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  • November 30, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Emotional Resonance

    by Sam Hutchins

    Shortly thereafter Darius and Kar Wai exited the hotel and hopped in the truck. I was relieved to see them both emerge sans suitcases. Clearly there were problems getting the picture off the ground. Most of my experience was working for the major studios; what I did know about independent films was that financing was often an issue. I loved Kar Wai’s work but I was not putting up the money to finance it. I can’t imagine committing large sums of money to a director who works without a script or a clearly defined story, yet Kar Wai refuses to do it any other way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing fell apart at any time. For now, however, it appeared that we were still moving forward.

    “Everything OK guys? What happened to Stephane?”

    “He went back to New York.”

    Remind me never to play poker with Wong Kar Wai. We started out cruising the near West Side. It was in some ways harder to scout a town I knew so well than a strange city. Too much emotional resonance involved. As I struggled with what I ought to show him, Kar Wai pointed and told me to stop. We were at a great old dive, a 24-hour hot dog stand in a shitty neighborhood called Steve’s. I had ended many late nights of drinking in the spot but honestly never would have thought to take him there specifically. In retrospect it was a perfect location for him. We entered and sat at the counter.

    “What would you usually have here?”

    “A couple chili dogs with cheese, onions and mustard.”

    “OK, I’ll have that.”

    “Kar Wai, we don’t usually eat these at ten on a Sunday morning.”

    As usual I received that blank stare in return, so I ordered up for both of us. Darius, who appreciated the finer things in life, looked at us like we were pissing on the carpet. He settled for a cup of black coffee. We sat and enjoyed our breakfast alongside a couple guys from the Coast Guard and a middle-aged heavyset woman from the adjoining housing projects. Kar Wai smiled the entire time. As we left he turned to me.

    “A place that feels like this is good. This is the feeling we should look for.”

    My God, I’ll never be able to figure this guy out. Directors give you many different clues when you scout. Phillip Noyce tells you what lens he’s shooting and where he wants to put the camera. Donald Petrie looks for the best place to play the comedy. Mike Nichols cares about the appropriate class level. Those are tangible, measureable things. Scouting based on the proper emotional resonance of a place is a different matter entirely. As soon as I thought I had a handle on Kar Wai he would say something that just lost me.

    Leaving Steve’s we headed down to The Flats, which is the industrial area bordering the Cuyahoga River on the edge of downtown Cleveland. It was one of the rare times I knew I was showing him something he would like and I was right. The towering highway overpasses, the dirty gray factories and various detritus left behind by the steel industry framing the downtown skyline were ideally suited to his work. My only concern was that there was no actual restaurant or bar to set scenes in. After thoroughly exploring the area he chose a spot on the side of the road that he liked.

    “Kar Wai, what kind of scene would we set here?”

    “Those trucks that pull up and serve food, would one ever park here?”

    “Sure, they park in places like this to feed the guys who work at the mill.”

    “Can we get one of those?”

    “Yeah, we can rent one and put it here.”

    “Good. Very good.”

    As we were shooting the area a local Sherriff’s Deputy pulled over and checked us out. 9/11 and the advent of homeland security really had changed things. Fortunately I carry enough PBA cards and know the right things to say. As he pulled out another car pulled in, this one driven by what seemed to be a steelworker or possibly security from the steel mill.

    “What you guys doing?”

    “Sorry, sir, we’re just scouting for a film…”

    “I can see that. Who is the director?” Not what I expected to hear.

    “You wouldn’t know him, he’s a Chinese…”

    “Holy shit, is that Wong Kar Wai?” Definitely not what I expected to hear. The guy hopped out and we all had a nice chat. The world really is a small place sometimes. Standing under an overpass hard by the steel mills on a Sunday morning we meet someone conversant with Kar Wai’s work. Go figure. As we finished our chat and our photography the snow began to come down hard. Time to head back to the hotel.



    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.

  • November 30, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Extra-Marital Movies

    by John Farr

    John Farr recommends three films for all you philanderers out there.

