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  • January 25, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Goose

    by Sam Hutchins

    The next day we got a relatively late start. For once even I wasn’t complaining about taking our time leaving the hotel. After a healthy start in the afternoon Darius and I wound up drinking in the hotel bar pretty late into the evening. That man is just the kind of troublemaker I love but should not be around. He worked his charms to put us at a table with a pair of rather attractive blondes, one mid forties and the other in her early twenties. Being in my cups as I was it took a bit of time for me to figure out that they were mother and daughter, the former in town on business and the latter attending university locally. It got a little strange as the mother made a pretty open play for me. Even though the daughter seemed fine with it I was a little uncomfortable. I defused the situation by walking her outside and around the corner before politely making my excuses. In retrospect I definitely made the right call, with memories of a sweet bit of making out in the rain preferable to a walk of shame from her hotel to mine the morning after.

    We loaded up the truck to head back to the Blues City Cafe for some better photos. They usually turn out a little better in the light of day and before you’ve put away a dozen drinks. Also, buzzed as I was I had somehow managed to get the manager of the place on the phone the night before. I’m professional like that. Goose was a very nice and welcoming fellow but I had my concerns. As gracious and laid-back a good old boy as he seemed, you don’t run a joint right on the main strip like that without being pretty sharp. I’d been taken in by the cornpone, aw-shucks attitude before so I wanted to meet in person and take the measure of the man.

    Goose turned out to be a nice guy, and did his damndest to buy us breakfast. Big charred hunks of sirloin are the best thing possible late at night and the last thing you want in the early morning. Amazing the difference a few hours makes. I accepted a cup of coffee and pulled him aside for a very frank talk. I laid my cards right on the table, letting him know we liked the place, had very little money, but still wanted to work there. He clearly was a sharp man behind his good ole boy persona, sharp enough to see that I was leveling with him. One of the toughest parts of the job is gauging whether someone will do an honest deal with you or instead lead you down the path and jack up the rate at the last moment. My best tactic is impressing upon someone that I can be a very serious man and Goose got the message. I felt confident we could come to terms.

    Moving on, Kar Wai expressed an interest in seeing some seedy motels. We had already seen a fair amount of the poorer neighborhoods in Memphis and they were too impoverished even to support any sort of lodging. My gut was to head towards Graceland. It seemed like a logical place for that sort of location and failing that we’d at least get to take the tour. Turns out the instinct was a good one.

    Heading north out of Memphis, Rte. 51 is named after Danny Thomas. South of town it turns into Elvis Presley Boulevard. The strip leading up to Graceland is wall-to-wall souvenir shops, greasy restaurants, and sleazy motels. The body of work suggests that Kar Wai has an affinity for the louche life, and some of my experiences to date had born this out. What happened this particular afternoon, however, was much further out there than I ever could have guessed.

    ….

    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.

  • January 21, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Blues City Cafe

    by Sam Hutchins

    I’ve never thought of the Chinese as a drinking culture. The Japanese certainly drink. Two of my favorite spots are the Japanese whiskey bar where my wife and I went on our first date and a basement sake den where I’ve ended a few nights face down on the floor. The English and Irish don’t even need explanation. I’ve frequented a Bulgarian bar and Les Mykyta at the Ukranian National Home, both of which offered cold vodka and friendly immigrant women. Once had a Rastafarian pass me moonshine in the hills of Dominica. The Koreans have their shoju. Despite my interest in expanding my cultural knowledge through booze sodden explorations, I hadn’t had any luck drinking with the Chinese. The closest I came was the night I wound up in a karaoke bar hidden deep in a warren of shops in Chinatown. Turned out the patrons really were there to sing, and only seemed to drink enough to justify a shot at the mic.

    Kar Wai turned me around on this. The man appreciates a good cocktail. Interesting, as he is very quietly a bit of a control freak. Still he allows himself some quality drinking time. Better yet, he’s a whiskey man. He didn’t seem to drink that often but when he was ready he would put the time and effort into it. His m.o. is to order good whiskey and sip it slowly, having quite a few over the course of a long evening. His Producer Jackie is even more of a drinker. She’s always challenging people to chug, ordering another round for the table and generally keeping it going. At some point in the evening she typically winds up snogging with some lucky victim. In other words, a perfect drinking companion.

