REEL 13
A Scouting Life
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  • April 8, 2010

    A Cruel Joke

    by Sam Hutchins

    We rolled on and on. Beautiful, desolate country. Hours of nothing but the landscape. It was hard to tell from the map, but I feared we might wind up driving pretty deep into the night before we found a place to crash. We were all getting rather hungry too, lunch having been mostly beef jerky. Just as the sun was setting we saw evidence of humanity beginning to appear. First a beat-up old trailer, then an ancient roadhouse. As we pulled up to the first place we had seen in several hours, Darius spoke up. “Are you sure this is the best place to eat?” he said.

    I slowly scanned the vast, empty horizon before answering as evenly as possible. “I think this is going to be our best bet.”

    Kar Wai smiled, but then again he always does and no one ever knows what it means.

    We were at a spot called Middlegate station. Built as a stagecoach stop in the 1850’s, it later served as a stop on the Pony Express. It was the next stop after Major’s Station, actually. Hard to believe, but what had been a relatively long day of driving for us was once done on a galloping horse. Those riders must have been tough sons-of-bitches. At least they didn’t have to put up with the emotional tension that was slowly building in the truck.

    The place was full. Modern cowboys crowded the bar, drinking, eating and watching a large television. A pair of blueberry pies sat cooling on a wire rack. I pointed them out to Kar Wai, but he wasn’t interested. Rightly so, I suppose. Although slightly more interesting than Major’s Station, Middlegate was too isolated. At least Major’s had the resources of nearby Ely to support us while filming there. It did beg the question of where the cowboys filling Middlegate came from. The next town was still another 50 miles to the west. It was like “Cheers” but for Unabomber-types.

    We found a table in back and sat for another in a series of increasingly unpleasant meals. Stephane, for all his faults, was a good guy. He had been hired for what was basically a dream job. Working as a producer of documentaries and commercials in Paris, he had somehow caught Wong Kar Wai’s attention. For unknown reasons, Kar Wai had taken him on as inspiration and muse. Kar Wai made a point of referring to him as the “Creative Producer.” He served as a stand-in for our pictures, which is odd considering he is just over five feet tall. He helped Kar Wai with his English dialogue, which is odd, as he had a limited command of the language. The two mens’ sensibilities seemed to be almost directly opposite: Kar Wai’s zen calm compared to Stephane’s wacky anarchic energy. Perhaps this contrast was what had appealed to Kar Wai initially, but he seemed to be having second thoughts. He was treating Stephane terribly.

    “We will all sit here. Except Stephane. Why don’t you eat in the car.”

    A harmless enough joke it would seem, but everyone was competing for the master’s attentions so it was actually quite cruel in a quiet way. The hurt flashed across Stephane’s face as Kar Wai turned his attentions to Darius. Those two were getting quite close. Hurtful as that may have been to Stephane, it was ultimately more important for the film that the director and DP get along. Still, it could have been handled so much better. We ate quickly and in relative silence before getting back on the road.

    Stephane took a shift behind the wheel, expressing his mortification and anger by testing the limits of the truck and his luck at avoiding police. Fine with me. He’s a good driver when he pays attention and it was a long way to Reno. Also it allowed me time to attend to my work. Piloting this scout was pretty much a full-time job to begin with, but I had a number of other responsibilities. I had found and hired good local scouts in Memphis, Detroit, Vegas and Los Angeles, and was supervising their work, and also had a small staff scouting and preparing to start filming back in New York. Cell service was still nonexistent, but I was able to lose myself in the hundreds of scouting photographs I had yet to review. I looked through them, deciding which were worthy of being shown to Kar Wai. It was tricky work sorting them out given his mercurial nature and unpredictable taste. Soon darkness enveloped us as we sped along, the glow of my laptop illuminating the interior of the truck.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • April 6, 2010

    The Loneliest Road in America

    by Sam Hutchins

    We couldn’t leave Ely fast enough the next morning. The place had a certain malevolence tucked just beneath the surface, and our presence there was enough to awaken it. Nothing that couldn’t be handled, but the time to deal with the hustlers, grifters and flakes was later. For now we were just passing through and taking some pictures. Definitely time for us to get on down that road.

    As had happened in the past, circumstances dictated our route. We had thoroughly scouted southern Nevada, then covered the eastern part of the state right up to the Utah border. North and west were our only remaining options. A quick glance at the map indicated that our choice was to take Highway 50 out of Ely. A long stretch of it would get us into Reno. Although Ely seemed to fill our “dingy card room in a desolate, menacing town” quota, it behooved us to see what iterations of such were available between there and Reno, if not in Reno proper.

    Rte. 50 rises sharply through the mountains west of town. We passed multiple rough gravel turnoffs that led to mining operations past and present. I’d had some fun spelunking abandoned mines outside of Phoenix before, but that was not meant for this trip. Now it was time to drive, and so I did. Over and through the first range and across another high desert plain. And another. And another.

    Although the land was lovely, it was desolate. We lost cell service as soon as we left Ely and had not seen any sign of life since. No other cars passing, no telephone poles stretched along the roadside. No mailboxes or lonely houses isolated off in the distance. Even with our early start it was nearly lunchtime by the time we saw another person.

    Rounding a bend we encountered the town of Eureka. Eureka, Nevada is a town of 300, which represents the last vestiges of another former booming mine town. It reminded me of nothing more that the ruins I had seen of the Anaszi people in southern Colorado. The town seemed like it was both part of the mountain and also being swallowed by it. Houses clutched precariously to the cliffs on either side of the road. It could just as easily have been abandoned as populated by the looks of it.

    The only open business was a combination gas station/convenience store, the retail part of the operation occupying what appeared to be someone’s living room. After gassing up we had a brief chat with the proprietor. Turns out the stretch of road we had just traveled was the “busy” part of Rte. 50. West of Eureka it had been labeled, “The loneliest road in America.” My friends were a little dismayed to learn that lunch would consist of homemade beef jerky and Dr. Pepper. We ate as we drove.

    It was out there, on the vast open road, that I truly began to fear the Chinese people. Kar Wai had already proved to be fairly inconsiderate of other people’s needs. That can easily be attributed to working as a film director, though. Regrettably it comes with the job. But somewhere on that lonely drive we wound up discussing politics, specifically the election that was taking place in France soon. At one point I used the word “communist” pejoratively and received a sharp reprimand from Kar Wai for doing so.

    I was speechless. Here was a man whose family had been violently torn apart by the Communists. They had killed his brother and forced his mother to flee to Hong Kong with him. Yet when I spoke ill of the philosophy he was quick to point out that the good of the whole was more important than the needs of a few. My fears were later proved true by another even more frightening incident, proving the sincerity of his beliefs.

