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  • May 13, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Pacific Coast Hellway

    by Sam Hutchins

    The last sunlight was creeping below the horizon, off to warm the distant Pacific islands. I was excited for a night in Carmel. It’s such a lovely little town, and I knew a few great restaurants there. A good meal and a warm bed would cap off what had been a tough day nicely.

    “So, we go to L.A.?” Kar Wai asked.

    “L.A. is pretty far away yet. I thought we’d crash in Carmel.”

    “No. We go to L.A.”

    Shit damn, this was going to be the longest day ever. Eyeballing the map showed that it was at least a five or six hour drive south to get there. Worse yet, we were on Highway 1. Beautiful as it is, it can be a hair-raising ride even in the best conditions. Driving it at night, in the rain, was a daunting idea. Mountains to one side and cliffs to the other, a sheer drop down to the sea. All blind curves and nary a streetlight to be seen. Yeah, this was going to be fun.

    It was hard to see the map in the dark, but it looked like we had something like 75 miles on Highway 1 before a turnoff to the main highway. It was a dreadful ride. The wind whipped our truck hard enough to push it around on the road, and every moment carried the possibility of breaking through a guardrail and plunging into the ocean. I could feel the muscles in my shoulders knotting up with tension as I leaned forward and stared through the windshield. With the steady rain, even the high-beams were of limited usefulness.

    We were looking for the turnoff at State Route 46, which would carry us over the mountains before connecting with Highway 101. The map showed that we could continue on Rte 1 and it would eventually intersect directly with 101, but I was eager to get off of 1 as soon as possible. Clearly we had another few hours before we hit the turnoff, but that didn’t stop one or the other of my companions from pointing out every single road running off to our left. Some were park entrances, others private driveways. There were gravel logging roads and dirt paths. What they clearly were not, however, were state highways. After the first few times the guys excitedly pointed out a dirt road and asked if it were our turnoff I just gave up and quit answering. At one point, Stephane started to insist that we should take a shot on one of the side roads anyway. His logic was that it would eventually hit the highway. I gave him a long, hard look in the rearview mirror.

    “Do you really want to tell me how to navigate?”

    That ended that. Eventually we hit the main highway. The cluster of gas stations surrounding the on-ramp were the first signs of humanity we had seen in hours. Interesting how circumstances can dictate a preference for the fluorescent glow of a service station over the unspoiled natural beauty of a place like Big Sur. That’s exactly where my head was at that particular moment, however. Lord, give me a paved and well-lit road. I stopped to gas up and grab some coffee to fuel the late-night run into L.A. It wasn’t until I stood up that I realized I had damn near sweat through my shirt.

    “Rough drive, huh? You did a great job.”

    I was startled by Darius’ voice behind me at the pumps. Almost invariably the guys stayed in the truck while I fueled and serviced her. Not sure if it’s a French thing or what, but the effect is to make you feel like the hired help.

    “If you want, I can take us the rest of the way. I’m well rested and have made this drive before.”

    If ever I wanted to hug another man it was then. What a lifesaver Darius was that night. I settled in to the back seat and completely spaced out. I couldn’t fall asleep as I was still much too amped-up from the arduous driving conditions earlier. Darius piloted us onto the highway and pointed us south. He got on the phone with his wife and spoke sweetly to her in French all the way to Santa Monica. Once again I curled up in the back seat like a little kid on the way to Disney World.

    ….

    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.

  • May 11, 2010

    A Scouting Life: To the Sea

    by Sam Hutchins

    So I sat back and pouted like a petulant child. Aside from flinching a bit when I threw the map at Stephane, it was as though Kar Wai was unaware of what was happening. Such a tough egg to crack, that fellow. Obviously he saw what was going on in the car. Two of his people just had a violent argument in front of him. A word or two from him would have gone a long way to defuse the situation, and to do so would have behooved him. Feuding like this certainly did not help his film get better, after all. But he chose to disengage, once again retreating inside himself.

    So we wandered. After a while Stephane started working his way back up to full conversational speed.

