Chapter 8: Sacrifice
It’s not everyday that a real cannibal visits your set but we were filming a scene in some corn in a remote location where Murphy ends up a little lost and is attacked by one of the dead. I noticed behind me a guy had ridden past on a bicycle staring at us with a big toothy grin. After calling cut on a shot, our translator beckoned me over saying I must meet this guy on the bike.
Having shaken his hand the translator went on to tell us excitedly how this man eats people but only if they are already dead and not too decomposed. He had spotted our white eyed Zombies and loved the idea of the flesh-eating living dead!
I remembered seeing this cannibal laughing with our translator as he eyed the crew and it turned out that he had commented that he had never tried ‘white meat’ but would quite like to if he got the chance. I tried to laugh along with this but it was by now getting dark at this point and we were in the middle of nowhere. It was an ominous and uneasy feeling that’s quite hard to explain.
We came back to the accommodation just before night fully closed in to find a smelly, but in my eyes, quite sweet looking goat tied up outside. It’s desperately trying to reach some grass a short distance away so I rip some up and drop it in front of it. It’s been such a hot day and this poor thing looks so thirsty, so I pour what’s left of my water bottle onto the dry mud in front of it and for a moment it laps away.

Leke and Chamberlin
Then I walk inside and see Leke in the kitchen sharpening a huge knife with a big smile on his face. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. He turns to me with such glee on his face he was almost salivating ‘I am going to kill the goat and we will have a feast’. ‘Oh, please don’t’.
He already knew my reaction as he had heard me comment about the poor cows stuffed in vehicles we kept seeing on the road. ‘He added ‘I will cut its throat with one perfect cut, and I will feel the warm blood on my hands and we will celebrate’. He demonstrated the cutting movement he would make with his huge arms and he laughed a deep guttural laugh, which struck me as ominous in the semi-darkness. (Incidentally, Leke also plays the Zombie that bursts into the hut early in the film and bites the throat of the boy’s mother and we cut back to him munching, also in the semi darkness).
I wondered if he was joking, or maybe had lost his mind as he continued to sharpen the knife and chuckle to himself. A small part of me became concerned it might be some strange sort of threat and I worried that perhaps I would meet my end at the mercy of that very knife if production conditions got any worse.
I wasn’t the only one against killing that goat, Rob was particularly against it which is perhaps not surprising given his vegan status. Even when Murphy and Daniel are eating a chicken in the campfire scene, Rob is actually tucking into a can of braised Tofu I had carried with me especially.
Rob came to me and said ‘I don’t want them killing that thing here, we should let it go’. I agreed, but then Leke overheard our plot and assured us, ‘This is Africa, this is how we do things’ and he was not wrong. He walked out of there with that knife and he did slit its throat.
Then he and the local gaffer, Hamidu, chopped it into several pieces and for days the entire place stank of goat meat. The locals absolutely loved it, including Prince, but I could not escape the smell and there seemed to be bits of goat wrapped up in paper everywhere in the kitchen. I opened a cupboard to look for something to eat and there was a bloodied leg with its skin ripped off and a muddy paw sticking out. 
It wasn’t too long after arriving in Bobo Dioulasso that Rob’s personality started to change. No longer was he full of the joys of spring. Instead, he started to find fault in everything and would argue about the smallest of things. It didn’t matter what subject was being discussed, Rob would disagree and have a reason your belief was wrong.
It started quite dramatically with a huge outburst of anger when he was not part of a trip into town, to check email. Mainly because, the moment you announced you were going into town people descended on the car so fast there would never be any seats left, regardless of status or rank. Rightly or wrongly it became a first come first served affair otherwise it was extremely difficult to manage. His reaction to this was so extreme he was simply inconsolable.
He had now gone from the most upbeat and encouraging person you could ever have wished to meet, to this guy who would go around with an evil stare, the likes of which I had not witnessed before. I felt like at any minute, he might launch at me with such a fury that the last thing I would see was Rob’s grimace as the very life force was strangled from me. It was quite scary.
It was now the night of the Doctor scene and Rob had not, as far as I recall uttered a word the whole night. Instead he would stare into space with that icy stare, something was very wrong with him.
