Tuesday, April 19: DAY THIRTY
Yesterday was a long day. Fourteen hours at the studio (Anatol got there ninety minutes before me). But it went quite well. We shot off eight-and-a-half cassettes. Anatol has a very unstructured approach; he finds a vantage point (difficult on the tight set they were filming yesterday – the Harkonnen ‘thopter in which Paul and Jessica escape to the desert); and then just fires the camera more or less continuously. Occasionally it throws up a good shot (we got a couple of excellent ones), but on the whole it’s a rather generalized mess without much informational value. It was only the first day, of course, and he’s just getting used to the camera, but if it goes on like this, everything will have to be covered by a lot of narration. He doesn’t seem to think in terms of: if we see this, then we should go over there and see this other related thing which makes sense of the first thing. They were using the air gun rack which fires clusters of darts on yesterday’s setup – we have it firing on tape – but we don’t have Kit West operating the controls.
But there’s a bigger problem. He has no interest in behind-the-scenes stuff; he doesn’t want to tour the shops or talk to the technicians and artisans to find out how they make things, how things work…. Yet, whether he likes it or not, that is definitely a part of our job.
After the wrap yesterday evening, the second assistant director, a Mexican named Arturo who’s been a news cameraman all over the place (Central America, Europe, the Middle East …) came up to our room to check the camera out; the image was quite good, but the tubes weren’t fully aligned – he spent almost two hours fiddling with it. He’s a very nice guy with a wife and new baby, who’s working for peanuts on Dune ($200 a month) so he can watch David work. Anatol wants to get him paid extra so he can regularly tweak the camera for us. And then Anatol started talking to me about testing Arturo’s shooting style, so that if he’s any good, we can get him to shoot all that “boring” stuff.
It looks as if I’m going to have to try to guide him into covering all the angles, not just David and Fred on set. I’m going to have to start thinking as the writer of the thing….
The atmosphere was very good yesterday. Anatol himself was in excellent spirits. We had a lot of contact with David around the set – he seemed very pleased to have us there. Kuki Rodero (Pepe’s brother), the assistant director, didn’t seem to like us at first – telling us to get out of the way, pushing my mike out of the way. But he warmed in the afternoon (maybe David spoke to him; maybe he just realized what our position is).
Anatol got in the way of the camera at one point – spoke to the operator and established a good rapport (all he has to do now is tell Gordon what he wants, and they’ll be able to work it out).
During a break, I told David the ‘thopter looked great – he seemed very pleased. Later, I mentioned that I’d read the script and said, “For someone who says he can’t write, you’re a very good writer. It reads better than any other script I’ve read.” And I was gratified to see that he took it as the opinion of someone whose opinions count in that area.
Freddie Francis is also a pleasure to watch. Completely professional, with a sense of humour – he never loses his temper with people, speaks calmly but firmly until things are set the way he wants them.
On top of everything else, Raffaella actually said good morning to me yesterday – before I said anything to her.
A group of people from Universal are visiting. Among them Paul Sammon. He brought some news. We’re to produce a series of little promo pieces – the first, about five minutes, to be ready in four to six weeks. He brought the script with him. We’ll be working together a lot, he says.
We say, we contracted to produce a sixty-minute documentary. This stuff falls into the category of extra work. That means it must be paid for separately.
He said Armstrong told him we’d be getting extra for this. But he didn’t tell us that until he came back later – as if to let the job sink in, then to appear generous about it.
And this is where I begin to sound like Anatol, I’m afraid; because I’ll be only too happy to let Sammon take care of some of the interviews – at least initially. Today we have to do something with Ron Miller, the illustrator. I don’t expect to get much out of it….
Dykstra at supper Sunday evening: there are concepts in the script which they haven’t yet worked out the technical means of executing (like scenes which wrap around drops of water, fall away to be replaced by another …). Yet they had to put them in the budget somehow – kind of a seat-of-the-pants operation. But he said: whether they make any other films or not, this is the one they have to do right – no fudging…. He does have respect for the project.
Today: there’s a big night shoot at the dead-dog dump set (Arrakis). Far too much scheduled for one session: Paul and Jessica’s first encounter with the Fremen – a lot of dialogue culminating in the fight between Paul and Jamis. The crew call is for five – cast to be on-set at ten. It’ll be a very long night.
A surreal scene last night: we had to get a cab back from the studio, dropping Arturo off on the way. It was the most wrecked cab I’ve ever seen – doors hanging off their hinges, reluctant to latch, door handles missing off the outside. The trunk buckled and flapping. No suspension. A death trap. And the driver took a route completely different from any we’ve used before – it was like a strange French movie.
