by Sam Hutchins
We cruised around the immediate vicinity of the Arcade looking for other possible locations. Kar Wai seemed to like the restaurant, and his process is fairly improvisational. If we could find someplace interesting to shoot close by he would incorporate it into the writing process. This is a highly unusual way to make a film but a refreshing and inspiring one. Playing such a significant role in shaping the story felt good.
Turning a corner we saw a great motel. Seriously retro, it looked like it hadn’t been touched since the 1960’s. Seemed to be a pretty unusual find as low-rent places like that are rarely preserved so well. Kar Wai had added cheap motels to our list of locations to scout and this was a perfect example of one. I pulled out my journal to scratch down the name and address as Kar Wai, Darius and Stephane climbed out of the car.
It struck me as I wrote down the name. The Lorraine Motel. Wasn’t that where… holy shit, it was, wasn’t it? This is where they murdered him, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I was completely overwhelmed by sadness in such a deep way that it caught me off guard. I jumped out of the car to stop the guys.
“Hey, we can’t scout this place.”
“Why not?” asked Stephane.
“This is the Lorraine Motel. It’s where Martin Luther King was assassinated.”
It’s interesting to watch sadness just wash across someone’s face like that. I imagine it’s what I looked like just a moment ago. The sorrow of the place was absolutely palpable. Even Kar Wai’s stoic visage changed a bit. Then Darius spoke.
“Can’t we try anyway?” waving his arm at the motel. “This place is perfect.”
My initial reaction was an almost physical sense of revulsion. The truth is, however, that Darius was being professional. I hate that the film business does that to you, but it does. The idea is to make the best film possible, and the place did have an ideal look. From a strictly visual perspective it was indeed a great location. Darius is an incredibly talented cinematographer, and he got that way by pushing hard to get the best looking places on film. As a Location Manager, however, I need to factor in all of the variables. Setting aside my humanity for a second, even if we were able to film there it would be a mistake to do so. It would be impossible for the actors to deliver any sort of decent performance working in such a place, or for the crew to function well. In any case we weren’t going to find out. Barely controlling my anger, I bit off my words.
“We are not going to film here. We are not going to scout here. I will not allow it.” I meant it. I was prepared to prevent it physically, if need be.
In a rare display of humanity, Kar Wai reached out and gently laid a hand on my shoulder.
“Sam is right. This is a place of sadness. We are not filming here. I would like to take a look around though.” He looked to me as if for permission. I nodded my head in assent.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Darius is a really good person, and one of the most empathetic men I’ve ever met. I’m sure that given a few minutes he would have come to his senses. His initial reaction was purely objective and mine was very much not. I can’t entirely explain it, as it’s not that I ever felt any particular connection to Dr. King. Yes, he was a great man, but I hadn’t ever given him much thought. Not until that moment, at least. I do have a great sense of history, though, and being confronted with the reality of what had happened he suddenly was of great import to me.
As we toured what turned out to be part of The National Civil Rights Museum it was all I could do to keep the tears from flowing. Historically important as the place is, I’m still not sure I’d ever go back. The Lorraine Motel is preserved just as it was the day of the assassination. Statues have been built recreating the famous photo taken moments after the shot rang out, where Dr. King is sprawled on the balcony and the men with him point in the direction it came from. I couldn’t even bring myself to take any pictures, it was all just a bit too much.
As we finished up the tour Kar Wai broke the silence.
“Let’s go get a drink.”
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.