Chapter 6: Green
Things were further concerning us on our way to the base. When we had come over for the location recce, everything was dry and dusty. It had the perfect look. But now, all we could see in the light of day was green. Trees, bushes, long grass. None of that essential dust, the very reason for coming all this way in the first place, Jon and I were extremely concerned.
I called Marie from the car and asked her if it was like that where she was. It was. She told us that the rains had fallen for longer this year and although it was normally dry at this time of year, this year it wouldn’t be. This news didn’t sit well with us at all. We either packed it all in now or ended up with a film that looked nothing like the film we wanted to make.
Postponing would definitely have been the end of it. It became apparent that however much pain we were going to go through, we were not going to end up with the look we wanted. It was incredibly disappointing. Jon went from very pissed off to extremely pissed off. At least the desert will have that look we thought.
We arrived at the apartment at about one in the morning and it was great to finally get everyone together. Marie and Chamberlin had done a good job with the apartment, although half the rooms did not have beds, just mattresses but that was fine by me. Marie had hired a chef and various house help to sort cleaning etc and Chamberlin had already lined up some of our first Zombies. Even our crappy prop car had made the five hour journey, although that was only because a mechanic had driven with it and fixed it several times en route.
We just had to buy some additional props and things to replace some of the essential items still in the van and we could, at least, get on with some of our daylight scenes that didn’t need the lights or generator.
Getting going would not be so simple. Every single day; one or more of us would be feeling ill or have to spend the day with severe stomach cramps. Often holding in diarrhoea for 12 hours or more, because of the lack of location toilets, until that moment of arrival back at your room where a slam of the door and a sprint to the toilet as if it was the finish line of an Olympic event.
Sometimes, for me, that moment was my one moment of safety on a shoot. However rough I was feeling, it was an awesome moment and being in contact with a toilet would signify two things: 1) It would mean a day had ended. I’d got through another one. 2) It was the one moment in any day that no one could get to me. No one could come up to me and whisper in my ear how they had a problem with this, or needed money for that, or how they didn’t think this or that was up to scratch. It didn’t matter how bad I was feeling, escaping the needs of everyone else for that brief moment was perhaps the only thing that kept me going.
It might appear insensitive that I would want to escape the needs of my crew, some of which were very reasonable needs. But the dynamic of being in a foreign country created a situation that amplified things way beyond the norm. They suddenly depended on me for everyday things that they would have obtained themselves at home. 
The infuriating thing about all this was that I didn’t even want to ‘Produce’. My passion was solely for directing – what satisfied me creatively was composing shots, angles, creating a shot-flow that I would know exactly how to edit, so it would build the scene into something that would result in a particular effect over its audience.
That, and working with actors, was what I loved and why my passion was filmmaking. I was only producing The Dead because we could not have afforded to hire a producer with the level of experience needed to pull it all together.
I was doing this by default but here I was, almost every morning, not only trying to save a little of my brain and a modicum of energy for how the scenes would be shot, but I had to be up and out before the crack-of-dawn with Marie and Chamberlin doing the morning shopping.
We would have a list of all the basic needs plus additional requests from the cast or crew, which could be anything from tinned food to toilet paper.
First we would have to go to the icemaker and buy huge blocks of ice to keep the drinks in the cooler that day from becoming so hot you could boil eggs with it. I’d be standing there while the ice-purchase transaction would take place. They would carefully count the money and place it in a wooden box. Sometimes I would see there was additional time needed for this and for some reason we would be waiting. It was all happening in another language so, in my ever increasing agitated state I just dreamed of being on set with more than a pathetic amount of time to compose some shots and ‘do my thing’.
I might then find out that they didn’t have the correct change and that’s why we were waiting – for the equivalent of a penny or something and I’d start tearing at my hair saying ‘Please just load the F.. Please, can we just do this quickly’? They would find my need-for-speed bemusing – to them I was just a fussy foreigner far too obsessed about time. Of course they were right but all I could think about was the entire cast & crew waiting at the accommodation for us to get back with breakfast before we could even think about leaving for the day and actually getting some shots done. I can’t tell you how frustrating this felt.
