The director -- the guy wearing the headphones over a turned-around baseball cap -- is smiling. He's pleased with the scene. It's around midnight in Fort Lauderdale, and his actors are cruising around in a '78 Checker cab with a 1000-watt light clamped to the hood.
The taxi rumbles through downtown, towed by a Budget rental truck. It's a rolling rig of cables, lights, actors, and crew folks with walkie-talkies. Director Rob Goodman and others are inside the truck, back door wide open, watching video monitors relay the action unfolding in the car just a few feet away.
The movie -- titled 531, the cab's number -- is a psychological drama that revolves around four characters: a cab driver; a gun-wielding pregnant woman; a tuxedoed, obnoxious voice coach; and his meek female student. They interact, argue, and bond. In one scene John Early, the handsome, dimpled actor who plays the voice teacher, is pistol-whipped by the mother-to-be for verbally abusing his student.
"This [movie] is very edgy and ambitious," says Early, who also appears in Miami Sands, a soap opera shot in Miami-Dade County.
Producer-director Goodman and producer-writer Tom Brown also have some entertainment experience. Goodman, age 29, began acting in college. He later directed stage shows, then worked as a casting agent, production assistant, and associate producer for TV projects. Brown has principally worked in theater. What they hope to do with 531 is showcase their filmmaking talents. The plan is to enter the finished product in local film festivals next year.
While plenty of aspiring filmmakers have gone the festival route, Goodman offers an unusual hook with 531: The entire film is being shot inside a cab. For his debut film, Goodman thought he'd keep things simple by using just one set -- an apartment, perhaps. But while driving home from an audition in Orlando with a friend one rainy night, he noticed the moody shadow play of headlights and raindrops inside the car, on the dashboard, on his friend's face.
He decided that night that his set would be a car. And when a friend spotted an old cab parked in front of a house in Plantation, he told Goodman, who knocked on the door of the house and asked to borrow the cab. Since then the cab has been decorated with neckties, matchbooks, and other possessions supposedly left by passengers.
So far 270 hours of production time have gone into the film, which will be about 30 minutes long. The crew usually starts work in the evening and continues into the next morning. Goodman put together the nighttime schedule to control lighting, but it's had another practical benefit: The cab has no air conditioning, so shooting at night is cooler.
But by no means cool. During filming the windows are kept rolled up to keep out background noise. After a shoot Jim Pinckney, the film's cinematographer, emerges from the cab with beads of sweat rolling down his face. "It's like a sauna," he says. "Your glasses fog up. The camera fogs up."
Pinckney and the actors aren't the only ones who have to crowd into the cab. Crew members sometimes hide in the back seat with cables and a fat, hot dog-shaped microphone. But it's Pinckney, a resident of Coconut Grove, who has to be part contortionist. Sometimes he shoots from the driver's seat, with his camera pointed at actors in the back seat. Other times he's crammed in the same seat with his subjects.
Goodman and Brown put up the money for 531 -- about $20,000 so far. Since April they've worked intermittently in ten-hour, three-night stints, and they're just about ready to go into postproduction. If everything does work out for them and they land some kind of a film deal with a major studio, at least they'll be assured of one thing the next time around: an air-conditioned set.
-- Patti Roth
531 is tentatively scheduled for release sometime in 1999 and will be entered in local film festivals. For more information call 954-763-7939.