A Scouting Life: A Surprise Request

December 10, 2009 | Sam Hutchins

I took my time getting to the office the next morning. Work had been a seven-day-a-week affair for the last couple months, so I figured I could ease up a little. Anyway, the project was clearly falling apart. Why continue beating myself up if I didn’t have to. Instead I savored the feeling of waking up in my own bed, in my city, home again at last.

The office was indeed quiet. Many years in the business had conditioned me to be up and at it very early in the day. The Chinese contingent worked extremely hard, harder than most I have known. They started later in the day, however, usually appearing around ten in the morning while in New York. I had grown accustomed to having the office to myself for the first few hours. This first day back the office was still quiet as lunchtime crept up on me.

There was certainly no lack of work to be done so I went right at it. I had thousands of photos to edit and file, notebooks to transcribe, etc. This was happening just before mobile GPS units came to be commonly used, so I had done it all the old fashioned way. Navigation had been by paper map and logs had been handwritten in a notebook, usually while driving 90 mph as Darius fiddled with the iPod and Stephane found some new way to bother me from the back seat. I had plenty of organizing to do.

In time my friend Carol, the UPM who had brought me on to the project, arrived and asked to speak to me. She confirmed my suspicions that the project was indeed floundering. She also told me that she was leaving to start something else, a film that had its financing firmly in place. I expressed my regrets but knew it was for the best. She is extremely talented, and part of her job as a production manager is to be very practical about making the film. Every aspect of how we were making this movie was ass-backwards and she had never been fully comfortable with their process. She was pretty much convinced that these guys were all bullshit artists of the first magnitude and gladly left the project.

I could see her point to an extent. Typically on a film you avoid spending money as long as possible while working out the details. The closer you are to having a locked script, budget and schedule the better off you are. We had nothing of the sort. Hell, we had no more than the vaguest idea as to the story we were telling. Nonetheless we had spent a six-figure sum travelling cross-country while Kar Wai wrapped his head around it all. We were not approaching this with any sort of logic or reason. Kar Wai makes movies much like John Coltrane performs his compositions. A thrilling journey to be sure, but not one everyone cares to take.

The quiet lasted for several days. I was largely alone in the office, organizing the wreckage. I saw almost nothing of Kar Wai during this time. He was sequestered in his hotel, still writing by all accounts. Every so often he would appear in the office for a meeting with a potential financier. These meetings were all held behind closed doors and in great secrecy so I was in the dark. Darius was back in Paris visiting his family, and Stephane’s rare visits to the office were my only connection to the inner circle surrounding Kar Wai.

I was packing to leave one evening when Stephane called me over to his desk.

“Sam, Kar Wai wants a favor from you.”

“Of course, what can I do?”

“No one can know this, but he has a script he has written for this. He would like you to look it over and give your opinion. He mainly wants to know if the dialogue sounds right, but you should give any other notes you have on the story as well.”

Interesting on so many levels. First of all, a script? What the hell? Kar Wai legendarily does not use scripts, so that was a shock. Also, it appears we are moving forward. I had been convinced the axe was going to fall any day and we were abandoning the project, so this was news as well. Most of all, though, I was beyond flattered to be asked for notes. My hero wanted my creative input? Very little could have happened that would make me happier. I sat down at my laptop to see what he had written with great anticipation.

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