3:00 a.m., but that's a long way to first light and the
end of this night's work.
veteran STARLOG correspondent, is the current author of NAL's Destroyer
series. He profiled John Larroquette in issue #138.