by Sam Hutchins
The die was cast; we were set to embark. An ambitious, detailed itinerary had been built. Darius, Stephane and I would depart for LAX and begin making our way back to New York City over the course of the next month. Kar Wai would join us at some point along the way, and Jackie might as well. We planned to drive mainly on blue line highways, the primary route of auto transit prior to the interstate highway system. They should take us to the out-of-the-way, forgotten spots that Kar Wai favored so. It was a great adventure that we were setting out on. Honestly, if I could create a dream job this would probably be it.
My concerns were legion, of course. Scouting even in areas you know can be hit-or-miss. No one can know the entire country, no matter how good you are. I had done my homework and prepared us as well as anyone could. I even had a trick up my sleeve, having pre-scouted a few promising sounding locations outside of LA over the phone. My good pal Jesse Lehrman is one of the top still photo/fashion scouts on the west coast. Jesse hipped me to a known desert gas station called Roy’s that lies between LA and Vegas. The photos he sent me looked great. Apparently there are other rundown cantinas in the area as well, scattered around the desert outside Twentynine Palms.
My biggest concern was actually my travelling companions. I was about to spend a whole lot of time in a car with two guys I hardly knew. First impression is that they were, well, French. Don’t get me wrong: the French are a magnificent people. They have a long and storied history. The foods, wines, literature are all as good as can be found anywhere. I have so many things that I love about them. That being said, they can also be massive pains in the ass. The French are by nature an argumentative people, and at that particular point in history, they were awfully down on America. Probably with good reason, but that’s a story for another blog. For all of Stephane’s impishness and Darius’ passion they were ultimately unknown quantities as travelling companions.
I had a fair amount of equipment to tote along. In addition to my 20 lbs of topo maps covering a good part of the country, I had my laptop, cameras, cell phone, iPod, and all the requisite cords and cables. There was also the matter of clothing. We were planning to cover the country from roughly the Southwest up to the Northeast in winter, so we intended to pass through a wide range of climates. I managed to fit everything in a standard airline carry-on, my computer case, and one tote bag. The colder climes were covered by the heavy leather jacket I carried on my back. My companions, however, were not so good at packing light.
When we met at the office prior to departing I was shocked at all they brought. Stephane wasn’t as bad; he only brought a battered leather suitcase, a large duffel bag, a laptop case and a couple camera cases. Half my size and twice the baggage. Darius, however, might as well have been in the turn of the century boarding an ocean liner for a round the world tour. He had so much luggage we had to hire a second car to get us all to JFK. To be fair, he had no plans to return to Paris, so he was carrying his wardrobe for roughly the next six months. That being said, I suggested he winnow things out a bit and store the extra luggage at the production office. He was having none of it, insisting that he needed everything at hand. I was not pleased at the thought of hauling all that stuff cross-country with us. We had a tight schedule with numerous airport connections and that load wasn’t going to make it easy.
Our two-car caravan left for JFK, one car for us and another for the luggage. Didn’t leave on time, of course, as my two companions were dawdling around the office well past the appointed departure. One thing to know about me is that I am punctual to a fault. Actually that’s not true; I’m early. Especially when it comes to work and travel. When travelling for work I’m even worse, it gets borderline obsessive. I have surprised directors I was due to pick up at 9 for a scout by being out front when they walked their dog at 7:30. Just part of who I am and how I do the job. I have ended relationships with otherwise lovely women due to their constant lateness; it is not something I can abide. Faced with coworkers who rank higher than me on the organizational chart I have little recourse.
It got worse at the airport. In addition to helping the guys with their extensive baggage, they did everything possible to avoid going to the gate. I did have a little chuckle at the desk when the clerk kept referring to Stephane as Stephanie. I saw how it bothered him and filed that away for future use. Another wrinkle was Darius’ passport with dozens of international destinations stamped in it. In a recently post-9/11 world, stamps indicating you were just visiting Iran are not particularly helpful. Once the bulk of the luggage was checked in I started race-walking to the gate. Not my boys, though. Stephane was browsing magazines and Darius was in a Brookstone having an in-depth discussion as to the merits of various gadgets that charge your electronics. I was as polite as possible about moving them along but they exhibited a distinct lack of concern.
Ultimately I left them. Time was short and I did not want to miss the plane. I made sure they both knew the gate we were assigned and busted my hump to get there. Darius started to say something about being patient but I pretended not to hear him so as to avoid additional delay. I arrived at the gate and checked in as they were making the final boarding call.
At least we were flying business class. Travel is difficult enough. Flying cross-country in coach is a drag. I tried to relax in my comfy half-bed, half-seat but was too anxious about my partners making the flight. I was already trying to plan for their delayed arrival at LAX when they both ambled onto the plane. They hadn’t even found their seats when the stewardess sealed the door and started bugging them about getting settled.
“You see,” said Stephane, “We had plenty of time. I think you worry too much.”
“Thank God you found me,” replied Darius, “I had no idea what gate we were in. Sam, you really need to make sure I get to these places. I could have missed the plane.”
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.