By S.T. VanAirsdale
Without much fanfare, Ramin Bahrani's Chop Shop had its hometown debut Saturday at a preview at the Museum of the Moving Image -- mere miles from Willets Point, Queens, and the blown-out rows of auto body shops where Bahrani and Co. shot in the sweltering summer of 2006. After a Cannes premiere and Toronto bow in 2007, the director and his young star Alejandro Polanco dropped by Astoria for a glimpse in advance of opening Feb. 27 at Film Forum.
I'm a Bahrani follower from way back but never tire of hearing stories from his informal yet wildly rigorous sets, where he'll never say "Action" or "Cut" but will run through scenes as many as 50 takes at a time. Polanco, portraying a homeless orphan hoarding cash by working odd jobs in the neighborhood, earned money between scenes by enticing cars into his movie boss's shop. Bahrani's rehearsal process is equally exacting and -- to hear him and Polanco tell it -- was almost as lucrative for the 13-year-old actor.
"I don't really know how, but we did get permission to shoot on the G train,' Bahrani said, responding to a question about a scene featuring Polanco and his friend Carlos (Carlos Zapata) selling candy in the subway. "The [Mayor's] Film Office has really been nice to me, and they got it for us somehow. But we shot that scene on Handicam in advance of making the film, so Ale and Carlos and my cameraman and I would shoot them selling candy on the train. We would film them this close --" Bahrani held his palm inches from his face -- "so they would forget all about us by the time it came to making the film. They kept the money from that time."
"Were those real people in the scene?" a viewer asked.
"Yeah," Bahrani replied. "That's the great thing about New Yorkers: They've seen so many cameras that they don't really care. I'm amazed. That woman in the scene never once looked into the camera or even cared. They never asked any questions, either; 'Why is there a camera following these kids selling candy?' It's amazing."
"I never sold candy on the train," Polanco added. "I'm not shy, but when you're talking to people and you think they're going to say something because we have a camera, I was scared. So that was the first car, but then people were buying candy without saying nothing. I was making my money, so it didn't really bother me. Then when I went to the second car, I was more comfortable. The first time, when we were shooting on the Handicam, that's when I made $35. I was like, 'I wanna do this again!' "
"They were really excited for that," Bahrani said.
Posted at January 28, 2008 12:46 PM
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