    A few months after this particular day a group of us were back scouting in New York. It was an exceptionally warm summer night, and the end of a very long day. Work was seven days a week with these people, they never took a day off. Further, the days themselves were generally 14-15 hours in length. So there we were, marching down the smelly, sweaty back streets of the Meatpacking District when one of our producers, a woman named Alice, simply collapsed from exhaustion. She stumbled and went face down on the greasy sidewalk. Neither Kar Wai nor any of the rest of the Chinese missed a step. They kept right on going, leaving her there. Looking around in shock, I ran and caught Kar Wai by the arm.

    “Alice has collapsed. We should take her to the hospital.”

    He gave me a long, blank stare before replying.

    “Put her in the van. She’ll be fine. Just tired.”

    He turned on his heel and went right on scouting. I threw Alice over my shoulders and carried her back to our van where she could at least get some air conditioning and water. After making sure she was not critical, I had to turn and run back to catch up with the scout.

    But that was later. This particular day in the mountains I was just figuring out how cold Kar Wai could be. Silence settled in over the truck as I tested its limits by driving as quickly as I could. I no longer wanted to be out in the desert at night with these guys.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • March 30, 2010

    Brothels and Blackjack

    by Sam Hutchins

    We got back to the Hotel Nevada just in time to wash up and have a nice dinner. The rooms were smallish, as could be expected of such an old hotel, and the furnishings looked like they came from your grandmother’s garage sale. Everything was mismatched and cheaply made. All I generally require is a slightly comfortable bed, and the bed was indeed slightly comfortable. I’m sure the rest of my traveling party was horrified, however.

    The best part of the room was definitely the shower. Or, should I say, the plaque affixed to the wall just outside the shower. It read:

    WARNING: This is an old hotel, with old pipes. They are somewhat unpredictable. The shower has a tendency to suddenly cut off the hot water and get extremely cold. This only happens briefly, and at random times. If it happens please just wait until the hot water comes back on and resume your shower. Do not call the front desk to complain, they cannot do anything about it. Also, please do not flush the toilet while showering, this only makes the problem worse.

    What a lovely feature for a hotel to have. Even though I did not experience a blast of ice cold water while cleaning up, I was tense with the fear of it happening the entire time I was in. Once I dried off I could hear water flowing through the pipes to the neighboring rooms. I flushed the toilet repeatedly and listened closely but alas, I did not hear any screaming.

    Cleaned up and ready for a night on the town, the four of us stepped out into the gathering darkness of Main Street. I must say, the Hotel did present itself to the street in a lovely way. The retro-looking signs lit up the area nicely and would surely look wonderful on screen. Once we stepped away from the doors, however, the rest of the town sat in relative darkness. A quick stroll around showed that nothing was open other than a few bars. We popped in and out of a half dozen of them, mostly deserted, and none serving food. Eventually we resigned ourselves to the fact that the only dinner to be had was back in the Hotel Nevada.

    What a dinner it was that we ate. All the finest over-processed food that can be delivered in a box on a Sysco truck. I know we were in the middle of the high desert, but this was a particularly unpleasant experience. We ate what we could but that wasn’t much, and I’m not a remotely picky eater. Finer food can be had out of a microwave in a 7-11.

    That, however, wasn’t even the worst thing about the experience. Our waitress asked us several times if we planned to go to either the Big 4 or the Green Lantern. It was clear that the others did not get the reference, but I knew that she was referring to the local whorehouses. Every time she mentioned it the others didn’t understand and I pretended not to hear. It was a little unsettling.

    Far be it from me to judge anyone. I actually went to a brothel once when I was much younger. It was in Nashville, and I was in town for a week scouting. I had found everything I needed already and had a day to kill. Being the diligent location scout that I am, I spent my remaining time driving all over town getting my bearings. Were we to wind up filming there I wanted to be prepared. By late afternoon I felt comfortably conversant with the town’s layout and was preparing to head back to my hotel.

    At that point I was driving north out of town on Highway 41. It was a pretty industrial stretch of road, and getting turned around was difficult as traffic had gotten a little heavy. As we crept along I saw a light just ahead and got ready to make the right turn and get oriented back towards downtown Nashville. Off on the side of the road was a low, nondescript brick building. It only had one small window, which had an illuminated red neon heart in it. While I waited I saw a pair of very attractive women dressed as though heading to a nightclub enter the building. I wasn’t sure what was happening there but clearly some sort of trouble was going on. Of course I had to check it out.

    I made the turn and passed the lot, parking a short distance up the street. Whatever was happening inside, I was prepared to make a quick exit. Entering the front door I found myself facing a heavy steel door and a small window covered in plexiglass. A woman’s voice asked me how long I needed. I inquired about prices, and she recited a sliding scale ranging from 15 minutes to two hours. The fees were relatively inexpensive and I was on per diem so I sprung for the full two hours, still having no idea what that bought me other than time. The woman buzzed me in.

    The room I stepped into was dark, and the sign on the wall indicated that I was in “Sally’s Hot Tub Club.” Go figure. I was presented with a lineup of women, some quite attractive, and told to choose. I did so, and a lovely young woman led me into a room. She directed me to a bench in the corner and told me to get comfortable. I did, and waited for her return. Apparently she was a little surprised when she saw me again.

    “Honey, by get comfortable I meant you should get undressed.”

    “Oh. Okay. I was confused because there is no water in the hot tub.”

    I nodded to indicate the bone-dry tub in the corner. She laughed sweetly.

    “We don’t actually go in the hot tub, you see…” she went on to explain just what happened there. Ah. Got it. So I did what people do in such situations. Once business was concluded I still had an hour and a half to kill, so we had a very pleasant talk.

    I mention this to give some context. When faced with the opportunity, yes, I certainly obliged. It was random, semi-accidental and quite nice. However I could not imagine consciously seeking out such a situation. Somehow it felt even creepier where it was legal to do so. It wasn’t just our waitress who kept suggesting we visit one of the local establishments, but something that was suggested by everyone we met in Ely. An entire town full of pimps. Also, the women in Nashville were generally quite gorgeous. I had yet to see a woman in Ely who interested me, or even came close.

    Finishing our meal, I retired to the blackjack tables. Darius, Stephane, and Kar Wai all made their excuses and went back to their rooms. I was certain one or more of them was going to sneak off to the brothels, so I took a seat with a view of the door. To my great surprise, none of them showed again that evening. Perhaps I had misjudged them, more likely they were just exhausted.

