Chapter 7: The First Real Death
|After wrapping on another
gruelling shoot, Marie, took Rob and a couple of others back to the
accommodation in the Land Rover. She was travelling at a fair speed on the long
dusty road when suddenly a child ran out into the road right in her path. She
spun the wheel, just avoiding the child, but instead, the Land Rover’s sturdy
and ironically named ‘ bull bars’ ploughed into a cow at the side of the road.
|Then a truly disturbing
scene unfolded where the poor cow tried it’s best to get up only for its
insides to drop out onto the dusty road below. This poor animal’s life was
clearly over and it was yet another of many sickening events that would be
endured during our time there. The child who had ran out into the road and
caused the swerve scurried off into the night unharmed. I just hoped that
somehow this sudden death saved the animal from some sort of suffering that it
might have encountered had it still been alive.
|We had already seen these
trucks passing us in the streets that had live animals so tightly packed in
them that they could not move an inch. We also kept seeing young men using
donkeys to carry seriously unreasonable loads and these poor creatures would be
beaten so hard and so brutally with sticks that I wanted to stop the car and
show the owner how the end of that stick might feel.
|Earlier in the trip, I had
actually pulled over to say something to a guy who was whipping a donkey that
was already moving as fast as it could, so furiously, I felt it must be
bleeding but I was told by the locals that they believed they were doing the donkey
a favour by beating it like this.
|Apparently, the belief was
that the more a donkey suffered in this life, the higher a being it would
become in its next life, so the guys who are beating their donkeys the most,
are the ones who like their animal the most and, therefore making the effort to
beat them like that. I told them I felt this was utter bull**t, it felt to me
like a misguided belief to allow such cruelty but what do I know. Either way
there would be nothing we could do. I found things like this weighed heavily on
me and from then on, I simply couldn’t look anymore and I hoped that the cow
that had been killed was somehow saved from this sort of prolonged fate.
Knowing how things were on ‘The Dead’ though, that animal was probably about to
win cow-of-the-year had it got to the other side of the road and would have
been treated to a life of pampering and love with as much fresh grass as it
could ever dream of!
|Marie had finally come back
with good news after a phone call. There was another sound guy and he would
come to the village where we would shoot the next day to meet us. I asked if he
could bring his kit so we could actually test him with a recording. It was ‘no
|The whole crew were tuned in
to this need for a sound recordist and many had been calling their own contacts
to get someone on board. We all found it bizarre how we could not get anyone.
So when this guy turned up on set we all gathered round. This man could be our
hero, he might just be the catalyst for us to be able to move with this thing
so we can get on with our lives.
|The bad news was he
hadn’t brought his sound recorder, but that was ok because he could
get one locally from a TV studio that existed. He had brought a
microphone though and he proceeded to take this out of its case. The
fact it was in a case, that was also in good condition created a
sense of optimism. My heart sank as it was revealed. It was the type
of microphone you would use for a Karaoke machine. If we were to
record dialogue with this, not only would it have to be in shot but
it would have to be within an inch of the actor’s mouth to actually
pick up the sound.
|Maybe we could be the first film to only show the actors eyes when they
spoke? They do say either ‘be the first or be the best’, and we were still in
with a chance of being the first…
|Whilst we were still open
mouthed, he added, with Marie translating, that even this didn’t have a power
supply as it was a studio mic and needed some other kit to come with it. If you
had asked me to describe the most unsuitable microphone in the world, this
could have been it. It was embarrassing and I wished the rest of the crew were
not around to see it.
|He told us that if we
described the type of microphone we needed he would get someone from another
city to send it by bus. Somehow this didn’t fill me with optimism and I felt
that our Oscar for best sound was looking less likely by the minute. But
anything is worth a go so Jon and I agreed on a particular microphone as being
the best all rounder and he would make a call.
|The microphone is only one
piece of the puzzle; it’s like needing a car and sending someone off to get
some wheels. We needed a recorder, a mixer, cables, a boom pole and all sorts
of other widgets if we wanted this done right. Even then we needed a human
being with expertise who would record the sound with subtlety and precision.
