Being Inspired, maybe - 69

A picture paints ... well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

And, then, the words:

"You have got to be kidding me!"

The director was sitting through the daily rushes, as he did at the end of each day.

This day had been particularly trying, he had the difficult balancing act of getting the right setting, and get the lead actor put of his caravan and actually do something other than complain incessantly.

As a friend who got me this job, as a so-called production assistant, said, 'welcome to the wonderful world of shooting on location.

I was sitting in the back of the small theatre, a privilege granted me by the director by virtue of the fact I got coffee, or something stronger, without his asking forgot more than once, and sometimes not at all.

He seemed to share the same anguish I did for the production.

He was with the producers and the executive producer, who'd flown in to see why the production schedule was slipping and costs were going over budget.

I think he now knew, but it was going to be a problem that was in his court, not the directors.

"A slight miscalculation in camera angle perhaps," the executive producer said.  "It happens."

Like vapour trails of aeroplanes overhead, power lines, and now railway tracks?  The shot of the hills was spot-on perfect, capturing the majesty of the mountainous territory and glimpses of the great wall, an integral part of the film's plot.

Like the director, I doubted they had high-speed trains back in the days of the Ming dynasty around 1400 ad.  Nor planes, or power stations, advanced as the civilization was back then.

"It will have to be another day's delay, if the weather holds out, which I'd very iffy at the moment.  We had to wait three days for the right conditions.:

"You can shoot around it."

"We could, but as you're well aware, the scenes after the attack of the Mongolians leaves our lead in a somewhat different state, and will be difficult to restore him to the pre-battle conditions."

It was not hard to see how invested the exec was in the lead actor.  They went back a long way, and in his heyday, was very bankable.  Now, after a string of bombs, this was his chance to rebuild a different career.  Age took its toll on some male actors, and this particular one, who caught solace in drugs and alcohol.

“So what are you trying to tell me?"

I thought it was obvious.

"It's time to cut your losses.  Replace him with Chen, similar build and look, but more authentic.  An eager star rather than a recalcitrant one will get this done in time and more significantly under budget, despite the current overruns."

Silence for at least a minute or two, then, "This has nothing to do with Bailey, does it."

"On the contrary, it does.  He brought in, and you allowed it, his own cinematographer and camera unit.  They have hardly been the top flight crew you sold me, Dan.  I think you need to take a step back and consider the ramifications of doing the so-called right thing.  You need to remember that this is business, and your reputation, all of our reputations with the studio."

It was to me quite simple, but not long in the business, I didn't understand a lot of the nuances.  Films didn't make themselves, and good films, films that made money, well, that was an art.  You needed the right director, the right personnel behind the camera, and the right actor. 

They didn't need to be familiar names, they just had to want to be there and put in 200 per cent.  Bailey could have grasped this opportunity with both hands, but sadly, it was not in his nature, and who had trumped common sense.

"Damn.  He promised me he would make it work."

"And I've given him every opportunity to respect that opportunity, but he's let us both down."

Another minute of silent thoughtfulness passed.

"You can bring it in on time and under budget, despite having to reshoot his scenes already in the can?"

"I know what this means to you, but yes."

An easy promise to make.  After all, the director had been shooting what he called test shots, using the second unit, during those periods Bailey had made himself unavailable for one reason or another and these were basically identical to those Bailey had eventually shot.

Another momentary period of thoughtfulness, and then he said, "Then let me break it to him.  There will be no trouble."  He stood.  "You've got your work cut out for you amending the schedule."
A quick look around at the few in the room.  "No one speaks about this, to anyone, and particularly the press."

Then he left.

I saw the director give a huge sigh of relief.

Perhaps that conversation would have been more interesting if the exec producer had known the director had been facing an open revolt if he had not had Bailey removed.  He'd been handed an ultimatum, them or him, and I admired his calm.

We were still in the theatre, going through Chens scenes, running them side by side with Bailey's, and there was a definite difference between them.  Chen had captured the essence of the character where Bailey seemed to be going through the motions.

We all heard the door slam open and the roar of a man who'd been drinking heavily.

"Who the hell gave you the right to have me removed from my picture?"

© Charles Heath 2019


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