Chapter 9: The Accused
There was a ‘meeting’ amongst the crew and at breakfast the next day, it was brought to my attention by what appeared to be a newly formed ‘committee’ that a couple of days off that had been ‘promised’ had not been ‘forthcoming’, and I stood accused.
This, after we had all sat around for nearly two weeks at the beginning of it all essentially having an all expenses paid holiday (admittedly an extremely dull vacation, but we had not been shooting at least) partly funded by my frequent trips to the nearest ATM to empty my personal accounts. It felt like an assault.
Could they not see what was hitting us moment by moment? I couldn’t believe I had turned down some decent commercial jobs and thrown in my life savings to find myself in this situation. I thought about whoever might have replaced me to direct the ‘sex and the city’ style commercial in the streets of London. Right now he was probably sitting behind a monitor enjoying a cappuccino surrounded by model-types, with a runner asking if there was anything they could do for him. I could hear his laughter echoing in my ears with heaps of post-production reverb. What a f**k-up I had made putting myself in this situation.
A text message came back from Anne, who had just run the second gauntlet back to London via Tripoli with the film stock. It was a good news and bad news moment The message was; ‘have got film 2 lab but NO more film thru Tripoli, they will open ALL cans, do not go there, was nightmare!’. She had apparently had to cry and swear she would lose her job to even get through at all, but at least the film was in the lab.
The bad news was the rest of the film-stock flights that had been scheduled would be money going to waste and we would now have to take all the exposed negative back via Paris, which was almost double the cost per flight.
The relief of the first month’s worth of film being at the lab was a cosy warm feeling and had at least justified some of the pain we had gone through to capture it so far. Most films up until this point processed what they call ‘dailies’, which is basically an overnight processing of everything you have shot that day, for viewing the next day to be sure your camera was working and you were getting all the shots you needed. On this shoot we would have ‘monthlies’!
 
ROBBED
A night shoot followed, that, happened to take place on a Sunday evening. It was the sequence where Prince’s character Daniel would be bitten fatally when Murphy and Daniel set up camp. I had already had a real tough time convincing everyone to leave the accommodation for the shoot and I had since sent 2 separate ‘search parties’ out for food, both coming back empty handed, as all the food establishments were closed. There seemed to be nothing I could do to get the crew fed and I really wanted to spend just a little bit of energy making the shots look nice.
Then a lifeline call came – someone had found a bakery that had a few pastries left over from yesterday. Brilliant, we would not starve. The relief of hearing this gave me the strength to get back in the dirt and scramble around to get the manic hand-held shots of Rob & Prince trying to fight off the dead as they attacked their fragile camp, before we ourselves might be able to get some much needed carbs into us, as it had been at least 8 hours since we had eaten last.
A few shots and about an hour later, a beeping moped turns up out of the darkness with three people loaded on it kicking up dust, one of them clutching and waving paper bags filled with pastries, the other holding a flashlight as a headlamp. They were waved over to the van where a little ‘working lamp’ was set up and everyone piled over and ripped those little bags apart like animals. We all grabbed at whatever we could,
I remember three hands grabbing at one pastry and tearing it apart like it was a rag doll. It was every man for himself and I only ended up with half a croissant and a tiny piece of what looked like an attempt at an Eccles cake but somehow we were stuffing these things in our faces and laughing at the same time. It was so basic but, somehow, quite a joyous moment.
Then a voice came at me from close proximity full of undeniable rage; ‘You F**king C**t!’, I turned slowly, still chewing the last of my Eccles cake, to be confronted by Rob Freeman, standing in the half-light, in his full Murphy gear with his sleeping bag wrapped around him.