Once we had the ice chipped and loaded up, we could then drive to the local rip-off Lebanese ‘mall’ so we could shop for the 20 or so people I was responsible for, plus any extras we might have that day. Some days there would only be 5 or 6 additional extras to feed. Some days 20 or more, one time there were 200. Just calculating how much stuff we would need was taxing enough, let along finding it, buying it (if we even had enough money that day to buy it) getting it into the cars and getting the hell out of there. Some days we would be in a line of people waiting to pay for vegetables and I’d see someone at the front of the line having a little laugh and a chat with the seller. I would SO want to scream out. ‘Please, just pay for your damn melons and F**k Off’! I’ve got a film to make! But of course I never did.
Then there would be the ‘little requests’ that the crew would write down and give me on a piece of paper. These could be anything from more credit for their mobile phone or ‘headache tablets’, ‘Non sugar peanut butter’ or even ‘Tampons’. This is perfectly reasonable stuff, but when you’ve got 20 mouths to feed and maybe a couple of requests each, that’s 40 separate products and I’d find myself searching the aisle for what seemed like hours, dripping with sweat, desperately wanting to be on-set directing and in my head I’m screaming ‘What the f**k am I doing searching for Tampons!!!’ It was insanity.
You might be wondering why I didn’t just lay down the law and say, no more little requests people. Trust me, I could not. Everyone was on a knife edge and when I didn’t come back with a particular person’s request, it was taken as a personal insult. ‘Oh right, so I’m here working on your crazy film for hardly any money, I’ve been horribly ill and you won’t even bring me a little tin of lentils!’ That’s how it was.
Quitting this shoot was only a pot of Marmite away and I knew it.  I simply had to deliver these things for the prize of getting onto set with a full crew who had eaten and drunk so I could use this tiny amount of my brain power left to compose a shot or two.
We had discovered shortly after casting Rob, that he was a vegan and, therefore, not only would he not be able to eat meat, but anything dairy based. Let me tell you, in Africa this is almost impossible to deal with. We were in one restaurant and asked if they had anything for vegetarians ‘yes, chicken’ said the waiter. This was not going to be easy.
Rob would often only be able to eat fruit so when Rob told me one morning he really wanted some ‘low iodine salt’, this seemed pretty reasonable. He was the star of the movie and had been getting zero perks working on this hell-like shoot. Some stars require cocaine and transvestite hookers in their trailers to keep them in the mood to perform, so low iodine salt didn’t seem so bad.
I also knew, if I came back without it, he would be far from happy and I didn’t want something like this to affect his performance. Let me tell you, four hours is what it takes to find low iodine salt when you’re in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso. I had thought we had found it in every shop we trawled around, everyone said ‘yes’ and directed me to ordinary salt completely baffled at why I then wouldn’t buy it. When I did eventually find that someone had stocked it by accident it was a real victory.
Sometimes I would come back with these items for people, having gone through what felt like half a day’s work to get it, only to be underwhelmed by their response. ‘Cheers’ or ‘Ta’. I didn’t feel right to stand there telling a tale of how hard it was to purchase some non-alcohol based moisturiser or how the extra hour spent shopping that day meant I would have to compromise the scene by keeping the camera on the tripod rather than something more dynamic that I had in my head. It was awfully frustrating but there was no way out of this.
Jon had his own version of this frustration. He didn’t even really want to DOP the film, he had wanted to equally co-direct but, to hire a DOP with Jon’s level of talent and have them out with us in Africa for all that time, we could simply not afford. He is a brilliant DOP whether he likes it or not.
He also happened to be the only guy amongst the crew that could fix anything electrical and, seeing as almost everything went wrong all the time, a large percentage of Jon’s time would be spent fixing things or dealing with the ever growing technical issues. He had already had to build camera batteries by hand and he even had to mend fridges, where film stock had to be kept cold with more intricate soldering. It was driving him mad but he had to do it, otherwise we would grind to a halt.