|There had been a clue
somewhere in what he’d said earlier. There was a TV station somewhere. Surely
all we would have to do was get to this place and find their top guy. If this
guy came up with the goods in the meantime he would be our man. If not, we
couldn’t afford to wait for the bus.
|Lucky we didn’t as no
microphone turned up on any bus as far as we were aware. We did track down the
TV studio though, but it turns out they did not have the type of portable
system we needed. It seemed like we were at another brick wall when someone
said there was a French guy living locally who had a DAT machine. Perfect. More
calls were made and Marie arranged that we would meet him that night and even
record some sound.
|Having found his house over
what seemed like a motocross course, he and his wife seemed very pleasant and
sitting inside the living room of their house was indeed some good looking
sound kit. They all chatted for a while in French while I smiled politely. Then
Marie said ‘This is the equipment you can hire, but the machine is not working’
‘What?’. They then went on to explain that because of the heat of Africa, it
stretches the small elastic band inside and as result it is not pulling the
|The man saw the look on my
face then started explaining something in French that seemed to come with the
demonstration of a screwdriver and the words ‘No problem’ this part was in
English and directed at me. If only he’d known my feelings about ‘No problem’
he’d have left that one out.
|Marie translated that it
would be ok because he happened to know that in the market that opens at 8am
the next day, they sell a particular brand of tape recorder and if you take the
tape recorder apart, inside will be the exact same band that is needed to make
this machine work. His wife would go to the market to get it and he will have
it fixed by the evening. It all sounded so unlikely.
|He showed me the band
that he had taken out of his machine and it was a thin black band
the size of my fingernail. That’s the amazing thing about
filmmaking, you can have thousands of things in place, but something
the size of your fingernail can grind it to a halt. For a moment I
thought about our investors and how they might feel if they could
see me in this ridiculous situation – an entire cast and crew at a
standstill and me as Producer/Director stuck in a translated meeting
about a possible elastic band.
|We went along with it
though but, on the drive back to the apartment, we both aired our
views on what could go wrong. I was sure that the market would have
sold out of that brand or the one inside would already be stretched
but we went back the next day and, not only had they got the tape
recorder, but the plan had worked and the DAT machine was up and
|Not only that but
they had some good microphones, including the exact model of
microphone Jon and I had requested. I got them to record some
sound and it was so great hearing my voice come back crisp and
clear when they played it back.
victories were small but it would keep us in the battle.
Sound one small victory
|DRAINED & DAMAGED
|Five weeks after the
intended start date, when the van loaded with our equipment, props and attached
generator arrived after Amuda’s heroic 5 day round trip, not only was it damaged
but the generator had been drained of oil, the radio had been ripped
out, and a few other items were missing.
|The most devastating
of issues was the fact that the generator looked like someone had
taken a sledgehammer to it.
soundproof housing was so badly damaged it would have required a lot of welding
and we simply didn’t have the time or connections to fix this. It was even
beyond Jon’s capabilities with the limited tools available.
|This meant that rather than
the silent generator needed for recording sound, even with every single piece
of cabling we had, including hiding the generator behind vehicles or trees,
even putting it downwind, it’s engine could still be heard when we were
|Having gone through such
huge efforts to even be able to record sound, now we had yet another dimension
of frustration as it then meant that we could only record dialogue during the
day when we were using reflector boards only and other times we would have to
post-sync the sound (re-record the dialogue with actors in a sound booth during
post-production, also known as ADR). ADR is no good for performance and it was
an additional cost we could not afford.
|On top of this, we found
that the old prop car was also adding to the problems. It had taken us weeks to
purchase and several meetings with a local chief where we had to bond with him
by eating peanuts before we could even discuss cost. This rickety car looked
exactly how we wanted it to. It had character but it also gave us audio
problems and even when we were not running the generator, no matter how much we
padded it out to lessen the engine noise, it was still too loud for our actors
to be heard talking in it.
Also, the vibration from the
engine would cause our video assist monitor to go off, which meant we could
never play back even a guide of the scene to see if we had got what we needed.
