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Rorschach’s “Rumrunner” Leap

A few days ago I received and email from our resident reporting Watchmen extra Mr. “Ex.” He sent me some photos of a one-of-a-kind Watchmen movie collectible he attained one night after shooting on the New York City backlot in Vancouver.

I told him I’d post his photos, but also asked if he would be willing to write up a description of the day’s events leading up to his acquisition of these particular items.

Mr. “Ex” said he would be more than happy to recount the tale, so here it is. The following report in his own words…

The Leap

The night we filmed Rorschach’s fateful leap was a cold, cold 14 hour night in December. December 7th to be precise, Pearl Harbor Day, which I remember thinking would be something Walter Kovacs could appreciate.

The temperature was around 20F or –5C for us Canadians. Normally this kind of weather would be considered almost balmy up here in December, but we spent at least eight hours standing in it — not walking, running, or anything else, just standing.

There were small space heaters to keep us warm, but after that long, the heat only reached us if we were standing directly over the heater, and as soon as you stepped away, an instant chill took over and everyone just shivered.

But this was for Watchmen! How could I complain, really? And, not only that, it was a chance to be part of one of the defining moments of the novel. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Funny thing, when I first saw that “Rumrunner” sign on this site, my first thought was that I’d hoped I could be there for the filming of the leap. And this was before I ever got a call to work on the film. So when I had a look at the call sheet and saw that this was the scene we were doing, I just couldn’t believe it!

The call sheet revealed that the night’s work consisted of scenes with a S.W.A.T team comprised of extras and ten stunt performers, the cops calling to Rorschach with a bullhorn, his crash through the window, the unmasking and arrest. Us extras were there to gawk at all this as only extras can.

The call time had been 3PM and, according to the call sheet, we were to be in costume and set ready at 4:30. It would be pitch dark by this time. Well, we were ready, but didn’t get the call to go to set until almost 6PM. Yup, we were told that the production was behind schedule that day. This meant we were in for a long, long night.

We headed over to the tenement next to the flashing “Rumrunner” sign. Five police cars were parked at dramatic angles in front of the tenement, two of which were up on the sidewalk, and a S.W.A.T van was amongst the vehicles bracketing the building, it’s rear facing the tenement so the team could erupt out of it.

The first shot consisted of the two cops, one with a bullhorn, calling to Rorschach to surrender. The dialogue, as I recall, was a shortened version of what’s in the novel. The cop with the bullhorn winds his speech up with a sarcastic “I hope you’re ready, hero!” then the second cop motions the S.W.A.T van and the team bursts out of the rear doors and runs into the building while cops seem to come from everywhere to point guns at the building.

We filmed this a few times. There must have been about twenty uniformed extras running in all directions with the lights on the cop cars flashing crazily. Even though I was there to just stand and stare, it was still exciting to see. Especially knowing in advance what Rorschach’s answer was going to be.

With this scene in the can, we were sent back to holding for a bite to eat and some heat while they set up the next shot. The next scene was the big one!

When we were called back to set and told to take our first positions it was time for Rorschach’s leap through the window! Recalling the panel from the comic, I read the angles and looked to see if they were going for the mid-air shot. How could they not? There was a theater marquee to the left of the tenement, just a few feet from the window Rorschach would be jumping through. And there was a camera poised to get that shot of Rorschach backlit by the sign as he fell.

I watched them set up the stunt. They had a wire dangling from a crane behind the building and the end of the wire led into the window which was really two sheets of breakaway glass with a thin gap in the middle for the wire to pass through. A stuntman in full Rorschach costume with brown coat, white scarf, mask and brown hat arrived and trotted into the building. As he stood framed in the window the crew attached the wire to his back while the camera crew double-checked their equipment. Then Zack Snyder called out his by this time familiar “Film it!” and it was time to shoot. We got into position.

The stunt itself was incredible. The breakaway glass exploded outwards as Rorschach leapt from the second story window. The guy hit the ground hard and we thought something had gone wrong. There were even a few short screams from the extras. When the stunt man didn’t get up right away, we all instinctively came forward a step or two.

When Zack Snyder yelled “CUT!” We ran forward, then breathed a sigh of relief when the stunt guy got up and was fine.

The fall looked real. In a sense it was real as they clearly were using the wire to take just enough of his weight so the stunt man wouldn’t injure himself when he hit the ground.

They got ready to film the leap again. The set up took a good twenty minutes so the extras were told to gather around the heaters until we were needed. Not me, though. I crept in to watch the next set up.

And got an idea.

During the earlier shots with the cops calling Rorschach out, I’d taken some time to just drink in the incredible set, store up some mental pictures. The holding tents were behind the set and looking at the back lot from this angle revealed only wooden walls and miles of cables snaking out everywhere, but when you stepped onto the set, and were surrounded by the neon signs, the weathered buildings, walls covered in posters and graffiti, bags of garbage on the street and the smoke coming out of the sewer grates from steam pipes under the street, it was easy to convince yourself you were on a real New York street in 1985. The video journals don’t do the set justice. Sure the bricks were just painted Styrofoam but the set builders had outdone themselves. The set will look amazing in the finished film.