The fantasy of us being on set equally directing and creating this film the way we both wanted was never going to be a reality. The situation was not going to allow it so we had no choice to fall back into what we knew best. Sadly, even when you’re not in the nightmare situation we were, unless you’re at the top end of the movie-making scale a ‘film director’s’ job over the course of the year involves very little directing:

Prince David Osei and Rob Freeman
 
I REALLY WANT TO DIRECT
Every time I teach at film-school. I ask every new class ‘Who wants to be a director?’ usually at least 90% of hands go up. My heart has already sunk at this point because I know there is simply not enough directing work to go around. Then I ask ‘What does a director actually do?’
At times you get very sensible answers but sometimes someone with their hands up will say ‘well, they say action & cut all day and tell people what to do don’t they?’
I shouldn’t confess it in a book but in these moments I want to leap across the room and strangle the naivety from these poor souls, thus saving them from a life of unfulfilled dreams.
Sadly, even a lot of successful directors don’t do nearly as much ‘directing’ as you might think.
Here’s a pie chart of an average director’s year.
 
On the first day we were to shoot a big dialogue scene between Rob and Prince, there was a knock on the door with more bad news being delivered. It turns out that our sound cordist, who had agreed a particular weekly rate with Marie on our recce trip, had then met us and, apparently, ‘discovered we were white’. This meant that he had now more than doubled his asking price, even though he would already be the highest paid member of crew, including those from the UK.
This type of thing happened a lot and often we would have to hide out of sight whilst prices were being negotiated and only reveal ourselves once firm agreements were in place. As ‘foreign folk’, we were assumed to be rich and as ‘foreign film folk’ it was automatically assumed that we had millions of dollars. They would literally think you were Hollywood and probably drinking buddies with Tom Cruise. Sadly, the truth was far from it, and we needed to watch every penny. Hiding like this became a daily occurrence.
No one could get to grips with the fact that we had not been sent by a big film company to do this. The idea that we had come out to do it off our own backs just didn’t make sense. Why would anyone do that? They had a point here.
We didn’t like the degree to which the local sound recordist had increased his price. Not only that, he had left it until a day or so before he was required, which is a technique to cause you to be desperate through lack of time. We offered him 50% more than he was originally getting as we were indeed desperate, but he wouldn’t take it. Out of principle we would now never work with this guy. Even if he was the last sound guy on earth, he had dropped us in it and he was on the no-go list.
It now meant that we could not shoot any scenes with dialogue until we got someone else on board who also had decent sound kit. Whilst this search began, I rescheduled yet again.
Frustratingly, dialogue scenes, so long as they were daylight exteriors had come up as the one thing we could have done whilst waiting for our equipment in the van. A lot of these scenes could be done in close up on a tripod, the one piece of grip equipment we did have with us. It was very painful going through the script trying to filter out what we could shoot. I would come across a scene and think, great, this one, then I would realise there was some dialogue somewhere in it.
Maybe we could post-sync it? (Place the dialogue later in a sound studio), but then I realised everyone Rob spoke to was African. This would mean we would have to fly them to the UK and Prince, the co star didn’t even have a visa. Not only this but post-syncing is risky because, firstly the performance can suffer – the actors are often ‘in the moment’ on set, they are ‘feeling it’ and that’s the sound you want to get. You might not be able to get it as good later when they are sitting in a sound booth with headphones on. Could this sound recordist greed actually result in further compromising our film?
I then thought about shooting part of the sequence up until our characters spoke. Then when we did get the sound gear, we would come back and shoot the parts with sound. But this is also problematic. It would be hard to get the continuity of light and the position of things and it would also mean the schedule would become even more inefficient, as we would be re visiting places we had already shot in. It’s always best to get in and get out. Whenever you come back and do ‘pick up’ shots they almost never cut in as well.
