ON LOCATION ON THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII WITH "WATERWORLD"

(Click on the thumbnails for a bigger view.)

The "atoll" set as I first saw it. For many weeks the set was dockside in Kawaihae harbor; you just walked down a ramp to reach the set. A lot of the filming could be done in this way -- by careful choice of camera angles or by rotating the set you would see only open water in the background of a shot. And many scenes were simply shot within the confines of the donut-shaped set where no ocean horizons were visible.

A view from inside the "donut" of the set while it was docked in the harbor.

Setting up a camera platform on a barge that served as a roving base for filming second unit stunts. (The first unit had a similar barge.) In this case we'll be filming a waverunner leaping over a ramp. The atoll set can be glimpsed docked in the background at the right.

Eventually the huge atoll set was towed offshore for filming wide angles of the atoll being surrounded and attacked. This shot was taken from our camera barge, with a crew member in the foreground.

The atoll floating offshore. The atoll set was quite an engineering feat. It was around 365 feet in diameter and weighed about 1000 tons. Because of some slightly confusing news reports, many people are under the impression that this set accidentally sank during filming. Actually it was a much smaller and relatively minor set that sank.

Looking back on it, my involvement with "Waterworld" wasn't all that difficult (the sound supervisor, Jay Wilkinson, had the really tough job) but it was lengthly. Originally I thought I'd be going to Hawaii for about 3 weeks; I ended up spending 3 months there, plus another five months back in L.A. working with post production sound effects.

My job on location was fairly simple -- to record production sound for the second unit. For those unfamiliar with this, the "first unit" crew typically handles all the major scenes involving the principal actors and a "second unit" might handle some minimal chores such as filming beautiful scenic vistas or doing establishing shots of cars driving up in front of buildings, etc. On many films, the second unit crew might consist of only a handful of people and typically they would not hire a soundperson at all -- they would shoot only "MOS" (silent) footage.

But there was nothing typical about "Waterworld." Increasingly, big action films rely on second units to film most of the stunts and mayhem in which stunt doubles take the place of actors. And because "Waterworld" had a lot of big action scenes it had an unusually big second unit. (One of the second unit call sheets for a typical day calls for the use of 60 walkie-talkies, a seaplane, a helicopter, 11 boat operators, and the preparation of 115 lunches for the crew and 25 lunches for extras.)

Usually these second unit scenes do not involve dialog recording. But for "Waterworld" the second unit would film a handful of scenes in which supporting actors might deliver a line or two -- nothing very demanding. But for this reason it was decided to add a single production soundperson to the second unit -- me.

Although I was eventually very glad to have gone on this adventure, I actually resisted it in the beginning. Jay Wilkinson had signed on for it long ago -- he and the director, Kevin Reynolds, had close ties going back to our USC days when Kevin had made a very ambitious and accomplished thesis film, "Proof", that was later expanded into the feature "Fandango." Jay's official start of work on the post-production sound was months away but even now he was viewing tapes of dailies and assembling lots of potential sound effects. And because we had worked together for many years he was eager for me to go off on location to gather interesting sounds for use in post.

But my film experience so far had led me to conclude that the bigger the budget, the bigger the headaches -- and "Waterworld" at that point was looking to be one of the costliest films ever. In fact, listening on the phone to Jay enthusiastically talk about all his plans for the sound effects, I already had a headache. Actually, I ached all over after a day of recording vintage airplanes out in the August heat. It'd been years since I'd done production sound; the post production life had softened me up. I was in the mood to wimp out on the whole deal.

The next phone call changed my mind.

(To be continued.)

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