Chapter 13: Showdown
It was only a matter of time before Rob’s newfound temperament came up against Jon’s with fiery consequences and the time had come for that to happen… There had been the odd ‘exchange’ between them every now and then but either party had let it go. I think they had avoided confrontation previously as they knew each of them had the type of personality where backing down was unlikely. Therefore it could only have gone one way, very fast.
It was now near the end of the shoot and we had endured another stressful day filming at an orphanage that would be our military base location. It was scorching hot and we had a constant battle on our hands to keep people out of shot or from completely surrounding us as we set up equipment of any kind.
Word had spread of this unusual filming event and there were hundreds of rowdy spectators. We were doing the final scene where Murphy, Rob’s character would meet Daniel’s son and, as happened all too often on this shoot, a scene that we had wanted to craft to perfection, we had to knock out in the few minutes we had before the sun went down. Jon and I were both very disheartened by this, as we wanted it to be a truly magic moment.
The idea was that Rob’s character would have emotionally given up at this point, there was nothing to live for. His new found African friend who had saved his life, had been killed, as had all his colleagues, he had found out his home town was also heavily affected or even destroyed and there was no way of getting out. It was over for him. Then as everyone disbursed when the Zombies broke in (another big action sequence we had to compromise hugely on) he would be left holding the necklace that ironically symbolised ‘hope’.
Then once alone in the expanse of the location, the teary eyed boy would step forward (no time to apply the tears – only just got him in costume in time for the shot), he was meant to have spotted his father’s necklace of hope, which we had established earlier had a symbol of two hands coming together. Hence Rob would have to take the boy’s hand with a realisation that there was hope – hope for these two lost souls -  this poor boy who had endured a similar fate to Murphy’s with the destruction of his home and family could now be a reason to live – Murphy could also repay the debt he owed this boy’s father for saving his life – Murphy’s frustration throughout the whole film was meant to be that he only ever saved himself – as a result he was never complete. I realise this is far too deep for a Zombie movie but Jon and I were, for us at least, making a very cerebral one and Murphy had to take the boy’s hand and I had to get that shot of them coming together with the light from the low angled sun behind them which would add to the ‘spirituality’ of the scene.
I had just about lost my voice again from shouting at hundreds of kids to kindly get out of the background of our shot. It was finally clear. I had just given Rob a mumbled, bare minimum of direction as to where to stand etc – totally inadequate considering the importance of the scene but all we had time for. I was hoping the nature of the shot would ‘do the job’.   I reckoned we had about 3 minutes.
I was just calling action when Rob said ‘wait’. Jon and I (who were each operating different cameras) stepped forward. ‘I’m not comfortable holding the boy’s hand’ Rob said ‘It doesn’t feel right’. My heart sank and I glanced up at the sun disappearing and thought – 2 minutes.
I was about to come out with a diplomatic but hopefully very persuasive argument that would put Rob at ease considering he was being watched by hundreds of locals and to hold this boy’s hand may well have felt uncomfortable, but Jon had beaten me to it. He yelled at Rob something like ‘We don’t have time for this shit, its in the f**king script, hold the f**king boys hand’! Jon was clearly livid and I knew Rob was not going to take this well.  I  thought – 1 minute.

Frustrated Rob
I could see an expression on Rob’s face – that moment where you have to quickly calculate what your reaction will be – there were probably a lot of factors to weigh up in that moment – It was obvious Jon was never going to back down, he physically remained the same distance from Rob’s face where he left off at the end of his outburst. – Rob knew of Jon’s edgy state of mind in the previous weeks where he had frequently expressed his wishes to smash someone’s head in for all that had gone on – there were about three or four hundred people watching intently, for once they hade gone deadly silent – could Rob’s ego deal with being shouted at like that with no smoothing over – then there would have been the matter of the film itself  - he must have wanted it finished like we all did – we had to get to the desert, a 10 hour drive away the next day or we would not have time to do the desert scenes before we flew back. I have to admit, even though we probably had less than a minute of good light to get the shot it was a strangely interesting situation.