    While I am far from what they consider a “whale,” I do know my way around a casino. Usually I spend my time at Caesars playing $50 hands of blackjack. The table limit at the Hotel Nevada was only $5, so playing there felt like I was betting Monopoly money. The game was played with a single deck and the dealer was a little clumsy, so even with my rudimentary counting skills I was soon beating the hell out of the house. In an attempt to even up the odds a little I started tossing back double vodkas. The Manager stopped by the table and apologetically informed me that they could only comp well vodka, but for a double Stoli I would have to pay full price, which was all of four dollars. I told him it was fine and to keep them coming.

    After a while I simply got bored. I was up over two hundred dollars on five dollar hands, and couldn’t throw the drinks back fast enough to get even a little drunk. The whorehouses didn’t interest me and I had no interest in finding any drugs. Cowboys may dream about gaming tables, cold drinks and available women but it did nothing for me. All I wanted was to be back home, sleeping in my own bed, alone. I said my goodnights, cashed my chips, and retired to my cold lonely bed.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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.

    • comments (0)
  • March 25, 2010

    Basin and Range

    by Sam Hutchins

    Kar Wai had been reaching out to his network of contacts, asking for any ideas on smaller, down-at-the-heels casinos. I was in no position to discourage him, but in my experience getting tips from anyone other than a fellow location scout/manager is a waste of your time. There are so many factors that go into making a location work that you invariably wind up being sent someplace useless. Not to say you should not always keep an open an inquisitive mind, of course, but know going in not to expect much. This is all the more true for ideas you get from the producer and/or director’s acquaintances. It’s always the director’s best friend who insists you scout Lincoln Center when the script calls for an intimate jazz club. You are obligated to follow through, however, so it’s only after wasting half a scouting day that you can report that the location fee is $100,000 and the first availability is sometime in October of 2025.

    In this spirit we lit out for the Nevada-Utah Border. Someone in Kar Wai’s circle had sworn that there was an amazing casino straddling the line between the two states. I was highly doubtful, but what the hell. Why not have a look? We already had our accommodations for the night arranged in the historic Hotel Nevada when we loaded up the truck and headed out.

    I must admit that we traveled through some of the most beautiful land I have seen in this country. The trip was through the mountains, essentially moving from one high desert basin to another. Being at such an altitude, I started to feel like I was closer to God. Whether it was the clouds, the majestic stone, or just the thin oxygen-deprived air, it was a tangible feeling I could not shake. I wanted nothing more than to wander out alone in the scrub brush and have a chat with the Man upstairs. Maybe strip naked and confess my sins. Alas, the closest I came were the multiple stops we made to photograph the landscape.

    I was also excited at the prospect of Kar Wai working in such wide open spaces. While his stories cover a very broad range, his aesthetic is rather narrowly defined. He shoots urban decay. His locations are old, cramped spaces in the rotting hearts of cities. His colors are electric and washed in neon. The closest I came to matching his standard look was in Brooklyn at midnight. Now we were in the middle of nowhere, nothing but nature as far as the eye could see. We were surrounded by primary tones. Everything here was some shade of tan. How would he film the landscape? What relationship will his characters have with their surroundings? The questions thrilled me.

    At one point when planning the scout I researched filming in Monument Valley. What a coup it would be to bring Kar Wai to the scene of John Ford’s greatest work. After extensive digging I discovered that getting to the really good parts took extraordinary measures. You had to track down one of a small handful of Native American guides who knew the area and do a day’s hike just to get to where the good locations begin. As great a thing it would have been to make happen, this was not the crowd to take that walk. Now, however, it seemed like we might have found areas that were quite beautiful in their own right to shoot. Valley after valley opened before us, with massive herds of antelope charging across the plains to greet us. Truly a lovely spot on the earth.

    It was easy to find the casino we were looking for. It sat far off in the distance, the first sign of humanity we had seen in hours. As advertised, it did sit on its own with nothing else as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately it was also criminally ugly. Such a wasted opportunity. Nothing but a series of connected pre-fab buildings and outlying trailers. Once inside, we found it even less appealing. Formica, suspended ceilings, and slot machines ruled the day. We shot a few pictures before taking our leave.

    Back in the parking lot, Kar Wai had Stephane, Darius and I pose for a series of pictures. The whole thing was done so unexpectedly and casually that I was surprised to find later that they are some of my favorite pictures of myself. The sky got a little dark and cloudy as we drove back towards Ely and the Hotel Nevada, but broke nicely just as the sun set. At the start of the journey my French friends had insisted that the journey was just as important as the destination and it seems that they were right about that.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • March 23, 2010

    Hotel Nevada

    by Sam Hutchins

    The process always plays out differently no matter how long you do it. Each film is a living, breathing entity that has its own quirks and wrinkles. This is true of every show you are on, but even more so with a creatively chaotic fellow like Kar Wai guiding the enterprise. The more I got to know him, the less predictable he became. Places that seemed to fit perfectly into his aesthetic were summarily rejected while other times he surprised me with his interest. Not so with the Hotel Nevada. As as soon as we crossed the street to take a closer look at it I began thinking about where we would park the trucks. It was exactly what we were looking for.

    Opening in 1929, things got off to a rocky start when the stock market crashed shortly thereafter. Prohibition was in effect as well and was not a friend to the entertainment or hospitality industries. Nonetheless, illegal booze and gambling were readily available from the first day the place was open. The Hotel Nevada was always shrewdly-run, pioneering the concept of offering free bus service to and from Salt Lake City. The booze and gambling, as well as the town’s multiple whorehouses, proved a effective lure to the residents of Utah, and the hotel has always done well for itself. Amazing considering it was only one of three casinos in a small town in the middle of nowhere. If working with Kar Wai was a search for the hidden histories and the tales of the louche life, we had found what we were looking for.

    The hotel was wonderful about welcoming us with open arms. It’s that kind of place. Although the owner was not in town, the manager set us up with a housekeeper who “was perfect for you, because she loves movies.” Without wanting to sound mean or ungrateful, I’m about to be mean and ungrateful. Even though people take time out of their day to help us scout, their presence can so frequently be burdensome. All we really require is access to the rooms. Give us a set of keys and let us wander around. Instead you are often guided by the person most eager to spend time with you, the local film buff. Such was the case here. While trying to take pictures and get a sense of the hotel I braced myself for another boring lecture.

    I will admit that the cleaning lady knew her stuff. When she met Kar Wai she point blanked him with, “Yeah, your stuff is good. No one around here cares, though. They just want to see action movies.” This definitely caught us off guard and was good for a chuckle. Unfortunately, the monologue was non-stop from there, going into great detail about every movie that had ever exposed a foot of film in the surrounding 200 miles. As we looked at basic rooms she kept building us up for the suites. Apparently they were, at her insistence, all movie themed. After the big lead-up, we were shown the first of them, the Ray Milland Suite. My hopes for something out of The Lost Weekend were dashed when I discovered that the only distinguishing characteristic of it was a still photo of Mr. Milland sitting on a bed stand. To think, I still had the Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, Wayne Newton, Anne Rutherford, Mickey Rooney, Ken Maynard and Wallace Beery suites to tour.

