REEL 13

Read our Blog Posts

REEL 13 Blog
  • February 9, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Go West, Young Man

    by Sam Hutchins

    It was time to head out west. So far our film had some good elements lining up. We knew Norah’s character would start in New York, work west to either Cleveland or Detroit, then down to Memphis. These were all good, distinct locations. Each offered a very different look and feel. Each had enough resonance to provide ample opportunity for stories to grow out of them. From Memphis (and northern Mississippi, possibly) the next logical step was west. This is true not only geographically, but in terms of plot development as well. As the story progressed the character’s world needs to open up. It felt right.

    On our earlier trip we had discovered a great diner in New Mexico, the Ranch View. It was deserted, and we had not been able to gain access. The place wasn’t totally derelict, though, so we were hoping to get in. Some telephone sleuthery had turned up an owner who sounded a little flaky, but then so does everyone in New Mexico. I can’t be sure, but I think the words “antisocial loner” can be found in the state motto.

    Aside from having a great, desert bleached look to the diner itself, it sat in a very favorable layout for photography. The building was on the very edge of Vaughn, New Mexico, separating the town from the high desert. If you photographed it looking away from town it appeared to be completely isolated, but we still had some close by infrastructure to rely on that would be hidden from camera. Even on a smaller film like this you need to house, feed and entertain the crew. There was also a small motel behind the diner that could make a good filming location or work as crew lodging in a pinch.

    Vaughn was a decent sized town, at least by “town in the middle of the desert” standards. In places like that a population of 600 is considered the big city. Vaughn was initially created as a settlement to support a Southern Pacific railroad depot. When the Eastern Railroad of New Mexico expanded and crossed the Southern Pacific in Vaughn the city topped out its population at just under 1,000 people. That was in the early 1920’s, but it had steadily held its current size for a few decades. It sits a bit southeast of Albuquerque.

    Throughout our scouting trips our M.O. had been to drive everywhere. We didn’t always know exactly what we were looking for, and time on the open road provides opportunity for unexpected discoveries. Faced with the prospect of crossing Texas again, however, we chose to change our methods. To a man we hated that fucking state, and decided to break form and hop a flight to bypass it. Life is too short to spend any more of it in that hellhole.

    I hate that a hotel in Albuquerque can be familiar, but it was the third time I’d stayed in this one on this film alone. We had a pretty awful, overpriced meal in the old part of town. Awful as the meal was, it did take place in one of the old mission buildings from the original settlement that grew into Albuquerque. What balls it must have taken to push that far into the unknown. I don’t think anything in modern life can really compare to the experience. The frontier is long gone. The adventurous ones amongst us still find ways to test themselves but nothing comes close to the leap of faith the pioneers made.

    We spent an hour in the morning exploring the city but there was not much to recommend it. After a second hour (much to my annoyance) searching for a Starbucks we hit the open road. I’ve seen it before, but it’s still revelatory every time I leave a city out west. Civilization vanishes so abruptly that you are in the wilderness before you know it. I wonder what it’s like to be that guy living in the last house on the edge of town. Do you prefer the more comforting view, looking back in at the lights of downtown, or do you look out the other window at the wide-open spaces? What happens when someone builds a house on the open side of your lot? Are you sad that you lose the view, or relieved that the Coyotes have someplace else to scavenge before getting to your place? Of course one’s mind only works like this under a big open sky. As the land opened up around us, we would soon start having deep conversations and revealing our souls to one another.

    ….

    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.

  • February 8, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Valentines Viewing

    by John Farr

    Be John’s Valentine and revisit his great date picks.


    The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) uses her wily sales technique to impress Hugo (Frank Morgan), a Budapest gift-store owner, she is hired to work alongside clerk Alfred Kralik (James Stewart), but the two don’t hit it off. No matter: Alfred is secretly hoping to meet a woman with whom he’s had a promising written correspondence via the personals. Klara, meanwhile, begins to fall for an anonymous man she’s been writing to as well. So it’s a big surprise-to them, not us-when they discover the true identities of their respective pen-pals.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    They don’t make romantic comedies like they used to, and no one made them quite like director Ernst Lubitsch, whose famed “touch” lights this wry, poignant, perennially charming film. Veteran players Stewart and Sullavan are a perfect match as comically antagonistic lonelyhearts, conveying their characters’ vulnerabilities with a delicacy too often missing from the tepid Hanks-Ryan remake, “You’ve Got Mail”. Rich subplots involving the wonderful Frank Morgan and Joseph Schildkraut, who plays a scheming, boastful employee, let Lubitsch impart further nuance to this modest but wholly pleasing tale. A delight from start to finish, this is one “Shop” you’ll want to dally in.