It was now very late as we had already done some shots of the villagers fleeing Zombies and now Jon and his guys were setting up lighting in the hut that we chose for the scene. Jon actually seemed to be in a good mood, as the generator and lights were all working and he and his guys were doing their thing, and I knew this meant the scene was going to look great. Suddenly Marie and some others ran up saying, Rob’s hallucinating. ‘He’s seeing things that are not there and saying all sorts of weird stuff’!

Zombies in the dark
So I ran round to the vehicles and found Rob rocking back and forth inside the sleeping bag that he had brought, mumbling something incoherent. I said, ‘hey Rob are you ok?’ as I pulled back the piece of material covering his face.
He was staring at something that wasn’t there about a foot or so in front of his face, entranced ‘the pins’ he said ‘I’ve just got to get away from the pins’. That said it all. Anyone who was qualified in the medical field would have been able to deduce that this man had officially gone bonkers.
‘It’s definitely Malaria’, said one or two of the gathered crowd. This is apparently one of the first signs. I turned and looked up at other local faces that nodded back with grave certainty. ‘We need to get him to hospital right now’ Marie said.
I shook Rob out of his reverie to tell him what was going to happen. As I called his name, leaning right over his face he suddenly looked at me as if I was a lost child that he had just managed to find in a crowded place ‘There you are’ he said. Suddenly all of his new found anger made sense. He’d been fighting this thing.
The trouble is, a big part of his fighting tactics seemed to be denial. He would not admit to being ill and no matter how much I insisted, he was not going to come to hospital and he categorically refused to accept that he was ill; it was just ‘weakness leaving the body’. He was going to do that scene we had come here to do, no matter what. He would not be beaten by it.
It was quite amazing that he was able to stand, let alone perform a scene with multiple takes over several hours that also required an emotional range. The moment we cut he would slump down into a chair rocking back and forth in what looked like severe agony, shaking and sweating. We kept trying to cart him off but he would not have any of it. He would not move from that place until the scene was done and he would not let me call off the shoot. I couldn’t help being impressed by that.
There is no doubt that it affected his performance in this scene and I would estimate that about 80% of his energy must have been used to stop himself shaking. Its just a pity that he was never able to get out that powerful emotive performance that he’d once practiced whilst waiting for the shipment to come in.
What happened next was utterly horrible. It wasn’t the usual back-to-your-trailer for a foot massage that most actors hope for following a scene. Instead Rob would spend the next 10 hours lying on a doctors table covered in his own s**t. No longer could he back up his story that this was just ‘weakness leaving the body’.
Malaria is the world’s biggest killer and not to be underestimated. By the time we could get Rob to hospital, he had completely lost control of himself and could not even lift himself out of the car. The further problem was that he was by no means the only person going through this and there were no beds left anywhere. Anne, who had now taken on the real life persona of her doctor character, along with Marie, had to stay with Rob through the night whilst he was put on various drips.
We had barely got going and we were now without our lead actor or our production manager to help line anything else up. On top of this, it was only a couple of days later when the military would turn up for their locked down 2 days. This un-movable date had been lined up since our meeting in Paris six months ago and would be our most expensive two days of the whole shoot.
Not only this, but we had another actor, David Dontoh flying in from Ghana for just a few days to do a key scene that Rob was an essential part of. David was a famous Ghanaian actor who had been in many international movies. We had worked with him on a Guinness commercial a few years back and he had been the very first person in line from the beginning. In our minds we’d cast him before we even knew which role he would play. This had become the chief of a village where they take refuge during their journey.
The news came back that Rob had advanced stages of Malaria and would have to stay in hospital for at least five days, and, even after that, he wouldn’t be able to do anything strenuous for some time. Apparently if he had not been treated he would have been dead within three days, possibly two.
It was another huge blow. We had only just got going following the arrival of our van and equipment. Now we were heading towards a brick wall on several key scenes. We couldn’t postpone and we couldn’t shoot the scenes either.

David Dontoh and Prince
I called Amir, who was back in the UK, so he could get onto the insurance. He must have hated it when I called him as it always meant disaster of some kind or the urgent need for money but he always remained encouraging. I would have loved to call through with some good news but there simply never was any.