I could see the pain on Rob’s face as he made his decision and broke eye contact. ‘lets just do it’ he said. I was relieved, but knew it wouldn’t end there. Rob had bottled it up like a good vintage, far too important to pour down the sink just yet.
So we sprinted back to our cameras. I quickly glanced at the mag on my camera, it only had a few feet of film left in it. We had to get it in one take. I was running at high speed as this had to be a slow-motion moment. This meant the film would run out much faster. A quick adjustment to get the lens flare I wanted in the right place then I screamed ‘action’ and watched Rob and the boy move together through screen. I was pleased that Rob had quickly got back into character and was not showing any signs of the situation that had just ensued. In fact, this shot, was the ONE shot on the whole movie that was EXACTLY what I was trying for. IT was cinematically perfect. I was listening intently to the camera hoping with all my heart that I would not hear that inevitable sound of the film clicking off from the core and winding its way around its last loop before gently winding to a halt. This shoot only ever provided small mercies and this would be one of them – it kept going.    It had never happened to me in 20 years of filmmaking but, as I watched the scene unfold, I found myself yelling ‘yes’ and shaking my fist in a victorious manner. It was incredibly un-British of me.
Literally, as soon as I called cut, the sun was gone and lens flare disappeared. For once, something had gone our way. Its these moments that a filmmaker lives for. Now darkness was setting in and we had equipment sprawled all over this place. Chamberlin, who had witnessed the incident with Rob and Jon, suggested he got Rob out of there quickly while we wrapped up. It was good with me.
I attempted a quick ‘well done’ as I carried my camera past Rob, but it was met with one of his finest icy stares.  Luckily he was whisked away by Chamberlin and co in Tijane’s pick-up to be taken back to the hotel before he could bump into Jon.
Suddenly night had closed in and things turned quite sinister. It was time to hand money out to all the extras and the local guys were having a tough time controlling the crowds. The problem was that it wasn’t just the extras we had used that wanted paying. These people felt we had been filming on their turf and they wanted their slice too.  Not only that but it was getting very difficult to determine who exactly our extras were within the crowds.
It was hard enough for us to push our way through carrying equipment as the van had a sea of people around it but the guys holding the wedges of cash were almost being ripped apart. I glanced back and saw Abatcha, who was a tall, well built man being knocked backwards as crowds of people surged at him to get at his cash. I could see he was trying to remain humorous, but his smile was entirely fake. His real smile was broad and stretched to his eyes, this smile had a sole purpose of maintaining the impression for the crowd that this was still a light-hearted situation and that he was not in any way a threat to them. I wasn’t sure it would work.
The crowd intensified around him, people coming at him from all sides and then I saw his body suddenly drift left, then right without his feet moving at all, it was a violent, un natural movement with the sheer force of the crowd – a movement I’ve not seen since the movie Jaws where the skinny-dipping girl is suddenly lurched one way then the other.
It was a frenzy. We all smelt danger. Even Leke, our fearless Nigerian gaffer/grip looked terrified. He said ‘this is going to turn bad, I’ve seen people killed in this situation in Nigeria’
We had no choice but to lock ourselves in the car, and just drive out of there – even if we had to run people down, that was the advice ‘don’t think about it, just do anything to get out of here’.
We quickly locked up the back of the van and a bunch of us ran as best we could to the Land Rover, being clawed at by hundreds of hands. We got to the car then as I went to grab the key, an awful realisation hit me. Chamberlin had taken it to get a drink from the cooler in the back. He’d driven off with it and it was locked shut. This news didn’t go down well with anyone.
We quickly ran back to the van and all piled in the cab, twisting and contorting ourselves to all fit in. We almost couldn’t get the van doors closed and, as we sat there, it rocked with the motion of the crowd forming around it. It was like we were going to experience the plot of our script for real. How long could we survive without food and water, I thought? Then Leke added in rising panic ‘They will break the windows and pull us out, then hammer a nail into the top of our heads with a brick’. The look of certainty in his eyes that this horrific act might be what we were about to face added a sickening feeling to the adrenalin rush I was experiencing and I very nearly threw up right there and then.