I couldn’t believe these things would keep happening to us. We’d now done a one and a half day compromised shoot in an expensive three week trip in Africa and we still couldn’t get on with the meat of it.
We got onto our contacts in the UK but call after call revealed that no one was available, or they would understandably not jump on a plane without having had the many inoculations you need to have to visit Africa weeks prior to departure. We also tried our contacts in Ghana and Nigeria but either their kit wasn’t working or they were already on shoots. There seemed to be an international shortage of sound recordists.
I spread the word amongst some contacts and felt that someone would find someone. We just had to get on with some shots. In the meantime, I had also asked Amir to look on eBay for a good bit of sound kit and some microphones.
We had managed to find a couple of sequences that we could shoot and, at least chip away at this beast and the next morning we were on location setting up for our first shots in Burkina Faso. Ok, so it was far greener than we wanted, we didn’t have any lights, generator or equipment to create camera moves, we couldn’t record sound and some of us had the severe s**t’s and there were no toilet facilities, but we were finally going to start principle photography. It was not how I had envisioned it but it was a start none the less.
We would shoot the scene where Rob was trying to free a stuck car. We had found a good place and started setting the cameras up. The car had to be arranged where its wheels would appear stuck on some rocks, even when the wheel spun. We wanted it to kick up rocks and water as this happened, so it had more impact and believability.
Having arranged all that, we were pretty much ready to go for our first shot. What happened next I wouldn’t have believed with my own eyes had others not been there to witness it.
The wind suddenly whipped up out of nowhere and dark clouds gathered above us. By above us, I really mean above us, our view of the horizon all around seemed free of cloud.
Just then, Dan, who was arranging the rocks shouted for us to look. Just a few feet from the car a mini tornado was spinning right where we were planning to shoot. It got bigger and bigger as it moved across the path ripping leaves and branches as it went. I ran for the camcorder and just caught the tail end of it. It was all very amusing and we were just swapping stories about how we must have upset the gods when we heard thunder.
It had been blisteringly hot the entire time we had been there. Every time we had been waiting at the port or being held up by the police we had been sweaty and uncomfortable because of the heat. Some of us had got sun burnt in the weeks leading up, but now we needed the sun and it was pissing down with rain before we could take a single shot.
I was desperate to get something in the can so we waited inside the vehicles but it became obvious it was not going to let up. By mid afternoon it was pointless. I had to give in, and lucky I did, as it continued for two days.
I had heard the expression ‘everything that can go wrong does’ applying to shoots and I had even used it myself in past shoots, which I had thought were tough but, with this one, it would not let us even get going. It was a horrible feeling.
 
OTHER HELPFUL FILM INDUSTRY TRANSLATIONS
Just in case you want to know more about the delights of the film industry, or are thinking of being involved in it yourself, here are some more translations.
Lets role-play for a moment:
You are an attractive young actress hoping for your big break and have saved up all your money working as a waitress to go down to the Cannes Film Festival to get ‘spotted’. You are walking along the the Croisette in that special dress that took a whole day to choose when, as luck would have it, you bump into a producer. You can tell he’s a real producer because he’s fat and has a beard and you heard him talking loudly on his mobile phone to his ‘assistant’ to ‘cancel that meeting with George Cloony’ and ‘set something up with Keira Knightly’.
You’re a smart girl so you quickly check his name out online via your mobile phone and Bingo. His name comes up on IMDB. It doesn’t matter that his last movie is ‘Giant Tarantulas from Venus 5’. You know that when you get your moment on that silver screen the world is going to discover what you are here for and you will never have to wait another table again.
So you get talking over a drink. You know he’s assessing your ‘star’ qualities during the conversation with that lead role in the balance, so you cut your best poses, like his eyes are the lens of that movie camera and this is your close-up.
Allow me to translate the conversation:
PRODUCER: ‘You definitely have a promising look, we should talk more about how you’d fit into to this slate of movies I have coming up. There’s also a good friend of mine I could introduce you to who owns a top talent agency in LA, but first lets get you another drink…’.