As a filmmaker proudly clutching your first film, if you do end up attending a series of meetings at these film market booths with a view to getting your film sold, this can be an exciting and nerve wracking time. Which company should you choose to sell your baby? You need to be very careful. You’re in with the sharks now.
Let me TRANSLATE a typical meeting for you:
AGENT ‘We’ve watched your film. We love it. And I already know that with our connections, particularly our relationship with X distributor (they will insert the name of any big impressive distributor here, normally someone like Sony), we can not only sell it extremely quickly but we feel we can get you X number of theatres and also the finance for your next movie. What would you like to make next?.
TRANSLATION: ‘I fast forwarded 5 minutes of your film, I don’t get it and I don’t give a crap whether it’s any good or not. It exists as a product which is good enough for me and I noticed there was a pair of tits in one frame and a gun in another so we can probably shift it and, frankly, we need any film we can get right now so we can pay our expenses to keep going to Cannes and eating in nice restaurants. We will get you straight to DVD deals at best, for far less money than it cost you to make the film but at least, if I dangle the carrot of your next movie, you’ll be so distracted by the possibility of your dream as a filmmaker actually coming true that you’ll by the time you discover it was all bulls**t, we’ll be onto the next loser and I’ll have milked your hard earned efforts dry and I won’t even be taking your calls’
Halfway through this meeting, watch out for the bit where they call a colleague over and say in a ‘thinking out loud’ manner:
AGENT: ‘What do you think about calling Bob at Warner Brothers? I had lunch with him the other day and I think we could line something up with him and I know he’s looking for that genre of movie right now. They also represent X (they will insert name if A-list actor) we should look at getting him attached as the star of your new movie.’
TRANSLATION: ‘I have no intention of calling anyone at all, I just want you to think I know people in big companies so you are sufficiently impressed enough to sign with us. I have never had lunch with Bob and even if I did manage to have lunch with him, the only thing I’m going to talk about is my own script that I wrote in 1972 that no one is ever going to make because its out-dated shit and I’m so angry that I never got to be a filmmaker, which is why I can sleep at night whilst ripping filmmakers off who have actually managed to make something. And as for the A-list actor, that was just the most famous actor I could think of at the time, they are so in-demand right now you’d have more chance of casting the queen in a movie called ‘scat wars 3’.
Welcome to the movie business!
I received a text from Rob’s girlfriend Mel, who was back home and had gotten news of Rob’s potentially fatal situation. She was quite-rightly very concerned about the way he was being treated and then a text came threatening that she might fly in and come and take him home. I’ve known Mel for many years. She is a very sweet lady, and also very experienced in the film industry, and I knew she had to be seriously worried to send a message like this.
I’m pretty certain this was not the desired effect but, for a moment, I loved the idea and for a while I genuinely hoped she would do exactly that. It would have been a huge responsibility off my shoulders but, apparently, Rob talked her out of it and in hindsight I’m glad of it.
Jon and I then sat down and started re-writing the scenes, including taking Rob’s character Murphy out of the scene where they meet the Chief in the village and adding in an explanatory sequence where he has a fever. This is something that started to happen more and more. In fact as time went on we would have these anti-creative sessions where we would figure out what we could cut from the script so long as the film could still hang together. It was very depressing.
One of the scenes to go was one of my personal favourites where Murphy would encounter a huge military unit on his travels whilst carrying a baby he had rescued from a dying mother. There would be confusion, as they didn’t speak the same language, and Murphy would think they were taking his weapons and supplies before killing him, but really they were replenishing them for him before departing company. I had ideas on how this would be shot to make it powerful and tense and I was sorry to see it go.
We had also flown in our good friend from Nigeria Tolu Ajayi who was perfect for the military leader as he had a real presence. Another famous local actor called Gerrard has been cast as one of the key military roles where there would be a stand off between him and Murphy. Gerrard was originally one of the actors we considered for the role of Daniel (Eventually played by Prince). It was a bit of a consolation prize giving him this military role with a bunch of dialogue. He had travelled many hours to stay at the apartment, and I even caught him alone rehearsing for the scene but didn’t have the time to tell him he needn’t bother.

