We got going and arrived at Dammasch about 6pm on Saturday, I said my goodbyes to Dianna, and in I went. Now, I wasn't actually needed on Saturday (hence showing up late), but I didn't know when shooting would wrap up for the day, so I figured they could use the extra pair of hands, and at the very least, I could just hang out. I relaxed for a while, just chatting to whoever was around, doing the occasional odd job for the main crew.
Our first bit of excitement came at a short break while a bunch of us were hanging around outside, some smoking, when we heard a loud crash and rattle from the cars next to us. We couldn't figure out what that was, and we looked towards the roof in time to see a head duck down. We called to the culprit, and his head did pop up and down again, and about six of us went after the apparent kids on the roof.
Let me take a moment and impress upon you how frickin' huge this place is. Here's an aerial picture of the facility, taken in 1960. 460 patient facility, a very wide range of services for the mentally messed-up. You can see the wing off to the right side of the picture is 3 stories, the rest of the facility is 2 stories, and the whole place has an extensive basement/storage area. Just leave that pic open for now, as reference.
You'd enter the grounds from the road that goes off pic at the left. Now, follow the curve (top right of the pic), you'll see the first road that leads into the facility, around the back of the three-story wing. That's where we were when this started. OK, so the six of us run into the building, up the stairs to the third floor, and head through the dark hallways towards the front of that building, where the roof access ladder is (in the front stairwell). When we get there, the kids have already scooted down it and are heading down, so we chase them down. The door at the bottom leading out is locked, but there's a broken-out transom window there, about eighteen inches tall and as wide as the door, that they are all climbing through. A girl is stuck in the window, and a guy still in here with us is yelling at her to hurry up, as she complains about being stuck. Meanwhile, we're all just standing there staring at them, trying not to giggle, since it's pretty obvious if we were gonna grab them we'd have done it by now...but he still yells at her to hurry. They get through, and Travis (producer), who is pretty skinny, leaps through after them. The rest of us are, well, big guys, so we realize that, with the doors locked and/or covered by steel plates, we have to go all the way back to the back, leave the building, and walk around the side to get to the front to back up Travis, who has the kids at their car. Off we go walking through uneven ground and brambles and thorny vines, and get there as they drive off. Travis informs us that they have let him know of four more of their buddies still here, and we go looking for them. Greg, Doug and I walk around the front of the facility, and get most of they way across the front when we get a cell call report telling us of kids climbing off the roof around back and we head that way (around the building, lower middle of the picture), when we see running figures , and chase them down. Eventually, we find out that there's still one more of their party, stuck on the roof, and we convince them to leave. OK, now we have to find this last one, and when we do, we find that he has jumped from the third story roof to a second story one, and now can't get down from there. We start looking for a ladder, all the time heckling him. About this time, two cars pull up with a bunch of kids, claiming they got a cell phone call from their buddy, and can they help get him down. Greg and I detained them and talked to them for a while, staying cool (caught them lying to me, too, some of them were in the first group we ran off). About this time, the cops show up (on a normal patrol). Well, the long and short of it is that we did finally get a ladder and get this guy down, he damn near got arrested, and the kids all left. Greg and I walked the facility to make sure all was quiet and to make sure the roof access was latched, which was cool since I'd not been able to tour the facility before. Again, though, dig that pic...that's a HUGE place. By the time we finished, yeah, the legs were tired.
Later that night, as the hours slipped on into morning, we were just trying to get through a specific set of shots. Being this was the last weekend of shooting, and they started demolitions Monday, we HAD to get these shot, no putting them off or pushing them back. So, it was a source of much consternation when both of our generators, at one point, died. All of our cameras and lights, all of the 12-TV monitor bank for these lab shots, everything, gone. We got one up and running and the other replaced with our back-up gennie, but that took time. Plus, these 12 TVs are hooked up to 12-DVD players, each running clips of "security camera" footage, so each shot means we have to set each DVD players to the proper clip...which takes time. Meanwhile, the actors are getting very tired and cranky, and are curious as to why the cameras and monitors are being set up to shoot close-ups of monitors instead of being set up to shot them, so that they can go home and sleep, and everyone is so tired and frazzled that they don't have the capacity to explain why they aren't deviating from the shooting schedule. We had at least one principle actress who broke down in tears, just due to the lack of sleep, the lateness of the hour, and the time that was being put into this. We kept everyone together long enough to finally get everything done, shut down what we were shutting down, and sent everyone home but the few staying overnight for security about 6am.
Yep, six in the friggin' morning on Sunday. Extras for Sunday's shoot had been told to show up at 9am. Thankfully, we did manage to get an e-mail sent out that told them all to show up at 1pm, instead. So, off to home for most everyone, and ten of us stayed. We had planned to keep watches and switch up every couple hours or something, but by the time we shut down at 6am, all those ten had already passed out asleep...except for me.