I patted myself all over to find my local phone even though I recalled it was running out of power the last time I used it more than an hour ago. I found it and pressed a button almost praying that I would see light. Luckily it had one bar of power left on it and, although my hands were shaking I managed to dial and got straight through to Chamberlin. He had the key and turned straight back.
He had to pull up right alongside us for us to manoeuvre out of there and it turned out we really did have to drive at the crowds to get out, but luckily everyone got out of the way - it was certainly not your average end to a shooting day. 
 
THE CULMINATION
The next morning Rob was still feeling the effects of the previous day’s tension but I had other things to worry about. It was time to check out of the hotel and I didn’t have enough money to pay for it. I had emptied both my accounts of cash and the Western Union Amir had sent was not enough. I was short of a couple of hundred pounds and was attempting to translate to the hotel manager an offer of a credit on the film to cover this shortfall.
That’s when I heard an outbreak of shouting. Jon had emerged from his room and Rob hadn’t wasted time in confronting him. They had ‘stepped outside’ and were in each others faces shouting wildly. It was clearly going to kick off. Abatcha and I ran from reception and tried to diffuse it but it wasn’t helping. Rob wanted an apology and I don’t think I’d heard Jon use the word sorry in the 30 years or so I had known the English language.
Rob went for him so we held him back in one of those school playground type situations. Again I saw Abatcha dragged back and forth in yet another physical struggle. I bet he hadn’t realised that the film industry was so hands-on.  Jon’s fists were shaking with adrenalin and I just hoped for continuity’s sake he wouldn’t ‘go for the face’.
In some ways this culmination was the best thing that could have happened. They were able to shout all sorts of abuse at each other and really get in out of their system. It ended with the traditional agreement to shake hands and they would both apologise to each other. Rob even threw in a hug. He hadn’t had a workout for a while so I think he really enjoyed the ‘buzz’ of it all. It had cleared the air.
 
FINAL PUSH:
The 10 hour or so drive to the north for the desert scenes was about to begin, with only me knowing that we didn’t actually have enough cash to actually make it all the way, let alone stay somewhere and eat when we got there. I had kept enough for a tank of fuel for each vehicle and for some snacks for lunch. It would require yet another western union transfer and at the stroke of midnight I would again be able to draw from an ATM. I guess it was going to be like this all the way to the end.
My mind flashed back to something Prince had said to me before he returned to Ghana. During another moment of pain and frustration, Prince had come up to me with a calm, poignant statement that I hadn’t even considered. It went something like this:
‘You know, this process we are going through is like a birth, we are all pushing to give birth to something and if that something is to be special, we have to have this pain, but when we have given birth to this, it will be something to be loved. Don’t fight the pain. It’s part of the journey’.
Fantastic. Why didn’t I think of that? Africans are so much wiser. I’ve been too busy fighting to even consider such a thing. Maybe this process was meant to be painful and I should have accepted that long ago? Much like our character in the movie, I could learn a lot from our African friends.
We had been wondering if Africa itself, the actual ground underneath our feet, had something to do with our struggles. I mean physically. Why was it that simply nothing would go smoothly? People would be late, including us, things would break, nothing would run on schedule. Could it just be the harsh environment? Was it simply the heat making people like this, including us? Is that why these parts of Africa have this reputation regarding timekeeping?
I had heard ‘humorous’ comments that in Ghana GMT stood for ‘Ghana Maybe Time’. How can this be when people in this part of the world often work harder than anyone else (Lifting 40kg bags of rice all day for 1 dollar came to mind).  We were convinced that it was more than just the heat. After all, we had visited hot countries like parts of Asia where things run like clockwork. Having been in West Africa for some time, we concluded that there had to be another force at work. Perhaps its position within the world meant there was some sort of  ‘leylines’ and everyone was under its spell.
 
DEATH TOLL
It was only a few days after Rob’s ‘vision’ of a truck impacting with us. We were back on the roads, which were getting dryer and dustier towards the desert. I was in the driver’s seat and we were crammed full.