    Turning around to leave the room, I discovered I was alone with the Housekeeper. The rest of my crew had snuck out to explore on their own. Those bastards. I continued the tour for a few more of the suites, but upon discovering they were all essentially the same room with different photos, I begged off from seeing the rest. What was in reality only an hour or so of my life had felt like a year in purgatory. Returning to the lobby I discovered my companions chuckling at the slot machines.

    “How is your girlfriend?” asked Kar Wai.

    “Thanks for ditching me.”

    “You seemed like you had plenty to talk about.”

    “Ugh. What did you think of the place?”

    “I like it. Book us rooms here tonight. We’ll explore the area, then come back and sleep here.”

    And so it was.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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.

    • comments (0)
  • March 18, 2010

    Marlboro Man at the Liberty Club

    by Sam Hutchins

    Ely, Nevada Pop. 4,041

    Ely, Nevada is a town of roughly 4,000 people in White Pine County, close to the geographic center of the state of Nevada. It exists largely due to the now-defunct Kennecot Copper Mine, once a major source of the metal in this country. Tourists visit for the abundant hunting and outdoor activities in Great Basin National Park, as well as the Railroad Museum. Ely has three casinos, dozens of bars, and two whorehouses. Its population was now temporarily increased by four.

    Main Street laid out nicely, framed by the mountains as it was. There were a few architectural gems there amidst a lot of ugliness. Had it been preserved a little better it might have potential for us, but initially I didn’t see any attraction. More tragedy than victory in the buildings, as far as I was concerned. Some sort of civic boosterism had paid for a series of criminally awful murals depicting the town’s history. Generally it just felt a little sad. Part of Kar Wai’s genius is seeing beauty where others don’t, however, and he seemed to be a little captivated by this town.

    The place that initially caught his attention was a dive bar called the Liberty Club. It was a pretty great little dive with a hundred years or so of history to it. We stumbled upon and into it right around lunchtime. The bar was manned by a grizzled old lady bartender who would have looked just as comfortable in any 8th Avenue joint in New York as she did at The Liberty. The sole customer was a cowboy sitting at the bar enjoying a beer.

    By cowboy, I mean the real deal, an honest-to-God horse-riding, calf-roping Marlboro man-type cowhand from the Rio Grande. Men can have all sorts of issues dealing with other men at times, and this is a perfect example of such. I like to think I’m a pretty tough guy, I’ll admit. Been through all sorts of tussles and scrapes and always come out all right. Drop me on any street in any city and I’ll clock the action in front of and behind the scenes right away. I can score drugs in a dozen countries, throw and take a good punch, tell you which guys in a bar are strapped and instinctively know who can be pushed and who can’t. Put me in a room with a guy like this, however, and I’m flummoxed.

    How do you define your masculinity when you’re dealing with a guy who really works the land? City tough isn’t the same as country tough in the end. Also, I pride myself on my ability to relate to almost anyone but was at a total loss due to the utter foreignness of his vocation. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what to converse about. Hey, how you like the new Ford pickup? Feels weird for me to be at a total loss like that. Doesn’t help that guys like that are usually reticent to begin with, either.

    We took some pictures but didn’t get far with the social game. The bartender was drunk and a little crazy and the cowboy was quiet. Kar Wai was also curious about him and eager to get some local color from the fellow but failed even more spectacularly than I had. Taking a page from my playbook he offered to buy a round for the bar. The bartender had hers inside her practically before he finished speaking. I reluctantly put my whiskey back. The cowboy refused the offer. The whole scene felt a little awkward and weird so we soon took our leave. I could now see how Kar Wai was fascinated with this place. There were stories here that we needed to know so we could improve them and make them our own.

    While there were very few restaurants there was no shortage of bars. We popped in and out of most of them that early afternoon. Outside of the Liberty they were all awful. Nothing you couldn’t find in a strip mall in Phoenix. That first whiskey had not treated me overly well given the previous night so I made an effort to avoid any more as we scouted. Though I didn’t see anyone obviously tweaking, the town seemed to give off a pretty strong meth vibe. All things considered, I was ready to get the hell out of Dodge, unheard stories notwithstanding. Kar Wai held firm however, so we went on exploring.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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.

    • comments (0)
  • March 16, 2010

    Ma Ma

    by Sam Hutchins

    The liquor store looked like a possible Kar Wai location. It was a gas station built for the original blue line highways that predated the interstate system. Better, it had been sloppily and gaudily repurposed with no historical regard, and even had its own fleabag motel out back. Perhaps the perfect Kar Wai honeypot.

    Walking in, we were engulfed by the hurricane that was Ma Ma. She was a Korean woman of a certain age. Of what age I am not certain, but let’s say 60 would be a conservative guess. A guess which would be the last acquaintance we would have with the concept of “conservative” that morning. She wore a tightly fit black velvet top over leopard skin stretch pants. Chunky black Cha-Cha heels and a yellow silk scarf completed the look. Her personality was even more outgoing than her garb.

    “Hey, what you doing here, Chinese man? You want some tea? Hahaha.”

    Kar wai warmed up to her like he very rarely does with a person.

    “I would, thank you very much. Actually, if you just have some hot water, I would like to serve you a special tea I brought from Hong Kong.”

    “Yee-haa, that sounds good! Tell you what, you do that and I’ll make you some noodles I have special from Korea.”

    “Oh, very good. I have not had breakfast yet.”

    “Come, come. I make for you. No charge! Hahahaha!”

    Everything she said was enunciated as a borderline yell, particularly this last bit. It was punctuated by her cackling laughter, as was every other sentence or so that came out of her mouth. She nodded at me.

    “None for him, though. He too fat!”

    “Don’t worry, he hates Asian food,” Kar Wai said of me. How did he get that idea?

    “He should eat some noodles, maybe not be so fat. Hahahahaha!”

    “I would like some, if that ees okay,” Darius chimed in.

    “No noodles for you. Only noodles for handsome here.” She nodded at Kar Wai.

    I started to ask her about taking pictures but Kar Wai cut me off and discreetly shook his head no. I suppose the interior wasn’t that great. White pegboard covered the walls and it was overly bright. Still, it seemed like his sort of place. I wandered outside and took pictures of the mountains, but the view was largely blocked by scattered ugly buildings. A billiard hall, a dusty furniture store, that sort of thing. Nothing with the slightest bit of character aside from Ma Ma’s liquor store.