However, that night, I just wanted to admire the thing. While doing so, one of the wardrobe women passed by with a “how’s it going” and I mentioned that I was just taking in the great set. She nodded in agreement and added, “Too bad it’s starting to come down.” And it hit me that after the film wrapped, the set would only live on on the silver screen and on DVD.  All I would have from the set were my mental pictures of having been there. So, as dumb as it was, I picked up a piece of the crumbling concrete sidewalk, no more than a pebble, and put it in my pocket as a small physical reminder of what, in the future, I would only see on the screen.

Still thinking along these lines while watching the crew set up the next leap, I saw them insert new panes of breakaway glass in the window, get the wire in position, etc. While this was going on, a clean-up crew came forward with shovels and a garbage pail and swept up the shattered glass. This drew my attention to the glass strewn everywhere below Moloch’s building and I picked up a piece. It looked jagged and sharp but it crumbled between my fingers.

Well, pebble in pocket, I suddenly got an idea for a real, tangible memento from the Watchmen set! Thinking how the set was to be destroyed, and seeing all the movie glass being swept up and dumped in the garbage, I decided to save some of the glass. Maybe it was silly, I don’t know. But I thought of all the times in the future, I would watch the “Rumrunner” leap on the movie screen and on TV and would recall being there for the scene. So what better way to remember that night than to have some of the actual glass seen cascading down around Rorschach as he fell? Once in that garbage pail, like the entire set, it would never be seen again.

So I discreetly started picking up shards of glass. They were small, but were authentic. I could vouch for that. And I was the only one saving any of it so it would certainly be a truly unique collectible. I had to pick them up quickly so as not to be noticed, and yet still handle them carefully, because they were so brittle. Aside from the few shards I collected, the glass just ended up so much trash. But I got my Watchmen collectible. Kind of like having a salt shaker from Casablanca or something. Maybe it got only a second of screen time, but it was on the set when history was made. And Rorschach himself had knocked out this glass. Ok, his stunt double did. But you get the idea.

They did the scene again. And again. Each time, I got a couple more morsels of glass. With the camera on the theater marquee they got the shot of Rorschach in mid-air with the sign behind him and I’m sure this will be highlighted with some of Zack Snyder’s signature slow motion. Then it was time to move on.

The next shot was Rorschach’s arrest.

I knew how this scene played out but what followed was a major departure from the novel. When Rorschach hits the ground, he does not stumble on a garbage can. Rather he gets up and takes on eight cops. They come at him from all sides and Rorschach starts taking them down in a beautifully choreographed fight scene. The cops swing batons at him, he ducks and lashes out, punching and kicking the men. The scene played out very quickly and looked 100% real as bodies flew everywhere. Finally as he straddles one cop to finish him off, he gets swarmed. One cop shouts out “Son of bitch” then punches Rorschach in the face. While they hold him, the two cops from the earlier scene rush forward and one of them calls out, “Get that mask off him!” The mask is yanked off and Jackie Earle Haley, in a blood-curdling voice, struggles and screams, “No! No! Give me back my mask!”

It was at this moment that the Watchmen movie, for me, took on a whole new dimension.

We’ve all since heard Jackie Earle Haley talk with some passion about Walter Kovacs, at one point referring to Kovacs as his brother, but in that scene, with that voice, he captured the character for me an hour before dawn on that cold December night. I was 40 yards away and, every take, that desperate, enraged, anguished scream sent chills up and down my spine. And we couldn’t even see his face because of the cops.

Spontaneous cheers erupted after every take. I get chills just thinking about it now all these months later. In the movie, it will stun the audience. They had the camera in tight for a close-up of his face and it will look like the panel in the comic. Given how I saw Haley capture Kovacs in other scenes on different days, I know he’s going to put all the emotion we heard in that scream into his expression as well. It is going to be an incredible moment in the film.

Three versions of the scream were filmed:

1. “Give me back my mask!”
2. “My face! Give it back!”
3. “Give me back my face!”

I think Zack Snyder got the scene set up perfectly for an audience unfamiliar with the novel. The fight shows Rorschach as a capable, in control (though ruthless) hero, and this will contrast perfectly with the insane, intense roar no fan of comic book movies is prepared for, and it will kick off Rorschach’s back story, which, again, the casual fan will not see coming.

Creeping around the set afterwards, I got a look at Haley, sans mask, in the director’s tent. Sure enough they had the bruise under his left eye just like in the comic and he’s unshaven of course.

Well, we filmed the arrest from various angles. Then it was back to holding so they could set up a crane shot of the arrest.  By this time, it was going on 5 AM! Everyone was beat. The wranglers were sleeping in the tent, people were yawning and nodding off. I think the arrest scene had drained whatever energy remained in us. Plus we reached a point where we just couldn’t take in any warmth. You’d absorb heat from the heater, then step away and instantly start shivering. We were all at the end of our tether.

But it was back to set and they got a couple of takes from the crane shot. Zack Snyder himself called out a thank you to everyone. And when an extra hears that, no matter who says it, it means it’s time to sign out. As dawn was just breaking, we headed for home.

The following Monday, according to the call sheet, they filmed the Comedian’s funeral and we’ve seen some of that in the trailer. Watchmen is going to make cinematic history and I’m so glad I got to be a small part of it and got to take home a small part of it. They may have thought the glass was trash, but to me, those window fragments are worth their weight in gold.

10.1.08 Source:

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