Now a lot of movies use
back-projection, where the actors are not even moving and in fact, they are in
a studio with either a blue or green screen for the landscape to be added in
post-production or an actual projection of the landscape played during the
shoot. The believers in this process argue that you can direct your actors this
way. This may be true but, every time I see this glaringly obvious technique on
screen, I’m not even watching the actors. I’m too busy watching how bad the
back-projection is and pissed off because the actor who is driving seems
compelled to shake the steering wheel back and forth like a four year old!
We didn’t come all the way
to Africa to add backgrounds later and we, perhaps naively, hoped that people
might appreciate the little things like ‘real driving’ in an age where so much
is faked. Jon had physically hand-built and welded a very good car mount from
scratch for these sequences, so we were determined to make it work and as Jon
& I often said, if we’re the only ones that appreciate it, it will still
have been worth it.
So, swallowing our words,
the closest we could get to directing these moments were practising a scene
with the car stationary, then physically pushing it ourselves until Rob or
Prince shouted ‘finished’. Then, gasping for breath and, if it was a long
scene, near heart attack stage, asking Rob & Prince how it went. We hadn’t
had production situations this bad since our short films more than two decades
Pushing the car
|The car also created a
problem of a very different kind. We would park it up at the accommodation then
the next morning it wouldn’t work again. A member of the local crew told us
surreptitiously that another local crew member was sabotaging the car in the
night and had a 50-50 split deal with the local mechanic.
|If that’s true, I would
rather they had just come to me for the money as the mechanic cost was nothing
compared to the fact we would lose several hours each morning having it sorted
and then having to compromise our shots or lose much needed action sequences.
|We had a big action sequence
to do early on in the film with a hell of a lot of shots and set-ups and it
soon became apparent to me that even getting a fraction of the action we had
wanted, would be near impossible. It seemed to take hours just to get one extra
to walk from point A to point B in the way the scene required, let alone
capture the complex mayhem I had in my head for the scene. It felt like water
through my fingers, I just couldn’t get the first shot in the can.
|Firstly we’re in a French
speaking country and Jon & I hardly know a word of French between us. In
any case, we have now found out that actually only 1 or 2 people at the most in
any rural village know French either. Sometimes there are no French speakers at
|There are, however, a lot of
local languages, so to direct people, I have to talk to our French speaker, who
goes to the nominated local French speaker, who also understands the local
language and that person passes on my instructions to the recruited villages as
to where to stand, how to act etc and these are people who have often never
seen a camera before, let alone understand the concept of acting, or indeed
have any acting ability.
|It was totally alien to
these people but I was hugely appreciative that they at least gave it a shot.
We could expect nothing more than that and, even though the process was at
least 20 times slower than any normal production, I started to find, with
patience and persistence, eventually we would get a shot here and a shot there
that would be usable and I developed new techniques for ‘cheating’ people into
accidentally doing something that looked like convincing acting.
|CUT THE MONEY SHOT
|Having taken from 6pm
to nearly 4am to get our first action shot in the village that night
and this had involved one hut burning out of control, it was only
moments after calling cut that I realised there was a another real
panic. The sequence had involved a truck full of soldiers entering
the village to pick up survivors and eliminate any attacking Zombies
and we were just about to re-set, to get an angle that would show
the number of soldiers we had in the truck. A ‘money shot’ as it’s
known and I wanted as many of these as we could physically get, as I
wanted the films budget to look far bigger than it actually was.
|However, for some
reason the person that had been nominated to drive this huge army
vehicle seemed to have no control over it whatsoever and not only
would it never end up where we wanted it to be for the focus or
angle, the driver had slammed the brakes on so hard in the last take
that it had sent all the soldier-extras flying into the metallic
back panels and one poor guy had sliced his hand open right to the
bone. It looked like a serious injury and blood was pumping
|Anne who was due to play a
doctor in an upcoming sequence seemed to forget she was not a real doctor and
ran in there to tie up the flow of blood with a piece of material. This was
incredibly noble but then someone reminded Anne of the possible dangers of what
she was doing and a strange scene unfolded where everyone wanted to help this
guy but no one wanted to get covered in his blood. It was an extremely odd and
heart-wrenching moment but soon his wounds were carefully wrapped up and I
found someone who would rush him to hospital.
|It sounds merciless, but the
show really does have to go on. Quite understandably no one wanted to get back
into the flailing truck so that was the first of many ‘money shots’ that would
never make it from script to screen. It’s painful enough to have had all these
soldiers in the truck on-set and for the image never to have made it to screen
but to have someone seriously injured to achieve it and you still don’t get the
shot, well that’s the type of insult on top of our injuries that we would have
to get used to.
