Tuesday, May 10: DAY FIFTY-ONE (13 hrs, 8 hrs)
We went to the studio yesterday afternoon, after a late breakfast with Fred – still pale and weak from a bout of some bug (the strain of this situation is wreaking havoc on his health).
Right away, we discovered that the first cassette from Sunday afternoon was ruined; the camera was receiving a strong FM signal, at times about as loud as David. For some reason it faded out on the second and third cassettes. Still, we got some excellent stuff from that conversation.
We had a guy from Apogee, an electronics man named Steve, look at the camera, and Arturo came in later. They opened it up, removed the recorder – but there’s apparently not much you can do with the FM problem (like CBs on your TV or stereo). As for the hissing problem we’ve been getting, they couldn’t help because we were never sent the manual for the recorder.
Then when we were getting ready to go, we kept getting the servo red light – meaning the recorder wasn’t getting a sync signal and wouldn’t record. I cleaned the connections and that seemed to help. But the time-code generator isn’t working. We’re getting more and more pissed off.
Raffaella told Anatol we missed a lot of good material by not following her around yesterday. I heard a little later what the good material pertained to when I spoke to Maggie on Stage 1. I told her about our Sunday afternoon, how good it had been for the three of us, and she said she was glad because Monday was very bad for David, he was feeling lousy because they’d had to fire Aldo Ray because of his drinking problem. When I heard that, I found myself fuming. If that’s the kind of thing Raffaella wants us to catch on tape – her being the big producer as seen in someone else’s humiliation – she can fuck herself. If anything like that does come up when we follow her around, I told Anatol, I’m shutting off the mike and walking away. And if she wants to fire me for that, okay.
We won’t be doing her today because she’ll be spending most of her time phoning around for a replacement.
We still haven’t got an assistant, though we met a guy yesterday who looks very promising – named Pablo, the friend of Eric Krohnengold. Apparently Carmen, the woman last week, never even spoke to Raffaella; she talked to Vicente Escriva (more or less the office manager) who told her what a dry, dull, boring job it was and that most of the time she’d have nothing to do. Hiring our assistant has nothing to do with him in the first place – and for him to be trying to discourage our applicants is really just a bit too much.
But the day ended well; shooting a scene in the studio parking lot – the entrance to a Harkonnen ship on the Arrakeen landing field – with a crowd of Harkonnen soldiers (superbly evil looking creatures in their oily suits) and Max von Sydow (Dr. Kynes), beaten and half dead, being abused by Paul Smith (Rabban), a huge, magnificently maniacal villain. It was the first scene that actually excited us, looking truly epic – we hope to see the dailies of it.
We didn’t stay long today – left the studio about nine; we’ve got a bunch of stuff to do tomorrow (starting with Tony Masters at nine in the morning).
After yesterday evening’s intensity, it settled back to the slowness we’ve come to know so well.
But yesterday! What we shot is incredible – everything came together – we caught the excitement of what was happening and it’s visually dynamic. The first stuff we’re actually happy with (and really want to show to David and Freddie Francis).
Pablo joined our crew today. He seems intelligent, polite, very attentive – I hope he works out okay.
Anatol and I rode back to the Zona Rosa with Debbie and Roz from wardrobe this evening. Debbie’s going to the coast this weekend with a few other people. Roz is going to New York Thursday – doing a wardrobe fitting with Sting – too bad it’s not possible for us to go along – just to get away from here for a couple of days.
I may have to leave the Amberes. It appears that my jacket has been stolen. And for two days there’s been no hot water for my shower….
Wednesday, May 11: DAY FIFTY-TWO (9 ½ hrs)
If I don’t get a break soon, a chance to catch up on some real rest, I think I’ll collapse. It’s impossible to get a full night’s sleep, what with the heat and the lack of oxygen – and last night a bout of what Bob calls “the Hershey squirts”. This fucking place is impossible.
We shot some stuff with Tony Masters this morning. Apparently he’s been dying to get on camera – he made up his own interview essentially – was so eager to start, he was going before we were quite ready.
After that, we were too exhausted by our stomach problems and general tiredness to do much of anything. We had to screen some stuff for Strick. And were given an order for this five-to-seven minute convention promo thing – to be ready next week. Good luck. First Armstrong refuses to give us editing capability – then we’re expected to start editing on the spot. Of course what we’re supposed to put into this thing is the kind of shit we don’t like (such as Tony rambling on).
Luckily we have Pablo – and Ellie, a connection with Mexican TV working for the Dune effects people. She put us in touch with the head of Pronarte, the government video facility at Churubusco – so we went to see him at five-thirty. An old university friend of Pablo’s works there too. So, within half an hour we had facilities booked for a couple of hours Friday morning for transfer of our material to 3/4″ and subsequent assembly (we’ll send Armstrong twenty or thirty minutes which he can edit as desired in L.A.).