Then, just a minute or two after being dropped in front of Anatol’s hotel we saw a spectacular crash at the corner of Amberes and Liverpool (around which we’d just come in the death-trap cab). A black Mercedes and a white American sedan, one coming down Amberes, the other along Liverpool, both at about thirty or forty miles per hour, met in the middle of the intersection with a roar, showers of sparks and steam, seemed to leap into the air, doing almost complete three-sixty degree turns before landing facing each other. All the people from the white car piled out; someone in the Merc was injured – people grabbed him and ran down the sidewalk with him (god knows what damage they did). The driver of the white car got back in and tried to start it, despite the completely crushed front end.
Two cops on motorcycles came down Liverpool, turned into Amberes and rode on past. The people involved seemed to vanish (apparently few people carry insurance). After a while an ambulance came to pick up the injured guy. A cop drove past. There was no one to direct the fairly heavy traffic which was squeezing past the wrecks. Three police tow trucks drove up, but went away without doing anything. There was no sense of order, no authority – this place is on the brink of chaos. It was a perfect nightmare scene.
Just after I left Anatol, I was stopped by a guy who asked if I’d seen what happened. We got talking. He’s an American, from Tucson, who’s been here about six months (teaching English at a nearby school), a writer, he said. He’s interested in Dune, exchanged names and addresses. Someone he knew came by – an Englishman named Terry. A member of Kit West’s effects crew (he built the dart gun). He says they’re planning to send the foreign crew home once everything’s been built and let the Mexicans run the machinery.
Wednesday, April 20: DAY THIRTY-ONE (16 hrs)
Christ knows what this’ll do to my health.
We got to the studio at one yesterday afternoon, had lunch, did some stuff with Ron Miller, the production illustrator. Neither Anatol nor myself like interviewing, nor know how to do it. Mostly we pointed the camera and mike at the guy and hoped he’d talk. Luckily he did.
Spoke to Fred; they might want us for the hospital, x-ray stuff Saturday (maybe not). He also told me that David is planning an Eraserhead book (a visual one, not verbal).
Sammon stopped by to tell us he’ll be hanging around with us as much as he can. Rah rah rah….
We left for the garbage dump location about five-twenty. It looks absolutely fantastic – something out of the Arabian Nights. I realized later what the turrets on the castle wall reminded me of subliminally (they look like faces) – the Easter Island statues.
We gradually got into the feel of it, moving in closer as we went. The preparation of the thirty-five Fremen (who look truly tribal), covering them with dust – in an atmosphere which was constantly thick with a fine, irritating volcanic dust (we’ll probably get silicosis). The setting up of each shot (they got three before the wrap at three-thirty), the rehearsals, the takes – David coaching the actors….
Whatever actually comes out of this, it really is a remarkable, valuable experience for us personally. Already our presence seems to be generally accepted – people will turn to the light if they see us shooting what they’re doing, they ask about our equipment, what we’re doing here…. Though the occasional person doesn’t seem to like us (a wardrobe man pushed my mike away from Francesca Annis and told me to “get that thing away from here”).
It was a bizarre scene – the dump (Aguilas Rojas – Red Eagle; the rock formation was used in the Man Called Horse movies) looked like a stadium, massive light banks on cranes, a tower behind the castle wall holding two brutes; and when we got there, there was a huge crowd lined along the wire fence watching the spectacle. They were still there at eight-thirty when we all broke for supper – we had an audience at the catering tent on the embankment just outside the fence, held back by cops and security people. This all in a poor area of the city. It was the kind of scene Dickens would write if he was still around.
There’s a very good atmosphere on set – friendly, controlled. David looks completely self-assured, occasionally moving away by himself, contemplative. Occasionally looking lonely. On our way to supper I said, “How does it feel to have all this being done for you?” and he said, “It isn’t being done for me.” He still doesn’t feel that this is his movie.
After taking the equipment back to the studio, we skimmed through the last cassette (some of it looked good, though Anatol has a tendency not to follow the conversations when we’re filming, and there’s a problem with framing – he holds the frame a bit too low, perhaps because of the read-out panel above the screen in the viewfinder). And had to get a taxi back because everyone else had already left. Finally got to bed just after five-thirty, stiff, dirty and aching.
Up again at noon. We’re supposed to shoot something of Miller’s wife, Judy, and the seamstresses this afternoon before heading back to the dump. We may be thoroughly wrecked by the end of the week.
