|It’s morning and Anne tells
me that Jon has something important to tell me. She has a concerned look on her
face, which worries me, and I already know, whatever it is Jon wants to tell
me, it’s not going be a barrel of laughs.
|Jon had not only been
repeatedly ill, but was also officially diagnosed with malaria and had just
completed the course of whatever it was he was prescribed that had further
weakened him. I come downstairs where Jon says he wants to come back next year
to finish it.
|I KNEW immediately in my
heart that if we left Africa, not one person was going to return for this
production, including me, and it would remain just another unfinished film.
While I’m conjuring up whatever I’m going to need to say to convince him and
everyone else witnessing this conversation to stay, he is already firing out a
|‘We’re like an army at war,
we can’t just fight & fight until we all drop dead - we have to retreat, re
group, then come back stronger, with more artillery’. I could see the logic and
I paced back and forth as I threw back reasons why we had to stay. How the
performances and the look would become disjointed, how the government probably
wouldn’t even let us back in and how our investors would not tolerate such a
delay. We had to keep what little momentum we had going and leave Africa with
|I even suggested he teach me
how to take a light reading and I would do my best to light and direct the film
myself. I said I would stay, even if I had to dress up as Murphy and set the
camera up myself and be the only one in Africa doing it. But he said he didn’t
want his dream project to happen without him there. It was an odd argument but
somehow I understood it. He felt if he got ill one more time he really would
die and I could tell he really believed it.
|By this point we had become
so emaciated that our shirts hung off us and we could see our own skeletal
structure. So much so that, when Anne had gone back home with the film stock,
she had not been able to show our folks back home any photos as it would be to
shocking for them. It certainly felt like death was staring us in the face but
I did everything I could to convince him to stay.
|The ever-increasing delays
caused an additional problem I had not even considered; I only had a few days’
worth of anti-malaria tablets left and with a lot more to shoot we are not
going to be leaving any time soon. Having witnessed the awful agony suffered by
our lead actor, I didn’t much fancy a bout myself and I now had only 5 days of
|I called my doctors but they
said I had to drop in a signed letter to get a repeat prescription and I have
to sign the prescription itself 2-3 days later before I can pick the tablets up
from the pharmacy. Obviously I could not fly back for this and, even if I did,
I only had a single entry visa so it would be the end of it for sure.
|A few phone calls later my
dad who can switch on the charm when he needs to managed to persuade a nurse to
prescribe him the tablets and he would courier them to me. Luckily I have an
account with DHL and a few more calls later a plan was hatched.
|The trouble is the
‘accommodation’ we were staying in didn’t have an official address.
|It was also
built on some land that apparently didn’t have an official name. Instead it was
described (in French) as something like the house next to the brown building
off the long road away from the airport before the town of such and such (this
is not the exact wording but it was something as convoluted as this). As a
result, no one would courier a parcel to this address.
|Finally, we managed to get
the package sent to the nearest DHL office about 15 miles away where I would be
called on my local phone to collect it. By this time I had 2 days protection
from malaria but that was ok. It would apparently take 3 working days to arrive
and I’d take my chances with a day unprotected and the mosquitoes could have the
treat of a day’s bareback action on me!
|By the time I had run out of
anti-malaria tablets, there was even more visceral unpleasantness to hand. By
now there was no longer any running water in the accommodation we were staying
in and, with at least half the crew with upset stomachs and a lot of people
still vomiting, including Jon and myself, the toilets were not just a vision of
hell but equipped with smells even Satan himself would not have tolerated.
|It was bad enough not being
able to wash at the end of a shooting day but I was getting seriously worried
that the lack of sanitation was going to prove deadly. There were flies
everywhere, I remember them landing on my lips a couple of times in the night
and I would jump up and pour hand sanitizer all over my face praying that these
creatures had not landed on that multi-coloured mixture of everyone’s insides that
I had witnessed in the bowl earlier.
|Even when there was running
water and I was lucky enough to be getting a little sleep, which was extremely
rare given the stress and palpitations my heart was now enduring after the
day’s events, you would feel like you were finally nodding off when suddenly
the distinctive buzz of a mosquito in your ear brings you back to reality.
Given that it’s the world’s biggest killer it’s a pretty ominous sound. Now I
was ‘unprotected’ there was no way I would even attempt sleep again until that
mosquito was dead. The fight was on.
|Sometimes I would be up for
hours pacing the room with a towel in hand ready to swipe, trying to tune my
peripheral vision to locate the microscopic thing in the dull flickering light.
I remember looking at my watch and there was only an hour or two before I’d
have to be up for the next day. At least once I stayed in battle-mode until my
alarm went off. It was nightmarish.
|As it turned out, the
package with the anti-malarial tablets in it never arrived. For some ‘unknown’
reason that baffled everyone I spoke to, it ended up at an Address in South
Africa and 2 weeks later got redirected to Burkina Faso after
many calls to the tracing department where I would let them know that this package
not turning up was ‘life or death’ and was literally ‘keeping me awake all
night’, (which I’m sure they’ve heard far too many times before) it was too
late as we had already started our journey to the north and were hundreds of
miles away from that DHL office hoping to shoot the remaining scenes.
|I was more worried about the
stress this little episode had caused my dad back home than I was about dying
of malaria. He was still getting over his major bowel cancer operation and it
was in the balance as to whether he would even still be on this earth when we
returned. It had been another waste of time and energy, none of which resulted
with a shot in the can, which was how I measured the success of our efforts at
this point. There were also far more immediate dangers about to come our way.
|Although Rob was out of
hospital and apparently not imminently about to die, all was not well. He had
been saying strange things here and there but during the journey to the north,
we were driving along in convoy at a fair speed when he suddenly screamed at me
‘Howard stop, you’re going to hit the lorry, STOP!’
|He screamed so loudly and
with such certainty that even though the road ahead of me was completely clear
I did slam on the breaks and the cars behind nearly piled into us. ‘Rob, what
WHAT?’ I panicked, my heart was on overload. ‘There’s nothing there’ I added,
completely baffled. ‘Oh, I thought I saw a big truck, it was coming right at
us, I’m sorry’ came the response. It was extremely bizarre but little did I
know it would soon prove to be a premonition for an imminent incident that
would see many dead.
|We’re now on a dry and
swelteringly hot location but Jon is not letting me point the camera at Zombies
again and this time I cannot understand it at all. What’s more baffling is that
this particular sequence was entirely his idea at script stage and it’s got the
potential of being a brilliant scene. Jon is very heavily into car mechanics
and came up with the idea of our two main characters needing to fill the
overheated car with their precious water, and I loved the idea. It was an