    When I stepped back in, Ma Ma had Kar Wai cornered. She was haranguing him about filming in her place. He had gone from warm to obviously uncomfortable. I did my duty and stepped in.

    “We can’t shoot here, Ma Ma. You’re too sexy, you’ll make the starlets jealous.”

    “Hahaha, you bullshit me. I no sexy, I no want to be in movie. I want you to film here, pay me lots of money, hahahaha!”

    “Okay, the place looks great, but we have other places to see. Besides, we really don’t have much money.”

    “Make me offer, hahaha!”

    She really had Kar Wai pinned in the corner. I had to take her arm and pull her away so he could slip past. As soon as he had a clear path to the door he stepped quickly towards it. He called over his shoulder as he left.

    “Thanks for the noodles, Ma Ma, they were very tasty. See you soon.”

    She wasn’t done yet.

    “Anything you want, I can get you.” She winked lustily. “Anything.”

    My God. Even as we pulled away in the truck she stood on the sidewalk yelling and cackling at us.

    “When you come back hahaha? I be here waiting hahaha! Plenty more noodles for you! Make you a good deal!”

    I checked the rear view to make sure she wasn’t running down the street after us. Seeing our escape was successful I put the big question to Kar Wai.

    “So, we filming there?”

    “Location is great, but she is too much too handle.” He gave it a long pause. “Maybe when we film there we say Stephane is the Director.”

    We all had a nice laugh and that broke the tension between Stephane and Kar Wai.

    I love history, and read it voraciously. A few years ago while reading one of Ambrose’s oral histories of World War II I came across an absolutely amazing story. In the mop-up operations after D-Day American soldiers were registering German prisoners. I forget which beach it was, but it was someplace where Hitler had been certain would not be a landing site. The soldiers there were the dregs of the Wermacht. Amongst them were a few Korean men who did not speak a word of German, let alone English. Subsequent investigation revealed that they had fought the Japanese, been captured and impressed to fight for the Emperor. As Japanese conscripts they fought the Russians, were captured, and agreed to fight the Germans. The Germans captured them and shipped them all the way west were they wound up in a pillbox defending the Continent. I imagined Ma Ma had arrived here by some equally strange chain of events. She was clearly a survivor. What forces of history had washed her up on this mountain where we found her? I pondered this as we descended into the mountain basin where Ely proper sat.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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.

    • comments (0)
  • March 11, 2010

    Wrong Way

    by Sam Hutchins

    We wrapped things up at Majors Station with the promise of returning. I knew that we would. It was too great and weird a place not too. The owner had pointed us in the direction of Ely, a town further up the road. Apparently it featured the oldest full service hotel in Nevada as well as a few casinos. Sounded exactly like what we were searching for. Although still before nine in the morning, I had recovered enough to get behind the wheel again. The high elevation and cold mountain air proved a remarkable restorative. As we prepared to load up, Darius surprised us all.

    “Eef you do not mind, I would like to drive now.”

    How odd. Tens of thousands of miles into the trip he suddenly asked to drive for the first time. No one took issue with it, so he took a turn piloting the truck.

    Majors Station sits at the far end of a broad basin high in the mountains. The road rises behind it, ascending sharply up and over the next ridge. Darius kicked up gravel getting out of the lot and muscled the truck up the road. We were halfway through second gear and starting to gain speed when Kar Wai commanded him to stop not 100 yards up the road so we could get additional shots of the location from above. I greatly enjoyed Darius frustration at this. Pictures taken, we set out again. The road was a series of sharp switchbacks and S-curves, blind turns and sheer cliffs often unprotected by guardrails. With no exaggeration, a wrong move could mean a fiery death for all of us. Darius reacted by driving like he was on the Autobahn and running late for dinner.

    Adrenaline and sheer terror quickly elbowed the last remaining vestiges of my hangover aside. Glancing over quickly, I saw that even Stephane was not his typically oblivious self. We were both clutching the armrests and looking terrified. Only Kar Wai maintained his composure. As we burned around another corner with the tires squealing and narrowly missed sideswiping a truck loaded with hogs Kar Wai calmly spoke.

    “Darius, we are in no hurry, you know.”

    “Don’t worry, I am a good driver. Besides, you are supposed to accelerate through the turns. It gives you more control.”

    Fortunately we topped the range and came out on a long straightaway running through another high desert plateau. A distant highway crossing was staked down by a very modern gas station/convenience store/taco shop combination. Approaching it, Kar Wai asked that we stop so he could make some tea. Exiting the car, he gently removed the keys from Darius’ hand and passed them off to Stephane. They tracked down some hot water and brewed tea while I scarfed down a giant extra-spicy breakfast burrito. If I’m going to stare down death I’m doing it on a stomach full of greasy, delicious food.

    I attempted to look at the map with Stephane but he wasn’t interested.

    “The lady said it ees these way, so these way is the way to go.”

    Stephane is a great guy, but also quite stubborn at times. Something about Vegas really turned him ugly. Working in film situations can get pretty intense and heated, and it is not uncommon for tempers to flare. The key to being successful is learning how to forget. You yell at someone, they yell at you. You have to put the yelling behind you because in the next moment another problem will arise that requires collaboration to solve it. There’s no room for the holding of grudges. Seems he had not learned the lesson, though, as his anger held.

    He was clearly upset as we continued up the road. Turning right where we should have gone left, I held my tongue. We passed a few recently built structures and soon were in the open desert again. Had we gone left we would be in Ely, but Stephane didn’t want to hear it so I wasn’t telling him again. Eventually Kar Wai spoke up.

    “Stephane, you went the wrong way. Turn around.”

    “This is the right way. I think Ely is just ahead.”

    “No, it’s not. Turn around.”

    Ignoring him, Stephane continued driving. We continued seeing nothing but wide-open spaces. It became increasingly obvious that we really were going the wrong direction. Kar Wai tried again

    “Stephane–“

    Stephane violently jerked the wheel over and screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. Springing from the driver’s seat, he stomped off down the roadside kicking at the dirt and cursing in French. We all exchanged glances before I volunteered to chase him down. Kar Wai insisted on doing it himself, though, and set out after him. They stopped twenty yards or so down the road and proceeded to have a loud and very ugly argument. I couldn’t make out most of it but it wasn’t pretty. No kid likes to hear his parents get upset. After a lengthy exchange Darius turned to me in the truck.

    “I think Stephane might be angry about something.”

    My God, what a beautiful thing, to go through life so blissfully unaware. I almost envied him. Eventually we all were back in the truck, and I turned us around and headed for Ely as Stephane quietly brooded in the back. It was still early and we’d already had an eventful day.