I had already noticed some weeks before that these huge rickety buses that provided the transport between major cities, drive like they have no regard for human life. They overtake on tight dusty roads at ridiculous speeds full to capacity and I’m told it’s because if they are late, their pay is docked and they are even given speed (ironically) or little packets of cocaine to keep them going.
We were doing around 60MPH and there was one car ahead of us. Suddenly out of nowhere this bus comes round a corner towards us overtaking a car on its side and then tries to swing back in before it hits the car some distance in front of us. It manages this crazy manoeuvre but immediately jack-knifes skidding straight for us.
This vast metal rust bucket of death is probably skidding at us at 80MPH in our direction so it looks to be a limb-ripping head on collision. I slam on the brakes and now we’re skidding. Everyone screams, including me. I’m totally convinced this is the end of all of us but, somehow, that crazy and I presume coke-filled bus driver just regains control and the front of that bus skids back over to his lane, I promise you, inches from the front of our car which I only just manage to keep from falling into a cavernous ditch.
We stop in this huge cloud of dust that has plumed into our car from the bus and I get out shaking with adrenalin and furious at the bus driver. I’m now expecting a fiery exchange between us. I don’t care how shaken up this guy is, he nearly killed all of us and everyone on board his bus and I’m not letting him get away with it. But, as the dust clears, there he is, in the distance overtaking another car, he hasn’t even retracted his foot off the accelerator one millimetre.
‘They are not afraid’, Chamberlin tells me. ‘I told you, they believe if they die they will come back as higher beings, especially if they suffer more in death.  And that was it. We just got back in the car and carried on.
The very next day we see a newspaper with the picture of a horrific mangled bus that had a head on collision with a truck. Chamberlin runs over to me with it. The headline reads ’66 dead’ and there are pictures of charred bodies strewn all over the road.  I don’t need to explain to you how I felt in that moment given Rob’s bizarre ‘vision’ about a truck about to impact us and us having been inches from a jack knifed bus just hours ago.. I have no idea if it’s the same bus but I feel that the shadow of death has passed pretty close by yet again.
 
BREAK A LEG
We reached the town of Dori where we would pitch up for the night and as it was getting dark there was a little stroke-of-luck. While our remaining translators were negotiating the cost for rooms in what seemed like little metal storage facilities with beds in them, a figure shuffled by and I saw Jon’s eyes light up.
I turned and there was this poor fellow moving past us with a nasty deformed leg that bent backwards. Considering we were very worried about who would play our very first desert Zombie that our script had described as having ‘a leg with a horrific compound fracture that bends and twists at an un-natural angle’. Jon and I looked at each other and he said out loud what I was thinking ‘That’s the guy’! To us, this moment was so exciting it may as well have been Bono walking past.
We pulled the translators off negotiation duty and quickly ran after the man. It was a very odd situation. We wanted to be completely respectful of the reality of what was going on but this man could detect our excitement. I said to Chamberlin ‘we need to hire this man to come with us to the desert to play a Zombie, whatever the cost’. It would be an awkward negotiation and then the answer came back ‘He cannot come with us, it will take another day to reach the desert even by nightfall tomorrow and another day to get back, he cannot leave his job for 3 days, his family has no food and his boss won’t like him being away’.
‘What is his job?’ I asked, wondering if there was a solution to this conundrum whilst he explained to Chamberlin in local language. The answer came back and was a bit of a shocker; ‘He carries bags for tips at the guest house up the road’. I could not have thought of a less suitable occupation for this man. As far as I could tell, it looked painful enough to carry himself.
‘Ok, I know it’s an intrusive question but could you please ask him what he expects to earn in a day?’ The answer came back ‘anything between a few coins and half a dollar, but on Saturday if he works late it can be a dollar or more and tomorrow is a Saturday and he doesn’t want to miss it’!
My heart was already broken a thousand times prior to this and I couldn’t let any more pain in, so I stayed on the pragmatic approach. ‘Offer him 50 dollars to come with us for three days, if he says yes now we can give him 10 dollars to leave with his family right here and tell him we will go and see his boss and pay him too so he is sure he will have a job to come back to’. ‘But this is too much money’ came the response ‘Trust me, it isn’t, please do it’.