TRANSLATION: ‘You are way out of my league and normally wouldn’t look at me twice unless I was in a criminal line-up but if I can get you drunk enough to believe I might actually cast you in a starring role and that I have major connections that will benefit your hopes of an acting career, I might actually get to heave my great torso on top of you later this evening and if so, all you will have to show for it, other than a broken rib and some beard chafing, is an out of focus shot walking past the main actors in ‘Giant Tarantulas from Venus 5’.
If this is offensive to you then the film industry is not a place you should frequent as its way more offensive in reality.

 
The rain and tornado have now gone and we can finally get on with shooting the sequence where Murphy’s car gets stuck and he nearly meets his end had it not been for his path crossing with the local soldier Daniel. We still couldn’t shoot sound but at least it seemed we might be able to do everything up until Murphy and Daniel meet and we’re up and rolling and have a shot in the can of the car getting stuck.
I’ve already had a mild disagreement with Jon as he thinks I’m too obsessed with showing the huge tree to the right of the frame but I just love how small the car looks in frame next to it. We agree on an angle and then I want to go in ‘hand held’ to get some frantic stuff of Murphy trying to get the hell out of there but Jon hates the idea of any hand held in this sequence and I don’t get it at all. I think it will be great.
So it turns into a major shouting match in front of the entire cast and crew, and this is the moment in my head that I swear to myself I will never agree to any sort of directorial collaboration with anyone again. Jon seems to want the scene to just unfold on a wide shot so the audience can observe what’s unfolding. I feel it will be far more exciting if we are in there with some chaotic shots. I’m already worried that the film has not been exciting enough and, whilst I also love our slow moving Zombies, I argue that we can’t have everything slow. Jon doesn’t want it ‘too cuty’ and I agree with him. We both felt it should have a 70’s vibe with shots that linger, I was totally on board with that but I just wanted a bit more action to contrast with it every now and then, and this one was now.
I assure him that I love wide shots where audiences can observe, and we will have them, but I think we need some adrenalin pumping. I had already lost an argument earlier on the village scene, where the young boy ran from the hut before jumping on the truck. We had both been gutted that we could not have done this shot on the steadicam as we had both intended but, instead, I had wanted a ‘B camera’ on it so I could get some more manic shots to edit with but Jon had point blank refused to let another camera out of the van. I had loved the way he had lit the shot and his fire flicker effect but in my mind it just wasn’t’ going to reach the heights it would have in terms of pace. 
I had eventually given up arguing that time as I just wanted to shoot something, but this one I was not going to lose no matter what. We were finally ‘up and running’ I desperately wanted to ‘do my thing’. I really felt I knew what we needed to get in the can. I could see the shots in my head and I wanted them in that can.
Marie then came up saying ‘look, can you guys decide what the next shot is as everyone is waiting’. It was embarrassing and time was going by and in my gut I knew what had to be done so I stood my ground. I was not going to go through al this pain not to have just a little creative satisfaction here and there.
It was bizarre that this ‘Ford Brothers argument’ became so drawn out – there had to be some miss-understanding or heatstroke involved as we’re normally on a similar wavelength and get moving very quickly. Eventually, we agreed that the scene would start with a wide shot where the Zombies would appear slowly and gradually which I also really wanted, then I could go in and get my hand held shots. Perfect!
Well, far from perfect actually, going in so close to Rob during this frenzied moment caused the powerful blood-spurt from the Zombie that was shot by an off-screen Prince to blast right into Rob’s eyes and for a moment he was rolling around on the dusty ground blind in one eye in his boxer shorts.  We had to remove Rob’s trousers whenever there was blood flying around as we couldn’t risk his only pair of Murphy’s combat trousers to get stained and throw out the continuity. It must have been extremely painful and humiliating for Rob but he took it well.

Rob can't take the humiliation any longer

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