The First 120 Hrs. Of Production
FIRST DAY OF SHOOTING
The first of two
days on location, out doors, in Modesto, California, two hours south
of San Francisco where we're headed for ten days after this...
Landham & James Remar Get Dirty
Basically our job
is to shoot the sequence of Ganz and his native American partner Billy
escaping in a shootout from the chain gang where Ganz is serving a prison
This is the hometown of George Lucas, the model, I guess, for
the town where American Graffitti was set... Walter had been
up here a bit shooting a number of key sequences of his second to last
film, The Long Riders.
Walter, Joel, and I, and Ric Waite flew up to Modesto and spent
yesterday trying on hats.
Walter bought a porkpie one. We had this opening sequence.
The way it works, Ganz and Billy must appear to quarrel and the Indian
slips Ganz a gun and they shoot two guards and they're off.
Nick and Eddie aren't around.
First Walter makes shots of the work crew with Ganz breaking rocks.
Then shots of Sonny. (the actor playing Billy) drives up. Remar
Then the fight. The big event is them diving into the mud puddle
before they bring their guns up to shoot.
"This is the first and the last time we'll be shooting in sequence,"
The stunt coordinator, an absolute sweetheart of a guy named Bennie
Dobbins, plays one of the uniformed who's shot and killed, falling
into a mudpuddle. Bennie and I recognize each other from a movie
he worked on with Ted Kotcheff, that I was briefly involved in,
called Split Image. Bennie is the senior member of the
stunt crew, the coordinator, not just a participant, and Walter holds
him in special esteem. The fact that Bennie slaps me on the back
and shakes my hand, gives me points with Walter. Walter loves
Before doing the shots of Bennie Walter simply says "I want a
Joel chortles as he observes Sosna barking orders at the extras on the
"Look at Sosna" Joel says, "He's like a pig in shit."
When Remar and Sonny got wet doing their killings, Sosna said under
his breath, "I want these guys to have drinks on the way home."
The had to turn over and over in cold mud-water and come out killing
Much of the morning was spent making one crane shot work. Time
was also lost because of people needing allergy medicine, and the heat
getting to people.
Walter had said, "We're gonna have to be in midseason form if we're
gonna make our day working this one." We did and he was extremely
pleased. Walter constantly makes analogies between film making
and sports. I think he views staying on or ahead of schedule at
the beginning as the equivalent of scoring first in a sporting event.
"Drawing first blood" as the sports cliché goes.
At the end of the day, we finished one shot less than planned, but that
practically counted as being on schedule.
I'm very much in the "we" category.
That night, Walter has a drink in the skanky hotel bar, and then goes
to his hotel room.
Before leaving Walter sums it up: "The morning wasn't worth shit...
the afternoon wasn't bad, not great but not bad."
Sonny Landham, who said his lines properly and fell in the mud
with great vigor, is all spruced up in the bar, patting everyone the
back, feeling like a million bucks.
Everyone is warning him not to drink. Apparently, this particularly
Indian, who Walter used in a small role in Southern Comfort,
his previous movie, can get strange when he drinks.
MODESTO TO SAN FRANCISCO
Wake to hear that
Sonny got thrown in jail last night.
Tried to punch out a night clerk. Something involving a hooker
in the bar or something. Cops did their best to retrain him short
of arresting him and it proves he just obstinately wanted to fuck up.
Joel and Gene Levy got him out.
Joel is up to his eyebrows in Indian stories.
Leave For San Fransisco.
I was sent ahead to San Francisco while the company stayed in Modesto
the second and final day of work there.
My job -- Dance with Nick and Annette O'Toole who plays his girlfriend
in the film, Elaine. They are meeting for the first time in real
life. I got there and learned that the company would take a third
day rather than just this afternoon.
Crisis. Camera malfunction has killed day one's dailies.
At first, I'm in great suspense as to whether this is the real reason.
Knowing as I do about Sonny's fuck up, I 'm wondering whether the real
reason is that they've had to replace Sonny or restructure the scene
to play without his character all.
Over the phone I get more of the details of what happened to Sonny.
Sonny gave some barmaid twenty bucks to find him two workers.
This would not get him very far in a Mexican shanty, Walter observed...
in a prosperous Northern California Town, it got him nowhere.
The barmaid went off duty and Sonny ended up trying to punch out the
desk clerk because a principle, services rendered for fees spent, had
been violated. The cops arrived. Not wanting to arrest him,
obviously. But he persisted in behavior that couldn't help but lead
to jail. He couldn't keep from being locked up and ending his
onerous freedom for a second longer.