    Double Indemnity (1944)


    Gorgeous schemer Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) enlists a besotted insurance salesman, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), to draw up a life-insurance policy on her husband without his knowledge – and then kill him. The murder goes as planned, but the two lovers lose faith in each other’s motives when they face suspicious claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), whose queries trigger a fatal game of cat and mouse.


    One of the quintessential noir films, Billy Wilder’s “Double Indemnity” is a masterpiece of stark atmosphere and carefully stylized suspense. The talented Barbara Stanwyck, a familiar face in the 1940s noir universe, assumes her role with feline deviousness, while “My Three Sons” TV dad Fred MacMurray – narrating the film via flashback – brilliantly plays against type. Raymond Chandler’s screenplay sizzles with hard-boiled repartee and the great Edward G. Robinson is aces as always as the dogged investigator hot on the lovers’ trail. Sinister, tense, and cynical, Wilder’s “Indemnity” is riveting film suspense.

    The World of Henry Orient (1964)


    Two New York City schoolgirls develop a crush on the title character, a second-rate concert pianist and frustrated ladies’ man (Peter Sellers). They then decide to stalk the poor fellow, foiling his meticulously planned assignations.


    Sellers is in rare form as the perpetually striving, but eternally mediocre fraud, Henry Orient. The two girls who pursue him (Merrie Spaeth and Tippy Walker) give refreshingly natural performances. Paula Prentiss is screamingly funny as one of Orient’s nervous paramours, while Angela Lansbury injects a cold note of evil as one girl’s mother. Beautiful on-location scenery of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

    Fatal Attraction (1987)


    Manhattan lawyer Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is happily married to his gorgeous wife Beth (Anne Archer), with whom he has a 6-year-old daughter. After a chance meeting with the sexy, intriguing Alex (Glenn Close) leads to a passionate two-night affair in her apartment, Dan says goodbye and means it. But Alex has no intention of giving up Dan – ever – and proceeds to turn the Gallaghers’ lives into an escalating nightmare.


    Adrian Lyne’s disturbing “Fatal Attraction” remains the ultimate cautionary tale for extra-marital thrill seekers. What begins as an entirely plausible drama about a one-night stand quickly morphs into a shocking psychological thriller in Lyne’s hands, with Douglas turning in one of the iconic performances of the 80s. But it’s Glenn Close’s bestial, unhinged villainess that made this film a box-office smash. Despite a tacked-on, slasher-movie-style ending, “Attraction” picked up six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • November 24, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Homecoming, then Bad News

    by Sam Hutchins

    We finished the day in Detroit seeing the rest of what it had to offer us. I had hoped to spend another night there and spend the next day scouting the countryside as we headed east, but I was overridden on that. Kar Wai had no interest in anything rural, but a great deal of it in looking at more of the gray, industrial cities of the upper Midwest. So on we pressed to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Once more Stephane deserves credit for getting us there. I was exhausted but wouldn’t say so. He picked up on it anyway and took the wheel, guiding us through the night and increasingly heavy snow to get us home.

    As he drove I set us up in one of my favorite hotels, the Renaissance. It is part of the Terminal Tower, built in the 1920’s and the tallest building in North America outside of New York City until the early 1960’s. It sits atop the old Union Terminal train station and features some magnificent interior spaces. The Hotel itself was a grand old dame, with a massive sitting area in the lobby where you can drink cocktails under the vaulted ceiling. It also has one of the best bars in Cleveland just off the lobby. The place was just slightly tattered and dowdy now but retained enough of its original glamour to be perfect for us.

    With Kar Wai’s blessing I arranged to have my parents meet us for a drink at the hotel. Pulling up to the valet station around ten pm we saw them arriving at the same time. Whoever said you cannot go home again was simply wrong. When you are as worn-out and road weary I was, getting a few minutes with your loved ones can make all the difference in the world. We checked in, quickly washed up, and reconvened in the lobby.

    Everyone has a different relationship with their parents. Mine happens to be excellent. Not only do I love them, I’m proud of them. Not everyone could hold their own with the accomplished crew I brought with me but my folks certainly can. Dad is an accomplished photographer and quickly fell into deep conversation with Darius about related subjects. My stepmother is an incredibly sophisticated Korean woman and easily matched wits with Kar Wai. She is very direct and pulls no punches. In an hour together she got more out of him than the rest of us had in a month. For his part Kar Wai was incredibly complimentary towards me, which greatly pleased her. Simply a lovely evening and one I’ll always treasure.

