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  • November 10, 2009

    A day in the life of a NYC location scout

    This week, THIRTEEN’s original profile series, New York on the Clock, explores the world of scouting for narrative film. Meet Laura Berning, one of Sam Hutchins’ scouting buddies, and location slueth for major motion pictures like Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco, and Spider-Man 2.

  • November 9, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: Tougher Tony

    by John Farr

    Tony Leung Chu Wai often portrays broken-hearted loners… but not in these roles.


    Hard-Boiled (1992)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Renegade Hong Kong cop Tequila (Chow Yun-Fat) is relentless in his pursuit of a brutal gang of gun smugglers, but he has a softer side, too, especially for co-worker Teresa. When his partner is killed in a shoot-out at a restaurant, Tequila is forced to team up with Tony (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), a mysterious undercover cop embedded deep in the mobs killer-for-hire network.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Before he became a well-regarded Hollywood action director, John Woo (“Face/Off”) made this superb police thriller, the most energetic and hyped-up of his many Hong Kong ventures. Known as the Chinese De Niro, Chow Yun-Fat is by turns aggressive and cool in the role of Tequila, a cop who thinks nothing of unloading a hailstorm of bullets in a teashop but who nurses an odd fondness for his enigmatic counterpart, played with stone-faced rigor by Chiu Wai. With his trademark guns-blazing style and fluid, slow-motion theatrics, Woo stacks one ballet-of-blood on top of another, with a body count to rival any Scorsese film. But it’s the audacious finale-a shootout set in a maternity ward-that makes this “Hard-Boiled” cop story an absolute must-see.


    Infernal Affairs (2002)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Crime boss Sam (Eric Tsang) has planted young gangster Ming (Lau) in the Hong Kong police department to track the authorities anti-mob activities. At the same time, Superintendent Wong (Anthony Wong) has hand-picked police-academy recruit Yan (Wai) to work undercover in Sams gang. As the two moles work diligently at cross-purposes, they each begin to lose a sense of their real identity, while their respective bosses wage a war of nerves that will eventually place Ming and Yan on a collision course.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Remade by Martin Scorsese as “The Departed,” Lau and Mak’s superior “Affairs” is the kind of clever, suspenseful, genre-twisting epic Hong Kong cinema has been famous for in recent years. The directors examine the meaning of loyalty and honor while blurring the line between good and evil, and the result is a wrenching psychological cop thriller with a pace all its own. Asian star Lau is marvelous playing opposite the equally charismatic Wai, and the film gets an extra boost from its superb visuals. “Affairs” is thrilling, intelligent, and easy to love.


    Lust, Caution (2007)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    With Japan occupying China during WWII, gorgeous young actress Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is recruited by student dramatist Kuang Yu Min (Wang Leehom) to seduce a bigwig collaborator, Mr. Yee (Tony Leung Chu Wai), who’s been targeted for assassination. At first, things go according to script, but unexpected turns put Wong in grave danger.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Ang Lee is best known to American audiences for his Oscar-winning “Brokeback Mountain.” But he returned to Hong Kong to make this ravishing political thriller, and included lovemaking scenes so graphic (i.e. so hot) he got slapped with an NC-17. Regardless, Lee knows how to direct actors in any language, and here he draws on the great talents of Leung, Chen, and smoldering newcomer Wei, mashing up intrigue and romance with an enthralling story of national identity. Proceed with “Caution”!


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • November 9, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: All You Can View: Busby Berkeley

    by John Farr

    Five films featuring epic set pieces and choreography.


    The Busby Berkeley Collection Volume 1

    What It’s About

    The plots of these five early “backstage” musicals are all variations on a theme: in tough times, the (musical) show must go on, even if the leading lady falls ill, or the funding isn’t there, or one of the stars turns out to be a high society type whose family doesn’t approve of show people. And thankfully, with all the intrigues and anxieties of putting on a revue, not to mention the inevitable romantic complications, the show always does go on, and it’s there we see the genius of choreographer Berkeley, whose grand, stunningly kaleidoscopic dance sequences still take our breath away.

    Why I Love It

    Warner’s hit musical “42nd Street” spawned a wildly successful franchise of glittering follow-ups, with the common ingredients Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler (except for the last picture), and the spectacular staging and choreography of Busby Berkeley. Guests include James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Hugh Herbert, and Adolphe Menjou, among others. And those songs: “We’re In The Money”, “Lullaby of Broadway”, “Shuffle Off To Buffalo”, and “I Only Have Eyes For You” are highlights. Need I say more?