Of course all this is subject to approval by David and Raffaella – and they haven’t even looked at the dupe we made last week.
Problems: Strick seems to think that this can all be knocked out quickly Friday morning and sent to the States Monday. She doesn’t understand that it may be technically complicated. Even less does she seem to realize that it’ll take hours to locate the necessary shots (we haven’t logged anything yet, remember). So she’s already listing all the things we should do tomorrow (Raffaella again – she’s more eager than Masters, it seems).
But the main thing is this: this stuff is not what we were hired for (remember the one-hour documentary? a lot of people seem to forget). This is extra work – and a lot of trouble (because we were hamstrung at the beginning as far as editing is concerned). And further, it’s taking us away from the job we are supposed to be doing – covering the Dune production. This is publicity. Armstrong told us we weren’t doing that. So we figure we should be paid extra for this. But Anatol, despite his penchant for flying off the handle, is reluctant to “stir up trouble” because we aren’t really in a firm position. I think that if we don’t set it straight right now, it’ll be too late afterwards; we mustn’t set a precedent that all this extra stuff is free.
Pablo seems like a real find – intelligent, competent, and well-connected.
This morning when I again asked at the desk about my jacket, the manager happened to be there. The jacket was waiting here when I got back this evening.
And Christina Espinoza is getting on to them about moving me to a suite upstairs – she says only talk to the manager. Everyone else is useless.
We’ve been invited to a party Saturday – actually invited. Not because of our equipment. In fact when Penny Shaw (assistant editor) gave us the invitation this afternoon (it’s at her and Tony Gibbs’ place) and we pleaded for her to refuse having it videotaped, she seemed surprised, thought it a ridiculous idea. So we’re safe there.
Egos: Masters made no mention of Ron Miller during his spiel – even though he showed us some of Miller’s paintings. And Strick pointedly told us to avoid Miller’s interview when we put this promo thing together. Heads of departments only, please….
Met Dean Stockwell (Dr. Yueh) this afternoon. Friendly, apparently willing to be of service to us.
Friday, May 13: DAY FIFTY-FOUR (15 hrs, 4 ½ hrs)
Some important occurrences yesterday.
I got the script of Blue Velvet from David (he again mentioned that the last third needs a complete reworking – I think he may really be asking for my suggestions).
We shot the old women sewing Jessica’s cloak again in the morning – a pointless exercise, we felt, but it went better this time: Pablo was there to draw them out – and more importantly Anne Strick stayed away.
In the afternoon, we did a brief interview with John Dykstra – a lot of fun (though bad lighting spoiled the video); he’s easy to interview – give him a reasonable question and he’ll give a long, animated, interesting answer with a scattering of humour and anecdote.
A big scene in the evening, in the Great Hall in Arrakeen with Paul Smith (Rabban – he was the prison commandant in Midnight Express and did some action comedies in Italy, plus the Burt Lancaster Moses and Masada; huge as he is, he seems decent, sensitive and full of humour – obviously relishes the part of a villain). It was the first time I’ve seen David mishandle an actor – a Mexican who didn’t speak enough English to be able to handle his lines (badly injured, he staggers in to report on the battle to Rabban); it was obvious very early that he would have to be dubbed, so his pronunciation really didn’t matter – but his physical movements and his expression and tone were perfect. Yet David kept on drilling him in his lines – in front of everyone – until he was so upset and flustered that he lost the structure of them, let alone the pronunciation. He fell apart and it was obvious that everyone was losing patience with him. Finally they redesigned the whole shot, dropped the lines. Now Rabban grabs him, bellows, crushes his head in anger and throws him down – really threw him down. The poor guy bounced off the floor for about four takes. His terror, confusion, and pleading tone were all too real – and I felt that the grin he gave at the end of it all was a defensive one. The thing is, he was a nice guy but he never should have been cast because he couldn’t handle the English lines. I felt bad about the whole thing – most of the other people there seemed to treat it all as a joke.
For most of the scene Pablo and I were alone. He’s very good (he lit the bit with the woman and the cloak very well), seems able to handle the camera (I tried it again myself for a few minutes – it’s really horribly difficult – to hold it steady, let alone put a shot together).
Because Anatol went to show Raffaella the sample tape we put together (and one master from Monday). He said she was thoroughly enthused. She’s going to call Armstrong (“that asshole Armstrong,” she called him in front of Strick) in Cannes today to tell him to ship us an editing system (a few weeks ago, Anatol asked her why she was just giving all this material away – apparently the idea sank in yesterday evening). She also came up with a fairly simple concept for this promo tape, so we don’t have to try to be advertising men ourselves (I can’t think that way) and told Anatol what material we can use in it. So our position might be secure now.
A bad rumour going around (I heard it from Doug Hersh): after having piled everything onto second unit and having refused to give Fred a decent crew, they’re saying he’s just a film-school kid who can’t handle a professional job and he’s on his way out. If true, it’s an appallingly shitty deal and it’ll generate a lot of very bad feeling, because everyone who knows Fred knows the impossible situation he’s in.