Thursday, April 21: DAY THIRTY-TWO (15 hrs)
Yesterday didn’t feel nearly so good. Tired. And rethinking. It has begun to seem that what looked so great about this project is actually the worst thing about it. Filmmaking is a tedious, repetitious business – you do the same things over and over again, only the places change and what the actors say and do. So being an outside observer becomes tedious. We’ve been shooting a lot, but it all starts to look alike. And we’ve only been doing it for three days! If we go on like this, we’ll end up with a huge formless mass, hours and hours of mush. If we were doing this as a traditional documentary, it would be different; we’d come in for a short period, shoot specific things with a firm idea in mind, and put it together. But this shotgun effect diffuses our attention – and we wind up being Gordon Armstrong’s electronic vacuum cleaner. Dispiriting.
There is no question in our minds that we have to expand our crew. We need Arturo Garciarubio as our video technician and technical advisor; and Doug Hersh for the logging and weeding out of the material we shoot. Because Anatol and I simply don’t have the time to look at all that we’re shooting, let alone keep it in order and assemble it into any useful shape. But how to convince David and Raffaella of that?
I’ve just drafted a memo to them putting forward the situation. If Anatol agrees, I’ll present it to them. Then we can only hope….
Friday, April 22: DAY THIRTY-THREE (12 hrs)
Yesterday was the busiest day on set yet. But we shot less than on previous days. Partly because we’re getting used to it – we’re becoming more selective about what we shoot, repeating ourselves less.
Partly because we were preoccupied with other things. Anne Strick brought a bunch of people to the location (a group of toy manufacturers and Universal people). Paul Sammon was with them. I can’t help it: the guy makes me tense. He’s a professional writer – I feel threatened by him.
Anatol and I were standing on the edge of the ravine, watching the crew set up a shot below. Sammon found us. I stepped away, back turned, and watched the action below with intensified interest as he talked to Anatol about his little script for a convention promo film he wants us to shoot (the one he says Armstrong says we’ll get extra money for). He also spoke of his own film company which just finished some spectacular SF comedy. Anatol says my pointed snub was read clearly, that I made Sammon feel awkward. After a while I did join the conversation (at first, back still turned). And read the silly little script. Said he’d have to discuss it with David because he’s very careful and has definite ideas himself….
A little later Strick spoke to us: what did Sammon say? what’s this script? Raffaella hasn’t approved it … we don’t take instructions from Sammon, we take our instructions from her(!?!). It was a regular little power struggle – for the control of us. We weren’t particularly pleased. Strick told us we must meet with her on Monday so she can start telling us what to do; she seems displeased that we’re spending so much time with the first unit, instead of shooting all the behind-the-scenes stuff (it was only our fourth day, for Christ’s sake). In particular, she was annoyed that we hadn’t got around to shooting the women who are embroidering Jessica’s robe for the water ceremony – which she more or less ordered us to do Tuesday. We didn’t have time Wednesday afternoon – so we’re now doing it with Judy Miller on Monday.
But this little confusion about people who think they’re in a position to tell us how to do our job wasn’t the only thing.
I showed the memo to Anatol. He said okay. When we got to the studio, I gave it to Doug to type out. I thought he might not like it – and I was right. He came back a little flushed. “This just makes me an assistant … Arturo told me that if you needed someone I could have the job … he’d show me how to do it….” Ignoring the fact that this is not a thing to be arranged between Doug and Arturo, I had to point out that this was a complicated bit of office politics; first, at the moment Doug is not a qualified technician – we’d only be too happy to have Arturo teach him, but we need someone right now to tweak the camera – and second, they’re more likely to assign Doug to us in an assistant capacity, and he can work up from there. Obviously, he was looking for an instant appointment to the top. He played his hand badly, pushing too much, demanding too much – also, when he typed the memo, he altered the wording slightly in the paragraph pertaining to himself. I didn’t say anything, but the fact that he didn’t speak to me about it first put me off; does he think I’m too stupid to notice?
His big complaint was that if they’re willing to give us one person, going by the memo it would have to be Arturo. Sorry, but if it could only be one, we’d want it to be Arturo. I’m afraid this in an important matter of business, not a matter of favours.
It didn’t stop there.