I took out the local equivalent of 10 dollars and handed it to Chamberlin. There followed a wild exchange with gesticulation and laughter ‘Is he coming?’ I asked. ‘Of course he’s coming, he’s so happy he could dance’. Said Chamberlin proudly. ‘Please don’t’ I said. I was happy to see this man smile but dancing on that leg was an image I could well do without.
 
SHORT LIVED FUN:
So the next morning, before dawn broke, we all set off together. We were told that we had to go this early as it would be too uncomfortable travelling during the mid day sun. As we got nearer the desert, it became obvious the vehicles were not going to make it.
The van kept getting stuck, its wheels spinning and the local 4x4 was also struggling across the ever more sandy terrain of the imposing Sahara. We’re still far from where we want to shoot when it dawns on us that only our old £500 quid Landover is going to make it all the way with Jon at the wheel. Jon had been really into off-roading in 4x4’s, in fact, he suddenly seemed to be getting into the journey and, as we ditched the van, then eventually ditched the local car taking just the minimal amount of kit we needed to get our desert sequence, Jon seemed to be loving it. Every now and then we’d get stuck in the sand and he would know exactly how to dig us out. Jon was really in his element here and without him at the wheel, I doubt we would have made it in or out of that desert. I think this was the adventure Jon wanted and only now was he finally getting his fix.
This bout of fun was fairly short-lived though, as when we did arrive in the desert, we realised it too had huge patches of green. In our minds, the whole movie had been about death creeping up on you and we wanted the land to get dryer and dryer as the journey went on, until it was eventually devoid of life. But, this wasn’t devoid of life, there were bushes. This kind of buggered up our very concept and, whilst I was also disappointed, I knew there was nothing we could do, we just had to shoot, but Jon couldn’t contain his frustrations about it.
One nice aspect, was how much fun our gentleman with the damaged leg was having. To him this was a vacation. He was on a ‘jolly’. As it turned out, we had such a great time with him. He was a truly lovely guy although when it came time to shoot, he was so over-the-moon about the fact all he had to do was walk 20 yards in the sand that we had great difficulty getting him to do it without smiling!
We had just one night in the desert, staying in straw roofed huts with no walls. The beds were more like hammocks raised from the ground and the insects seemed to just pass by happily underneath on their own journey. The toilet facilities were just a case of walking a respectable distance and digging yourself a hole in the sand. It was deathly silent and I looked up to see the brightest stars I have ever seen in the sky. It was a surreal moment, but incredibly beautiful. I felt we were going to make it.
 
TEARS IN THE SAND
It was tiring enough just being in the desert but every now and then you would find strange looking characters just crossing the dunes, sometimes we would have to wait for these particularly weather-beaten folk slowly passing by carrying all sorts of obscure and heavy items. This was what they did everyday. It seemed such a harsh place to exist but I suppose it’s all they knew.
Something quite strange then unfolded. There was a very old lady carrying heavy canisters on a stick over her shoulders and in front of her was a huge dune that she would have to go over.  Amuda, who is a incredibly lovely guy with a huge heart and a smile to match, rushed over to her and gently helped her all the way over the imposing dune.
This was just the sort of thing he would do everyday. Once he had got her back on the straight the other side, he carefully handed her back the water. Once she was sure that he was indeed giving the water back to her, she looked up into his eyes then burst out crying. When asked why she cried so much, she was eventually able to reply; ‘I have walked this sand carrying water for 73 years and this day is the first day anyone has helped me’. It was moments like these that you realised how lucky you are.
Before the long journey back, following the shoot, Nada cooked a cous cous meal made up of all the leftovers over a fire. It was one of the nicest meals I have ever had, our last supper. On the way back everyone who remained on the crew were due to fly out that night, leaving just me there for the final week to clear up a number of matters and take the remaining exposed film negative back via Accra rather than Tripoli which was now a no go for us.
