Chapter 5: Armed Police & A Ransom
It wasn’t long before we experienced our first encounters with armed police. At first I was in the front of the Land Rover with Jon driving, but it soon became apparent that our two foreign faces were as tempting as a mobile candy shop and we would get stopped every few miles.  The locals amongst us told us that we’d better swap around with them otherwise this would keep happening and we wouldn’t get anywhere.
These initial encounters were nothing aggressive and just required a few dollars worth of ‘dash’ and we were on our way again, but, as it got dark, things became more ominous. There’s something about being what seems like miles from civilisation, in pitch dark and out of nowhere, appear flashlights and AK47’s. There were a lot of people to hand money to and I was getting very worried we wouldn’t even make it halfway with the amount of cash I had left. I was also worried that our silver boxes of film equipment might create some interest, so we tried to keep these hidden under other luggage.
Our overstay in Ghana and the expenses at the port had cost an alarming amount more than expected and, as it had been hard to get cash across quickly, I had borrowed money from Barbara. This had been quite embarrassing as she was helping in so many other ways and I can’t stand owing money in any case. Now even this borrowed money was falling out of my hands faster than I’d ever anticipate.

Armed police looking for the director
The next armed police encounter had cost us dearly and I now had the local equivalent of about ten pounds left (Approx $15). We had only driven a couple of hundred miles, which was a tiny percentage of our journey. Somehow, with almost no local money we would have to get everyone into the next hotel. We could not afford one more police stop.
Luckily we soon came across what appeared to be a small market town and found a little hotel that would let us pay in the morning as long as the owner could follow us to the bank or ATM machine. As I lay in bed (actually ‘on bed’ as there were no sheets) I wondered how we were going to make this mammoth journey ahead. We hadn’t even scratched the surface and we were hitting brick walls. At this point it seemed an impossible task.
We were all getting settled in for the night and waiting to use the ‘shared bathroom’ when, out of the blue, Rob whispered to me ‘You know I drink my own pee’. ‘Excuse me?’ I said. ‘It’s good for your skin – you should try it’ he added. I hesitated, wanting to appear as open minded as possible. ‘You mean my own, or..’, ‘of course your own -  I’ve already had mine’. The relief washed over me (for want of a better expression).
The newly adopted producer side of my brain was already calculating the potential financial savings we could make over the duration of the production, especially if the whole crew could buy into this ethos.  The director side of me was first to react though.
‘Would you drink your pee during the movie? I mean actually IN the movie, not whilst watching it. Seeing as it’s about survival, it might be kind of ground-breaking – I’ll talk to Jon, we could do it in one shot – no cuts, panning up, maybe even a jib arm if the van turns up’. ‘Sure, f**k it, whatever it takes’ Rob said.
You’ll be pleased to hear we never did the pee drinking scene but Rob’s ‘whatever it takes’ attitude is still very much there to be admired. In the scene where he fixes the old car, he had to suck out real fuel from the carburettor, as we wanted it to be fixed for real. He even did it 3 times. No complaints. Later he would climb a 50ft jagged rock face with no safety equipment, whilst still recovering from malaria. I don’t think there are many, if any, other actors on this earth that could have endured what Rob ended up enduring and still be standing on set, let alone able to say their lines.
Talent, Determination, Luck
I have taught at a number of film schools and I’ve also been lucky enough to have been a ‘guest speaker’ in all sorts of places from film festivals, panels and even more bizarrely I ended up talking at Harvard. I‘ve noticed a fairly popular question is ‘what does it take to make it in the film business’?
Once I’ve exhausted the ‘no one really knows exactly what it takes to make it in any business’ routine, when pressed further for my opinion, I do believe that in order to properly ‘make it’, with a sustainable film career, you have to have three key ingredients for this magic to occur; TALENT, DETERMINATION and LUCK. I believe not 2 but all 3 of these things have to be present for it to happen. 
Like glue with a 3-part mix, it might still look like glue but it simply won’t stick for long without the other components. It’s all very well just being talented but if you’re not determined enough to get off your ass and make use of your talents – to force a project to happen perhaps, you simply won’t expose those talents to the right people and therefore the ‘luck’ of being discovered cannot occur.
If you are determined and somehow are given a ‘ lucky break’, which happens far too often - if the talent is missing, that opportunity will likely be a ‘flash in the pan’ without the talent to back it up and it might just end there.
The journey to the border the next day seemed to go on forever but, when we got there, Chamberlin was there to meet us as planned which was a good sign. Our upbeat mood was only short lived, as we were then told the Land Rover would not be allowed into the country, at least not today. We were only just going to get in ourselves with the equipment, and even this required yet more officials to be paid off.
It was now dark and we were suddenly told that, if we didn’t leave in the next few minutes without the Land Rover, we would not be able to leave at all. They were officially going to close the border until the next day. It was stacked high with equipment and we would have to get this out and find a way of stuffing it all in the mini bus right now or we were not going to get out of there. It was parked in a different car park and we were also not allowed to park next to it to do our re stacking. We would have to walk back and forth taking one piece at a time. On top of that we were shouted at to ‘go go go’.