I had to wait for an opportunity to hand the memo to David. Supper is usually a good time, but he was sitting with Raffaella. Finally, quite late, there was a bit of a break as a new shot was being set up. I went over. “David, do you have a moment? I’ve got something we’d like you to read – and if you think it’s reasonable, maybe pass it on to Raffaella.” I thought he’d stick it in his pocket and look at it later. But he quickly read it, called Ian Woolf over and told him to take it to Raffaella. It seemed too fast. So Anatol and I sat there, all nervous tension – maybe it wasn’t such a good idea; maybe it sounded as if we just weren’t up to handling the job, maybe….
Then Raffaella appeared, had a brief word with David, and headed toward us. We arose, waiting. And she spoke to Anatol in French. They had a fairly long conversation – and I could only stand there silently. I couldn’t judge it even from the tone because Raffaella tends to keep her voice quite flat.
Thus it transpired: she hadn’t approved Sammon’s thing – indeed, referred to Sammon as an asshole. So Strick had run to her with a report. This worries us (although, at the same time it relieves us of having to deal with Sammon for the moment) because Strick could be using Raffaella to appropriate us to her little publicity department. Raffaella’s parting comment was that we’ll have to “get organized like the stills” – ominous? we’ll become just house photographers, told to shoot this, shoot that?
We’re to have a meeting with Raffaella Monday afternoon to discuss everything. We hope Strick won’t be present, but even if she is we’re going to have to speak out and get the whole situation straight. The worst that can happen is that we get fired. And if their intention is to have us crank out garbage, maybe that’s not so bad. In preparation, I’ll get the earlier memo (our “statement of principles”) typed out so that we can hand it to her if things start to get sticky. And we’re going to have to spend the weekend putting together a little rough assembly of some of our best shots to date – a wide variety of them, to show that we’re covering many areas, not just spending all our time on David.
We came to the conclusion that this whole thing is actually quite well timed – we’ve begun to work, have something to show, but haven’t got too deeply in for things to be changed a little. One good point: Raffaella used the “tu” form with Anatol – we’re all a family here, and so on. If we’re accepted as part of the production, this working out of details might not be so terribly difficult.
Dino showed up on set yesterday, looking things over. Giving rise to yet another guy trying to make brownie points; he hurried over to us saying “that’s the executive producer!” as if we were supposed to leap up and start shooting (even though it was too dark), as if we were so ignorant as to be unable to recognize the man.
The fact that we didn’t leap up might be turned to our favour on Monday; we can tell Raffaella that out of respect we didn’t want to bother her father, and would only shoot him if we’d cleared it through her first.
Saturday, April 23: DAY THIRTY-FOUR (15 hrs)
Yesterday was the most grueling yet – but despite the exhaustion, it was better than the previous day.
We arrived at the studio at three, found that we’d left our stuff in a real mess when we got back in the morning. Had to tidy up, then go over to shoot Fred on Stage 2. Unfortunately, they’d just struck a set-up, so we’ll have to go back again later (we were going to go in again today, but decided this morning not to – like the first unit, we’ll take Saturday off this week; but tomorrow we’ll go to the studio and try to set up our editor – if it works, we’ll try to put together a brief tape to show Raffaella, if she’s interested).
Doug came in while we were packing for an early trip to the location (we wanted to get daylight shots of the crew setting up). We’ve turned cool towards him because of his pushiness, just told him it was all going through channels.
Having woken at nine-forty-five to a phone call from Paul Sammon (who knew I’d been working all night), who wanted to get a ride with us to Aguilas Rojas, I wasn’t too thrilled to see him waiting in our car when we walked out with our equipment. It was generally more relaxed than before though; we all chatted idly on the trip. He stuck to us most of the evening. Said he’d spoken to Raffaella – we could shoot the stuff for his little promo piece (even had Anatol roll a shot of the twin rocks at the dump for a title background – “Your name will go over that,” he said. No thanks, Anatol replied). He left sometime around midnight.
Much later, during a lull, Anatol went down into the ravine where Raffaella was sitting and chatted to her in French, hurried off to get her a mineral water when she expressed the need, made a good impression. He apologized about Sammon, saying we just couldn’t shake him. She said she’d seen his script (piece of shit) and hadn’t approved it. As for Monday’s meeting, it sounds very informal – in fact, it’s to be at our convenience!
Getting to the dump early didn’t do us much good. No one showed up until almost six. So we stood in the wind and dust and talked to Sammon (who continually makes notes into a tape recorder). But we did get a few shots before sunset – though Anatol discovered he’d been shooting with 9 dBs enhancement (one-and-a-half stops), so the shots might be bad.
