The Making of Young Men in Black

This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series Cruising with Teens

In this chapter, I have summoned the boys to make a little video – partly because I just do that sort of thing, and partly as retribution for some unauthorized ship-to-shore phone calls made against explicit prohibition – I just wanted to see them squirm a little. I consider their debt repaid…

I didn’t really have much of a plan for the video. I had two boys dressed in tuxedos, 2 pair of sunglasses, and a destination – the dining room. Beyond that, nothing much.

I decided to just ‘wing it’.

“O.K. Here’s the deal… I’m going to have both of you in every shot. When I tell you to do something – anything– try to do it at the same time – you know, synchronized.”

“Like what?” asked Dan.

“Like…” I had to think fast, but I didn’t have my rhythm yet. “Ah, try this. Stand in from of the mirror over there.” The boys navigated around the table and stood in front of the large mirror in the dining area. I started the camera without telling them, on the possibility that something memorable might happen.

“Now what?” Dan was doing all the talking.

“Stand up straight. Now, put your sunglasses on.”

Dan put his sunglasses on, but apparently Wells had already forgotten where he put his pair. Eventually, he found them.

“Alright, let’s try that again. Take off the glasses and hold them in your right hand, down by your side so I can’t see them. Now, on the count of three, raise the glasses up and put them on, slowly and deliberately. Ready?”

Dan put his glasses on.

“Dan.”

“What?”

“Wait until I count to three.”

“Oh. I get it. Sorry.”

“That’s ok. Ready? Dan, take off the glasses. Ready? One, two, three.”

This time they nailed it.

“Good, now pretend like you’re fixing you hair. Good. Straighten out your jackets. Great. Keep a straight face. Okay, now, on three, turn to your right and walk to the door.”

As happens in all feature film making, we did the whole thing two or three times to get it right. I decided that once we got into public areas, I wouldn’t subject them to such torture – it was going to be one take per shot.

“OK. Now, I’m going to go out to the hallway. When I ring the doorbell, count to three, open the door and turn to your left. Keep walking and go around the corner toward the elevator. Got it?” They nodded.

There was a lot of traffic in the hallway, and I had to wait for a couple of minutes before the coast was clear. I started the camera, rang the doorbell and scooted to the opposite side of the hall. I was counting in my head and hadn’t reached ‘two’ yet when the door opened. The boys emerged and promptly turned to their right.

I called after them. “You were supposed to go the other way!”

“Sorry.”

It wasn’t worth digging the room key out of my pocket to set the shot up again, so we continued on the intended path. In two more shots, we were at the elevator. Dan pushed the down button, and I kept the camera trained on the boys.

“Just stand there and look tough.” The elevator arrived, and thankfully it was empty. “Get in and move to the rear.”

Wells went first, and positioned himself at the back wall. Dan settled along one side. Still taping, I reached over and hit the ‘4’ button, figuring we’d go to the casino for some glitzy shots. Through the viewfinder, I could see Dan start to smile. “No smiling! Keep a straight face.” Wells started to say something – probably a complaint – but I stopped him with a stern “No talking either.”

The elevator stopped and the door opened. A gentleman in a tux started to move toward the opening. He noticed the camera now pointed at him, and abruptly stopped in his tracks. “Excuse us, coming out.” I moved out of the elevator, turned around to frame the boys and said, “Let’s go.”

As it turned out, we hadn’t reached the intended destination. We were on deck 5, one above the casino. I asked the boys to wait in the elevator lobby while I scoped out the location. Around the corner was the Cova Café area, and although it was crowded, two stools at the end of a bar were empty. With a little coaxing, I got the boys to cover the 50 feet from the elevator to the open seats while they wore their sunglasses for the camera. Most people pretended not to notice, but some were unable to control their curiosity.

Once seated at the bar, Wells and Dan quickly pocketed the sunglasses and tried to appear nonchalant. I decided to do something cinematic when it came time to order drinks, but we sat there for a very long time without seeing a server. I was milling around when finally, and without warning, a waitress appeared out of nowhere. By then I was standing about 10 feet away, and before I could get the camera operational, the boys had ordered and the waitress had vanished.

“Hey, I needed that on tape.”

“She’ll be back,” answered Wells doing his best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation. “What else do we have to do?”

“I won’t know until it happens.”

More minutes passed. I stood at the ready, but the waitress was nowhere in sight. I turned for just a moment to glimpse the people waiting for their formal pictures to be taken, toying with the idea of having the boys join the line. When I turned back, the waitress was already placing the drinks in front of the boys. I swung the camera into action, only to notice that neither of them was wearing the all-important glasses. I’d have to take care of that somehow in post-production.