We had no choice, Amuda and Chamberlin would stay with the Land Rover so it didn’t get stolen then meet us after the three hour drive to the centre of Ouagadougou the next day. We then had to run back and forwards carrying kit and stacking it in the mini bus. It was soon full so we had to stack it on the roof with no plan as to how the crew would make the three hour journey into town. We were just told that, if we didn’t get out of there, all our stuff would be gone by morning.
We just made it out of the border before they closed up, with a mini bus seriously overloaded and no room for people inside.
Also, a large crowd from the border town was gathered around us. Chamberlin would try and do a deal for us to hire a local bus. We negotiated a price, which seemed to take a great deal of shouting. We also had to pay in advance which I did. Thank God we’d found a bank that morning and one of Amir’s transfers had turned up.
The crowds around us now were massive and it was very intimidating. We all just wanted to get the hell out of there.  Suddenly, people had seen me taking money out to pay for the bus and were grabbing at me for money for all sorts of reasons.
Some said they helped carry our equipment, and I didn’t know who to believe. I figured, giving one guy something would create a storm so I asked Chamberlin to be the one to tell me who to pay.
I had advanced the money for the bus but I just couldn’t get the bus driver to get in the bus and go, there seemed to be some other negotiations going on with some large guys, and I didn’t like the look of it. For all I know our fate had been sealed and it was just a matter of who got what.
Everyone was confused and shouting for us to leave. Chamberlin then found out the problem. We now needed to pay for the fuel for the bus, which would come from some local guys with canisters. It turns out our deal was for the bus and the driver but fuel had not been part of the deal. We were learning some very important lessons.
More money came out and they finally fuelled it up. As we were driving out, it seemed like a sea of rowdy people had to part and it felt like a lucky escape. There were, however, two dodgy looking guys we didn’t know on board. One who kept staring at us and making calls on his mobile phone. We were sure we were being set up. Rob, Max and I were within whispering distance so we hatched a plan as to who would grab who if things turned nasty. We suddenly realised with Amuda and Chamberlin staying at the border, we had no one to translate and none of us knew where we were heading.
The bus arrived in a small town and stopped. The driver got out and pointed to one of the tyres saying ‘problem’. It was obvious to us this was a scam and the guy making calls must have been in on it.  We were ready to make our move. Even Max who seemed such a calm and laid back man had his fists ready. It was crunch time.
Just then the driver came round with a pump and pumped the tyre. The guy in the back then held out a mobile phone as if the call was for me. It was. Chamberlin was on the other end saying ‘You guys ok?’, it suddenly made sense why this guy had been looking at us and now we were in a place with a little more light, I recognised him as one of the guys with Chamberlin at the port. This was Assad, our guide into town. He would take us to the hotel. The other guy was the bus driver’s mate, apparently all buses had them, it was quite a relief.
We wanted to move fast as Anne, who had been in Burkina Faso for the last 10 days without even seeing us, was flying home that night. She was meant to have been there to help out with the shoot and take film stock home for processing but, apart from the beach scene in Ghana, there had been no shoot. It would be a wasted trip if we did not at least get the three cans we were carrying to her.
We went as fast as the crappy old bus would take us and, somehow, got to the airport with less than 5 minutes before she had to go through. We could not have cut this any finer. We just managed to hand her the stock with a quick apology for not having been there, and she was gone. One small victory in what seemed like a losing battle.
The next morning we met up with the local production company who had arranged the permission letter for us to be able to shoot in the country. This had happened following a meeting in Paris that Marie & I had flown out for, and we needed this letter to be able to get our visas. For a fee, they would also arrange for the military vehicles and guns we needed. Marie had told me she had been calling them and getting no reply.
They actually turned up at the hotel early in the morning before we could get to them. They looked very pissed off and launched into a tirade of some kind about ‘Marie no call’. I was taken to their office where a translator was waiting. We then seemed to spend the entire day with them telling me, through the translator how they were angry about this, that and the other.  The whole thing was news to me. All we had asked for was the permission and 2 days of military vehicles with weaponry. We didn’t need anything else.
The bottom line was that they needed around five thousand Euro (Approx $7,500) from me before we could even leave town to cover the military expenses. If we didn’t pay, they would not give us the passes we needed. They had to actually receive the money in their account before we could leave.
It was another five hour drive to the apartment in Bobo Dioulasso and I had promised the others, who were waiting there, we would be there today. Judging by the fact that, the transfer Amir made to Africa had taken 12 days, things were not boding well. I called both my banks but they could not get money over without me physically coming into the branch in the UK with ID.
Luckily, one of the people in the company had an account in Paris and Amir made the transfer straight away. We ended up staying there a couple more nights before we could continue on our way. It was a very uncomfortable experience and it felt like we were held to ransom. We were happy to part company.
Unfortunately, the only thing that really sells a movie is ‘name actors’. Famous people. The more famous they are, the more money your film is worth. Simple.
Yes, there are examples of films that do well with ‘no names attached’ but, in my opinion, it’s more rare than winning the lottery. In the UK at least we have two big lottery prizes per week – winners who will scoop millions of pounds, twice every week.
There are probably about 2 successful movies in the UK per year with no famous names in them. So there you have it, you are 52 times more likely to win a jackpot on the lottery than have a successful movie with no names attached. It’s a tough business.

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