    We said our goodbyes eventually and headed out for a late-night sushi feast. The Cleveland I grew up in shut down at night and on the weekends but things had changed. The streets of the warehouse district were crowded and we got one of the few remaining tables. Turns out that Kar Wai had a masterful knowledge of Japanese cuisine as well. While generally impressed by the meal we had he pointed out subtle things I never would have noticed, such as a certain piece of fish was cut incorrectly, slightly against the grain. A great deal of sake was consumed and good times were had by all.

    Waking early the next morning I went through the usual routine of plotting out our day’s scouting, getting the cameras ready and working on the vehicle. Retrieving it from the valet I took it to get gassed up and washed then returned to wait for the guys outside of the hotel. It was a beautiful, crisp winter morning. The snow had stopped and a weak sun cast its light on me.

    It did feel like a magical morning. Sitting in the truck, I could look across at the bus stop where I used to transfer to get home from high school. I also saw the Old Stone Church, where my sister married her husband Ben, and the 55 building, which is where my dad first worked as a photographer. I busied myself for a while taking pictures as I waited. And waited and waited. The minutes turned into an hour and more. The snow started falling again while I sat there. I was nearly ready to go in and check up on the guys when Stephane exited the hotel, toting his suitcase. That confused me, as we hadn’t planned on checking out.

    “Stephane, should I pack up my stuff?” I asked as I hopped out of the car.

    “No, you stay here, we just had a bad phone call and I have to go back to New York. The guys will be down in a minute.”

    And with that he hopped in a cab and was gone. I was left to sit and wonder if we were still scouting or packing up and heading home to sift through the remains of a failed attempt at a film.



    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.

  • November 23, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Deborah Kerr Films to Remember

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs An Affair to Remember, but don’t forget to watch these classic Deborah Kerr films.

    Black Narcissus (1947)


    When young Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is asked to open a convent-hospital in a former brothel perched high above a small village in India, she readily agrees, despite knowing hardships lie ahead. Once there, she’s greeted by a sardonic Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), who takes great delight in ruffling Sister Clodagh’s habit. But it’s jealous, unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who eventually succumbs to the dark allure of the exotic, windswept setting.


    Another great success for “Red Shoes” helmers Powell-Pressburger, “Narcissus” is an absorbing, finely acted British melodrama about the secular problems facing a new mother superior in an unfamiliar, potentially hostile new environment. The directors even stirred controversy by developing a subtle yet credible sexual tension between the luminous Kerr and hunky Farrar. Jack Cardiff’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography and Alfred Junge’s hand-crafted art design give this film exceptional production values to boot. And Kathleen Byron’s celebrated turn as the unhinged Sister Ruth climaxes in a suspenseful sequence that’s hard to forget.

    King Solomon’s Mines (1950)


    When a hunter disappears in wild, uncharted parts while searching for the fabled mines of King Solomon, rugged adventurer Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is hired by the man’s wife, Elizabeth (Deborah Kerr), to lead an expedition to find him. Of course, both Elizabeth and her brother John (Richard Carlson) insist on accompanying the group into the jungle, and despite misgivings, Quartermain reluctantly agrees.


    Shot on location in Africa, and featuring the winning team of Granger and Kerr, “Mines” is a handsome, pounding adventure film with plenty of thrills and romance. Thanks to spectacular camerawork by Oscar winner Robert Surtees, the movie is indispensable purely on a visual level, but Granger and Kerr emit powerful screen chemistry too, which makes the epic journey- including snakes, spiders, lions, rhinos, and assorted African tribes-that much more exhilarating.

    Separate Tables (1958)


    This brilliant drama, adapted by Terrence Rattigan from his own play, portrays a group of mostly lonely lost souls-including boastful war hero Maj. Pollock (David Niven), mousy spinster Sibyl (Deborah Kerr) and her overbearing mother (Gladys Cooper), and alcoholic American writer John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster)–staying at the same English seaside resort. When Malcolm’s ex-wife Ann (Rita Hayworth), a faded beauty, appears unexpectedly, the group’s collective secrets and dreary emotional baggage come tumbling out into the open.