As the only one awake, staying up for security fell to me. Now, Sarah's alarm is supposed to go off at 8:30, because she wants to be up in case any extras DO show up at 9 (Sarah is the 2nd Assistant Director, so she handles these guys getting signed in and briefed, etc.). I've got 2 and a half hours to sit here, in the pitch black and ball-freezing cold, in an abandoned and "haunted" asylum, with no light save a flashlight, and no heat save a small Coleman heater which is almost out of fuel and doesn't work well anyway, by myself.
I'd love to tell you that big, strong, brave Frank wasn't the least bit creeped out at this. This would, however, be a bit of a white lie. I wasn't scared or afraid, but when you're in that kind of situation, yeah, you get a little creeped out. Your brain, searching for stimulation, starts to think about things, and you don't believe anything is coming to get you, but you do think of all the creepy things you know of, and that you COULD believe, if you weren't so stable. Then you hear a sound from somewhere, and you try to trace the source. I had three people asleep in the room where I was, three more in the room next to me, and three MORE (the heavy snoring ones) down the hall in another room (we put them there so we could keep shooting without picking them up on the filming)...so little sounds would float to me from all around. A couple times, I heard what sounded like a very big metal door slamming, or falling over...maybe outside, maybe not. I don't have to tell you that I didn't bother investigating. ;)
With no clock or watch, I just had to wait it out. I had a book, but after a while, my hands were so cold, I couldn't hold it up, and I didn't want to waste my flashlight battery, anyway. That 150 minutes was a long, long time, I gotta tell ya. I was quite glad when I heard that alarm go off, just so I'd have some human contact. Two others woke up shortly afterwards, and Sarah, Tara and I left to hit the 7-11 a couple miles away, to use a real bathroom and get caffeine. Cleaning my teeth and using a bathroom that wasn't a Porta-Potty was great, but those hot, meaty 7-11 cheeseburger dogs were sheer fucking heaven, if only because it was warmth in my body.
We returned to find that one person didn't read their e-mail and showed up, but other than that, no real worries. We also discovered that the kids from the night before showed up again, because a couple of them had dropped their cellphones and baseball bats when they ran away. Another of the guys handled that since I was gone. The day stretched on, Art Department showed up at 11am to finished the work they had to do, and extras started showing up between noon and 2pm. Make-up and wardrobe all eventually got set-up and started whipping out zombies. We ended up with close to 50 extras on set, and just me and Tim working Security. That's a lot of people to police, and we had several reports of extras wandering off to explore, in spite of the fact that they've all been told not to do so. Every time this happens, we have to go wander the building to find them and drag them back.
Crew was supposed to show up at 3pm, and shooting was supposed to start at 4pm. We had time to kill here, and that time, for me, was split between running down extras, odd jobs for the main crew, and giving tours of the building. Tours, in the sense of walking around the whole damn building, again and again. One tour I didn't mind, though: Andrew Migliore showed up to be an extra. Andrew is the founder and runner of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and a damn fun guy on top of that. Lemme tellya, it was a kick in the head to have him recognize me and to get to sit around and chat with him, just friend-to-friend style. I'm still hoping that he needs someone to come work for him at Lurker Films one of these days. So, when he wanted to see the building, I was MORE than happy to show him around, and make sure he didn't miss a detail.
Shooting, of course, didn't actually get going until 5 or 6pm, and then we had a few small close-ups and pick-ups that had to be shot first, seeing as how, with those two big final scenes, our set was going to be destroyed by the zombies. So, more waiting and more set-ups, and finally we get the extras going around 7pm.
Now, in the midst of all this, keep in mind that the crew has been going and going on little sleep and little contact with home and family and bed and heat, etc. Nerves are getting frayed, tempers are wearing thin, everyone's just frazzled. After one tour, I walk into the main break area to catch the escalation of an argument that turns very ugly. As they separated, I tried to talk to one side, and later the other, trying to get the story out of what happened, calm down all sides, etc. Honestly, at this point, as much as I wanted to help and resolve the problem, my first focus was on keeping things frosty for the duration of the shoot (these were both crew members)...hey, I take my job as Security seriously. I did the best I could, and at least they were working together again (coldly, but working), and I gotta thank Mike for taking me outside and giving me a little appreciation from the outside for all that, as well, as giving me a little more background on the sitch. Good guy, that Mike, I like him...gotta hang out more sometime.
OK, time slipping inexorably into the future, the day becoming night, the temperature dropping, shoots finally getting set up and going. I've been waiting all day to see this one shot go off, as it's gonna make the film if it works, and look DAMN fine. As we're getting things set up, Travis tells me that someone's seen a black Suburban with tinted windows and no license plate checking the place out, and can I go make sure things are OK...LOL, Eris Above, now I'm a traffic cop. I grab Tim, and as we go off to do a security sweep of the perimeter (heh, I love saying that), another crew member pulls me aside to talk about the situation from earlier, and I continue just trying to keep things calm and quiet. Tim and I get out and walk around the entire facility...AGAIN...and find no sign of the truck (I figure it was just kids looking for a place to drink and/or fuck, and seeing people here, they left).
