Beach Blanket ‘Broken’

The crew of "Broken" gets the magic hour shot of Heather Graham and Jeremy Sisto at Westward Beach last week. The beginning and ending of the film, directed by Alan White, was in the can by the time the crew wrapped their one-day shoot in Malibu-in advance of new filming restrictions passed by the city. Photos by William McGarry

An indie crew deals with time and tide before new Malibu film shooting restrictions go into effect.

By Ben Marcus/ Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu’s proposal of new movie production rules are worrying filmmakers who rely on the convenient, consistent light and space found here. But tide can be as much a production hassle as time in Malibu -along with seagulls, kayakers, rock-climbers and other “bogies.”

Last week, Point Dume resident Alan White made the long, 5-minute commute down to the water’s edge at Point Dume State Beach for the first day of directing the shoot of “Broken.” This low-budget feature has high-profile actors Heather Graham and Jeremy Sisto starring in a love story about a young woman who comes from the Midwest to Hollywood with stars in her eyes, but ends up “broken.”

“‘Broken’ is a love story,” explained Jerry Wayne, the head of Walk on the Beach Productions. With dual citizenship in Las Vegas and Hanalei, Wayne is a 23-year veteran of commercial production, producing his first feature. “Broken” is equally important to director White. With two acclaimed Australian features under his belt, “Broken” is his first American film.

During pre-production, White, Wayne and co-producer Brian Etting decided on Malibu for a beach shoot, just as its City Council was discussing changing the rules regarding morning and nighttime hours, use of helicopters and number of film shoot days allowed at one location. Whatever the new rules may be, “Broken” needed only one day in Malibu.

On July 18, a convoy of production trucks rumbled to the end of Westward Beach Road to a location that has appeared in movies such as “Beach Party,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Barton Fink,” and in hundreds of TV commercials. Ample parking and privacy, and few neighbors make that corner of Westward Beach one of nature’s greatest soundstages.

The production started around 9 a.m. Director White had been hoping for June gloom in the morning and clear skies in the afternoon. The elements cooperated as if God were Union – and had points. They shot the end of the movie in the morning, broke for lunch at 2:30 p.m. and the shoot resumed looking directly west, into the high, glaring sun.

Close to the water’s edge, a crew of about 20 people hovered around as Graham lay on a towel in a black bikini, shielding her movie-star pale skin with a floppy orange hat between setups.

As the scene began, Sisto approached from the direction of the sun, asked for a cigarette, then a light, and then lit two smokes as he and Graham talked.

A seemingly simple shot, but no shot is simple. Video feeds failed and sound went down, but the real hazards to production were from nature. The tide rose as the scene progressed, and then a mini-tsunami splashed up and over the berm, soaking Heather Graham’s million dollar tuckus.

As apologetic hands toweled off Graham, and her hair and makeup were readjusted, the production moved to higher ground. But now the problem was “transients” wandering into the frame, what producers call “bogies.” Rogue seagulls poked into the frame for their 15 seconds of fame, then some crows. A young woman rope climbing the cliffs shouted orders to her belayer, provoking raised eyebrows, then red-faced anger. Two or three helicopters went by and a couple of planes, then a Baywatch boat and some noisy kayakers. Those were all cuts and restarts, with the sun going down and the clock ticking off dollars.

Some producers worry that Malibu’s new rules will cut down access to “magic hour,” when the high glaring light of summer magically transforms into sideways-slanting light that gives the nice, bright colors and golden tint, making everything beautiful.

For “Broken,” magic hour kicked in after 6:30 p.m. All of a sudden, the light went from high, hot and shrieky to sideways, warm and golden, and it shone like a mega-beacon directly at Graham. The slanting sun magically transformed her movie-star pale skin to gold, and her hair blazed like golden fire. The last 45 minutes of the shoot was all close-ups on Graham as Sisto smoked off camera, and it was truly magic.

The shoot wrapped before dark and was gone well before the 10 p.m. deadline. The next day, “Broken” moved downtown to the close, hot confines of the Barclay Hotel and a new set of production problems, like heat exhaustion and bogies that stuck around for lunch.

Malibu served “Broken” well, and the talent and the crew left the beach that day with sun on their faces, sand in their hair, the sound of surf and seagulls in their ears, and the beginning and ending in the can.