    Harold and Maude (1971)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A comedy about the unlikeliest of May-December romances: Harold (Bud Cort) is a bright, eccentric nineteen year old fixated on death, Maude a 79 year old free spirit whose singular obsession remains the wonder of life and living. This movie traces how these two unlikely characters connect and form a loving relationship.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A warm and quirky comic gem that’s built a sizable cult following over the years. Director Hal Ashby’s second feature boasts inspired casting, with veteran stage actress Ruth Gordon irresistible as Maude and Bud Cort so ideal for Harold that the young actor was forever typecast as a weirdo, as mentor Robert Altman had sagely predicted. Fabulous soundtrack from Cat Stevens.


    Pulp Fiction (1994)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Ground-breaking film tracks various Los Angeles lowlifes-including two hit men, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson)-whose fates are entwined with fading boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), underworld boss Marsellus (Ving Rhames), and his wife Mia (Uma Thurman), a gorgeous moll with a nose for trouble.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A genre-twisting, savagely funny tour de force, with vignettes of bantering hit-men, crooked boxers, petty thieves, and an alluring gangster’s wife, all cutting back and forth in time. With its exhilarating, entertaining stew of pop-culture references courtesy of director/screenwriter Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary, “Pulp” earns its status as one of the most influential films of the ’90s. For those able to tolerate its blend of pitch-black comedy and brutal violence (it’s not for everyone), it’s a must-see film. Famous as John Travolta’s comeback vehicle.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • February 8, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Frears’s Films

    by John Farr

    Two sleepers and a hit from British director Stephen Frears.


    My Beautiful Laundrette (1986)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Omar (Gordon Warnecke) is a young Pakistani Londoner who gets a shot at living the capitalist dream when his mob-connected Uncle Nasser (Saeed Jaffrey) asks him to manage a ramshackle laundromat-and turn a profit. Soon after taking over, Omar runs into old school chum Johnny (Daniel Day-Lewis), now a working-class thug affiliated with the fascist National Front. Omar hires him despite his odious ideology, and the two become partners, and lovers.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Originally made for the BBC, and scripted by half-Pakistani writer Hanif Kureishi, Frears’s endearing, intelligent “Laundrette” is a dramatic and often humorous study of bigotry, sexuality, and social mobility in Thatcher-era Britain. Warnecke and Day-Lewis are convincing as distinct social types in eighties London-the striving immigrant under pressure to acculturate on one hand and marry a family acquaintance on the other; and the skinhead who turns on his mates to pursue a friendship with a loathsome “Paki.” Coaxing fine support from his multiracial cast, Frears handles it all with tenderness, insight, and unpredictable tonal shifts.


    The Snapper (1993)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When unmarried 20-year-old Irish gal Sharon (Tina Kellegher) informs her parents that she’s pregnant, and even refuses to name the irresponsible seed man, the unexpected happens: The large, closely knit family takes it all in stride and tries to be supportive, especially her proud, big-hearted father Dessie (Colm Meaney). But when the neighborhood gossips start wagging their tongues, it all gets too personal for Dessie, and Sharon begins to wonder if moving out isn’t the best thing for everyone.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Written by Roddy Doyle (“The Commitments”), who adapted the script from his own Tarrytown novel, Frears’s “Snapper” lets us cozy up with an eccentric bunch. Like any big family, the Curleys are constantly bickering at each other, but Frears quickly establishes just how tight everyone is, too—especially Dessie and Sharon, who talk turkey while sharing pints at the pub. “Snapper” zeroes in on the special nature of this father-daughter relationship, with Meaney in excellent form as a kindly, slightly overprotective dad, and Kellegher equally good at uproarious girl chatter, deep mortification, and even late-night anxiety. A lovely and bittersweet slice of Irish life.