    What in lesser hands could have been a mucky soap-fest becomes instead a subtle, sensitive, intelligent film thanks to director Mann’s deft handling of Rattigan’s Oscar-nominated script. The first-rate group of ensemble players include Niven, Kerr, Lancaster, Hayworth, and the fabulous Wendy Hiller–who (like Niven) won an Oscar for her performance as Pat Cooper, the innkeeper having an affair with Lancaster. “Tables” remains a multi-layered human drama of the highest order.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • November 20, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Peaks and Valleys

    by Sam Hutchins

    After we finished at the pizzeria we pushed a little further out of downtown Detroit. We really were in some impoverished areas. I felt a great sense of responsibility for my companions. Everywhere they went was someplace I took them and they were the farthest thing from safety-conscious. Typically I would pull the truck over and Kar Wai would spring out of it and start rapidly striding off. He could go in any direction and easily get lost. As he was the real artist and the reason we were there I felt most responsible for him.

    While he moved quickly, however, Stephane and Darius took forever getting in motion. Kar Wai could be damn near a mile away before they found their hats and gloves, stretched, checked their cameras, chatted a bit, grabbed a piece of fruit, and finally left the vehicle. I was constantly trailing Kar Wai but holding back, waiting for them to leave the vehicle so I could lock it. God forbid either of them ever pay the slightest bit of attention to practical matters. Were I not on top of it those two would wander off with the car doors ajar in even the worst neighborhood. It may seem petty but when you spend months travelling with people and are the only responsible party the resentments do build up.

    I trailed Kar Wai down a side street but it turned out to be a dead end. As we returned to the truck we saw Darius shooting an extremely run-down restaurant. It was a pretty ghetto Chinese joint. As we approached he called out to me.

    “Sam, can you see if I can take pictures inside?”

    I had just started to move when Kar Wai placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. I can’t say he looked angry but it’s the closest I’ve ever seen him to being so.

    “No Chinese. Not in this movie.”

    Darius and I made eye contact and held it for a moment. We wordlessly agreed to discuss that one privately.

    Moving on, we saw a fairly interesting spot called the Hygrade Deli. In addition to being a potential location it had neon signs advertising hot corned beef. Even though Kar Wai didn’t want Chinese in his film every possible meal we ate was Chinese food. If I had a shot at a nice corned beef sandwich I was taking it.

    Inexplicably the doors were locked. Odd, as it was around lunchtime and the place was lit up like it was Christmas. After knocking for a while an older fellow came to the door. He was convinced we were there to rob him. Who knows, perhaps there had been a string of burglaries committed by an American, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Iranian guy recently. It took a good ten minutes of speaking through a locked door to convince him to open up and let us in. Even when we did he would only let us just inside the door. Clearly I wasn’t getting that sandwich. Things must really be rough in Detroit.

    In another of those wildly frustrating moments, Kar Wai took a few steps inside, looked around, shook his head no and strode wordlessly out the door. It’s understandable that a Director needs to have a look at a place before knowing if it is of interest to them. Of course they do. The thing is, the façade of the Hygrade was all glass. There was not a thing about the place that couldn’t be seen from outside. Yet Kar Wai had been rather insistent that I get him in. So I tapdanced for ten minutes, finally convincing some scared old fellow to open up and let us inside, only to have Kar Wai bail immediately. Now my director was legging it quickly down the block and I was stuck making our excuses. How do you quickly and politely explain why you are leaving so quickly after badgering the guy so hard and so long to open up for us.? Harder still when I don’t actually know why.

    Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. Just when they knock you down they build you back up. In the car again Kar Wai addressed me.

    “Sam, if you were not doing this, what would you do?”

    “I don’t know. I like to write.”

    “No, you would be a detective. You would make a great detective.”

    “Why do you say that?”

    “You talk to people, all kinds of people, and find out what you want to. And you can handle yourself in any situation. This is very good.”

    What a wonderful compliment to receive; especially from someone I admired as much as him. Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys.



    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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