My fourth guest blogger for Love in the Sixth is the remarkable Laura Lind. Lind is a tall splash of vodka who combines the writing talent of Fran Lebowitz with the looks of Lauren Bacall. Her voice mail messages are so amusing that I’m secretly stockpiling them. A Tasha James and Fast Ford Nation favourite, Lind is a natural comedian. She is also an occasional refusenic who randomly decides she no longer wants to step in front of a camera. I thought I wasn’t going to recruit her for the film, but as our D.O.P. Rob McGee quipped after Laura showed up with a van full of elaborate homemade costumes–she came in like the U.S.A. in World War Two–at the end, with the big guns. Lind’s acid-trippy contribution to the green screen sections in the tailings pond tune, Dirty Lies will blow your brain. I’ll let Laura take it from here. JK
Lord Love a Duck: A few thoughts about paper-mâché, suffering and the meaning of life, while building duck costumes for the musical Love in the Sixth.
By Laura Lind
We had these duck wings kicking around the house for years. They’re beautiful and I always wanted to make a proper mask and body for them. When Jude (producer/director/writer) casually asked if I wanted to be a bird? In a film? As if this is a normal request – I said YES! I had the art supplies, plus about $1000 worth of Disney-grade costume feathers and a clear schedule.
Mid-way through the ensuing week-long-costume-making-frenzy, I found myself asking Jude: Should the duck have a vagina? If the duck is going to lay an egg? Can we get the duck to fly? Does the duck need a stunt double? Could we film it…(oh please!) in a climbing academy? Some of these things happened. Ok…most did not. But it was crazy fun trying.
The ducks (one duck costume became four) in their final form are big and happy and, unfortunately, once they were under the unforgiving studio lights, not nearly as polished as I thought they looked in our dimly-lit kitchen. Further, I don’t know if they work in the context of the song or if they ever should have been anywhere near movie cameras. Finally – they’re also fantastically uncomfortable! I didn’t make any allowances for sitting. The feet aren’t articulated for walking. And both of us (baby duck Wendy Sinclair and I) had to work pretty much blinded by feathers.
But everyone on set was okay with that because the ducks were insane and insanity, like a car accident or a fire or a wild animal on the loose, is always a compelling film subject. I just drank three or four vodkas, put the costume on and started dancing. Unfortunately the DOP said I couldn’t move too much because at SEVEN FEET TALL in costume, I’d fly right out of the shot. So for me there wasn’t a great deal of ACTING involved. That being said, there was one moment when my baby duck Wendy eats tar sand sludge, we do a quick costume change into our black tar-sands covered duck heads and she dies in my arms. It was really sad, like Michelangelo’s Pieta – reenacted with ducks. I’m not joking. We were almost crying, inside the costumes. It was a moment. It was real.
I have no idea whether any of this was necessary. The life, tarring and death of the ducks is only a couple of lines in an environmental song that already had video shot in two provinces, features tar sands b-roll, a Stonehenge-like rock formation and a duet with Jude and B.C. singer/songwriter John Lefebvre. But I said, for the purpose of this site, I’d write a duck arts and crafts blog. Not a dissertation on the futility of existence.
Above: A stunt duck head soon to be crushed under Jude’s feet; the costumer – moi – with hands just starting to burn from the latex gloves; Jude Klassen dressed as “Bitchumen” a Cruella DeVille sort of pro-Tar Sands Black Witch (I think); and Wendy Sinclair, the chirpy chick with a bleak future.
Here are some process shots and rudimentary how-to instructions, from the costume making production below.
Duck Head Attempt 1
Plaster cast and millboard on a foam hairdresser’s dummy head.
This early version of a duck mask was made when the project was still a one-kitchen-counter affair. Before it ballooned all out of proportions to occupy every working surface in our house. I used a glue gun and crescents of cardboard to build up the duckbill in a cartoony lip of the Donald Duck variety and then covered it all in plaster. It was GREAT except that it could not actually be worn by a human over six months of age.
