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.”