May 16-22, 1983

Monday, May 16: DAY FIFTY-SEVEN (9 ½ hrs)

Things changed a little today.  As we were driven to the studio this morning, Anatol explained an idea he had: rather than waste Pablo we should make maximum use of him – that is, not shut him away in our office.  He could record sound as Anatol shot – and I could act as line producer, keeping a running log as we shoot, pointing them in the right direction, keeping track of what’s going on.  So we tried it.

Actually, it’s quite easy to keep a rough, but fairly detailed record of what’s being shot as it’s shot.  In all, it worked out quite well – we suddenly found ourselves more coordinated, moving around a lot more but not getting so exhausted.

At breakfast we learned in passing from Doug that they’re building the spice miner on the backlot (Strick hasn’t been keeping us up on things at all, so we’ll just shut her out – she’s of no use).  So we went to get that (a beautiful piece of work, still under construction).  Happened to notice something else going on behind the rock wall – a vast set for the Hall of Rites (about two-hundred feet long, it’s to be magnified vastly by an Al Whitlock glass painting).  So we got all that.

Giorgio Desiderio`s prop department, Estudios Churubusco

Then we got a little in Giorgio’s set decoration shop.  Spoke to Aldo Puccini and discovered that they’re building the bridge across the gorge at Aguilas Rojas.  So we went there after lunch, caught some of that, and got a little interview with Aldo (a marvelous character who started at Cinecitta in his late teens, worked with Fellini, and has made films all over the place) – though we were told it would be almost impossible to get him to talk, he’s actually very articulate and very willing.

Then we returned to the studio and finally shot Fred and his unit on Stage 4, doing a hunter-seeker wire shot (he’s still having trouble – three times in the last two shooting days, the film has run out during a take – because the guy responsible “forgets”).

Things are looking up, then.  I just hope to keep abreast of what’s going on and push Anatol a little to get him to shoot things he may not be all that interested in personally.  As for Pablo, he seems to be very good, just has to get used to what he’s doing – as it is, he seems able to anticipate what is necessary – he doesn’t have to be pushed.

We asked Raffaella if it would be possible to get one of her spare Nagras from the States this afternoon (Nelson is going to help us set up a better sound system, using a Nagra as a pre-amp so Pablo can regulate the sound going into the recorder on the camera) – she immediately had Golda get on the direct line to New York – and we’re going to get it.  All in a matter of moments.  She seems to be very favourable towards us now.

I saw David in the corridor at lunch, spoke to him.  Said I’d read Blue Velvet.  He asked how I liked it.  I said parts of it were very good.  But it needs work, he said.  I said I’d made notes on how I’d alter it – but maybe he’d be offended.  Very, he joked.  Said we’d get together to talk about it later.  But I don’t really know how much he wants to hear my suggestions – not too much, I suspect.

Bought some cassettes this evening: Orff’s Carmina Burana and Catulli Carmina; Beethoven’s Sixth and Ninth; and ABC’s Lexicon of Love.  Very cheap _ sixteen, seventeen dollars for all five – but probably with quality to match.

We hope to have Eric come along on the picnic next Sunday because what before seemed a vague and impracticable idea now appears quite plausible – to make a short film here in Mexico City.  Both Pablo and Eric have experience (those documentaries) and Eric is a writer.

We envision a short (at most one hour) piece in which a poor, illiterate man leaves his village (a pastoral scene) and comes to the city in hopes of finding a means of survival.  It would be a phantasmagorical descent into an urban hell – all the things we dislike about the city – the crowding, the pollution, the poverty, the false sense of westernized progress.  The man would be sucked in and destroyed, left dead in a dump somewhere (pulling back to a panoramic helicopter shot of the vast city which devoured him).

If we can work out a fairly simple script, we’d try to make enough spare time to produce it.

Wednesday, May 18: DAY FIFTY-NINE (8 ½ hrs, 9 ½ hrs)

Fairly slow day yesterday.  The Universal executives who flew in Monday evening didn’t bring any of our equipment (not even the wide-angle lens) which has been sitting around at Bexel for three weeks.  They want us to do a good job, but they won’t lift a finger to help (no one told them about the stuff, they said – although one of them was here a couple of weeks ago and heard about it then).