The real military
In the end, we just did shots of the military unit driving along shooting Zombies, and picking up civilians, which at least prevented losing all that money. Even that wouldn’t be without its stresses. Although many of the military including all the vehicle drivers were real, we had filled out the rest of the space with local extras who would have to hold real AK47 machine guns and fire blanks into the fields either side.
Firing blanks is still notoriously dangerous, as fragments, or worse, pieces of solid matter could get stuck inside the barrel and then the blank would almost be as good as a real bullet. Many people have been killed this way. The extras were already finding our made up Zombies scattered around highly amusing so it inadvertently created a situation that felt like a bit of fun.
Chamberlin and I had walked back and forth up and down the military trucks with a loud hailer but, no matter how many times we asked them not to point the guns at anyone or laugh during the take they still did it. Maybe it didn’t help that Chamberlin was also dressed as a Zombie, which perhaps didn’t help them take things seriously.
We did another take and this time some of them pointed the guns directly at all of us around the camera and the camera itself with yet more laughter. Chamberlin knew what to do. He announced that if one person did this again, not a single person would receive payment. We got the take. That was the way things worked.
We were also learning how frenzied these large groups could be. This became apparent when the girls brought out some ice chests with water for them. It was not a case of everyone would get a drink in an orderly fashion. The moment they caught sight of anything like that, it would be stormed and emptied in nano seconds, with people grabbing as many as they could even if some got none. We had a whole load of those small blue plastic coated cooler cubes and they even drank those. One guy had two! 
There was one more shot I really wanted and that was to have the military trucks driving off as the sun set behind them. We had the most gorgeous of sunsets and although getting the trucks in the right position had not been easy, I had finally lined up an angle that would have allowed the flare from the sun to wash in and out of shot as the trucks passed by in silhouette. It looked amazing through the lens and I knew that the dust that would be kicked up by the trucks would add some real natural beauty to it. The whole day would have been worth it just for that shot. It would be a million dollar moment.
However, as soon as I called action, one of the main trucks in the middle conked out. It had run out of fuel. I heard someone say the front truck would go for fuel in a nearby garage.  I watched the sun disappear behind the horizon.
It's hard to put into words the disappointment a filmmaker experiences when a moment like this slips past you. It’s a moment you know in your heart you will never capture. It’s gone forever.  It’s deeply unsatisfying and this shoot had more of those moments than the rest of my career so far had put together.
The famous local actor Gerrard, who had now not done anything except a short sequence where he ran over to a couple of female survivors, pointed at one to board the truck, and shot another who was injured. It was all done on a long shot and the fleeting moment I had talked to him to give him direction for the scene, had been drowned out by Jon screaming at me to get on with it, as if I was just having a casual chat.
Gerrard came up to me afterwards a little bewildered and said in broken English ‘I er, I never say my lines no?’. I hesitated for a moment ‘er… no’ I said with an apologetic expression. I didn’t have the energy any more. I felt sorry for him. He was another casualty of the shoot and from his expression it looked like he would experience the same creative disappointment I had. His moment in time never captured. 
Bizarrely the real army turned up halfway through the shoot, which is not surprising considering the amount of AK47’s going off probably sounded like a military coup. It then turns out that a few hundred yards away behind some trees was the president’s house. He wasn’t there at the time luckily, otherwise we might have been shot at before they asked for our paperwork.  We were prevented from doing any further shooting but we sneaked a few shots off to finish the scene and we had to blast one more magazine from an AK before quickly getting the hell out of there before the police came back.
The stress of all these situations had clearly affected Jon and his outbursts were becoming more frequent. He was in a dark place emotionally and this became tough to deal with let alone anything else. I think he’d forgotten our original conversation about how we would do this thing together as brothers sharing the responsibility, at one point, whilst writing the script we were even going to share responsibility 50-50.