We started more slowly yesterday evening, our energies having run low. But we began shooting a lot more as time passed. David started with a big set up – leading into the fight between Paul and Jamis. It dragged on – we didn’t break for supper until about ten – because Judd Omen (Jamis) turned out to be somewhat over his head. He talks very big – loud, pushy, cocky – but on set he’s obviously terribly insecure; he builds himself up to such a pitch that he blocks himself. He comes on as if his brief moment is the whole of Hamlet, agonizing over it until he can’t even deliver a couple of simple lines. He overplays horribly. It was a little embarrassing to watch.
At supper, I sat beside Josephine Lovell, Francesca Annis’ stand-in. She’s very friendly, an interesting character with the strangest accent I’ve ever heard. She was born in England, has lived in Australia, the States, England again, came to Mexico five years ago because of a Tarot card reading. Until now she hadn’t done any film work for two years because of problems with a union man on Caveman; four weeks ago, she says, she just went to the studio to see what was going on – and found herself hired as Jessica’s stand-in. She believes in fate – and who am I to argue? I’m here myself against all reason.
The day before (Thursday night) she’d turned up with an owl in a box – she’d just bought it as a pet (a big one, only two months old) and hadn’t had time to take it home.
After all the preliminaries – establishing shot, close-ups, reverse angles, reaction shots – they finally got to the fight. Yamazaki, Richard Humphries, and the other stuntmen moved in for some final coaching, Kyle and Omen ran through the moves a few times (very much refined from what we saw last week in the early days of training). Two cameras were set up. And the fight was shot as a continuous piece of action – twice. The choreography deteriorated somewhat on the takes, but it still looked quite good. It was after four when they prepared for the final set-up – a low angle of the fight’s conclusion. After one take, they wrapped.
It was the longest, dustiest night of the week – and, thank god, the last. But we have to go back Monday night to finish the sequence. As Anatol says: David, why are you doing this to us?
The odd looks we were getting from David Thursday night apparently weren’t because we were overstepping the bounds of our mandate. Must have been due to the pressure of Dino’s visit, because last night he was friendly again, taking time out to ask how we and our equipment were doing in the cloud of dust he had Kit West’s crew stirring up. That made us feel a lot better.
A surprising piece of information: Anne Strick, who seems to know almost nothing about almost everything, was once married to Joseph Strick, writer-director of Ulysses, Portrait of the Artist, Tropic of Cancer….
Had a leisurely supper with Fred at El Refugio, just the two of us. Talking about the film, his work on it – gradually going on to more general things. Very pleasant. He’s a really nice guy. (He finally read my article, by the way; said he liked it very much – which, according to Anatol, is high praise from Fred.)
Coming back to the Amberes about ten, we ran into Raffaella – looking quite different, almost girlish, in a red-and-white knee-length dress with her hair down. She asked Fred how he was (he’s been sick lately), smiling and friendly. When the elevator came, Golda, Maggie (dialect coach), Yvonne (continuity), and Tony Gibbs (the editor) got out. We stood around a few minutes as everyone chatted – and Raffaella seemed a totally different person; warm, playful, even likeable (she’d just got back from dinner with Dino, who was, she said, in a good mood). So a lot of her apparent coldness really is due to the pressures of her job (which must be considerable). If all goes well Monday, perhaps we can establish a completely different relationship with her – all we have to do is make her trust us and see that we have a clear and reasonable idea of what we’re doing.
A moment of sheer unadulterated panic last night. We’d left our bags sitting by a rock down in the ravine (where we’d left them before). I went down there to collect them (we needed a fresh battery for the camera). Anatol’s was sitting there, but mine – in which we keep the cassettes, both blank and used – was gone. Theft! rushed through my mind. I rushed back to Anatol, heart pounding – he said I was terribly white. We both set off in search. And luckily found the bag with a pile of other stuff which had been moved to one side. But it was a good object lesson: our material is really quite valuable. Some people might think it worthwhile (and profitable) to get hold of some tapes of set activity on Dune.
Sunday, April 24: DAY THIRTY-FIVE
Churubusco is apparently a union shop. Fred says it’s been a source of problems because it’s very tight; they tell the production who to hire – and the decision is based solely on seniority, not qualifications.
As far as Fred knows, the pictures for the Cinefantastique article are being taken care of right now. He wishes David hadn’t waited so long before unloading the job onto him – he would have had much more time for it last year.
I’ve written a fairly concise one-and-a-half page outline for the Paris feature. I told Anatol about the basic plot idea at lunch – he likes it a lot. But going from outline to actual script is a pretty big step….
Didn’t go to the studio today. Really needed the extra day off, just to bring the energy level back somewhere near normal.