Fremen Great Hall set, backlot, Estudios Churubusco

So we weren’t too well disposed to jump up and shoot them on their tour of the studio.  Luckily, as always, there wasn’t enough light on the sets for our camera.  But in the afternoon we followed them to the backlot – an excruciating experience; they know nothing about movie-making (will the huge half spice miner braced with all kinds of wood framing actually roll around the sand?).  And they gave off a constant stream of absolutely witless “jokes”.  We eventually fled – along with George, the stills photographer.

Speaking of George, I get along with him quite well (as I do with most of the English), though he looks like a debauched old satyr (whose facial twitches and nasal problems hint at long-time use of certain chemical powders).  But it’s becoming very difficult not to believe that he’s actively interfering with us on the set – certainly, there are only a few really good vantage points from which to catch the action – but time and again, he jams his bald patch right in front of our lens, a few inches to either side simply will not do – so shot after shot is ruined by his gleaming dome.  Why?  Maybe he considers us competition – ridiculous, but possibly true.

First unit call sheet, May 18, 1983

Raffaella ran around excitedly yesterday afternoon and shipped us off to Azteca Stadium.  The big VistaVision shot of twenty-five hundred soldiers originally scheduled for yesterday was pushed back a week – but someone failed to tell someone else – and the army arrived early yesterday afternoon, all ready to go.  So we had to go out there and tape the scene – unfortunately, not being a news crew, we didn’t think until afterwards that we should have interviewed some of them – so we’ve got a bunch of pointless shots of soldiers with no explanation.  But maybe we can grab a few next week and get them to talk about it.

We heard later that the major who had taken the cancellation message has been arrested.

It’s going to take me a while to get used to on-the-spot logging.  When the shoot is slow (as at Azteca), I can get most of the shots, checking with Anatol as we go along.  But when it gets fast (as on stage in the evening as they rushed to get a shot finished – the crew have refused to work such long hours), I obviously can’t be very detailed.  I tried and it was a mess.

Second unit call sheet, May 18, 1983

But it may work out.

At supper yesterday evening, I told Anatol another of my story ideas – one I’ve been trying to develop on and off for years (ever since seeing that huge unfinished spaceship set in Fellini’s 8 ½).  And he liked it immediately – better than the Paris one.

And speaking of Paris, we’re beginning to think it might be a good idea to take a, say, two-week break in the middle of this job and hop over to Europe – scout some locations as it were around the middle of July (Bastille Day, the two-hundredth anniversary of hot-air ballooning …).  I could even take a quick side-trip to England, and Anatol could drop in on his ex-wife in Brussels.  For the first time in my life I can actually contemplate such a thing without worrying about the money.

Thursday, May 19: DAY SIXTY (7 hrs)

Second unit call sheet, May 19, 1983

Didn’t shoot much yesterday – a bit in the ‘thopter cave, Stage 5.  Had to put off the interview with Max again – he was exhausted by the heat and on-set line changes.

It turned out to be a pity that we didn’t shoot more of those executives – as George predicted, it was the funniest thing we’ve done yet – they’re such total idiots … like an old-time comedy team.

Some of our test equipment apparently arrived on Saturday – customs called yesterday.  There was no prior notification, no copy of the manifest – we had to call L.A. to find out what had been sent.  Anatol also spoke to Armstrong – saying how excellently everything is working out.  Both he and Anne told him that I’m now acting as line producer – I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.

Friday, May 20: DAY SIXTY-ONE (8 ½ hrs)

An odd day yesterday.  So much has changed so radically that it sometimes hits me with a shock – in the midst of it, I’m generally not aware of the difference.

Three months ago, tell me that I would spend half an hour interviewing Max von Sydow and that I’d come away with something pretty good – and it would have been inconceivable.  Yet I did it yesterday with scarcely a qualm.  And with decent results.  (Anatol and Pablo say they think I’m a good interviewer – I don’t say much but I can key the victim and get him talking about things that interest him.)

First unit weekly schedule, May 20, 1983

Not to mention that I’m running around, talking to people, arranging things – me, who used to hate dealing with new people.  (Anatol pointed out something I hadn’t really been aware of: on Wednesday when we got news of the shipment, I went straight into Strick’s office, said what had happened and that we had to call L.A. immediately to find out what had been sent – and she picked up the phone immediately and put through three calls – like a secretary; Anatol says I’ve begun acting like a producer.)

