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  • 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.

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  • 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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  • April 29, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Guided by the Sphinx

    by Sam Hutchins

    We made it off the mountain with much tension but no further incident. A quick inspection showed that we were indeed low on all fluids. I was feeling particularly prickly as I topped everything off. We all were.

    “You know, I think Ely is right,” Kar Wai announced.

    “Really, you want to lock into it?”

    “No, but we don’t need to look for casinos any more.”

    God forbid the man ever give a definitive answer. Slippery bastard.

    “Okay then, where to?”

    “Let’s go to the ocean.”

    Keep in mind, we’re taking direction from a man who named his son “Whale” because of a dream he had. There was always a certain degree of interpretation brought to bear when deciphering his desires. It was like having the Sphinx as your navigator. At one point on the journey we found ourselves in Memphis. We were outside of Sun Studios late at night, taking pictures. A certain reflection in the window caught Kar Wai’s attention and sparked a memory.

    “Let’s go to the place with the light in the window.”

    “Can you be a little more specific, Kar Wai?”

    “Yes, it was a red light. In a window.”

    The look on his face indicated that I really should know what he was referring to. As we were in the middle of crisscrossing the country several times, I needed a little more help than that. I worked on drawing it out of him.

    “Help me. Was it close to anything you remember?”

    He furrowed his brow and thought it over.

    “Hmmmm, yes. It was by the place with the hamburgers.”

    “The place with the hamburgers and the fried pickles? The Hollywood Café, down in Mississipi?”

    “No, the place where they did not come on rolls.”

    Eventually it came to me.

    “You mean Rotier’s, in Nashville?”

    He just smiled at me.

    “You do realize that’s a few hours away from here, right?”

    He still just smiled at me. So we piled in the truck and drove to Nashville. Parking in front of Rotier’s, Kar Wai crossed the street to a strip mall. He walked up to a jewelry store window, took a quick picture, got back in the truck and buckled his seatbelt.

    “Is that it?”

    “Yes, let’s go.”

    And so we left Nashville again. It was at that point that Darius figured out we had just backtracked several hours to take a single picture, and not a particularly notable or useful one at that.

    “Sam, what are you doeeng? That was far out of our way.”

    I alternated between stoic acceptance and silent fury in moments like those.

    ****

    Anyway, we were now on 80 headed west. We took it over some more mountains and through the Tahoe National Forest. The highway was surprisingly busy. We’d been on the road so long without rest I lost track of the days. A quick check showed that it was a Sunday afternoon. Apparently this was a big weekend route for people from San Francisco and Sacramento, much like the drives from LA to Vegas or New York to the Hamptons. All these people were returning from their hideaways to regular life. To quote the film Repo Man: “Ordinary fucking people. I hate them.” How dare these cars get in the way of my completely random, unplanned scouting.

    I needed sleep desperately.

    ….

    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 27, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Something Burning

    by Sam Hutchins

    We picked up Rte 431 south of Reno and headed towards Lake Tahoe. Usually by midday I had some clue as to where we were heading. This time it wasn’t about where we were going, it was about what we were leaving behind. Reno was full of bad vibes and we wanted nothing to do with it. The high point of our time there was our discovery of the National Bowling Stadium. Even that was better as idea than reality. Seeing the sign and considering the idea of such a place was amusing; seeing that it was just a giant tattered bowling alley was sad. None of us ever needed to set foot in that town again.

    Living on the East Coast you don’t know mountains. The elevations in the West are wildly more dramatic. A series of sharp switchbacks carried us higher and higher. The truck seemed to strain as we climbed the sharp grades. Even though this was the only road from Reno to Tahoe it occurred to me that it must close in inclement weather. Sure enough, road signs confirmed this, as well as carrying warnings of rock slides and wildlife crossings. The West is still wild, in its own way.

    Crossing through the pass and into California was like entering a different country. You leave behind a dusty, high plain desert and descend to a pristine blue lake. Reno is full of sad, gray gamblers and the ghosts of thousands of divorces. Tahoe is like Crested Butte or any number of small Colorado towns where everyone is young and active. Pickup trucks and dogs are mandatory and you are as likely to bump into a pal climbing a rock face as at the supermarket. I don’t think you could buy a used car without a ski or bike rack on it.

    It became apparent that the truck was laboring pretty heavily. I could feel it in the steering wheel first. Then the burning smell started. It wasn’t overly troubling to me. Most likely we were just low on fluids. I hadn’t given a thought to checking the oil, power steering fluid, radiator levels or anything more than the gas tank. To be fair, it was a new rental with very few miles on it when we started. Also, I had so many other things to worry about. Still, I had dropped the ball on this one. Normally it would only be a matter of hitting an auto supply store and topping things off. The fact that we were currently in heavy traffic on a steep downgrade with no turnoffs to be seen made it a bit more worrisome. I didn’t think the brakes were the source of the traces of smoke but if they were we were screwed.