As I was taping, the waitress addressed me. “Can I get something for you, sir?”

“No, thank you.” I debated asking her to do a little acting and repeat the drink delivery, but then I noticed that the boys had ordered water. I couldn’t possibly ask her – there wasn’t even a lousy tip involved in this transaction.

“What’s with the water?” I asked.

“We have to take it easy,” said Wells.

“And not spend money,” added Dan.

I cajoled the boys into donning their glasses for a few drink shots before seizing upon what seemed at the time to be a brilliant idea. Just around the corner, a grand piano was belting out tunes without benefit of an operator. The keys were going through the motions at the behest of an electronic controller mounted under the piano, right next to the bench. I imagined a scene with Wells and Dan playing some Ray Charles tunes. Piece of cake…

Once they were seated together on the piano bench, I had the boys go through the motions. A table full of people right next to me stopped their lively conversation and watched with amusement. Wells and Dan were, of course, mortified at the whole thing.

“Ok, really get into it – lots of swaying and arm movement. Come on, work with me… Good… A little more…Feel it in your gut…” I must have sounded like a real pro to anyone listening.

Suddenly there was a sickening crash. Dan had gotten a little carried away with his leg movement – evidently, really starting to get into it – when he knocked the electronic controller from its rather insecure perch under the piano. It hit the floor with a sound that I was sure would have the security force swarming all over us in seconds. Dan picked up the box and fumbled with it for an eternity before it agreed to stay put where it belonged.

“Come on, let’s get out of here!” said Dan, sweat pouring from his forehead.

I was relieved to realize that the piano was still playing, but thought Dan’s idea was a good one. I glanced at my watch and realized that the dining room would open in less than five minutes. “OK, let’s go.”

We tried to be nonchalant about the whole thing, but the continuing laughter from two-dozen witnesses made us all feel pretty conspicuous. Nevertheless, I got a couple of shots of the hasty retreat as we headed for the Metropolitan.

Once in the dining room’s lobby, I scoped out the next shot. The plan was that I would shoot the elaborate chandelier overhead, and tilt down just in time for Wells in Dan to walk by the lighted Metropolitan sign. I explained the setup and had the boys wait in the wings for their cue.

It took a little while for the crowd to shift enough to do the shot. As I lowered the camera, I waved one arm in the direction of the boys to get them moving. Through the viewfinder, the sign appeared, but the boys didn’t. I looked in their direction and saw no one. In fact, I had to walk forward halfway through the Platinum club before I found them, surrounded by a gaggle of teen-aged girls dressed in prom-worthy finery. I decided to keep a discrete distance, as they had obviously abandoned the project to avoid the humiliation of being associated with me.

The doors to the dining room must have opened a minute later, because the crowd surged in that direction. The girls dispersed, no doubt to rejoin their own embarrassing parents, and the boys almost made it by me without detection in the crush of hungry humanity.

“Hey! Over here! Come on, let’s finish this thing.”

“What now?”

“I want to get you coming down the staircase in the dining room, and then being seated at the table.”

“We have to do that in front of the whole ship?” complained Dan.

“Can we at least do it without the glasses?” Wells chimed in.

“It’s only half the ship, and you have to wear the glasses.”

We entered the dining room, and I had Wells and Dan wait at the top of the stairs while I set up at the bottom. They kept the glasses out of sight until I gave them their cue, whereupon they reluctantly put them on and descended the staircase. Nobody gave them a second look.

By the time I got to the table, Albert was already placing a napkin in Wells’s lap. I stopped him, and explained the scenario. He was more than willing to play along, so I sent the boys around the corner for the final shot. They appeared on cue, in costume, and Albert seated them. I sat, too.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” I asked.

“Maybe not for you,” answered Wells.

Dan was a little more agreeable. “Nah. No big deal. What are you going to do with it?”

“I have no idea, but when I’m done, I’ll post it on the Internet and make you famous.”

Weeks later, I looked at the footage and spent a whole Saturday auditioning music without finding anything inspirational. Finally I hit upon the Men in Black theme, and the rest fell right in line. Click here to watch the video, Young Men in Black (Windows Media 9, stereo, 2:51, 7 MB)

The next to arrive at the table was Kris, and I almost didn’t recognize her. Neither did the boys.

“What did you do?”

“Don’t you like it?”

“You look…I don’t know…British,” I said. It was the only thing I could think of. I guess you can do something with short hair after all.

“Well, I like it,” said Kris.

“Yeah, you look fine, Ma.”

“Very nice, Mrs. ‘X’”, added Dan. “I like it. It makes you look young.”