    “You know, eet ess dangerous to throw things at the driver.”

    Fuck him, I wasn’t going to engage. I pulled my own personal Wong Kar Wai and stared off into the middle distance.

    “In France the passengers defer to the driver.”

    I remained silent.

    “You should have said something earlier.”

    “I don’t need a map. I just have to keep going west.” Tapping the dashboard compass and snorting a laugh as he said this last bit. So we went, with Stephane furrowing his brow and making turn after turn in an attempt to keep the digital readout reading “W.” To my great delight, we wound up in a subdivision, snaking around cookie-cutter houses until we wound up at the end of a cul-de-sac. The compass still read “W” but the nose of the truck faced a steel barrier backed by open green fields. I couldn’t resist.

    “So, Stephane, you still going to keep going west?”

    “Fine, fine, I’m sorry. Can you please tell me how to get to the ocean?”

    “Depends. You going to actually listen and follow my directions?”

    “Yes, yes, yes. Now please tell me how to get out of here.”

    With a shaky truce declared I picked up the map and studied it for a moment. Soon enough we were back on course and headed south.

    I only wish there was some excuse to explore the area more. It truly is amazing, this valley running north-south over roughly two-thirds of the state of California. It’s Steinbeck country, flat and green, surrounded by mountains, the heart of agricultural America. Truly the land of milk and honey. I cannot even imagine the effect it had on the pioneers to first lay eyes on this place. Having crossed the plains, deserts and mountains and discovered land so fertile it was unimaginable. They must have thought it was the Garden of Eden. Alas, there was no place for the Central Valley in our film.

    We rode south for a while before cutting over towards Salinas. The skies remained gray and a light Tule fog clung to the land. It was the very tail end of the rainy season, which seemed entirely appropriate to our situation. Aren’t we all just trying to get through the rain to the sunshine on the other side of the mountains? Passing through Salinas I offered a silent prayer for James Dean, patron saint of unfulfilled potential. From there it was a quick jog to the coast and the northern terminus of 17 Mile Drive. Turns out it was too late in the day to enter the drive. I had forgotten that the Pebble Beach Corporation owned the road, and no amount of cajoling or bribery could convince the guard manning the gate to make an exception.

    We cut back to Rte. 1 and began making our way south. If you’ve never driven that road I strongly urge you to. Easily the most beautiful road in America. And there it was, at long last, the Pacific. We pulled over at first opportunity and got out to savor the moment. Like Balboa long before us, we stood and took in her majesty. The wind blew hard as the waves crashed on the shore under the darkening sky. The elements took their best shot at a Cypress tree but it held its own against them, unbowed. Stephane and I gave each other a long look. All was forgiven. There was nothing for any of us to say. Our petty arguments and differences washed away in the salt spray. None of that mattered. We had at long last made it.

    ….

    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.

  • May 10, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Penned & Produced by Arthur Freed

    by John Farr

    Three films from legendary lyricist and producer Arthur Freed.


    Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    It’s 1903, and the World’s Fair is coming to St. Louis, causing great excitement for the Smiths and their four young daughters. Then, Mr. Smith is offered a position in New York City, causing some emotional complications. Daughter Esther (Judy Garland) experiences some unfamiliar emotions of her own as she develops her first crush on the boy next door.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A lyrical, nostalgic Valentine to our country at the turn of the century, Director Minnelli brings his flair for color, costumes and setting to create a sumptuous visual treat. Film is extremely nice on the ears too, as young Judy (never more luminous) sings “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and more. A timeless treat for the whole family.


    Annie Get Your Gun (1950)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    George Sidney brings to gorgeous big-screen life the rowdy career of backwoods sharp-shooter Annie Oakley (Betty Hutton), who soared to fame in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and tamed the heart and holster of rival Frank Butler (Howard Keel).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Irving Berlin’s immortal musical had a sensational run on Broadway in the ’40s, but MGM’s lavish full-color production, originally slated for Judy Garland, remains memorable thanks to Hutton’s fiery, sparkling turn as Oakley. Keel is great, too, playing the pistol-packing ladykiller and unrepentant chauvinist whom Annie challenges to a shooting match. “There’s No Business Like Show Business” is the film’s signature theme, but the witty wordplay of Berlin numbers like “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun” and the cheeky “Anything I Can Do” are every bit as pleasing. Fire up “Annie”!