Village hut burns out of control
|The actor who we had cast to
play Daniel’s son, Gael Hamma, had been waiting on location the previous day
and with everything against us we could not get around to his scene so we
deferred it until the next day. The trouble was that when we were finally ready
for him we were told he was too ill to shoot. He had Typhoid, which can be
pretty serious, and he was unwell for another week so we had to change the
schedule again. There were very few moments where we could actually shoot what
we had down on the schedule.
|Having insisted that the man
who was injured had received the best care possible which, of course we would
pay for, I asked to meet him a couple of days later to make sure he was really
fine. His hand was indeed all stitched up and through the translator I told him
how sorry we were and what he felt would be adequate compensation for his
injury. Amazingly he not only said he didn’t want any money, but that he wanted
to say sorry to me for ruining the filming and causing delay. It almost broke
|I insisted it was the other
way round and perused the matter until the translator was able to tell me how
much he needed to feed him and his family per month. It was an alarmingly low
figure so I quadrupled it and handed him the cash. It sounds crazy but the guy
couldn’t believe his luck. This was one person who should be angry with me, he
had every right to be but, instead, he’s almost passing out with joy and
shaking my hand so hard I’m worried it might split open again.
|We discovered that locally,
some people were working up to 12 hour shifts loading and unloading 40kg bags
of rice for the equivalent of 1 US dollar a day. Surely if we were to pay people
at least 5 to 10 times this ‘daily rate’, plus feed them, not only will we be
bringing cash into the local economy but we will also have ourselves a very
happy cast of extras.
|And that’s exactly what
happened. In fact Chamberlin and his guys simply had to drive into town in a
pick-up truck and announce the word and they would come back with a load of
potential Zombies. We then further discovered that we didn’t have to cast
anyone at all. Simply the act of parking somewhere and setting up our equipment
resulted in a vast number of people emerging from behind trees and bushes, very
willing to be a part of the film. It was bizarre.
Loading rice bags
|SELLING YOUR FILM – THE
|If you choose to make a
film, once you have gone through the effort of actually completing one, the fun
|Films are sold much like
a market like Cannes, AFM (American Film Market) and many others. They are a
bit like fruit and vegetables markets but with films and slightly sexier, due
to the actors and models hoping to get ‘discovered’ there.
|Films are generally sold
by Sales Agents who are basically like estate agents (Realters in the US) but
they take much higher commission and are often more highly skilled in bulls**t.
|Commission varies around
15 – 25% and there are often ‘market expenses’ on top. (Marketing expenses are
either funding for the publicity that will help advertise the sale of your
film, plus a portion of the company’s expenses in getting to market in the
first place or an opportunity to extract more money from your film. Usually a
bit of both)
|The idea is that these
agents have ‘booths’ at the various markets where ‘Buyers’ (the industry term
for distributors) make appointments to come and see them to see what ‘product’
(The term for your film that you have sweated your creative lifeblood on) they
can buy for far less than it’s actually worth.
|Buyers (who wear
special colour coded buyers badges so they can be hassled more by
agents desperate to make a sale) often sit on couches in these
booths and seem to grunt their way through a series of trailers much
like they are at a crematorium with their mother in the furnace.
Occasionally watching a few minutes of a film that they feel they
can sell in their particular country, rarely they make an offer on a
film; sometimes they just come for the free sweets in the bowl at
|As a filmmaker, you
shouldn’t really be around this stuff. Markets and market screenings are not pretty
at all. It’s functional and you should be spared the way things are done. Let’s
put it this way, just because you find bottoms sexy that doesn’t mean you’d
enjoy spending an hour or two as a toilet. There are certain things that spoil
|As I say to my film
students, if you are brave enough to come to a market with a film and attend
meetings, the only item you really need to take with you to a distribution
meeting is a condom. You’re going to get screwed whatever happens so you may as
well do it safely!
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