I visited Bob and Greg on Stage 8 in the afternoon, where they’re setting up the second front projection screen – the backing is up, the reflector has to be applied now – from a scaffold which goes up forty-five feet.  It’s about five feet wide and ten, twelve feet long and on wheels.  Greg got me to climb it.  I was scared shitless.  But afterwards I followed him up to the stage catwalks, sixty feet up – I was terrified – but I went through with it for some reason – Greg deliberately applying the necessary peer pressure (we discussed it as we did it).

We left the studio early – four – in Pablo’s VW Rabbit (or Caribe as they’re called here).  Went looking for humidifiers.  I bought one for a hundred bucks. (We got our per diem a day early) – a Sharp, made in Japan.  Also some tapes – Anatol got Jarre’s China Concerts for eight hundred pesos, the last copy they had.  Looked in on a bookstore, drove around.  A pleasant change of pace.

Pablo lives in a beautiful residential area near here.  Obviously from our situation – existing just between the Zona Rosa and Churubusco – we have no real concept of the city at all.

Not too bad of a day.  We shot a test of the Baron’s flying rig this morning – with Ken McMillan in his fat suit.  It looked very good.  But we didn’t get a chance to talk to McMillan before the test – I was a little worried about that.

So at lunch I introduced us to him and invited him to come and see the tape – so he did, right after lunch, with Bob Ringwood (in charge of the wardrobe department – and thus the fat suit), plus a whole bunch of other people (including Golda).  It went over very well – and once again we’ve proved our usefulness (the effects people in charge of the rig also want to see it).

David had visited with Dino and Raffaella to check the rig out, so we got a little footage of them.  Then Dino looked into our room just in time to see his own face on screen – all grainy and smeared at eighteen dBs amplification.  Said something unintelligible to Ken McMillan, then left.  The closest we’ve come to actually meeting him.

Visited the model and miniatures shops on the backlot this afternoon – not much happening.  Most of it was all done before shooting started.

The spice harvester on the backlot dunes is looking very impressive – bigger all the time, and being given a fine corroded finish.

Before leaving this evening, I went over to first unit to ask Max to sign a release.  He was very nice about it (I hated to hand him the thing).  We shook hands; I said what a pleasure it had been and I hoped we’d meet again.  He wished us luck on our project….

Made a dupe of Jarre’s China Concerts in the office today.  Don’t know why I didn’t do it before I left home.

Saturday, May 21: DAY SIXTY-TWO (8 hrs)

Missed Fred shooting inserts for an autopsy scene today.

The picnic tomorrow has been cancelled – Pablo’s wife has gone to visit a friend in another town and he’ll join her there tonight.

So another dull weekend for yours truly (it’s about eight now and I’m all alone in my room – as usual everyone else already had plans and disappeared for the evening).  Wrote a long letter to Peter – and a brief card to Tim.

Might have a late supper with Fred –

Sting isn’t the only actor flying in tomorrow – Jack Nance is due to arrive too.

I asked David if we could get together to talk about Blue Velvet.  Sure – when Dune is finished with.    He can’t think about anything else at this stage….

Huge thunderstorm this evening with some spectacular flashes of lightening above the city.

Spent the evening watching Alexander Mackendick’s Sammy Going South on TV (an awful image – TV here is technically lousy) – a film I always enjoy.

Fred called halfway through – didn’t feel like supper – so I haven’t eaten.  Might as well just go to bed.

Sunday, May 22: DAY SIXTY-THREE

Slept until sometime after eleven.  Walked over to the Royal (saw Sting on the street with a few other people, including Golda).  Had breakfast by the pool, did some writing – beginning a more detailed outline of the early part of the Paris script.

Raffaella was very friendly towards me for some reason – chatted a little, called me George a number of times (she was reading a new version of Conan II).

Wrote, drank beer, chatted on and off with a few people.  Got some sun.

Visited Greg in his room, had a couple of drinks, talked a while about writing, future plans, women….

Had to eat by myself (a tough steak at Denny’s).

Should try to write a bit more before going to bed….

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