Later I'm told that the story about the camera story wasn't a cover
story for the outgrowth of the difficulties caused by Sonny. There
was some kind of camera fuck up.
I flew to San Fransisco with Elaine, Joel's assistant-secretary, Marilyn,
the costumer who will be doing more work with Annette, and Rafe Blasi,
the publicists, and Eiddie Enriquez who is Nick's make up guy.
All of this might have turned out different, still might. None
of it is for certain. All of this San Francisco weather is a nice sweet
dream. You're working on a movie, so it could mean anything can
happen in your life and don't deny it. Someone will be punished
if there's a mammoth fuck up, but don't go borrowing trouble.
A lot of people start off by not being sure of what they mean.
At lunch Nick gets his buddy Bill Cross to talk about how much
he hated rice in Vietnam, how pumped up he had to get to be to
kill someone in combat, and what fun it had looked like it might be
at first, 'til it got awful..."I was suddenly a captain" Bill says "that
sorta shocks ya..."
It got a bit more grim as it went on. "The worst was commanding
niggers" Bill said. "When I said get down they'd start dancing, lost
more sons of bitches that way."
Nick and Annette and I go on that afternoon for a drink around the corner
at Houlihan's. Nothing but tits are on the walls. Girls
in this bar feel comfortable with that. A meat factory, Nolte
cheerfully concedes. My thought is, let me at 'em.
Afterwards, I follow Nick and Annette around a sunshiny walking tour
of Chinatown. They peruse the street vendors, everything on recession
sale -- I do see Nick at times thinking how to stand as a cop, be a
cop in all this, how to be inconspicuous...
Nick tells us over drinks a disturbing story about hanging with Al
Pacino, describing a sort of Dorian Grayish paranoia. Nick
talks about That Championship Season, a project he was almost
involved in, except that William Holden died at the wrong moment.
Nick mentions that there's this superstition going around about working
with De Niro, that people who do die or get into trouble... Theresa
Saldana got knifed... John Cazale died of lung cancer. I
didn't think the story made too much sense.
No sex for a few days and a bit lost about it. As always in these
situations, the prior anxieties of defining my position on the job make
all sexual appetite tricky. W/actresses, for instance, one is so worried
about keeping them on an even keel that the getting of it, perchance,
by emotional involvement, seems like suicide. Or at the very least seems
like borrowing trouble. The other women you would throw down a
well with a stone tied to their necks in a second if it would make your
life easier on the movie. So how do you say to them, "You're the most
important thing," even for only that fraction of a second it takes to
get them and get you to want to take them down?
I feel a lot on these jobs like a ghost that is inhabiting my body.
I don't have to
search for detachment. The exhausting ambiguity of my role in
this circus enforces it upon me.
San Fransisco and its hungry straight women is gaudy and titillating.
I have a sense of this one of the few spots remaining of erotic bourgeois
adventure in this country, sealed as it is in its relativity, blissed
out indifferent to the economic reality more than most American cities
at the moment of this recession. This city is indifferent to the
history being made around it more than most and it became the capital
of the sixties because it was always uniquely unburdened by the assumption
the sixties arrived to change. Questioning the establishment is
always easier here because this place never quite cared about the Establishment
position. This city is like England in that sense. It kind
of goes on its nice delicate fastidious, somewhat trivial way.
Any second now Walter will come back with Joel with stories of the last
days in Modesto.
The first days footage problem has now been defined as some "spot" on
the lens. Whether we'll be able to make the day up or not there's
no way to know. What I am fascinated to find out of course is
whether or not something wonderful got done on the new extra day.
It's almost seven p.m. and all this should be known shortly.
Walter and Joel
return with Gene Levy and Larry Gordon.
At dinner gossip was what Speilberg did or was in the process of doing
to Tobe Hooper on Poltergeist, in tandem with whatever
had gone on during the maknig of E.T., which numerous people
on our crew worked on. E.T. will screen while we're in
San Francisco and gossip about it swirls too.
Generally there's talk of shit Speilberg puts people through. Walter's
propguy Craig Rache was on E.T. So was Tim Kehoe,
Walter's First A.D. from Southern Comfort. And above all, the
friend to everyone on this was Walter's old pal from the days of The
Driver and The Warriors, Frank Marshall. So all this is third
hand, guys who told guys who told guys.
Walter is visibly restive at the concentration on Speilberg. Larry
is genuinely amused and indifferent.
