Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Harmony on Spring Hill - Chapter 7 Excerpts

Early in the movie, Arus and his mother get in an argument over where he and Maria should stay while they are in Jerusalem. His mother wants them to stay at her house, but Arus wants more privacy with his fiancée. Instead of coming out and saying that he is on vacation and wants as much boning time as possible, he lets his family believe that Maria is the one who wants to be away from them. That only amplifies their belief that Maria is taking him away.

The set was a small two story house in the French Hill neighborhood. It was made of the same white stone as every other building in Jerusalem, but it was unmistakably newer than most. It had two floors, but it was barely big enough for two people. With all of the equipment and crew packed in, it felt even smaller. It was almost like a cottage on a street surrounded by similar cottages. It was on a quiet residential street with only a few cars parked outside and little noise. Until the crew showed up.

The cars for the cast and crew and vans for the equipment made it look like a Monday night block party appeared out of nowhere. They were shooting entirely indoors, but they made their presence known in the neighborhood.

The scene that night was Arus and Maria getting into a big argument and breaking up. Arus is torn between wanting to continue with the new life he made for himself in the United States and reuniting with his family in their homeland. Maria wants to stick with the plan they had all along and not completely uproot her entire life and move to an alien part of the world. The movie, for its part, makes no judgment. The family undeniably wants Arus to return to them, but that is not shown as the correct or only option.

This was one of Harmony's favorite scenes to shoot in the entire movie. Daniyel, as the movie's screenwriter, fully admitted to her that he was undecided what Maria should say. As an Israeli man, writing dialogue for an American woman was foreign to him. That was never an issue most of the time since Maria is only a supporting character and most of her dialogue is reactive. In this scene, she helps drive the action.

They filmed the scene as written for the first take of the first shot, but then Daniyel told Harmony to improvise. He was generally good at letting his actors go off script, but there were always limits. When the director is also the writer, he is usually married to his words. For this scene, he let her loose.

Everyone knew what the scene was about, and Harmony had a better idea of how an American woman might react in this situation than anyone else on set. She broke up with her real world boyfriend over roughly similar circumstances. They moved to a foreign country together. Among other problems, he wanted to go back home and she wanted to stay. Harmony could easily relate to Maria's need to stick with their original plan and the fact that her career was better served by staying where she was.

Free to do pretty much whatever she wanted, Harmony used the second take to say to Arus a few things she never got the opportunity to tell her boyfriend. As an actor, that was fun. As an emotional human being, it was cathartic. The best performances always come when the actor fully exposes herself to the character. With all of the crew and so much equipment surrounding her in such a tight space, she used the claustrophobic setting to her emotional advantage. Unfortunately, they could not use that take. Daniyel's opinion was that Harmony spoke too quickly at some points and was drowning the audience with too much information. The script supervisor spoke English, but was lost after a few sentences.

This movie was mostly in Hebrew and most of the people in the theaters would only have a passing acquaintance with English. The English scenes would have Hebrew subtitles and, according to Daniyel, the subtitles would never be able to follow everything Harmony said in the time and space constraints on screen. Knowing how Chinese subtitles in Hong Kong cut out large patches of English dialogue, often to the point of altering the tenor of the scene, she could see what he meant. Reading the Chinese subtitles of Aaron Sorkin dialogue is like reading the
Reader's Digest version of The Brothers Karamazov.

Daniyel did not want Harmony to dumb anything down, but rather keep in mind that she was speaking in a foreign language to the audience.

For the next take, she changed the pace, but tore into Arus. Since she did not know Arus personally, he was essentially an analogue of her boyfriend. They had to stop while Harmony felt she was only getting started because the microphones picked up too much laughter from the crew. The scene was not intended to be funny, but when Maria implies that Arus is not particularly well endowed, some of the crew were highly amused.

Harmony was told some time later that the actor was infamous for having a small penis. There was some kind of celebrity scandal a year or two earlier with a bachelor party stripper describing him in intimate detail. Harmony knew absolutely nothing about it at the time, but it was a sensitive enough subject that Daniyel asked her to steer clear of anything about genitalia. Maria could question how much of a man he is for how easily he is willing to acquiesce to his family's demands, but she should not mention his tiny manhood. Harmony's movement around the small room was already restricted by the lights and camera. The more they shot, the more restrictions there were on the dialogue.

More than a few takes of several shots later, they were finished with the argument portion of the evening. The one scene required multiple shots and each shot required multiple takes. That was the downside to improvisation. It can be exhilarating as an actor to let the character decide what to say, but it is not always what the director wants them to say. Mix in two actors with different native languages and a scene can quickly veer off the cliff.

At one point, Arus and Maria are practically screaming at each other. They are both tired and frustrated, fighting to survive but ready to call it a day. Arus blurts out something in Hebrew and Maria responds with an irritated, “What the fuck does that mean?”

Daniyel stopped them right then and there. Harmony could think of one or two people who would have said exactly that in such a situation, but it was apparently not what Maria would say. Daniyel wanted the audience to see her more as a delicate flower getting trampled by the family. She eventually stands up to Savta, but through her actions rather than strong language. Maria is more like a Disney princess throughout most of the movie. A Disney princess does not say “fuck”. That was not Harmony's favorite word either, but it felt right in that moment.


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