He started to lay down laws, which if not adhered to, would mean he would not even get the camera out. One of them was to do with meals and went like this: He announced that he required a minimum of 2 hours digesting time following his evening meal, a little more if a big meal. Following this digesting time, he would require a minimum of eight hours sleep and, from now on, he would not be woken prior to that. He would also no longer eat anything prepared by our chef, as that would likely make him ill and then he would not get up at all. On top of this, if he got ill one more time he would go home.
I couldn’t believe he would shift this kind of pressure onto me after all that was going on and, all of a sudden, I felt very alone in this process. No longer would I have someone pulling along with me. ‘A problem shared..’  and all that.  In fact I would have to deliver within certain guidelines or else. 
The 8 hours sleep request seems very reasonable if we were in a part of the world where you could obtain edible food at short notice but we could not. I was desperately trying to stay on some sort of schedule so we could all go home as intended and sometimes that meant getting up early even if we had eaten late.
Furthermore, at the end of each shooting day, naturally Chamberlin and Marie would have to communicate to the many local people involved what time we wanted them to turn up the next day and, of course, they came to me for that answer. They must have thought I was unable to make a decision as I stood there trying to work out how long it might take to wrap the equipment, fold up al the cables, adding on how long the journey was to the restaurant, plus allowing, 1 hour for the food to turn up, two hours digesting time plus eight hours later for sleep, plus another hour to get the crew out of the accommodation and, finally, add the amount of time it would take to drive back to the location and that would have to be our ‘call time’.
Then what would happen was that I would calculate a time that then got communicated down the line to 20, 30 or more people. Then we would suffer an inevitable delay of some kind leaving the location or getting to the restaurant, and then I’d be stuck between pleading with Jon to try and shave an hour off his sleep requirements or digestion time, verses us being forced into a situation where we would either be late the next day, or asking Marie and Chamberlin to call everyone up again and tell them we actually needed them to come later.
It also often meant that we could not even get to set until mid morning and, as a result, we would only have a certain amount of daylight in which to shoot and would therefore have to further compromise a scene or face going over schedule again. I felt like we were chasing our tails.
Before anyone thinks Jon’s demands are actually unreasonable, in truth, having this much rest and decent food would simply be standard on almost any production. If this were a ‘Union’ shoot in Los Angeles, for causing my crew to endure the kind of conditions they had been working under, I would be strung upside down and my nuts beaten repeatedly with a rubber pipe (that’s not the official punishment for breaking union rules but it would hurt just as much).
If you are a filmmaker with a movie that has no famous actors in it, the likelihood is you will ignore all my advice and ‘sign’ your movie to the agent that gives you the highest amount of fictional money in their sales estimates. You will look at these sales reports and fantasise about what you are going to do when you get to roll around in all that money and how your investors will lift you up on their shoulders a hero, the kid with the golden touch. But hold on a second.
This conversation is coming after that big ‘launch market’ you and your new agent were so excited about:
AGENT: ‘I’m afraid it was a disappointing market. We love your movie but the buyers don’t get it. If it had Steven Seagal in it we would have been ok. There’s also been a downturn in the market. We do have one offer from Uruguay and Saudi Arabia and someone considering it from Korea but the advances don’t quite cover the marketing expenses, in fact we are a few thousand short but, don’t worry we wont charge you and we are VERY excited about the next market...’
Keep that champagne on ice just a little longer. After the next market they have probably ‘broken even’ on the marketing expenses but you are not quite due your first dollar. ‘But don’t worry, we have been offered a great deal with a really good distributor who is so in love with your film they are divorcing their wife to distribute it, and whilst there is no advance money, they are going to split the profits 50-50 with you and all we have to do is cut a new trailer and make a new poster and it’s only going to cost you $25,000…’ By this part of the conversation, it doesn’t matter what’s said next as all you can think about is how that dodgy investor with mafia connections you managed to persuade to back your movie is going to hobble you with a hammer like that guy from ‘Misery’.
While I’m at it, never, EVER take the 50-50 split with no advance money. If they are not advancing any money they either don’t think your film is worth any money or they don’t have any money and, therefore even if your film does make money they will use it to pay for their staff, who probably haven’t had a pay check in 6 months.
If you sign this deal, you will not see a penny. Don’t you dare!

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