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  • March 4, 2010

    A Scouting Life: 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

    A Scouting Life: 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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  • March 1, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Parents and (Grown) Children

    by John Farr

    John Farr’s picks for films about the relationships between elder parents and their adult children.


    Tokyo Story (1953)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Frail, elderly couple Tomi and Shukishi (Chieko Higashiyama and Chishu Ryu) set off from their rural village to visit their children in the hustle-bustle world of modern-day Tokyo. But when they arrive, doctor son Koichi (So Yamamura) and beauty-salon proprietor Shige (Haruko Sugimura) are too busy to visit and send the disappointed old folks to a health resort. Only their daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara) takes time to show them the highlights of the city. Yet later, an unexpected illness leads the elder children to regret their selfish inattention.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the enduring classics by celebrated master Ozu, this melancholic dissection of family dynamics in postwar Japan may sound simplistic, but “Story” packs an emotional punch as it observes the erosion of traditional values in modern lifeways. Among a uniformly strong cast, Higashiyama and Ryu give low-key, heartbreaking performances as the jilted parents-who seem bewildered as much by the clamor of the city as by their children’s inhospitable behavior. “Story” may be understated, but Ozu’s quiet, immobile visual style and deft direction reflect the nuances of everyday existence like no one else.


    The Graduate (1967)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A model son and newly minted college graduate, Ben Braddock (Dennis Hoffman) is proudly paraded around his parents’ friends, who congratulate him heartily. But inside, Ben feels numb. He soon gets involved with his mother’s sexually frustrated best friend, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), then creates a combustible chain reaction by falling for her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the signature films of the 1960s, this feature introduced the world to Hoffman and gave Bancroft a racy role she played with marvelous feline cunning. This sublime black comedy transcends its period, speaking to new generations of alienated youth beginning to navigate a discordant, dysfunctional adult world. The supporting cast, including deft character players William Daniels and Murray Hamilton, are note-perfect, and that Simon & Garfunkel score still stirs the soul. A must for repeat viewings.


    Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The occasion of Mike and Susan’s wedding (Michael Brandon and Bonnie Bedelia) is pretext for examination of love via their relationship and those surrounding them, particularly his brother’s failing marriage and the dysfunctional but enduring unions of their respective parents (his: Castellano and Arthur, hers: Young and Leachman). The result is a farcical glimpse into the infinite variations on the necessary but complex mess we call love.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Cy Howard’s knowing, often side-splitting ensemble piece benefits from stand-out turns by Gig Young (as the bride’s philandering father), Anne Jackson (as the object of his adulterous affections), and Richard Castellano as the groom’s awkward but well-meaning Dad. Bob Dishy almost steals the movie as a would-be Casanova. Wonderful early “70s flavor, and look for a young Diane Keaton as the groom’s unhappy sister-in-law.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • February 25, 2010

    A Scouting Life: 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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