Eventually, as Lynch put it, “a lot of things came together. George Stevens, Jr, arranged a thing with CFI, the lab; at least they would develop the negative. We weren’t even going to see workprint. But we did figure out a way to get enough money to see workprint.” By a combination of deferments, money obtained from friends and relatives, and equipment loaned by the AFI, the production managed to get rolling again.
“Because he couldn’t pay us,” said Elmes, “David offered us a percentage of the profit of the film – if and when it should ever make money. I certainly wasn’t in it for the money and we were all certain that it was not possible for the film to make any substantial amount of money. So it’s a welcome surprise that there’s some money coming back in for it.” Coulson agreed: “There was a sense of collaboration, which is why David gave us all such a nice percentage of the film, something we did not even write down until after the film started making money. Which is a pretty impressive thing for a filmmaker to do. The reward artistically and emotionally was great, but to be able to also get some money back from it – a healthy cheque every quarter – is a real rarity in this particular business.”
Shooting resumed on May 29, 1974, exactly two years after the camera first rolled on the set of the X’s living room.
By this time, Lynch had separated from his first wife and had taken up residence in Henry’s room at the AFI stables. “It was sort of illegal,” he admitted, “but I found a way to camouflage the room to look like no one was in there.” The main door was padlocked from the outside, while a secondary, plywood door was bolted from within. The set was draped with the sound blankets so that if anyone should manage to look in, nothing was visible. Said Coulson, “He never admitted that he lived there, and they never admitted that he lived there. But I think everybody kind of knew.” But, said Lynch, “the parks department turned me in one time. They said people must be living there because there’s garbage piling up. Of course, we were all eating there anyway. But they asked about it, and of course” he told them that no one was “living there. We were working down there.”
When shooting resumed, it was on a piecemeal basis, with long intervals of planning and preparation between setups. Doreen Small had left the project when she moved to Santa Barbara, and Alan Splet had gone to Scotland. There was little live sound left to do, and what there was could be taken care of by remaining members of the crew, although on one occasion someone else was brought in to do it.
The first scene to be filmed after the long break was one involving the Lady in the Radiator. Laurel Near, who played the part, had been singing in a trio with her two sisters, Holly and Timi, the latter being a good friend of Coulson’s. Near was introduced to Lynch, who, she said, “liked my smile,” and he hired her for the part. She had never done film work before and “didn’t know what I was getting into really.”
The Lady in the Radiator’s stage was built outside at the AFI and, according to Fred Elmes, “It just sat there for months and months and months until we could finally get around to shooting that scene.” Lynch even made a stencil and handpainted the pattern of squares on the stage. “We knew where all the black curtains were,” Elmes continued, “and we’d made plans about how we would hang lights. But the problem was there was nothing up there to hang lights on.” They had to build a scaffold and borrow a big extension ladder from the AFI, which they suspended above the stage as a rack for the lights.
The day would begin at five-thirty or six in the evening, with everyone gathering on the set. Elmes would ensure that all the lighting was correct – and then everything would have to wait while Lynch spent a couple of hours applying Near’s makeup. Then shooting would begin. But sometime after midnight, Lynch would have to leave because now he had a job delivering the Wall Street Journal. He made $48.50 a week on a 210-paper route. His first night out, it had taken him about six hours to run the route in his VW, but eventually “I found shortcuts and studied a map, and I got this overview. I got it down to one hour.”
While he was on the job, the others would take a break, eat, change the lighting for a new setup, or just get a bit of rest. “I know occasionally,” recalled Elmes, “the Wall Street Journal didn’t get delivered.” And Coulson remembered running the route for Lynch on occasion; he taped it for her – “and now the orange house on the left, and then you turn right here …”
Shooting would start again on Lynch’s return and continue until dawn. Coulson recalled that “we seemed to get our best stuff right before dawn.” During the first year “Alan would be listening to the sound and say, ‘Wait, I hear birds.’ We’d have to stop when we started to hear the birds.” But later, said Elmes, “we started building canopies over things to keep the daylight out so that we could get one more last shot in before it was too light. I still look at shots in the film and think, ‘That shot looks a little different.’ And then I remember: everything was very subtly filled from the top by skylight because it was the last shot of the morning before we had to wrap it up.”
Although Near found working with Lynch “a real treat; I love his sense of humour and he’s real sincere,” she did not realize how complicated a business it would be. “I thought I was just going to go and dance across the stage.” What she actually got were some long, grueling makeup sessions. She recalled that some of the materials used by Lynch were quite harsh. She went through five or six sessions and “it was real thick stuff that when you took it off it just sort of peeled your whole face off with it. My face hurt a lot after the sessions. But they took a lot of time and they were real sweet to me, they took care of me.”