    Passing the crossroads where we had made the wrong turn, we rounded a bend and saw a great looking combination liquor store and motel. There were a few defunct gas pumps out front, and the building’s structure suggested that it had begun life as a gas station many years ago. It was built exactly like the old one-pump structures we had seen on Rte. 66. The road we were on was called Old Highway 50 , which only reinforced my hunch. Stepping into the place we met a character none of us will ever forget.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • March 9, 2010

    The Hangover

    by Sam Hutchins

    I’m sure being stabbed in the head is uncomfortable, but it can’t feel much worse than I did when my alarm went off at five.  I sprung out of bed, caught my leg in the sheets and fell face first on the floor.  Thrashing my way out of the tangle, I scrambled across the floor in a panic.  Springing to my feet, I tensed up in a karate attack pose, which would probably be more helpful if I knew karate.   I stopped and forced myself to hold still, take a deep breath and assess the situation.  No immediate threat is apparent.  I’m alone in a hotel room.  It is dark, it is Vegas.  That’s right, I’m in the Luxor.  It’s all coming together for me.  Unable to properly focus my eyes.  My God, I’m still drunk.  Then the panic hits.  Shit, I’m late, need to go.  Need to get out of here.  Can’t be late.  Drinking cannot prevent me from doing my job.

    Turning up the lights in the room didn’t help my eyes focus, it only made everything bright and blurry.  Dimming them to a slightly less painful level, I felt my way around the place, shoving everything that wasn’t bolted down into my suitcase.  Dunking my face in a sink full of water didn’t help the stink of booze come off me, but I didn’t know if I’d survive a shower.  Maintaining a standing posture seemed unlikely at best.  Can’t risk it.  Despite a careful idiot check, I wound up leaving several critical cords and chargers behind.  So be it.

    I really, really didn’t want to be late.  Although I was ambushed with the early call time, I still had a job to do.  When at work I’m more dependable than the U.S. Mail.  My slogan might swap out something about booze for rain or snow, but I’ll retain the “dark of night” bit.  Hustling down the endless corridors, I saw they were littered with the detritus of other people’s long nights.  Disgusting.  Caesars would never allow a mess like this in the halls.  By the time I got to the front door I had a light sweat working.  I don’t imagine I smelled very pleasant.

    Being Vegas, the valet didn’t bat an eye when a wild-eyed guy reeking of booze handed him a ticket and told him to hurry the hell up with the truck.  I greased him generously for his discretion.  After popping the hatch and loading my gear I realized I was the only one there.  The hell?  Where were my partners?  Feeling too unsteady to navigate the hotel again I shrugged my shoulders and climbed behind the wheel.  Cranking up the AC to maximum I reclined the seat and closed my eyes.

    When I was young we once drove to Disney World as a family.  We had stopped for gas in West Virginia in the middle of the night.  I remember waking, Sissy and I snuggled in the back of the station wagon, and feeling comforted by the vibrations of the car.  As I drifted back towards sleep, “Under the Boardwalk” played on the radio.  We started heading south again and all was right in my world.  Something about being in the truck brought this to mind, and the world was fuzzy and soft around the edges as I drifted off with the engine running once again.  The guys found me passed out in the truck and eased me into the backseat where I gladly returned to my dreams.

    A few hours later I woke up in a small town called Caliente, Nevada.  We were parked at a western diner and Stephane was shaking me awake.

    “Would you like some coffee, man?”

    “Huh?  Where are we?  What the hell?”

    “We had to wake you, man.  You were snoring like a big bear.”

    Darius joined in, laughing.

    “Ooh, look, the bear is out of his cave.”

    “Seriously man, you were snoring like an animal.  We thought you were hibernating.”

    Heading inside, I was terrified at the thought we might want to scout the place.  I was in no shape to pitch anyone at the moment.  Mercifully, Kar Wai was not interested.  Taking my dopp kit, I went into the bathroom, filled the sink and took a whore’s bath.  Feeling just refreshed enough to pass out again, I headed back to the truck.  Kar Wai was giggling and plugging quarters into a slot machine as I passed.  He might have gone around the bend, but I couldn’t worry about it just yet.  Climbing in the back seat I drifted off.

    When I woke again I was confronted by the bones of a thousand dead animals.  I heard the gravel crunch under the tires as the truck pulled to a stop.  We were parked in front of a large cabin of sorts.  The land behind it was fenced in, and every inch of the enclosure was topped by the bleached-out bones of game successfully brought down.  I was too disoriented to be scared, but a little disgust did manage to creep in.  A very parochially urban outlook on the situation to be sure, but like Popeye or the scorpion I am what I am.

    Climbing out of the truck and stretching, I felt at least half-human again.  The cold, crisp air helped.  Looking around, I tried to get my bearings.  Although still a little bleary and worse for wear, I could see we were on a plateau pretty high in the mountains.  According to the sign on the cabin we were someplace called Majors Place.  Kar Wai asked me to see if they were open.

    The place was locked up and there were no hours posted on the door, so I rattled it for a while.  Eventually an older woman came and opened up.  It seemed like she was expecting us.

    “Come in, come in, I just put on a pot of coffee.  It’ll just be a minute.  Unless you want something stronger?”

    We assured her that just the coffee would be fine.  I started explaining who we were and what we were up to while the guys poked around.  The place seemed to have a bit of everything.  There was a pool table, a few slot machines, and a table for card games.  Whiskey bottles lined the back bar and a basic food menu was thumbtacked to the wall.  Taxidermied animal heads and more bleached bones kept the general “death” theme consistent with what we saw outside.  She reacted as though she was approached by film scouts from Hollywood all the time; that is without the slightest surprise or excitement.

    As it turns out, she was one in a long line of proprietors who were used to unusual visitors to Majors Station.  It was the site of one of the earliest trading posts in the state, eventually being used as a Pony Express stop.  The name came from a fellow named Alexander Majors, who was the main architect of the Northern route of the Pony Express, which ran from St. Joseph to San Francisco.  This place had been host to oddballs dropping in for over a hundred and fifty years now, which explained her lack of surprise.  We were just another group of travelers passing through.

    Once again I marveled at what I do for a living.  My current office was a cup of coffee on a bar in an old pony express stop.  I snapped a picture of the scene in front of me before taking my coffee out to the front porch.  The air was damned cold but it didn’t bother me.  I sat, sipped my coffee, and enjoyed the view.  Saying a short prayer for the animals whose bones lay before me, I hoped that their deaths had served a good purpose and their spirits had been honored properly.
    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • March 4, 2010

    Viva

    by Sam Hutchins

    I was planning on dinner at Nobu, but Kar Wai surprised me by asking for a steak. Very uncharacteristic of him. Fortunately my friends at The Palm were more than happy to oblige. Rare strip steaks, trays full of oysters and many glasses of cold vodka laid the base for a great night. Fully sated, we stayed at Caesar’s for a few drinks and some more uptight white cover band music at Cleopatra’s barge. More white, uptight cover songs and some dry-ice smoke made nice accompaniment for a game of guess which girls are working. As usual at Cleopatra’s Barge, the answer was “all of them.”