Howard stress starting to show
His eyes locked onto me, his lips quivering like he’d finally found the man who had slaughtered his entire family and his 40 year quest had led him to this moment of retribution ‘How F**king dare you’ he went on.
It suddenly dawned on me that Rob was the only pastry-less person in the vicinity, my short-lived smile had already faded and I wanted to reply immediately, perhaps to calm him down but first I was forced to swallow my overzealous mouthful of cake in an awkward and guilty fashion. It probably didn’t help that everyone had gone deadly silent and, as a result, it actually made an audible ‘gulp’ noise as it went down. ‘You stand there stuffing your faces and you don’t even invite me over, it’s disgusting’.
I had assumed the beeping, the dust, the cacophony of noise that had occurred and the fact that everyone had dropped what they were doing and descended on the bags of pastries, had negated the need for an invitation and it honestly hadn’t entered my mind that our lead actor might not be there grabbing at the bags with us. I physically could not have seen who was or wasn’t there and we had all grabbed and torn like NATO had just dropped bags of rice into a famine.
I could tell my genuine attempts to apologise were going to be futile and instead I just stood there while Rob squared up to my face and screamed at me so intensely that I could smell the hunger in his mouth and feel the patter of his spit on my face. I had no idea what he was saying anymore. Instead, I started to think about how interesting this situation was. Here I was standing in this vast wilderness feeling saliva hitting my face from the actor I first saw in Saving Private Ryan. I wondered if Spielberg had ever had to endure such a moment, even early on in his career and perhaps, in some way, I should feel privileged to be standing here enduring this tirade.
No matter what I tried, Rob would not back down. The good thing about this was, Rob’s aggression towards me had helped kick Jon’s brotherly instincts back in and for a moment, he was very much back on my side and even ready for a fight. He jumped down from the van and told Rob his outburst was out-of-order. Even adding, ‘what did he want anyway, a written invitation to dinner?’. Rob ignored this and instead turned and walked away, spending the rest of the night wrapped in his sleeping bag without uttering a single word to anyone.
 
THE SHINING
Emotions always run high during a production situation and the unique dynamics of this one would affect people in different ways. For example, I started to notice Jon would be fixing little electrical items a lot. He was always very good at fixing things. If my toaster went wrong it would be thrown away within moments and a new one would be unveiled, whereas Jon would always find a way of fixing something.
It didn’t matter what it was he would take it apart and figure it out. A great quality of course, and its great having a cameraman on set who can take apart a camera and fix any problems.
However, he had now taken to doing this just as we were about to leave for a shoot. I would be getting people into the cars when I would find him in the corner with his soldering iron fixing an intricate piece of electrical equipment that required precision concentration. Or I would come back to the van on a shoot night and he would be holding a widget of some kind and be saying something like ‘I’ve always wanted to replace the outer coating on this…’. I think it was an escape from the trauma.
This had happened just prior to his outburst on the military shoot. Outside we had what felt like half the Burkina Faso army waiting for us and he had this little video assist camera apart and gave me a ‘shhh, I’m concentrating’ gesture. I wondered if it was a sort of electrical engineer’s version of ‘The Shining’. When I protested, arguing that we would have to do without it for the scene as we’d better get going, he flipped out at me saying it wasn’t going to fix itself and he continued until it was done. This would give me palpitations.  I was sandwiched between the stress of keeping others waiting and Jon on his thin ice into livid rage.
He started to lose it at any given moment and, one time, he was wrapping down the steadicam after the first shots of a night shoot. He and his crew had put up every single lighting unit we had and it was looking good and we had canned a wide shot of our 2 leads creeping through the bush. We had even managed to use our smoke machine for the first time.
So I, in the interest of moving on and getting our film in the can, asked him if a particular area was lit so I could go ahead and get some additional shots whilst he continued to wrap the steadicam. Suddenly he launched into a tirade of abuse about how he didn’t have a light meter in the back of his head or a camera coming out of his arse. It felt totally irrational to me.
His outbreaks of shouting and swearing made a lot of people wary. It also gave the impression that our film was not running smoothly and although of course this was true, I worried if too many people knew it, this would not be good for morale, so I’d find myself on the one hand being pissed off at his shouting and on the other hand having to defend what he was doing to other people to keep the peace. Even if I had just felt the brunt of an outburst, politically it was better for me to defend his actions to others who were showing concern at what was gong on and explain how it’s purely his passion for the movie and his frustration at all the issues.
It got to the point where I suggested he went home and told me how to take a light reading and I would direct and DOP the rest of the shoot. I was getting very worried it was going to culminate into something serious.
 
MACHETE
Jon’s extreme views were about to reach a whole new level. We had realised little things were going missing around the house. Things like, sugar, eggs and bottles of water etc. We would buy them and the same day the supplies were gone. It was one of a long list of annoyances.
We figured out it was likely to be one or more of the houseboys and girls as they call them. They are actually adults who have tasks around the apartment, such as laundry or sweeping up. It came up for discussion about what we should do. Jon immediately grabbed a machete and said we should hold them down and threaten to cut their hands off until they admit to it. He meant it too and said ‘lets go, you grab one arm….’ I said ‘do you really think that is the right thing to do?’ He was totally serious and couldn’t understand my hesitancy. We were foreigners in a vulnerable apartment in the middle of rural Africa, if we had gone ahead with that plan we would be dead.
However, I have to admit that it wasn’t long until the darkness of this shoot pushed me to that point or beyond.