Duck Head 2 (Plaster cast on a spherical 22” Mylar balloon with a millboard neck – duct tape reinforced. Orange gouache on millboard beak. Duck Head 1 (about the size of a human head) is in the foreground
The duck needed to be covered in tailings pond gunk, and we couldn’t destroy the studio or green screen to get the shot, so duplicates of both costumes were made in black. An entire duck dynasty started accumulating in the basement.
Baby Duck Head
Plaster cast and millboard on 13-inch latex balloon.
Here we see the duck project is starting to take over the dining room. My husband is now asking ‘what exactly are you doing?’ And “how many heads are you making?” and “when can we eat dinner at the table again?” And I’m looking at him, as if to say, “Have you seen The Birds? Are you familiar with Alfred Hitchcock? Have you ever made a movie? Oh you unbelieving spouse, how difficult it must be for you to be living with a creative GENIUS. I pity you. “ It was the whole Philip Seymour Hoffman/Catherine Keener Synecdoche, New York dynamic, writ small, and not as eloquently expressed.
And at the bottom of the dining room table notice an ugly misshapen rough-looking sort of giant yellow bead-like object? That is the mother duck body. It’s not AT ALL what I’d set out to make. But since I spent four days waiting for it to dry I felt it had to be used. With enough feathers around the neck, it served its purpose.
The tar sands duck is essentially just a new duck head, and the yellow body covered up with a torn up black cotton shroud thing, originally part of a Witch King of Angmar costume. Doesn’t everyone have Witch King of Angmar shrouds in their basement? No? Well we do.
Sadly, the baby duck didn’t get a papier-mâché body underlay because A) she’s just a baby and doesn’t need it and B) they’re uncomfortable as hell and C) my new chicken wire papier-mâché rendering start price is $1000 per day. It’s HORRIBLE. The scratches are just healing now.
You see in the foreground a plaster cast eggshell on a pilate’s ball? It took twenty minutes to make and turned out beautifully after it dried. In the studio we just pulled the plug out of the ball and presto! A fantastically spherical egg with a completely cartoonish jagged edged was released. There’s a smaller version, molded on a bowl, on the baby duck’s head. The only problem is that plaster cast runs at about $150 a roll. Yes. I already had it in my basement. And yes, I know this isn’t normal.
THE FEET were quickly carved from foam on the afternoon of the shoot and duct taped on in studio. They are also strapped on with sections from my yellow belt from Tae Kwon Do – which I kept from the eighties. Who knew a yellow belt in karate could be useful?
And the ducks make their studio debut!
Note the yellow karate belt on Wendy’s ankles! Note we are sweating! It was about 105 degrees F under the studio lights. Apparently Carol Spinney’s Big Bird costume is also unbearably hot. In these amateur-designed numbers – Wendy is wearing a shirt, then my grade seven gymnastics Danskin topped off with a yellow turtleneck. Fun detail: I kept asking Wendy “ aren’t your hands just boiling?” It turned out I have a latex allergy. After the eight-hour shoot my hands were covered in an allergic rash. This was on top of the chicken wire scratches. It was like the Stations of the Cross or something.
But we all happily suffer for our art. In fact the shoot was over much too fast and the ducks were tucked back into the basement where my husband occasionally passes them and asks…. What exactly are we going to do with these?
That was until, a few weeks after the video wrapped I went down into the basement to discover…Jesus Christ! Who knew that papier-mâché was edible? Apparently mice! Apparently mice can speak French because papier-mâché means “chewed paper” in French. Anyhow, as a happy result of all this, we are adopting a kitten. Maybe this is a message about the circle of life.
Again, I apologize, but this kind of philosophical discourse is above my pay grade as a papier-mâché blogger. I’ll just wrap up with a trite pun of seasonal relevance for those who celebrate resurrection festivities at this time of year.
HAPPY EASTER FROM THE JUDECAST CHICKS!