With a career that includes sterling art house indies such as Garden State (2004), You Can Count on Me (2000), and Monster’s Ball (2001), and mega tentpole movies including Skyfall (2012), Men in Black 3 (2012) and the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Michael Lerman has seen the full horizon of the AD’s craft. And the view, he says, has never been less than incredible.
For instance, there was the final sequence in Men in Black 3, when Lerman and director Barry Sonnenfeld, among a select few, were allowed to scout the famed Apollo 11 control room at Kennedy Space Center with crewmembers who’d been there in 1969.
“There was a moment, when I was standing with Barry on the launch pad, feet from the Space Shuttle and staring out at the horizon from the top of the tower when we weren’t scouting anymore,” he recounts. “We were just in awe of our surroundings.”
Shock and awe also describes Lerman’s experience on The Kite Runner (2007), one of five films he did with director Marc Forster, shot in a remote province in Western China high above sea level.
“There was no hotel for cast and crew so we constructed a yurt village to live in for the week of the shoot,” he remembers. “Our diet was mutton. Period. And the coal burning stoves in our yurts would burn out in the middle of the night leaving us frozen by the early morning hours. Even though we walked to communal, cold water showers each morning, I had a huge smile because we were making a movie in the Himalayas.”
Lerman had a no less spectacular view shooting the famous Palio horse race in Siena, Italy, for Forster’s Quantum of Solace (2008). Coordinating 10 different camera crews—on rooftops, the track, and arming out of apartment windows surrounding the Piazza del Campo—was a daunting task.
“The race is only 90 seconds,” he continues, “but one minute in, a horse slammed into a corner of the track where one of our crews was standing, and [the crew] was just … gone. It was a very long five minutes until they answered the radio. Everyone was fine, although the focus puller had a bruise on his chest in the shape of a horse hoof.”
Unsurprisingly, Quantum of Solace had almost as many adventures behind the camera as in front of it. Back in China, Lerman was prepping a “stoning” sequence that took place in a stadium.
“We had 1,000 extras—the men were in fake beards, and the women in burkas were actually Chinese men,” he explains. “We started getting the background ready at 2 a.m., staggering their calls, and getting them bussed to the stadium—a real logistical feat because none of them had telephones.
“When we arrived on location,” adds Lerman, “we were met by the Chinese military, who wouldn’t let us into the site because the Minister of Propaganda would not allow more than 200 people to congregate. After trying all morning to work it out, we decided to call the day in the early afternoon. We ended up shooting the scene a few weeks later outside Beijing in a different stadium.”