Joe says, "He'll be the biggest director in the history of the business"
I point out or try to that Speilberg's bigness, unlike Coppolas, will
be rescindable instantly because of the lack of artistic distinction
his films... power that comes from commercial success alone that can't
be plausibly dressed up in artistic or intellectual importance wanes
as rapidly as it arrives. Commercial failure, which always comes
by the law of averages, cancels all mere commercial success. Chaplin
or Kurosawa, these are the men whose commercial successes as such are
significant because they have generated loads of intellectual response
which have a fruitful effect on the fact of good numbers.
But what if both Poltergeist and E.T. hit?
"He'll be Victor Fleming," I say.
"Who?" Joel asks.
"Well... Victor Fleming directed The Wizard of Oz and got
screen credit for a lot of Gone With the Wind in the same year.
And by the way he directed A Guy Named Joe, a movie Spielberg
is planning to remake, you know, about flyers... anyway... Speilberg
is Victor Fleming."
"I like this theory..." says Walter. "I'm Howard Hawks and Spielberg
is Victor Fleming. I like this."
Larry Gordon describing himself, "I am above. Above the line."
For some reason, at dinner, I had a moment of pure nervous panic.
Everyone was seeming to be going out of control and if a someone asked
me to say something I would be dumb or incoherent or break into tears.
Then suddenly, inexplicably, the feeling passed and I felt fine.
The story was told at dinner of the expansion of one actress' role in
the film and acknowledging that this, in fact, was congruent with someone's
purpose in wanting to fuck the young actress we cast for the part.
At dinner tonight, we learned the actress has a boyfriend/lives with
a guy/is married.
"Fire her!," was shouted, in mock Gilbert and Sullivan cruelty.
In another moment at dinner, Walter started to joke, referring to the
dialogue and characterization added to the script recently.
"We're trying to load this one up with all that character and stuff
that isn't in my other movies, so it better make money guys...I'm just
selling out here, trying to make a fast buck, putting n all that character
that wasn't in my other movies."
Gordon from the other end of the table cracks, "You wanna make money,
make Stir Crazy."
Sonny Landham, who was tossed into jail Monday, was in the bar
of the restaurant when our group left to go back in one of the driver
captains vehicles. We gave him a ride, cracking jokes and saying
fearful things to ourselves about what Sonny let loose on the
town of San Francisco might do.
"You're not on my team," Joel and Walter had separately said to humiliate
him after the Monday night trouble.
"I tore his head off," Joel said proudly.
Larry Gordon offered one other remark: "I'm at the point where
I just show up, look at dailies, chat with Diller and Eisner, and that's
SHOOTING BEGINS IN SAN FRANSISCO
In defense of his waistline, Walter Hill: "You can't drive
post with a tack hammer"... Hildy's response was, "What is a post?"
(Hildy is Hildy Gottleib, a short dark cute bright New York Jewish
girl who goes with Walter on and off, and is an agent at ICM, and happens
to be Eddie Murphy's agent, the person who by the way suggested
Eddie Murphy to costar in this movie...)
well with Nic leaving Annette's apartment, a long elaborate crane shot
of his drive out. Nick does a nice thing with throwing the traffic
ticket on the ground.
Things gong, in fact, so well that we may get to the next day's shot
today. But then we don't. Next day's shot is a difficult long
piece out in the street that Nic and Annette have yet to learn.
Walter cedes to me the job walking Nick and Annete through the location
where they're going to do this long take dialogue while the crew is
O'Toole & Nick Nolte
I spend four more
hours prepping Nick about what the scene means. Then Walter arrives,
listens to them do it, and immediately decides it can't be done as written
and has to be reduced sharply. The reducing I don't mind.
What I mind is my effort going uncoordinated to the main one -- his.
And Walter's being so blasé about all this. But of course
there is no alternative It makes me feel like a bit of a jerk.
There is truth in Robert Towne's remark that a screenwriter's
role is archaically and archetypally "feminine" in relation to the director's
role. That means accepting having nothing to do at times in relating
to "his" - the director's - doing. It all involves an ambiguity
of function, as opposed to sets and props that have more measurable
or definable kinds of roles.
I feel like I've disappointed Nick and Annette terribly, which is upsetting.
But I can't apologize without saying "If it were my show, I'd run it
differently," which is precisely what etiquette requires I not say.
Walter lent me the show to run, but without really giving me anything.