Howard feeling the Stress
 
MURDER
I had never really thought I would seriously consider killing someone and perhaps confessing this in a book is not the wisest of moves but I’m comfortable in the knowledge it won’t happen again and I’m wanting to get all of these events down on paper. (I’ll consider cutting this out later if necessary).
You have to understand the cumulative effects of all of our frustrations and what this had done to our state of mind. That particular day, it had taken so much to get everyone moving and we were finally on the road in convoy when yet again our foreign faces has been spotted and we were for, probably the 50th time, stopped by police.
We tried politeness but this particular officer of the law had a particularly unpleasant air about him right from the start. He loved his little bit of power and he was going to use it. We were summoned out of the car and he would check everything until he could find fault. It was obvious. We had spent a lot of time and effort and money making sure our papers were in order and we were so tired of this constant time wasting, which always ended with the handing over of money.
He demanded my licence and we explained that it had been taken from me during a knifepoint mugging. He didn’t care and that was it, he would arrest me and put me in prison for driving without a licence. I was made to sit by the side of the road while he called a police car to take me away. Marie did her best to appeal to his sympathetic side, as did Chamberlin and money quickly changed hands. But this wouldn’t be enough for this guy, it was still the slammer for me and none of us would be allowed to continue. It was ridiculous.
Frustrated, Marie threw in a comment that if these guys were doing proper police work and not just extracting money from people I would still have had a licence. We all know comments like this never get you anywhere but it was nice that she had said it.
As I sat there, Jon came over and we were quickly trying to consider our options on how to get out of this. Would I really now end up in some god awful prison for my crime of making a film? I didn’t seem a fair end to the story and it suddenly dawned on me that all those years of being called 'cute' would likely backfire on me during my stretch (for want of a better expression!)
We both looked at this guy who was arrogantly abusing his power as he went through our equipment in the van. We both sensed that this man was rotten to the core. I can’t remember who came out with it but one of us said ‘We’ve got AK47’s in the back of the van, one of us could hold him at gunpoint and the other could smash him over the head’.
It registered as quite a good idea, preferable to a jail sentence. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. Could we really get away with it? It seems crazy thinking about it now but in that moment, I genuinely felt that smashing this guy’s skull in and putting him in a ditch might be the best course of action. We could put him in the back of the van and bury him later in the day.   I felt my adrenalin get going at the idea. It was new ground but this shoot was always going to test us to the limit.
We both felt that this guy was such a scumbag that surely no one would have missed him. If he had a wife she probably hated him anyway and, hopefully, she was already having an affair with a more decent human being. All he was doing was draining society and did not deserve a life. We concluded we would be doing the right thing.
The trouble is, he had a colleague with him who didn’t seem so bad.. We would have had to kill him too, as a witness, and that might make us feel guilty some months down the line. In fact there were a couple of people watching from over the road. They would have to be next. This was getting out of hand. We would have barely got going and already be serial killers.
I felt a wave of disappointment. It was no longer a viable option. I would now have to be the only white meat on the menu at the local jail and that was that.  Fortunately when his back-up turned up they had more of an entrepreneurial mind-set and it was money that won the day.

OTHER HELPFUL INDUSTRY TRANSLATIONS
PRODUCER: ‘I have a slate of films’
TRANSLATION: ‘Not only am I struggling to get one film going, but I’m having to pretend I’m making 5 films so people think I’m successful enough to invest in the first one’.
PRODUCER: ‘We have a number of serious equity investors; one of them owns a hedge fund’
TRANSLATION: ‘I am going to end up blowing all the money left to me in my mother’s will to finance this film and I’m even going to sell my house and garden so I wont even have a hedge’
PRODUCER: ‘We’re talking to some very big names’.
TRANSLATION: ‘The actor’s agents are not even returning my calls’
PRODUCER: ‘That sounds like a very interesting concept’
TRANSLATION: ‘That is the worst idea I’ve ever heard in my life’
PRODUCER: ‘The script needs a little work’
TRANSLATION ‘The script is so bad, I wouldn’t even use it as toilet paper’
PRODUCER: ‘We should do lunch’
TRANSLATION: ‘I will never ever see you again in my life’
PRODUCER: ‘How about a coffee first thing Monday?’
TRANSLATION: ‘I want your money’
PRODUCER: ‘How about a drink on Friday?’
TRANSLATION: ‘I want to shag the ass off you’

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