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  • May 13, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Sam Hutchins’ Blueberry Nights

    by Sam Hutchins

    Wong Kar Wai, Director

    Wong Kar Wai, Director

    Working as a movie location manager can be arduous, but there are days when I can’t believe I get paid to do what I do. The job allows me creative input in the production process and provides a front row seat to the making of some wonderful films.

    A few years ago, however, I had fallen into a rut. For most of my career I alternated between interesting low-budget independents and well-paying studio gigs. Then money became more of a priority, and I got used to having it. I left the smaller films behind and did a long stretch of studio pictures. I did several romantic comedies in a row.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with romantic comedies. Just like food, though, a steady diet of the same meal becomes tiresome after a while. When for the fourth time I found myself scouting for a movie about a plucky young woman who worked in fashion/magazines/television for a demanding/glamorous boss and had to rely on her charm to get into the trendy restaurant/exclusive concert/championship game to win her man, I began to question my existence. It was all the same. I needed a break from the perfect romantic worlds I helped create.

    One day, while lamenting my state of ennui with a production manager friend of mine, I got more of a break than I could have imagined.

    “I might have something interesting for you,” my friend said, “But I really don’t think you’ll work for the money they have.”

    “Try me. You might be surprised.”

    “It’s a Chinese director making his first American film. Let me see. I have his name here somewhere. Yeah. It’s a guy called Wong Kar Wai.”

    What? Seriously? Wong Kar Wai? I could not believe what I was hearing. I had a shot at working with the most talented, enigmatic filmmaker alive?

    “I’ll do it.”

    “Wait, Sam, there’s no money involved.”

    “I don’t care. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it work. How do I get the job?”

    My friend gave Wong Kar Wai’s people my resume and strongly recommended me. The thought of it made me giddy. This was exactly what I needed and then some. I have worked with incredibly talented filmmakers over the years, but here was a chance to work with the man whose work I respected most.

    I didn’t wait long. That same evening my friend called.

    “They want to meet you. I know it’s rather late, but can you get down to Tribeca tonight?”

    “They want to meet now? It’s ten o’clock at night.”

    “I’ll set something up for tomorrow then.”

    “No, I’ll do it. Where do I go?”

    I was sent to a loft downtown. Unusual as the film business is, interviewing for a job this late was strange even for me. A very fat and jolly Frenchman greeted me. “Hallo. I am Jean Louis. You are Sam, oui?” Jean Louis didn’t wait for an answer. He turned and left me standing there. He entered a kitchen on the far side of the loft where several people were speaking in mixed French, Chinese and an occasional bit of English.

    Not knowing what else to do, I stood and waited. After a while a tall Chinese man came over.  He wore sunglasses indoors… at night. Somehow he pulled off the look. He also wore a welcoming smile. I recognized him from photos.

    “I am Kar Wai. I understand you want to work with us?”

    “I very much want to. I think your films are amazing.”

    “You know my work?”

    “I’ve seen almost everything you have done. I love your films and would be honored to be a part of one.”

    He stood and looked me over for a painfully long time. Finally he flashed a mysterious smile and returned to the kitchen. What the hell just happened? It was the shortest and strangest interview I ever had. I figured I blew it. What an incredible let down. I turned and signaled for the elevator. As I waited, I sensed someone at my side. I turned to see a short Chinese woman wearing a tracksuit. Her wild hair stood up all over her head. She looked like a Dr. Seuss character. When she spoke, it was in heavily accented English.

    “Dinner tomorrow. I call you.”



    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.

  • May 13, 2009

    New Reel 13 Blogger: Sam Hutchins presents ‘A Scouting Life’

    Sam Hutchins, movie location manager

    Sam Hutchins, movie location manager

    Exciting news here at Reel 13. Sam Hutchins, a veteran location manager and movie scout, will be posting dispatches from his always unpredictable scouting life, as well as interviews and discussions with the unsung workhorses of the film community like himself.

    Sam has been working in film production in various capacities for twenty years. He began his career as an overnight security guard on the set of “Working Girl.” From there he worked his way up to parking coordinator, then movie scout, and since 1995, location manager.

    For those of you that make films, you know the trials and tribulations of the production process seem endless. Especially on the front lines: the neighborhoods, blocks, and bars in which films are shot on location. Sam’s stories shed light on how to learn a location, connect with the right people, and ultimately maintain the set when the cameras roll.

    You can read Sam’s older posts at his former home on tumblr, but starting today, Sam will share his stories right here on Reel 13. He begins with a recent indie he worked on: Wong Kar Wai’s English language debut, My Blueberry Nights, starring Jude Law and Norah Jones. And if Sam’s first post is any indication, his trip across America shooting with one of modern cinema’s true visionaries promises to be a strange and surprising journey. Enjoy!

  • March 17, 2009

    Nina Sings the Copyright Song

    Nina Paley is an animator whose critically-acclaimed film, Sita Sings the Blues (which you can watch for free in its entirety on Reel 13) recently plunged her into the tangled web of copyright law.

    To make a long story very short, Sita Sings the Blues features copyright-restricted Annette Hanshaw songs. Here’s an explanation from

    After pouring three years of her life into making the film, and having great success with audiences at festival screenings, she now can’t distribute it, because of music licensing issues: the film uses songs recorded in the late 1920’s by singer Annette Hanshaw, and although the recordings are out of copyright, the compositions themselves are still restricted. That means if you want to make a film using these songs from the 1920s, you have to pay money — a lot of money (around $50,000.00).

    Nina’s dilemma inspired her next project: a series of short animations, called Minute Memes, aimed at informing the public about copyright law. In the video below, Nina performs a number she wrote for the new series.


    UPDATE: Put the word out. Nina wants you to remix this video. From her blog: “Feel free to remix, re-record, or otherwise re-make this song so I can animate to it.”

    • Download the .mov here.
    • Download the .mp3 here.

    Reel 13 also picked Nina’s brain about the circumstances that led Sita Sings the Blues to it’s distribution on Reel 13 and We also asked her for her thoughts on online film distribution in general, both as a marketing vehicle and a venue for movie watching.

    Creative Commons License
    Nina Paley Sings “The Copyright Song” by Nina Paley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

    Creative Commons License
    Nina Paley interview by Reel 13 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

    Learn more about copyright law.

  • March 10, 2009

    Cinema of Dread: Screenwriters Discuss the Horror Film

    Last week, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts hosted a Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) panel discussion of horror screenwriters talking about horror films. Reel 13 was there and captured the disturbing discussion on tape. If you’re pondering writing a horror screenplay — or any screenplay for that matter — the discussion is definitely a useful lens through which to view writing dread.

    Event info:

    Join screenwriters Steven Katz (The Shadow of the Vampire; Wind Chill) and Neal Marshall Stevens (Thir13en Ghosts; Hellraiser: Deader), moderated by screen and television writer David Steven Cohen, for a conversation about the art of writing the horror film. How do they explore the forbidden, the unknown, the deepest terrors of the psyche and live to tell the tale – as riveting and enduring entertainment? Join us for a frighteningly enlightening conversation… if you dare.

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