Nick comes by hotel room. I apologize. He sensed my need
to. I am knocked out by his nicenesss. He checks which of the
remaining lines are going to be read, goes over them with me.
We talk about Walter setting him straight. It's all intuitive
and not articulated, but what it should be. I can't sit still
and really acknowledge that Nick Nolte wants me to feel all right.
I'm grateful. As I note it down hours later, that gratitude just
keeps growing. He seemed relieved that I gave him a chance to
express his feeling bad about how yesterday turned out.
Nick is so much the vehicle of a force that happens to be him.
He is like a whole earth in turmoil... cut, a little wounded, but regenerative,
Is there a fight between Walter and Larry and Joel and the studio, about
There is indeed.
Apparently Barry Diller, the Paramount studio boss, who in Gordon's
words "can be a very vindictive man," hates the title Forty Eight
Hours. Gordon says that Eisner says that Diller says Forty
Eight Hours can not be the title. Joel hears this. As
a joke he turns to his secretary/assistant:
Diller on the phone."
Gordon lets loose at Joel about how to win this strategic battle, the
inner battle about who knows more about how to play the game.
"Listen to me you New York Jew Kike N.Y.U. film school genius -- I been
doing this since before you went to piss in your N.Y.U. film school
urinal. You wait till they give you twenty five unacceptable titles,
then you say Walter refuses to work and Nick won't come out of his trailer."
"What if they put an ad in the trades with another title?," Joel asks
"The trades, the trades," Gordon fumes. He looks like he's going
to bite Joel's nose or beard off.
Gordon is always partly happy to have an opportunity to yell at Joel.
Gordon calls Joel "the strangest person I ever knew" and is constantly
searching for new reasons to be angry with Joel or yell at him, which
in turn will make it necessary to constantly be thinking about him and
talking about him. It's an obsessive familial -- seeming father-son
feeling -- that drives him.
Gordon sketches a broad program for maneuvering against Diller's insistence
that the title be changed for Joel's benefit: "They submit twenty
five unacceptable titles, Nic won't work, Walter won't work, Eddie won't
work, Joe', you can say you won't work and of course they'll fire you."
That causes Larry to burst into a contented grin.
Joel is certainly used to Larry Gordon's abuse and has some means
of tolerating, even needing it. "He's the greatest," is Joel's label
phrase for Larry, and then he sits and gets this whipping. There's something
about Larry's vehement sometimes brutal teasing and constant focussing
of attention at Joel that I suspect reassures Joel...it's a fulltime
occupation being the object of this attention. And there's something about
it that makes Joel feel better, prepared afterwards to go into battle
with the rest of the business. Joel is now used to force as everything.
All qualification, all relativity, don't exist for Joel.
The liability in Joel's case is that he's so attracted to the idea of
simple brute force, that somebody can probably get his attention with
a fraudulent form of it. He could probably fool himself.
Then of course he would just go onto the next force-situation.
So his being fooled doesn't have any significant consequences, doesn't
set him back that much. He just looks for something else
to apply the same mind set to. Joel will never learn his lesson,
but he's never totally destroyed by having failed to. He just goes on
to the next prospect or obstacle. There is either a compulsion
or a purity to this depending on how you want to look at it...
Joel is a few things: Intelligent, as opposed to merely fast, or quick,
the hollywood substitute that superficially resembles intelligence but
actually kills it. And he is totally committed to his own perceptions
and values, as few people I've ever seen. He does not doubt.
He can also be funny. That's the thing that relieves him a little
from the burden of being so obsessive.
At the same time or relatedly, there's some way of being connected to
things outside of himself that is not sound. It's all motion to
him. Larry Gordon is like this too, but he lives in a slightly
more complete way in the emotions that result. Gordon's disconnectedness
is something you can see him trying to redress when he gets mad.
And you can see Gordon become sentimental to protect himself from how
he might be cutting himself off from others.
Though they're incredibly attached to each other, they're both somehow
starkly alone and lonely. The price of defending themselves constantly.
Larry has the therapy of a couple of sons. Larry's loneliness
has a current of genuine, sincere surprise and a genuine feeling of
bitterness, as if he tastes what his life has lead him to and doesn't
fully grasp why he should be without the regular connections with things
and people he doesn't have. It's like he's puzzled more people
don't like him more. Joel is profoundly uninterested in what he
gives up of genuine emotional response. He's a bit more comfortable
being alienated from other people.
They are both intermittently rescued, and rescue themselves by being
- Larry Gross
Written Contemporaneously... Published May 30, 2008