    After inadvertently discovering the National Civil Rights Museum it was time for a stiff belt. Kar Wai’s suggestion that we do such was entirely welcome. I mentioned that we were close to Beale Street and suggested that we have a look for a good spot there. Beale Street is Memphis’ main nightlife district. I had been told this by one of the cute waitresses at the Arcade Restaurant right before she very politely shot down my pickup attempt. Needing a bit of liquid therapy we decided to heed her advice and set out in that direction.

    The relevant part of Beale Street runs about four blocks and is wall-to-wall bars, music venues and restaurants. Arriving there on a weekday afternoon, things were pretty quiet, but the bars were open. To be honest it wasn’t really our sort of place. I’m clearly all for enjoying myself, but it felt a little manufactured there. If the street you are drinking on has a Hard Rock Café, you are drinking on the wrong street. Even worse was a joint we wandered into called Silky O’Sullivans. You want a good drinking environment you can usually count on the Irish, no? Not in this place. Turns out they serve Hurricanes and other silly drinks and insist on celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day every day of the year. Considering that it is a holiday that brings out every yahoo who can’t hold his liquor and claims Irish heritage it’s a pretty hellacious experience for a guy like me, who can hold his booze and is of Irish heritage. The place felt like a bad Monty Python sketch. As my very wise Uncle Terry once said, “If there is a hell it’s an Irish bar on St. Patrick’s Day.”

    We bounced around for a few hours, failing to find a place that really felt right. Awful as each spot was, we still threw down a quick one at each stop. At least it successfully got our minds off of the Lorraine Motel. Nothing distracts quite like an easy subject for mockery, and we had no shortage. As evening came on we needed to put a little food in our stomachs. Looking around, nothing seemed particularly promising. Admittedly, our standards were high as Memphis is such a great food town. Making a few passes up and down the strip and not finding a good-looking spot, we began making our way back to the truck. Just before we got to it, however, a place caught Kar Wai’s eye.

    “Let’s go there,” he said, indicating a place called the Blues City Cafe.

    It was a slightly odd place. Felt a little like the other places on the strip with the forced attempt at creating an atmosphere. This place was a little rougher around the edges, though, and seemed more like a local, homegrown effort. Not completely terrible I suppose. They specialized in serving steaks by the pound, so we ordered up a four-pound sirloin to split amongst us. It wasn’t half bad, and I have pretty high standards when it comes to meat. Then Kar Wai caught me off-guard once again.

    “We should take pictures. I like this more than the other place.”

    Better than The Arcade? How odd. The Arcade was the real thing, a great old place that had earned its character the honest way. Blues City Cafe had some nicely battered old bones to it, but those were overlaid with cheesy faux roadhouse type signs like you see in chain restaurants. The only saving grace was that they clearly didn’t have the bankroll to completely fuck it up. Blues City did have its advantages, though, once I took a measured look at it. More room to work in, for starters. Kar Wai continually said it wasn’t important but all my experience says otherwise. This new place also sat on a corner and had great windows. The kitchen was open, giving you another interior space to work with. Also, it had lots and lots of neon. Ultimately what it came down to was that Blues City had one particular table that Kar Wai loved. With the economy of his shooting style one small corner of a place was all he claimed to need. I did have real concerns about our ability to afford a place on a main drag like this, but I am a solid negotiator and enjoy a challenge. We finished our beers, shot some pictures and moved on.

    ….

    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.

  • January 20, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Break-Up Movies

    by John Farr

    Three lesser-known movies about spoiled romance.


    An Unmarried Woman (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Living comfortably on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her daughter and lawyer husband, Martin (Michael Murphy), Erica Benton (Jill Clayburgh) seems to have it all. So she’s devastated when Martin announces he’s leaving her for a younger woman. Suddenly forced to adjust to life as a single mom, with all the freedom and hardships that independence entails, Erica must learn how to be self-sufficient-and how to love – all over again.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Driven by a compelling performance from lead actress Jill Clayburgh, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, Paul Mazursky’s sensitive drama is an iconic blend of the so-called woman’s film and a plucky portrait of contemporary femininity. After a shattering split-up lands her in the open market, Erica’s affair with a soulful painter, touchingly played by a scruffy Alan Bates, teaches her how to invest emotionally in another person without submerging her own identity. “Woman” offers a warm, perceptive, comic look at feminine self-reliance that still resonates. A spiritual precursor to “Sex and the City.”