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • November 9, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Under the Bridge

    by Sam Hutchins

    We left Chicago and started making our way East to Detroit. Kar Wai liked a lot that he had seen in the Second City, which was a relief. There was still only a vague plotline for us to work with, and we were scouting based on hints and rumors. We knew Norah Jones was going to play a heartbroken waitress travelling cross-country, but the rest was a work in progress. Occasionally, however, some new element would slip out, making it clear that Kar Wai had a more developed story than he was letting on to us.

    Back in Chicago, for instance, we had passed through a nasty, rusty old underpass beneath the train tracks. When he saw something that caught his attention, Kar Wai would get even more focused and unaware of the world outside his head than normal. Noticing the underpass, he told me to pull over and started reaching for the door handle as he said it. Unfortunately we were hemmed in by fast-moving traffic. If I hadn’t caught his arm and kept him in the truck Kar Wai might well have stepped out of a quickly moving vehicle. He really did get that absorbed in his process.

    As soon as I could safely pull over he was springing out and quickly striding back to the bridge. We then spent a few hours photographing it. Kar Wai was like a man on a mission. He walked back and forth beneath the bridge several times while Darius, Stephane and I tried to shoot every inch of it. Occasionally he would point out a specific shot he wanted one of us to get, or else just took a camera from one of us and shot it himself. After some time he turned to address me.

    “Can we close this?”

    “Close what, the road?”

    “Yes.”

    Again, this is a city I had never worked in. I took a quick look around, and it appeared that you could easily set up detours on either side of the underpass, so I made an educated guess.

    “I believe so, but it probably has to be on a weekend. Any idea what sort of scene we would shoot here?”

    “Yes, this would be the auto accident.”

    “The accident?”

    “Yes, where the cop dies.”

    Looking to Darius and Stephane it was clear that they had no idea what he was talking about either. And so it went.

    Now we made our way to Detroit, taking the old blue-line roads that served as highways before the interstate freeway system was built. The beauty of the countryside was a bit of a surprise. Gently rolling fields lay fallow for the winter, tamped down by a hard frost. The houses and barns were widely scattered and all appeared to be in good repair. I saw a great looking gas station and pulled in. It was older, homemade and weathered, nothing at all resembling a modern service station. This was more like a small bungalow with a few pumps out front. Yet it was clearly well built and would be there at least as long as it had already been. I thought it had potential as a location and suggested as much. Kar Wai just looked at me with that blank expression. Impossible to figure out what he wanted.

    We took our time and arrived in Detroit late. Speaking with my office in New York, we had a hard time figuring out where to stay. They kept suggesting hotels in the suburbs, which was not what we wanted. Finally at my suggestion they booked us into the Renaissance Center. I had never set foot in Detroit but knew of it from several acquaintances who grew up locally. What a strange place it was. Certainly a different environment from the lovely farmland we had been in just hours earlier.

    As our difficulty finding accommodations suggests, there’s not a lot going on in downtown Detroit. Large tracts of the city are deserted. Located right in the heart of the city, the Ren Center nonetheless sits surrounded by broad vacant swaths of land. It’s multiple polished glass and steel towers contain offices, a hotel and convention center. Inside you find that it’s built around a central core filled with shops and stores. All soaring, open spaces that somehow feel confined, possibly due to every surface being poured concrete. It was that weird, bad modern architecture that feels oppressive, what I always think of as “Classic Fascist” design.

    Odder still was my experience the next morning. I arose after a very short sleep desperate for sustenance. Checking in post-midnight the desk clerk had laughed at my inquiries about getting some food. Now I was up and in search of coffee and some breakfast. The vast interior spaces that had been so hauntingly deserted upon arrival just hours before were now packed with people. Not just people, but young people, all roughly junior high school age. All of them also smiled incessantly and were polite to the point of being bothersome. Eventually I learned that it was the National Young Catholic Convention. It was like being surrounded by Stepford Children, and it was not doing good things to my mindset.

    Thankfully the others did not keep me waiting long. The morning air braced us as we waited for the valet to bring the truck around. Stephane noticed a group of soldiers in uniform waiting for a van to pick them up and commented that it made him uncomfortable. That, of course, was the type of thing I could not leave alone.

    “Stephane, instead of griping you really should go thank those men.”

    “Why ees that?”

    “Because you’re not speaking fucking German.”

    With that we set out to see what we could discover in Detroit. As we pulled out some plump white snowflakes began lazily drifting down on us. We eased into our scouting day as they eased their way towards the earth.

    ….

    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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