Dan obviously wasn’t any better than I at complimenting haircuts, so I changed quickly changed the subject. “Hey the midnight buffet is tonight. You guys definitely have to see that.”

Kris added to the promo, “Oh yes, the buffet is spectacular. You have to go!” She went on to describe the sights, and advised them to bring their cameras. Then she turned to me and said – and I am not making this up – “What time does the midnight buffet start?”

I stifled an outburst of amusement. Kris saw my struggle, and said, “What? I don’t want them to miss it.”

I could see Wells getting ready to point out the obvious as I considered a response that wouldn’t get me in more trouble than I already was over the haircut reaction. Before Wells blurted something he might regret, the answer hit me.

“11:45,” I said. It was a factual answer, printed in blue and white in the ship’s activity guide.

Wells was visibly annoyed at missing a chance to point out parental fallibility. “Well then why don’t they call it the 11:45 buffet?”

The arrival of our tablemates ended the discussion just in time.

“Kris, I love your hair. Did you go to the salon? asked Betsy.

“Yes, they just finished a few minutes ago.”

“It’s great. Who do you look like? Oh, I can’t think of her name…”

There was a pause while everyone thought about it. “Who ever it is, she’s British,” I said.

“So what did you think of the Olympic?” David asked after settling in.

“It was great, except we couldn’t get any wine,” I answered.

“You couldn’t?”

“Not after the first bottle.”

“You didn’t get the bottle we sent?” asked David.

“Nope.”

So there you have it. Bacchus had given us the cold shoulder in the Olympic, but Kris and I expressed appreciation for the thought to David and Betsy.

To return the favor, I decided to order a bottle of good champagne for after the meal. When our attentive sommelier (I can’t remember his name, but I’ll call him Peter) arrived, I ordered wine for dinner and discretely pointed to the listing for an unfamiliar, but pricey, champagne. “Please bring this for the table to share after the meal. It’s a surprise.”

Peter gave a knowing nod and said, “Certainly sir. A most excellent choice.”

Almost everyone at the table was in high spirits, and the conversation grew lively. The exception was Nickie. She looked a little green, and frequently adjusted the matching sea bands on her wrists. Halfway through the appetizer, she excused herself from the table and retired for the evening.

“I hope she’s OK,’ said Kris. “Should we check on her later?”

“She’ll be fine,” assured Kent.

Betsy backed him up. “She’s been feeling it all day, but all she needs to do is lie down. Don’t worry about it.”

The seas were expected to be up to 15 feet tonight, but thankfully no one in our party seemed to be suffering any ill effects. I really didn’t even notice.

David and I kept Peter hopping all evening, and everyone sampled wine from every bottle. Near the end of the meal, Peter let loose and taught us a spoon game. The object was to send a spoon flying through the air with a sharp hit. Done just right, the spoon would land upright in the goal – an empty water glass. Kent proved to be the champion at the table, much to the delight and amusement of Wells and Dan.

The champagne arrived on schedule and it was very good indeed, but I was sad that Nickie missed it. Peter brought more entertainment to the table, this time doing napkin tricks. Both David and Kent knew some tricks of their own, and some of the creations were decidedly ribald.

The laughter grew so uproarious that I looked around expecting to see others gawking at the spectacle. To my surprise, this was not the case. In fact, there were no other patrons in the restaurant at all. Only Albert and Geri were visible. Accustomed to our habits, they stood to the side patiently awaiting our departure.

The real clue that it was time to leave came when crewmembers began carting in folding tables for the midnight buffet. It was just after 11:00, meaning that the transformation of the dining room for the buffet would be competed in less than 45 minutes. Absolutely remarkable.

We apologized for our pokiness, and paused to watch the set-up for a couple of minutes on the way out. Betsy, David and Kent called it a night and headed back to their quarters, while Kris and I went to Cova Café for coffee to while away the time.

At 11:45, we went to the midnight buffet. The line was mercifully short, and we were in and out in a few minutes. The buffet was its usual spectacle, and we did spot Wells and Dan across the room at one point. They were busy taking pictures, so we didn’t bug them.

We decided to go out on deck for a few minutes before turning in. Kris played Batgirl – British Batgirl that is — her cape fluttering in the howling wind. As nice as it felt to be out there, I could hear the bed calling. It was a welcome sight when we returned to the cabin.

With a CD in the player, I lay back and thought about our next stop. I’d had a little misadventure in Nassau on the Galaxy cruise, and vowed that next time I’d just go to the beach. With that pleasant thought in mind I drifted off to sleep, unaware of the forces working to thwart my simple plan.


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