I had tried to convince everyone to stay for 1 more week to get some pick-up shots and other things that I really felt we should have, but there was no way I was going to convince them. They were getting the hell out of there and I could not blame them for that.
 
ROADBLOCK
Jon was about to put his foot down and I mean it quite literally. He felt he was going to die if he stayed another day and he might have been right. I could see he was on a knife edge and had zero patience for anything, and I had just faced another tirade for placing the tripod on dirty ground to get the angle I wanted on a pick-up shot of some village huts.
No one was going to stop him boarding that plane this evening. So much so, that when the armed police spotted us foreigners again in our vehicles and merged into the road to stop us with their AK47’s at the ready, Jon quite literally put his foot down, hard down, on the accelerator and drove right at them.
Bearing in mind on the last occasion the police stopped us, Jon was ordered to hand over the log book for the van, then moments after he had handed it over the officer in question denied ever having the log book so now we didn’t have any paperwork to say we even owned the vehicle.
So, as he and poor Dan who was a passive passenger ploughed right through the roadblock, armed officers just diving out of the way of the van, everyone ducked down in anticipation of the first of many gunshots to pass through the cab and possibly into the backs of head but as that diesel van roared down the dusty road as fast as second gear with your foot down can get you, absolutely nothing happened.
No bullets came, no high speed pursuit took place and for once no cash had to be handed over. It was a small victory but a sweet one and one of very few things that made Jon smile during the trip.
 
BAGGAGE
As I dropped everyone at the airport and we had gone though all sorts of fun and games to ensure the ludicrous amount of excess baggage could travel with them. It was just Amuda & I, who would remain with a 2-3 day drive back through Burkina to Ghana, where I would fly home once financial matters were tied up.
It was amazing how the reality that the trip was finally over for them changed attitudes the very moment everyone was checked in and confirmed on the flight. I guess it’s like the last day in prison. As you’re walking out never to return, all of a sudden that fat prison guard you’re passing that used to belt you in the kidneys every morning with his nightstick will be a face ever so slightly missed.
Rob was back to his old self again and even gave a ‘three cheers for Howard’ moment just before departure, which I was surprised about but touched none-the-less. These guys had been through hell and truly suffered to make this film and I later found out that Jon had a fever for a further 10 days after departure and to this day he still has regular night terrors about his experience making ‘The Dead’.
This is probably the bit where I should mention how I sadly missed everyone the moment they were gone and how the long drive back to Ghana on my own in the Land Rover while Amuda drove in front of me in the van was actually quite lonely.  How it caused me to miss the sound of everyone’s voices and the need to take care of their dietary requirements and whatnot. You know, how actually in hindsight everyone’s concerns that fell at my doorstep were actually a satisfying conundrum to deal with and I would now be missing this banter.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It was nothing personal but the lack of responsibility on my shoulders, now there was no one else to take care of was incredible. It felt fantastic. I was elated beyond my imagination. Just sitting there being me in that car with no one else to look after was one of the best feelings I have ever felt. No one could complain, attack, give me a disgruntled look or show their displeasure at the lack of food, toilet facilities, accommodation or whatever. I felt a feeling of freedom that I just wish I could bottle. It was brilliant.
Even after a particularly unpleasant Ghanaian official at the Paga border to Ghana took everything he could off us, as my visa had expired earlier that day. He even kept the Land Rover at the border due to ‘paperwork’ issues’, so everything from it had to be carried across the border by hand and, upon entering Ghana many hours later I now only had the equivalent of just under £5 pounds  ($7.50) in local currency, purely because I had stuffed it down my pants surreptitiously.
Amuda and I were crammed in the cab of the van with nothing to eat all day apart from some stale bread and a couple of leftover squashed banana’s. There was only a quarter of a tank of fuel and a 2 day drive ahead of us and night was closing in. This all sounds bad but I didn’t mind it at all. I even enjoyed the feeling of the wind in my hair and the smell of the African dust on my face from the open window.
I only had Amuda to deal with and to me this man seemed quite literally an Angel. I trusted him completely and I felt certain that no matter how bleak things looked, we were going to get out of this.

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