    I’m by nature a calm guy, and am at my best in moments of stress. Panic serves no one’s best interests. My M.O. in a situation like that is to keep quiet about it first and foremost. The situation was tense enough without the added burden of passengers freaking out. You hold on and do your best to keep the wheel steady. Think about all the different ways things could break. Look for an exit strategy. Feel the adrenaline rush and use it for the positive. One’s body gets so torqued up in situations like this that it’s like doing great drugs. Perverse as it sounds, I was actually enjoying the tension.

    Darius, being the intensely creative type, spent much of the trip oblivious to his surroundings. He was similar to Kar Wai in this respect, though not as extreme. Darius would not notice you had stopped to resupply. You would get off the highway, find a gas station, fill the tank, go inside to pay and buy a sack of drinks and snacks and he would not register it. Only when you were buckling up and pulling out would he tell you to stop so he could run in for a bottle of water. Kar Wai would wait til you were a half hour down the road before realizing you had stopped. Unfortunately Darius chose this moment to engage with reality.

    “Sam, something is burning.”

    “Yes, Darius, I smell that.”

    “What is causing it?”

    “I think it’s just the oil. We’ll be fine.”

    He was on the verge of panic, and the distraction wasn’t helping me.

    “We should pull over. You must take this seriously. It could be dangerous.”

    We were driving down a steep decline with rock wall on our right and cliffs plunging down to the lake on our left.

    “Tell you what, pal, if you see a safe place to pull over that I don’t, feel free to point it out, alright?”

    Then of course his feelings were hurt. So now in addition to a rapidly failing truck on a dangerous road I was dealing with a sullen and scared passenger. Stephane and I had grown close like brothers, but also learned to torture each other as siblings do. He proceeded to tweak me.

    “Darius is right, you should pull over.”

    Thank God for Kar Wai, who just sat there grinning and screwing around with the iPod. At least we had good music going. Norah’s character was to end her journey at the Pacific Ocean; we couldn’t get there soon enough.

    ….

    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 26, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Parade Movies

    by John Farr

    John Farr joins the parade.


    The Music Man (1962)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Traveling charlatan “Professor” Harold Hill convinces the citizens of River City, Iowa, that they should have a marching band to help guard youth against moral corruption. Charming the socks off everyone, including the mayor’s wife (Hermione Gingold), with his plan to teach the town’s kids how to play using his deliciously absurd “Think System”, Hill’s a homey kind of huckster. His only obstacle is to win over local librarian Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones), who believes he’s a fraud.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This exuberant, energetic adaptation of Meredith Wilson’s hit Broadway musical is a bona fide marvel thanks to Robert Preston’s virtuosic turn as the ultra-charming swindler. Homing in on small-town America in 1912, “Music Man” mixes nostalgic sentiment with real-world woes, memorably in the person of Ron Howard, who plays Marian’s sullen younger brother Winthrop. Comedian Buddy Hackett adds levity as Hill’s goofy sidekick, while Jones is a perfectly prim counterweight to Preston’s engaging rogue. And let’s not forget the songs: “Till There Was You” and the rollicking “76 Trombones” will leave you humming long after the lights go up.


    Animal House (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    At Pennsylvania’s Faber College, stiff-shirted Dean Wormer (John Vernon) is fed up with the raucous antics of Delta House, an anarchic, thoroughly debauched fraternity with no sense of decency, decorum or, apparently, brains. So he hatches a plan to strip the Deltas, who are led by a group of seniors including Otter (Tim Matheson) and John “Bluto” Blutarsky (John Belushi), of their credentials, enlisting the help of their hated, upper-crusty rivals at Omega House.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The original “party animal” teen movie (despite its “R” rating), Landis’s outrageous feature-length prank has enough gross-out humor, slapstick yucks, and all-night beer chugging to put a drunken smile on anyone’s face. Matheson and co-stars James Widdoes, Peter Riegert, and Bruce McGill bring sheer lunacy to their roles as leaders of a riotous frat house for rejects, losers, and academic failures. But it’s Belushi’s gonzo portrayal of Bluto that remains iconic, and helped make the former “SNL” cast member a bigtime comic star. Irreverent, subversive, and totally inappropriate, “Animal House” depicts the college experience most of us never had, but kind of wish we did. Watch for Kevin Bacon in a small early role as a young pledge.


    The Fugitive (1993)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Andrew Davis’s adaptation of the 60′s TV series involves Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), a prominent Chicago doctor accused of murdering his wife. The jury doesn’t buy Kimble’s story about confronting a one-armed man in his apartment the night his wife was killed, and he is convicted. When Kimble escapes custody, he hunts the real culprit, and ace U.S Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) gets assigned to track him down. Will Gerard get to Kimble before the doctor can clear himself?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A textbook example of a first-rate thriller, buoyed by Davis’s breathless pacing and a picture-stealing performance from Jones, who won an Oscar. Drawing from his Indiana Jones days, Ford is just right as the besieged hero always one step ahead of disaster, but Jones’s Gerard, whose drive is offset by a wry, folksy humor, is intensely charismatic as the intrepid hound-dog on Kimble’s trail. Over ten years after its initial release, it’s worth another peek if you haven’t seen it since. First-timers should definitely plunge.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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