    White (1994)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    After his beautiful wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) leaves him after six months due to post-wedding impotency, Polish hairdresser Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) returns to his native country– not without difficulty, of course–in the suitcase of a friend. Once there, he hatches a crazed plan to make big money and lure back his disillusioned bride. Or is it revenge hes after?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The second film in Polish expatriate Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy (comprising “Red,” “White,” and “Blue,” after the French flag) takes a cheeky look at post-communist Eastern Europe through the eyes of a scheming striver. The bitingly clever premise is brought to life by Delpy’s seductive Dominique and Kieslowski regular Zamachowski, who portrays the penniless Karol with equal bits of raffish charm and Chaplin-esque awkwardness. Say oui to “White.”


    Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Seeking escape from heartache after he’s dumped by his hot TV-star girlfriend, Sarah (Kristin Bell), struggling musician Peter (Jason Segel) decides to enjoy a much-needed vacation on the tropical beaches of Oahu. But relief is nowhere in sight when Sarah and her new British-rocker beau Aldous (Russell Brand) turn up at the same resort.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The basic premise of this hilarious relationship comedy might be old hat, but in the hands of producer Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) and writer-star Segel, the well-earned belly laughs are tempered with a poignant touch. How many movies can you think of where the couple’s break-up happens in the nude? Segel, Bell, Brand, and the rest of the cast are superb, as is Mila Kunis, the flirty resort employee who just might make “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” a possibility for the heartsick Peter. Finally, a spry comedy that hinges on painful truths about love and sex (lots of it) we can all relate to.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • January 20, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Edmund Goulding

    by John Farr

    John Farr recommends three unforgettable movies directed by Edmund Goulding.


    Grand Hotel (1932)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Stars Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and John and Lionel Barrymore play out several interwoven stories, mixing drama, romance and murder, all occurring among the various guests at Berlin’s posh Grand Hotel.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    MGM – the most prestigious studio from Hollywood’s golden age – paints on the gloss for this first class ensemble production. Garbo and John Barrymore stand out as the doomed lovers, as does his brother, Lionel, who plays a timid and terminally ill clerk on his last spree. Grand Hotel was among the first MGM sound dramas to showcase two things: first, the studios’ unmatched ability to adapt serious literary material to motion pictures; and second, to attract and retain star talent. The movie still dazzles nearly seventy-five years after its release.


    The Dawn Patrol (1938)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    At the French headquarters of the British Royal Flying Corps, squadron commander Major Brand (Rathbone) is berated by WWI flying ace Capt. Courtney (Errol Flynn) for sending young, inexperienced pilots to their deaths over enemy lines in rickety planes. But after Courtney is reassigned to Brands position, he begins to realize the brutal, agonizing realities of deciding who will fly those dailyand almost always deadlyearly-morning missions.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A scene-for-scene remake of Howard Hawks’s 1930 film of the same name, “Patrol” is an anguished World War I flier drama starring the dashing, seemingly unflappable Flynn, who inhabits his role with heroic gusto. Goulding wrenches great emotion out of the massacre-of-innocents scenario, dropping in on the doomed men as they quaff scotch and listen to the melancholy sound of the airmen’s gramophone before hopping into their jerry-built “crates.” Rathbone is excellent as the tortured desk commander accused of the gravest cynicism, and real-life Flynn bosom buddy David Niven supplies an additional punch as Courtney’s best man, Lt. Scott. See “Dawn Patrol,” a high-flying combat adventure with a conscience.


    Nightmare Alley (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Stanton Carlisle is a carnival employee who over-reaches in his quest for fame and fortune. He picks up a mind-reading technique (which boils down to a bunch of sophisticated code) from trusting colleague Zeena (Blondell), then discards her for a younger woman and appropriates the code for himself. Now hitting the big-time in night-clubs, Stanton feels he can’t lose, but the higher he gets, the farther he’s bound to fall.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Edmund Goulding creates one of the screen’s most indelible noirs, with the seamy carnival world providing an ideal setting. Power excels against type as the sleazy Stanton (a role he loved playing), and Blondell brings the perfect cheap, faded quality to small-timer Zeena. Jules Furthman’s hard-boiled script keeps us guessing just how Stanton will eventually tumble. Dripping with a deliciously dark mood and atmosphere, mystery fans will find “Nightmare” right up their alleys.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • January 19, 2010

    A Scouting Life: The Lorraine Motel

    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.”

    “Oh no.”

    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.

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