A Scouting Life
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Homecoming, then Bad News

November 24, 2009

by Sam Hutchins

We finished the day in Detroit seeing the rest of what it had to offer us. I had hoped to spend another night there and spend the next day scouting the countryside as we headed east, but I was overridden on that. Kar Wai had no interest in anything rural, but a great deal of it in looking at more of the gray, industrial cities of the upper Midwest. So on we pressed to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Once more Stephane deserves credit for getting us there. I was exhausted but wouldn’t say so. He picked up on it anyway and took the wheel, guiding us through the night and increasingly heavy snow to get us home.

As he drove I set us up in one of my favorite hotels, the Renaissance. It is part of the Terminal Tower, built in the 1920’s and the tallest building in North America outside of New York City until the early 1960’s. It sits atop the old Union Terminal train station and features some magnificent interior spaces. The Hotel itself was a grand old dame, with a massive sitting area in the lobby where you can drink cocktails under the vaulted ceiling. It also has one of the best bars in Cleveland just off the lobby. The place was just slightly tattered and dowdy now but retained enough of its original glamour to be perfect for us.

With Kar Wai’s blessing I arranged to have my parents meet us for a drink at the hotel. Pulling up to the valet station around ten pm we saw them arriving at the same time. Whoever said you cannot go home again was simply wrong. When you are as worn-out and road weary I was, getting a few minutes with your loved ones can make all the difference in the world. We checked in, quickly washed up, and reconvened in the lobby.

Everyone has a different relationship with their parents. Mine happens to be excellent. Not only do I love them, I’m proud of them. Not everyone could hold their own with the accomplished crew I brought with me but my folks certainly can. Dad is an accomplished photographer and quickly fell into deep conversation with Darius about related subjects. My stepmother is an incredibly sophisticated Korean woman and easily matched wits with Kar Wai. She is very direct and pulls no punches. In an hour together she got more out of him than the rest of us had in a month. For his part Kar Wai was incredibly complimentary towards me, which greatly pleased her. Simply a lovely evening and one I’ll always treasure.

We said our goodbyes eventually and headed out for a late-night sushi feast. The Cleveland I grew up in shut down at night and on the weekends but things had changed. The streets of the warehouse district were crowded and we got one of the few remaining tables. Turns out that Kar Wai had a masterful knowledge of Japanese cuisine as well. While generally impressed by the meal we had he pointed out subtle things I never would have noticed, such as a certain piece of fish was cut incorrectly, slightly against the grain. A great deal of sake was consumed and good times were had by all.

Waking early the next morning I went through the usual routine of plotting out our day’s scouting, getting the cameras ready and working on the vehicle. Retrieving it from the valet I took it to get gassed up and washed then returned to wait for the guys outside of the hotel. It was a beautiful, crisp winter morning. The snow had stopped and a weak sun cast its light on me.

It did feel like a magical morning. Sitting in the truck, I could look across at the bus stop where I used to transfer to get home from high school. I also saw the Old Stone Church, where my sister married her husband Ben, and the 55 building, which is where my dad first worked as a photographer. I busied myself for a while taking pictures as I waited. And waited and waited. The minutes turned into an hour and more. The snow started falling again while I sat there. I was nearly ready to go in and check up on the guys when Stephane exited the hotel, toting his suitcase. That confused me, as we hadn’t planned on checking out.

“Stephane, should I pack up my stuff?” I asked as I hopped out of the car.

“No, you stay here, we just had a bad phone call and I have to go back to New York. The guys will be down in a minute.”

And with that he hopped in a cab and was gone. I was left to sit and wonder if we were still scouting or packing up and heading home to sift through the remains of a failed attempt at a film.



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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