    From there the evening went rapidly downhill, and I mean that in the best possible way. We headed over to The Wynn and scored a table in the little basement nook overlooking the private lagoon. Darius graciously bought us a lovely bottle of Champagne to share. Many glasses were raised and smiles exchanged. Darius taught Kar Wai the proper French way to toast. Getting into our cups a bit we headed to Circus Circus so we could drink at the Carousel Bar. We meandered ever deeper into the gutter, eventually throwing down shots with an Elvis impersonator in a punk bar downtown. My mission to entertain Wong Kar Wai was more than successful.

    Late in the evening I remembered a place I needed to take them. Jumping a cab, we headed up the strip to The Peppermill. If you have never been, all I can do is urge you to do so. The Peppermill is many different things, all of them fun when the sun is down. At heart it’s a diner, but calling it that is like describing the Taj Mahal as a nice gravestone. While it is at heart one of those diners with a twenty-page menu, the décor is astounding. Neon lights run floor to ceiling and everywhere else. The waitresses are all showgirls and the uniforms emphasize their best assets. It has a full bar and if you order a drink it comes old Vegas style. That is, in a large and very full glass. They do not stint on the alcohol. The perfect place to finish an evening.

    It was many hours since we had dinner, so we ordered some food to go with our cocktails. Kar Wai was swooning over the place, and went to town with his camera. While he wandered around grinning and shooting pictures, Darius worked his magic on the waitress. Amazing how good this guy is. If he weren’t married he would be damned dangerous. Before long we were a foursome in the booth, laughing, drinking, and about as far away from the previous evening as it was possible to be.

    I saved the best for last, however. Finishing our snack we took our drinks mobile and headed for the fireside lounge section of the establishment. You may have seen it in the opening of the film “Casino”. Right there, on the seedier end of the strip, in a diner wallpapered in neon, is a pit in the floor. The pit is ringed by upholstered sectional seating like you would find in an Aspen lodge in the 70’s. The seating wraps around…wait for it…a flaming fountain. God I love that town. Drinks in hand, seated by the column of fire, I was just drunk enough to tell them about a recent experience I had in that very spot.

    When I was first called to do the job I was in Vegas for the weekend. I had gone there with a crazy, curvy Swedish gal I met in New Orleans. Feeling lonely in New York, I arranged to meet her at Caesar’s. An exceptionally fun evening was wrapping up at that very fountain. We were drunkenly making out fireside when our waitress arrived with another round. She did that classic “Bunny Dip” they first taught at the Playboy Club in Chicago, easily lowering herself almost to the floor to serve us our drinks in our little sunken bunker. While doing so she made a dangerous comment.

    “Well now, that certainly looks like fun.”

    Bound by no sense of propriety, I engaged.

    “Why don’t you join us then?”

    With a smile and a quick glance around she leaned in and kissed my date. More than casually. Now here’s a story I’m familiar with. Leaning in, I gently separated them and tried to get involved. In my mind the three of us started an increasingly heated makeout session that ended with us all skinny-dipping back at Caesars. The reality, alas, was slightly different. What actually happened was that my move caught them both off-guard. The waitress yelped briefly as she lost her balance and tumbled ass-over-teakettle, doing a complete flip before landing screaming in my lap. The drinks flew off her tray and shattered against the wall and her leg briefly lingered in the fire. Not long, but long enough for the smell of burning nylons to fill the air.

    Pressing what I perceived as my advantage, I attempted to continue the kiss. Somehow my perceptions differed from everyone else’s, a fact made clear by the waitress’ crying, the managers’ yelling, and the security guard bouncing my head off the floor as he dragged me out to the parking lot. Needless to say, there was no threesome happening that night.

    Finishing the story, I had Kar Wai and Darius absolutely tearing up with laughter. Glad to be of service. What I had forgotten was Kar Wai’s deep perverse streak. The laughter trickling off, he turned on me.

    “You think you really had a chance at both?”

    “At the time I certainly thought so.”

    “Interesting,” he nodded at a passing server. “Was that her?”

    Despite my assurance that I had been drunk and could not pick her out of a lineup he proceeded to ask the same about every waitress that we saw. Being well into the evening, he asked about a few of the women several times. At that point I was realizing just how lit up I was as well. With my wealth of experience in the area, if I notice that I’m drunk that means I have really, really drank a lot. I decided it was time to wrap it up.

    “Guys, it’s almost three in the morning. We should call it a night.”

    Kar Wai flat-out giggled.

    “Oh boy, is Stephane going to be mad.”

    “Yeah, he missed a good night.”

    “No, not that. I promised him we would leave early.”

    “What time is early?”

    “Five A.M.”

    “Are you crazy? I can’t leave in two hours. I’m wasted.”

    “Don’t worry, Stephane will drive.”

    He couldn’t stop laughing as we crawled back to the Luxor. I set my alarm for two hours in the future before the bed swallowed me whole.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • March 2, 2010

    Whiskey & Trouble

    by Sam Hutchins

    Checking in was a nightmare. I had spoken to our office and asked that they put us in Caesars but rooms were once again too expensive. I could have called my rep there and gotten my suite comped and discounts on the other rooms had I known, but no one thought to ask me. Instead, upon hearing the rack rate at Caesars, they had booked us into the Luxor. I had stayed there before when it first opened and had a good time but that was twenty years ago. What had been a suitably fun and kitschy pyramid and tower had added several new buildings. Ancient Eqypt suffered from urban sprawl. The injury of waiting forty-five minutes to register was compounded by the insult of then walking approximately thirteen miles to find our rooms.

    I quickly rebounded once I had a nice hot shower and a massage. A few phone calls to arrange the evening later, I was sipping from a water glass full of Stoli on the rocks in a lounge. Waiting for a local friend to arrive, I lost myself in the combo playing the room. Vegas is full of acts like this, talented musicians who have smoothed all the edges off their performances. They still bring the energy, but in the safest and most acceptable way possible. Hearing stuff like this anywhere else in the world would horrify me, but in Vegas it is exactly right. I wasn’t embarrassed in the slightest to be rocking out to a soulless, ultrawhite cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” when my guy showed up.

    Visit concluded, I was reaching lofty heights when Stephane showed up and seriously brought me down. Just seeing him angered me, as he had not cleaned up or gotten dressed. He looked nothing but annoyed as he joined me at my table.

    “What are we doing here? This place is terrible.”

