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An Ugly Silence

May 4, 2010

by Sam Hutchins

The journey was taking its toll on all of us, but it was perhaps wearing hardest on Stephane. Kar Wai very consciously sets his jobs up as cults of personality. In his quiet way he knows his best interests are served when people are jockeying for his attention and seeking his favor. As much as I loved my companions, and I truly had come to love them in a familial way, this was one behavior that irked the hell out of me. Either Darius or Stephane would gladly throw me under the bus given the slightest chance of making themselves look better in Kar Wai’s eyes. I’m talking about the small betrayals, but even the minor ones build up over time. Also, you are much more attenuated to slights when in close proximity and isolated from the rest of the world for such an extended period.

For my part, I diligently attempted to avoid such actions. In the first place, I don’t want to benefit at the cost of someone else. More importantly, I have a certain comfort level that comes from being good at my job. Of course I wanted Kar Wai’s approval as much as the other two. I, however, knew that I could attain it by doing my job and doing it well. We were at the tail end of months of scouting all across the country, and it had been a wildly successful journey. The man asked me to show him America and I had. We found locations that provided the backbone of the story he would tell. The entire scout was impromptu yet we had never been lost or in doubt. My charges always felt safe and well provided for. They had been properly handled. Kar Wai could have found a Location Manager as good as me, but he could not have found one who was better.

For Stephane the journey was much more difficult. He had been away from home longer than anyone else, having been sent ahead by Kar Wai to arrange things in America. Worse, Stephane had a wife and young son who he loved dearly back in Paris. Darius was in Paris right before we began the scout, months after Stephane had left. Also, Darius’s children were much older. For my part, all I left behind in New York were some women I called occasionally but nothing steady. Stephane’s job description was part of the problem as well. I had never before or since worked on a job with someone designated as “Creative Producer.” It laid a heavy burden on him. In order to do his job he had to be “on” at all times.

I see these things in retrospect, but at the time it was simply a matter of Stephane turning into a pain in the ass. It didn’t help that Kar Wai had been increasingly cold and distant to him. So somewhere outside of Sacramento Stephane had insisted on taking the wheel. He had been incredibly helpful with this over the course of the trip, doing a few hours of late night driving at the times I was too exhausted to safely continue. That was not the case here, though. He insisted that he drive in the afternoon merely to demonstrate his utility to Kar Wai. Although annoying, that alone would have been tolerable. The real problem was that Kar Wai had him all wound up. Stephane not only wanted to drive but also wanted to engage Kar Wai and entertain him. As a result we were hurtling through traffic while Stephane kept up a non-stop monologue, weaving in and out of lanes as he chatted and paid scant attention to the actual act of driving. It was sporadically raining and traffic was heavy, so safety was becoming an issue.

“Stephane, pay attention!”

It was probably the third or fourth time I had snapped at him, but I was going to keep doing so as long as he continued to veer out of our lane and cause other cars to swerve just because he had turned to Kar Wai to emphasize another point in whatever story he was telling. Did no one else notice the dangerous conditions?

“Hey man, take it easy. We’ll be fine,” said Darius before going back to his magazine.

I guess not. I tried to hold my tongue and not worry so much about dying in a fiery wreck. To distract myself I opened up the map and began plotting the best route. We were rapidly approaching Sacramento. I would have rather avoided it but there was no logical detour. From there the most direct route to the coast was through Oakland and San Francisco. A quick question confirmed that we had no need to see either city so I decided to navigate us south on Interstate 5 to bypass them. This had the added benefit of routing us through part of the Central Valley, one of the most fertile places on earth. After a short run there we could cut over to the coast and pick up 17 Mile Drive, one of my favorite roads anywhere. This was shaping up nicely.

“Okay Stephane, in approximately four miles we’re going to get off the exit that takes us to Rte. 5 South.”

He ignored me and continued the monologue.

“Okay Stephane, in approximately three miles we’re going to exit this freeway.”

He ignored me again. We were in the far left lane and traffic was stacking up heavily. I was getting concerned about our ability to merge sagely to the right to make our exit.

“Stephane, you want to get over to the right.”

“Don’t tell me how to drive man.”

Monologue resumes. A little while later, after seeing several signs for Interstate 5, we were still speeding along in the left lane.

“Stephane, there’s the exit, on the right!”

He swerved hard, almost taking out a couple cars in the way, but still shot right past the exit. I was right on the edge of losing control, which is incredibly rare for me.

“You missed it, you fucking frog asshole!”

“Why didn’t you tell me it was coming up. You cannot just yell at me at the last minute like that. It ees dangerous.”

I lost it. I threw the map at the back of his head. It grazed him before hitting the windshield and winding up at his feet. Not the smartest move when speeding along at 80 mph amongst heavy traffic in the rain. Still, it was all I could do not to punch him. Were he in any position to fight back I certainly would have.

“Fine, motherfucker. Navigate yourself, I’m done with you.”

An ugly silence settled over the car as I folded my arms and sulked in the back. Worst of all, the gray skies and rain were really making the green colors of the fields pop. We should have pulled over to take pictures, instead we were wasting time arguing. But I’d be damned if I was letting him off the hook that easily.



Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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