When the Bough Breaks set visit
The snake wrangler is the most popular man on set.
Not popular in the sense that everyone wants to know his thoughts on any given subject and is being sought after to go hang out after work. More in the sense of always being surrounded by miscellaneous crew and cast members to know if he has caught a snake or other deadly animal in the animal pole he constantly pokes the tall grass with.
That’s because former 24 honcho Jon Cassar has come to the scenic bayous of New Orleans to film the climax of his first studio feature film and the Louisiana Film Commission requires a snake wrangler be on set. It’s not one of those ‘good on paper, pointless in practice’ rules either: they’ve already dispatched a pair of rattlesnakes since arriving and alligators have been seen in the water.
The crew has spent the last 30 days on location in New Orleans working on the tense film called When the Bough Breaks. Taking some acknowledged inspiration from well-known thrillers like Fatal Attraction and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Cassar has eschewed guns and explosions (mostly) for something else he’s known for – tension and tightening screws.
“The thing that really attracted me to this was putting characters in a situation that has a moral choice, a choice to be made and for the audience to play along and go ‘what would I do?’ That was a ’24’ thing,” Cassar himself opined during shooting.
Despite spending most of its shooting time within New Orleans proper, particularly a large old house in the Garden District, Cassar has come to the outskirts of the city for the conclusion: a row of high-end boat and lake houses sitting right on the water. The production has rented all of the houses on the small street out in the middle of nowhere, using the houses on end of the street as base camp and filming at the other end.
“It’s amazing what even a middle-range budgeted movie can achieve,” a studio publicist says.
What it’s achieved on the evening we arrive is to light up middle of the night, middle of nowhere Louisiana to allow stars Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall and Jaz Sinclair – the trio which pulls the film in different directions for two hours – to confront each other around an idling car and a baby car carrier (filled with rubber baby) on the location’s sole road.
The worst creatures roaming the set aren’t snakes or lizards, they’re bugs. The humid summer air has given birth to a legion of mosquitos and the luminous set lights (the only lights visible for miles around) have drawn them all to this one area. In between takes, cast and crew dance around like they’re possessed, slapping exposed limbs. It’s a testament to the cast’s professionalism that they never break character (characters immune to bug bites, apparently) while the camera is rolling. The instant cut is called, the itching and bug slapping returns. In part because the fake blood the cast is covered with appears to be an incredible bug attractor.
Fake blood which attests to the level of action Cassar has been bringing to the film’s climax (“A film like this requires so much physicality,” Sinclair says). We tour the lake house itself in between setups, a fantastic modern affair with a giant kitchen which segues directly into the living room without missing a beat. At the moment it’s covered in broken glass (sugar glass, we’re told) and furniture, further signs of the back and forth which has been going on, primarily between Sinclair and star/executive producer Morris Chestnut.
“She took it to me, too,” Chestnut says as he has his fake blood reapplied. He is the center of the scene we’re watching Cassar work through, a slow walk out to a parked car where he reunites with Hall. They climb into her car and prepare to leave but as the car lights come up suddenly Sinclair is there, expertly pumping a shotgun one-handed (she had never held one before this film).
Cassar calls cut and prepares to do another take. The cast and crew begin swatting themselves again.
It didn’t have to be this way. The original version of Bough was a more classic thriller, set in Los Angeles and following the (mis-)adventures of an upscale white couple trying to conceive a child. It sat unmoving for several years (“I think they offered it to Jon Hamm at one point,” Chestnut says) until Screen Gems executive Clint Culpepper got his hands on it and decided to pass it over to star Chestnut with whom he’d recently signed a development/producing deal.
“I read it and I could tell it wasn’t written for black actors,” Chestnut said, “But I loved the script and the scale of it. [It] is much bigger than any other movie I’ve EP’d before.”
“I have to give that to Clint Culpepper and Screen Gems. They’re making an effort to do that, not to make stereotypical African American films. This is a film, a thriller, it could have been anyone. As long as the story was solid it didn’t matter what the race was,” noted Cassar, who was brought on after Chestnut and Hall had already been attached.
The other big change was the move to New Orleans, specifically to the house Cassar’s production team discovered which contains most of the action – a large, classic New Orleans home in the Garden District (think columns and creeping vines) which has been hollowed up and made incredibly modern like an LA stilt house. The crew further added a fake pool house to the outside where Jaz’s character spends much of the movie looking up at the big house and imagining herself living that life (if she can just get rid of Chestnut’s wife).
“We needed that,” Cassar said, “Anna [Sinclair] looking up from the pool house at the Taylors [Chestnut and Hall].”
It was part of a desire to embrace New Orleans as a location rather than run from it, a choice he may be rethinking as the bugs continue to chase the people (except for when they seek cover in one of the rented houses) and the snake wrangler stomps around in the background.
Or not as it is clear the bugs do not register on camera so it’s only a sacrifice for the moments they are outdoors. For Cassar and Chestnut and their cast and crew, it’s worth it.