    Silk Stockings (1957)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Suave American producer Steve Canfield (Fred Astaire) wants to use a prestigious Russian composer on his latest film, and must use all his wiles to prevent Ninotchka (Cyd Charisse), a determined female Russian official, from taking his talent back to Moscow. Seemingly impervious to love, capitalism and vintage champagne, Ninotchka is a hard nut to crack, but Canfield’s charms soon work their magic.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A witty and warm Cold War romance, “Stockings” re-shapes Garbo’s famous MGM comedy “Ninotchka” into a delightful music and dance-fest. Thanks to the romance of a Paris setting and a buttery Cole Porter score, détente between stars Astaire and Charisse develops quickly, followed by marvelous dancing routines. At age 57, Astaire is still a dazzling, graceful performer, while Charisse ably fills Garbo’s shoes. Peter Lorre, in a rare comic turn, even vamps his way through the rollicking “Siberia.” Irresistible entertainment.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • May 4, 2010

    A Scouting Life: An Ugly Silence

    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.

    ….

    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.

  • May 3, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: More Ingrid

    by John Farr

    John Farr can’t get enough Ingrid Bergman.


    Intermezzo (1939)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Renowned, married violinist Holger Brandt (Leslie Howard) returns from concert tour, and meets Anita Hoffman, his daughter’s piano teacher (played by Bergman in her first English-speaking role). He first takes a professional interest in her, which soon becomes more personal. With all that stands in their way, is their love meant to be?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This short (just 70 minutes), tender romance retains a special purity. Bergman, who played the same role in a Swedish version, is breathtaking, while Howard exudes the old world charm of a classic British gentleman. Their subtly intense interactions are punctuated by some very lovely music. All in all, romance with a capital “R.”


    For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Joining the partisans as the Spanish Civil War rages, idealistic American schoolteacher Robert Jordan (Gary Cooper) is assigned to destroy a bridge. Linking up with a guerilla troop led by drunken Pedro (Akim Tamiroff) and his steely wife, Pilar (Katina Paxinou), he meets refugee Maria (Ingrid Bergman), a young woman badly used by enemy soldiers. As he bides his time waiting to complete his mission, Robert finds himself drawn into a torrid affair with the gorgeous peasant.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A splendid adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s novel, this rousing, romantic adventure tells the tale of a love between a Spanish-born guerilla and an outsider who’s joined the cause out of political solidarity. Featuring solid performances by Cooper and the ravishing Bergman – who gets off one of cinema’s most famous kissing lines (“I always wondered where the noses went”) – Wood’s film is an absorbing treat. Katina Paxinou even picked up an Oscar for her fiery performance as de facto rebel leader Pilar. This “Bell” tolls for thee.


    Spellbound (1945)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When young psychiatrist Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck) arrives to helm a posh new mental asylum, icy colleague Dr. Constance Peterson (Ingrid Bergman) notices right away that this man does not appear to be who he says he is. Suspecting that’s he not a psychiatrist at all, but an amnesiac named J.B., she sets out to discover the truth about his mysterious, possibly murderous, past.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Intriguing and mystifying, this “manhunt story” (as the director described it) is pickled in a heady dose of psychoanalytic dialogue, thanks in part to producer David O. Selznick, an ardent Freudian. Aside from Hitchcock’s peerless handling of both the suspense surrounding J.B.’s identity and the love tryst that develops between Peck and Bergman, “Spellbound” remains celebrated because of the unforgettable dream sequence designed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali (and directed by William Cameron Menzies). For sheer thrills and hypnotic weirdness, all enhanced by Miklos Rozsa’s unsettling, Oscar-winning theremin score, “Spellbound” is hard to beat.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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