    “What are you talking about? This is great. Get your ass cleaned up, we’re hitting the town.”

    I signaled the waitress who came right over. The tips I was throwing around guaranteed that. Stephane didn’t even register her presence.

    “Hey, buddy, snap out of it. What are you having?”

    “Nothing,” he said petulantly, “There is nothing here that I want.”

    I rolled my eyes at the waitress before draining a few gulps of icy cold vodka and raising my empty glass. It went down well.

    “Well I could use another.”

    She headed off to fill me up and I turned back to my companion.

    “Quit getting all French with me. Kar Wai wants to blow off a little steam. Fucking relax and enjoy yourself.”

    Then the volcano erupted.

    “I will not relax! I will not have fun! You can’t make me! This hotel is terrible. I hate this city. My bed was dirty and I want to leave. This isn’t the movie I want to make. This isn’t the movie I signed up to make. I’m going to find Kar Wai and get us out of here.”

    I felt my insides tightening up as he stormed off. Life is hard, and I’ll take a break when it comes my way. Yet some people just refuse to enjoy themselves. I felt pretty certain that Stephane would happily join in the festivities were it his town, or he were somehow the center of attention. Not having the spotlight really bothered him. Wherever we go in life, some of us are still fighting for Daddy’s attention. Me, I’ll take my therapy in a rocks glass.

    My fresh drink arrived, and I signed it to my room while checking to make sure I still held the valet ticket. I did, indeed, so no one was going anywhere without me. Let him have his little tantrum. He already pissed all over another city I love when we were in New Orleans. I wasn’t letting him ruin another good time. Soon enough Darius and Kar Wai joined me.

    “Guys, you see Stephane? He’s pretty upset.”

    Kar Wai waved me off.

    “Yes, he will not be joining us tonight. Now I need a whiskey and some trouble.”

    Coming right up, my friend, coming right up.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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  • February 25, 2010

    By the Time They Left Phoenix

    by Sam Hutchins

    We limped into Phoenix after midnight. Little was said in the time since Kar Wai made the revelations about his past. Even if we were comfortable enough to speak out, when he was in that state it was useless. And if we could get through to him, what to say? Sorry Chairman Mao’s thugs tore your family apart? Don’t think Hallmark makes the appropriate card for that one.

    It’s probably for the best that there was no bar in the hotel. Or across the street, around the corner, or on any of the surrounding blocks, for that matter. After my brief, fruitless search I returned to the hotel and my room. Still, even absent the booze, I felt hungover in the morning. Perhaps an emotional hangover? We were all getting road-weary and the last few days had been pretty intense.

    Kar Wai appeared and was just as lost as when we last saw him. No smiles, no greetings, no breakfast. He went to the truck wordlessly, sat down and buckled in. Darius, Stephane and I all had the same intent, which was to do our best to bring him back to a good place mentally. For once, their solution was to work harder. While I felt them, my experience teaches me that scouting smart is more effective than scouting angry. They wanted to explore Phoenix. I’ve spent time there and didn’t think it had much to offer us. My solution was to bust ass straight to Vegas and have a good time, blow off some steam then get back at it fresh. My faith in the healing power of debauchery remained unshaken. As I lost the vote, we began grid-searching the town.

    A couple hours worth of strip malls, mini-marts, blinding sunlight and disappointment later, they agreed with me. Time to get the hell out of Dodge. Darius and Stephane bemoaned the lack of “there” there while I drove the car and held my tongue. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to love about Phoenix. I’ve done some

    lovely camping in the deserts and mountains outside town. One of the best days of my life was spent in and out of a cool mountain spring that flows through the red rocks of Sedona. My first successful bar crawl using a fake ID took place in Tempe. However, our film stood nothing to gain from the area, and I was glad to put it behind us.

    We pulled into Vegas in the early afternoon. By then Kar Wai had at least partially checked back in. The four of us had scouted Vegas on an earlier trip and found some things there to our liking. A couple of the seedy motels and casinos downtown were promising, and Kar Wai inexplicably loved a seriously run-down convenience store deep in the North Vegas ghetto. He had no interest in revisiting them but was not ready for the hotel, either, so we rolled around a bit. The man had gotten very interested in poker and was hoping we could find an appropriately dingy card room to scout. The big casinos had pretty successfully taken over all the action on poker, though, and it makes sense. Why do you need an underground game when gambling is legal?

    ****

    Kar Wai and I had hit a mob-run poker game before we left New York. Our “poker consultant”, a former WSOP finalist, had hipped us to it. The three of us met in a Soho bar one night for a martini before making our way to a nondescript building on the edge of Little Italy. Stopping outside, the consultant got a little jumpy. Fair enough, as he didn’t know me and was trusting Kar Wai on reputation alone.

    “There’s no messing around in there. These guys are serious,” he warned us.

    “Don’t worry, I know these guys. If not, I know people they know,” I reassured him. He gave me a long look before making up his mind, then pushed the buzzer. The normal looking front entrance opened into a tight vestibule facing a reinforced steel door. We three squeezed in together and raised our faces to let the security camera have a good look at us. After an uncomfortably long pause we were buzzed inside.

    Half a dozen tables filled the room, which appeared to be a hastily converted woodworking shop. Low level wiseguys played with slick-looking Chinese and an occasional asshole white guy with a doofy fedora or wraparound sunglasses. An entire room full of stereotypes. A platter of cold cuts sat unmolested on a sideboard. The house used a rolling locked tool chest as a bank. My eyes were drawn to a ridiculously hot blond broad who sat behind a large and growing stack of chips. As a younger man I would have been all over that, but having lived through that movie and its resultant misery a wiser me took her measure and put her out of my mind.

    Our guide couldn’t play, which I understood. His rep at the tables was serious enough that sitting down was laying out a challenge that would have been met. Kar Wai is more about observing than participating, so it fell on my shoulders. Taking an open seat, I laid five hundred on the table and joined the game. Once again I found myself wondering what sort of receipt I could submit for this if I lost. Have to worry about that later and concentrate on the cards now, my game isn’t that sharp. Fortunately, I managed to tread water for an hour or so. Eventually Kar Wai leaned in and tapped me on the shoulder between hands.

    “I’ve seen enough. We can go now.”

    We gave each other a long look.

    “Are you going to scout anyplace else…?”

    He didn’t let me finish, but smiled widely.

    “Yes, you can stay. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good luck.”

    ****

    Now it was months later and we were on the streets of Vegas. Kar Wai turned to me and I was pleased to see the return of that smile.

    “Enough work. I think you need to show me how to have a good time in Vegas.”

    My smile easily equaled his. Yes, my friend, you have come to the right place and you are with the right guy.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    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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