A Scouting Life: Peaks and Valleys

November 20, 2009 | Sam Hutchins

After we finished at the pizzeria we pushed a little further out of downtown Detroit. We really were in some impoverished areas. I felt a great sense of responsibility for my companions. Everywhere they went was someplace I took them and they were the farthest thing from safety-conscious. Typically I would pull the truck over and Kar Wai would spring out of it and start rapidly striding off. He could go in any direction and easily get lost. As he was the real artist and the reason we were there I felt most responsible for him.

While he moved quickly, however, Stephane and Darius took forever getting in motion. Kar Wai could be damn near a mile away before they found their hats and gloves, stretched, checked their cameras, chatted a bit, grabbed a piece of fruit, and finally left the vehicle. I was constantly trailing Kar Wai but holding back, waiting for them to leave the vehicle so I could lock it. God forbid either of them ever pay the slightest bit of attention to practical matters. Were I not on top of it those two would wander off with the car doors ajar in even the worst neighborhood. It may seem petty but when you spend months travelling with people and are the only responsible party the resentments do build up.

I trailed Kar Wai down a side street but it turned out to be a dead end. As we returned to the truck we saw Darius shooting an extremely run-down restaurant. It was a pretty ghetto Chinese joint. As we approached he called out to me.

“Sam, can you see if I can take pictures inside?”

I had just started to move when Kar Wai placed a hand on my shoulder to stop me. I can’t say he looked angry but it’s the closest I’ve ever seen him to being so.

“No Chinese. Not in this movie.”

Darius and I made eye contact and held it for a moment. We wordlessly agreed to discuss that one privately.

Moving on, we saw a fairly interesting spot called the Hygrade Deli. In addition to being a potential location it had neon signs advertising hot corned beef. Even though Kar Wai didn’t want Chinese in his film every possible meal we ate was Chinese food. If I had a shot at a nice corned beef sandwich I was taking it.

Inexplicably the doors were locked. Odd, as it was around lunchtime and the place was lit up like it was Christmas. After knocking for a while an older fellow came to the door. He was convinced we were there to rob him. Who knows, perhaps there had been a string of burglaries committed by an American, a Chinese, a Frenchman and an Iranian guy recently. It took a good ten minutes of speaking through a locked door to convince him to open up and let us in. Even when we did he would only let us just inside the door. Clearly I wasn’t getting that sandwich. Things must really be rough in Detroit.

In another of those wildly frustrating moments, Kar Wai took a few steps inside, looked around, shook his head no and strode wordlessly out the door. It’s understandable that a Director needs to have a look at a place before knowing if it is of interest to them. Of course they do. The thing is, the façade of the Hygrade was all glass. There was not a thing about the place that couldn’t be seen from outside. Yet Kar Wai had been rather insistent that I get him in. So I tapdanced for ten minutes, finally convincing some scared old fellow to open up and let us inside, only to have Kar Wai bail immediately. Now my director was legging it quickly down the block and I was stuck making our excuses. How do you quickly and politely explain why you are leaving so quickly after badgering the guy so hard and so long to open up for us.? Harder still when I don’t actually know why.

Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys. Just when they knock you down they build you back up. In the car again Kar Wai addressed me.

“Sam, if you were not doing this, what would you do?”

“I don’t know. I like to write.”

“No, you would be a detective. You would make a great detective.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You talk to people, all kinds of people, and find out what you want to. And you can handle yourself in any situation. This is very good.”

What a wonderful compliment to receive; especially from someone I admired as much as him. Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys.

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