We got back just in time to see the scene go off, and it was FABULOUS. It really made the whole thing worth it. That also meant that we had only a single scene left to do, and we were finito. Sadly, that took forever, due to lighting difficulties, and having to shoot it four fucking times (damn zombies not paying attention to instruction). Now, I've been going a mile a minute this whole time, and I've pretty much been surviving on Mountain Dew and Monster Energy Drinks (I'm willing to believe that my blood was pure green carbonation by this point). I'd now not had anything to drink since about 5, and nothing to eat since 9am, I've been on my feet almost the entire time I've been here...so, as they set up this final shot, I started to crash. Hard. It also dawned on me that I'd not really slept well Friday night for the excitement of this weekend, so I've effectively been awake for something like 51 hours now. I slumped into a chair and felt it all start to come down.
9pm, the shot was accomplished. Principle photography was closed. The roar and cheer shook the very walls of Dammasch State Hospital. Even in my state, I joined in. The sheer tension release revitalized me for a minute.
Extras were cleaned and sent home. Actors left. Crew began to dismantle everything and get it out of the building, since demolition on the building was to start in the morning, so there was no coming back. As a member of the crew, I wanted to help, but I realized this wasn't going to happen. My hands were blue with the cold, my feet were on fire, my calf muscles were locked into vise grips of steel, and I was starting to crash. I went to talk to Edward, and he took one look at me and told me to go home. Of course, Tim was my ride, so I had to wait around anyway, but I did eventually just make it out to his Jeep and slide into the front seat. 10:30pm, I took one last look back, said good-bye to Dammasch, and we left.
I get home at about 11pm, I stumble in the door, hoping like Hell that Di is still awake, since I need food, and heat, and comfort. I get in the door, drop my bag and cooler, and the first thing I see is a big new desk chair behind my desk, a note on it calling me the best husband and step-dad in the world. Man, I almost cried. Not only was it just a way cool thing to do, it looked (and is) damn comfy. Di peeks out, waiting for my reaction, and ends up making me some dinner, which I wolfed down while we talked. Finally, around midnight, after approximately 54 hours awake, feeling nothing but pain from the knees down, head swimming, I crawled into what felt like the most comfortable bed in the universe, curled up against Dianna, and passed the fuck out.
Why I was awake by 10am, I have no idea.
Now, Dammasch is in a great state of disrepair, and has been used by kids, winos, and squatters ever since it shut down, so most of the place is long empty hallways and lots of empty rooms, lots of debris, and not much of value. Honestly, there wasn't much to see, but you couldn't walk around the place without feeling the sheer weight of all the footprints of history. A few things were pretty cool (and, just my luck, my camera batteries died, but I'm trying to get someone I know took pix to send me the ones she took). The couple of labs and the surgery rooms had a certain odd feeling to them, as did the former electroshock rooms (no equipment there, though). The X-ray room still had all the x-ray equipment, though, which was kinda creepy since all other medical equipment was gone...just too much of a bitch to uninstall and transport, I guess. Also, there was just so much stuff in the basement, it was hard to believe that all of it had just been left behind. Lots of it was just random stores, etc. (like the stacks of ceiling fixture glass, for replacing broken ones), but still, it was all just sitting there, like at any moment, someone was gonna come get one. A pair of 9-and-a-half-foot tall signs showed all the services that were available at this and other affiliated facilities...stacks of chair parts for the inmates to assemble in occupational therapy...a huge replacement tub which I'd love to have...dental machinery...electrical equipment, control boxes, valves, pipes...stainless steel sinks and counters...you name it. My favourite spots, though, were the maximum security cells. These were where the real "Michael Myers" types were put. The damn doors were something like 2-and-a-half to 3 inches thick, with huge heavy steel lock-plates. Two breaks in the door, one low to slide food in, one higher, an observation window, about 2 inches high and 5 or 6 inches across...and the glass in them was just over 3/4 of an inch thick! One, apparently the one designed for the worst, had a quarter-hemisphere mirror in the top corner, so there was no way for the inmate to hide (up high and protected), and, in that one, the wood at the bottom edge of the observation window, on the inside of the door, had been gnawed away. I'd love to know who was in that cell...
I snagged a couple souvenirs, of course. I may have mentioned the plastic cup I snagged (now dubbed the 'crazy cup') from the last shoot. this time, I came home with an old x-ray film holder and some old film, and my true memento, a blanket from the basement, tossed over some old boxes and forgotten, with a tag on the corner identifying it as being from Dammasch.
So, there ya have it. My weekend in an infamous asylum, from soup to nuts. In a sense, I'm sorry to see it come down, but in another, I feel like I beat it (even the cop said you couldn't pay him enough to stay there overnight), and tearing it down is the finishing blow.