A bad sign: Anatol mentioned that we’ve unfortunately been ignoring second unit until now and Raffaella replied, “Ignore them.”
Another bad sign: when they were talking of this promo thing, the idea of a commentary came up. Raffaella turned to Strick and said she’d better get to work. So what am I? chopped liver? Armstrong hired me (supposedly) as a writer. Admittedly I don’t want to write promo shit, but I should get first refusal.
Christina Espinoza got on the phone to the Amberes yesterday, spoke to the manager. This morning I moved to the fifth floor – lots more light, the sounds of the city replacing the air conditioner – and, unfortunately, due to the height, more radio interference on my stereo.
Sunday, May 15: DAY FIFTY-SIX (3 ½ hrs)
We went to a party Friday evening – thrown in honour of the birthday of a woman we don’t know. In a two-storey penthouse apartment with a terrace from which there was a wide view of the city. We arrived in our more or less usual gear – to find the place full of men in jackets and ties, young executive types. After a few hours it got really crowded (a lot of people from Churubusco) and Anatol got totally drunk (amplified by a lot of grass) – a condition in which he’s fairly tedious.
Also at the party was the man who had such a rough time on Thursday evening in the Great Hall (also in a suit and tie) – a nice guy whose English is actually quite good. He was just inexperienced and nervous.
We went to the studio about eleven yesterday morning – due to shoot a training session with Kyle and Kiyoshi. We had trouble finding a place to do it. Finally went to the Y and got a yoga room – very light, but a lot of traffic noise (how people could possibly meditate there, I can’t imagine) and simple anatomical charts on the wall showing digestive tract and male and female reproductive organs.
It was quite interesting to watch the Japanese sword training – Kyle has a brown belt in karate, so he’s a very quick study. But Anatol wasn’t in particularly good shape and approached it badly, not interested in a boring training film but rather in a “psychological study” – that is, he caught almost none of the action but went for interminable, repetitive facial closeups which show absolutely nothing of what’s going on. He’s got some very peculiar ideas as a cameraman….
We returned to Zona Rosa in the afternoon, needing to catch up on rest. But I wound up reading David’s Blue Velvet. Parts of it are excellent (like the opening), but it has an unfinished feel to it, needs elaboration. The story of a young man whose life gets turned upside down, it contrasts a sunny world of young love and family life and crisis with a brutal underworld into which the guy’s curiosity draws him. Parts of it have a kind of Eraserhead strangeness (it occasionally slips into a microscopic world), but the normal world it depicts is a little too ordinary, a little cliched while the darker underworld is a bit too predictable – I wanted the whole thing to shift more into strangeness, unreality, which is the direction the early part promises. But all that would require a complete rethinking of the script’s world.
After reading it, I sat down and started outlining my own script in some detail, getting two-and-a-half pages done before I had to leave for another party – thrown by Tony Gibbs and Penny Shaw. Pablo drove us there, somewhere in the south of the city, an old area of narrow cobbled streets and large houses in high-walled gardens. Tony and Penny’s place is gorgeous, loaded with art, high-ceilinged rooms, narrow winding staircases, a rooftop patio, large back garden in which a kind of pavilion had been set up – some Mexican caterers were making excellent food and there was an almost unending flow of wine and other liquid refreshment. It was a huge party, but not crowded and impossible like the one on Friday – I spent the night talking to all kinds of people, drinking vast quantities of wine, and opening up really for the first time since I came here. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages.
Speaking of Pablo: to our surprise (and a little embarrassment) we learned yesterday at the party that he’s made a couple of documentaries (with Eric, from second unit, who apparently is a writer) which have won prizes in Mexico and Brazil. We’ll try to set up a screening (one is in 16mm, the other Super-8).
Went up to the pool on top of the Royal this afternoon. Freddie Jones was up there – met him informally. He’s exactly the same person as he is on screen.
Reread Blue Velvet. Made some notes on how I would change it (requiring alterations beginning on page twenty-three – not just in the final third as David said). I’ll return the script, but I won’t say anything unless he specifically asks. If he does ask, I might just give him my notes as the basis for later discussion.
Had supper with Greg and talked away half the evening – actually, he did most of the talking – a little bit like a book by Henry Miller – bizarre and amusing sexual escapades. Actually, I like Greg a lot – he’s very open and straightforward and whatever he talks about, it doesn’t come across as boasting.
By the way, Patsa – the Mexico City-based company which put together the facilities, etc. for Dune – has apparently gone belly-up. Dino has taken over completely, I understand (well, sort of; Universal is not just distributing, it’s co-producing).
I suppose this might mean that Marie, the Swedish redhead to whom I sold my remaining U.S. dollars last week, might not be coming back when she returns from her trip to L.A. (She was the assistant to the Patsa liaison on Dune who has now, of course, departed our offices).