by Sam Hutchins
The next week was spent slowly making our way up Highway 61. Traditionally it was known as the blues highway, the road leading from the plantations of the South to new life and opportunity in Chicago and the northern cities. Much like the ghosts of the musicians whose paths we followed we carried the blues with us. Unlike us they at least had a goal and a purpose to their journey. We were in full drifting mode, surrendering more and more to the malaise of the road.
By now we had been scouting cross-country for a month. As much as I love being out on the road shooting it only works if it is leading somewhere. Our limited contact with Kar Wai had seemingly ended altogether. It was as though we were forgotten. Every day we drove hundreds of miles and took countless pictures. We explored every story possibility along the way and submitted our work with nary a word in response. With no feedback or critique eventually you’re not so much scouting as you are just driving around taking pictures like a tourist.
Compounding the issue was the endless list of petty resentments we were building against one another. That much time in close quarters can turn even the most amiable types against each other. Every inch of space in the truck becomes a battleground; every statement a potential provocation. For example, Darius was making me insane with the music. He would control the iPod for hours on end, playing the same songs over and over at high volume. When I would manage to wrest control of the music he went totally passive-aggressive on me. It would start with him asking what the song was, complimenting my taste, and then asking if he could turn it down just a little bit. He would then proceed to lower the volume gradually until it was just barely audible. He did this every time I tried to play music that I favored, and it was completely maddening. I’d shortly give up and turn the music completely off. Minutes later he would play something he liked and crank the volume all the way back up. In retrospect, he honestly might not have realized what he was doing, but at the time I wanted to bash his face into the windshield.
Stephane was equally annoying. He would fiddle around on the computer in the backseat all day long. If Darius or I saw something of potential interest to us we would point it out to him. Invariably he would ignore us, engrossed in the screen as he was. Once we were past whatever-it-was Stephane would see it out the rear window and yell for us to pull over. Usually when we were barreling down a one-lane highway with a truck hard on our ass. Had I heeded his direction every time he yelled for us to stop we would have died a dozen times. He yelled for me to stop in the passing lane of the interstate highway, mid-span on bridges, in every perilous situation imaginable.
Surely I was an annoyance to them as well. I was weary. Doing all the driving was arduous enough. Driving twelve hours a day while navigating, attempting to scout, maintaining the truck, finding nice enough lodging and restaurants to satisfy those two on top of everything else was brutal. Also, any time we did stop to scout a potential location I had to jump out and do my spiel. No matter how exhausted I may be I was the initial public face of the company. It takes energy to approach random people and explain who we were and what we were up to. Virtually no one we approached had any dealings with being filmed before so it was never a short conversation. Frequently one of my companions noticed something and yelled for me to pull over, only to face something that I knew wasn’t worth wasting our time on. Nonetheless it’s my job and I was obligated. Even facing a location that I considered unfilmable or useless to us I had to haul my weary ass out of the driver’s seat and talk our way in. More often than not I would be well into the conversation when the boys would realize as I had that it wasn’t worth the effort and yell for me not to bother with it. I’d grit my teeth, smile and make my exit as quickly and politely as possible leaving a befuddled stranger in my wake.
We had been going like this seven days a week and were all on the edge when the call came. Stephane wandered around speaking excitedly on the phone while Darius and I watched from the truck.
“What do you think, we shutting down?”
“I almost wish we would. “ Darius replied, “I’ve never worked like this before. The director really should be here. We don’t know what to look for.”
I had to agree. It just felt all wrong. Stephane hopped back into the car and we prepared for the bad news. What we heard instead rather surprised us.
“Kar Wai loves the stuff we are sending him. He is able to join us. We’ll meet him in Chicago.”
Fantastic. We were actually just outside the city in Skokie, Illinois. We took our time getting into the city and ate at a wonderful old steakhouse there called Gene and Georgetti’s. After a good night’s sleep we would be picking Kar Wai up at the airport.
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.