    The Queen (2006)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In 1997, after the tragic death of Princess Diana, emotionally reserved Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) and the Windsor family struggle with growing pressure from newly elected PM Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) and a grief-stricken public to offer some official display of mourning.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Frears’s wry, compelling docu-drama follows Blair’s strenuous efforts to help the hapless Windsors avert a major PR disaster in the wake of Diana’s fatal car accident. Oscar winner Mirren, whose uncanny channeling of Elizabeth’s stiff-upper-lip airs is one of recent cinema’s grandest performances, flawlessly captures the Queen’s eerie old-world reticence. But she also makes her a sympathetic, even intriguing figure. By turns tense and touching, and consistently engrossing, by all means bow down to “The Queen”.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • February 4, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Cross Road Blues

    by Sam Hutchins

    Clarksdale, Mississippi was easy enough to find.  It sat just a short drive further south on Highway 61.  We pulled over at the famous crossroads, where Highway 49 crosses Highway 61.  I related the story of Robert Johnson to my companions and they were impressed by the significance of the site.  Our enthusiasm was only slightly dampened by the fact that the place is commemorated by a marker bolted to the side of a tire repair shop.

    We made our way to Ground Zero and it turned out to be even better looking than the place we had just left, The Hollywood Café.  Housed in an old cotton warehouse hard up by the railroad tracks, the place just dripped character.  My only regret is that we were there in the daytime.  What amazing music must have been made in that room.  The manager was a stunning blonde woman who quite graciously gave us the run of the place.  We went crazy shooting pictures.  There weren’t many places you could point your camera that didn’t look great.

    Eventually Kar Wai came to me with a rare smile and even rarer compliment.

    “Good work today, Sam.”

    He waved the manager over.

    “Please get this man some whiskey.”

    I appreciated the words and the whiskey both.  Pulling up a barstool I sat to make some notes.  As I collected my thoughts I was struck by my surroundings.  So many people hate their jobs and toil away in a cubicle counting the minutes as they pass.  At that moment I looked down at the bar and realized that this was my office.  I felt like I had achieved total consciousness.  Truly one of those moments in life that you will always remember.  I sat there and savored the moment.

    Eventually we finished our work and moved on.  Clarksdale was too great a town to skip so we spent the balance of the afternoon exploring.  The streets were mostly deserted but the buildings were perfect.  Lots of character wherever you looked.  There was a defunct but perfectly preserved art deco Greyhound station.  The only thing it lacked in terms of locations was a good seedy motel.  Even so, we could definitely find plenty to shoot there and had successfully added a few more elements for Kar Wai to mull over.

    We took one last drive around to make sure we had seen everything, and it seemed that we had.  Sitting at a red light I reached for my iPod.

    “Wait, hang on.  Do you hear that?”

    Darius, who was typically somewhat oblivious, had picked up on something.  Rolling down our windows we strained to hear the faintest sound of music off in the distance.  Driving slowly we worked our way through the streets.  In time we located the source, a wailing blues guitar coming out of a derelict old movie theatre.  We parked the truck and went in.

    The interior of the theatre was musty and fairly trashed.  Down where the screen had been stood a longhaired white guy in his late thirties.  He continued making magic with his guitar, completely lost in the music.  We stood awestruck for quite some time.  When he eventually stopped we couldn’t help applauding.  It was the first time he even noticed we were in the room.

    “Aw, hey, thanks y’all.  Glad you liked it.”

    I went down the block and bought some cold beers as the fellas started chatting with the guy.  Turned out his name was Daddy Rich.  He gratefully accepted a cold one but was not as eager to accept our compliments.

    “Nah, I aint really that good.  You go to Ground Zero and listen sometime, that’s where you hear some really good blues music.  Me?  I aint lived the blues enough to be that good, and if you aint livin the blues you aint playin the blues.”

    The French contingent loved hearing this, as it very much spoke to their beliefs on the need for authenticity of experience.

    “Funny, aint it?” Daddy Rich continued with a grim smile, “The thing that would make me happiest in life is sadness.”

    He didn’t wait for an answer but instead cranked up his axe again.  Daddy Rich wouldn’t let any of us take his picture, insisting that he wasn’t worthy and that we needed to go to Ground Zero and shoot some real bluesmen.  He wouldn’t accept any money for it, but did swap us his CD for another six-pack before we left.  Listening to his stuff as I write this I’ll admit that he’s not great.  But he is very good.  And on that afternoon, in Clarksdale, in that old theatre?  He was as great as anyone could be.


    ….

    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.

Page 42 of 65« First...102030...4041424344...5060...Last »
©2017 WNET All Rights Reserved.   825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019