So we're in this cantina shot-listing and the regulars in the place seem to be enjoying our company. One of them, a small man in an even smaller suit, is singing at the top of his lungs. He is also drinking an enormous rum and coke.

It's 11:00 in the morning.

His girlfriend seems to be enjoying it, but another woman in the bar doesn't seem so happy. She starts offering to kiss him if he'll stop with the operatics. After several minutes of lyrical negotiation, he takes her up on the offer and they exchange a long drunken kiss (his girlfriend seems to be oblivious, actually going to the bathroom during the process). However, moments after the kiss ends, the tiny man orders another drink and starts singing again. The  negotiating, kissing, stopping, singing, negotiating, kissing continues for a while. As do the rum and cokes. Things get interesting when a man with a hook (!) ambles into the cantina and joins in the festivities. Meanwhile, another fellow, wearing a bright yellow shirt is lulled to sleep by the tiny man's serenade, and passes out on a table right next to ours. We can just hear his snoring above the singing. Clearly, our days here are not boring.

Anyway, after about two hours of mapping out scenes and listening to Caruso with the rum and cokes, we head off to the local VIPS, the Denny's of Mexico City, for lunch. At VIPS the eggs are undercooked, the fries cold and the cheese plentiful. Somehow my miracle bowels survive another meal in the most populated city in the world, and we head back to the cantina to continue to shot list.

Well, my friends, during the hour we were away the Singing Man seems to have had one too many, even for him. He has stopped singing completely, and is stumbling around the place like an extra in some George Romero movie. He seems to be a precious few minutes away from falling on our table and losing his liquid lunch. The elderly bartender carefully helps the drunk tenor (I think he was supposed to tour with the other three Drunk Tenors) to the bano.

At this point all work on the movie has stopped and we are transfixed by the scene at hand. What will happen to the drunk tenor? Will there be puke or no puke? Pass out or no pass out?

Oh, it was so very exciting. I won't fill you in on all the gory details that followed, but suffice it to say that by the time we were done with our work and getting ready to leave, the Fourth Tenor's pants were hanging up to dry.

Use your imagination. It's not pretty.

As we location scout the more shady cantinas of Mexico, it becomes more and more amusing to me to imagine what the locals must think of us. One second they are enjoying their mid morning tequila, the next, about eight men and women with cell phones and Palm Pilots enter their cantina and start snooping around. Oh, we try to fit in, make no mistake, but it's hard to fit in when our Production Designer pulls out a color swatch and discusses whether we want to paint the cantina walls a reddish pink, or a turquoise blue.

But it hasn't all been cantinas and whorehouses...

We've been scouting a lot of churches as well. (Did I say whorehouses?)

It seems that almost all of the churches in Mexico City are run by the same man, a very, very elderly Priest who insists on walking to church, no matter where it's located. No cars or cabs for this man of the cloth. Now this wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that the churches in Mexico City are now locked except during services and we can't scout them without the old man's help. The churches are locked because it seems people were stealing paintings and gold out of them and they had to lock up to protect their stuff (and I thought I was going to hell; these thieves are in a league of their own). Anyway in order to see the churches this Priest has to let us in, but he always seems to be a good hour late to open the doors, mostly because he's a thousand years old and has to walk fifty blocks at a stretch to meet us. I keep fearing we're going to give the old guy a massive heart attack, which, as you could imagine, would not be a good omen.

Even with the possibly of killing this Priest looming over us, we keep searching for the perfect church. We have yet to find it.  Each of the churches we've seen, however, are beautiful in their own way. Some are extraordinary ornate, some very simple. I'm not a big fan of organized religion, but you can't knock the beauty of the churches themselves. They are the most peaceful and serene places in this whole city.

There are more than 30 locations needed for our shoot. We've found all but four of them. The church is one of the missing ones. If God is willing, and the Priest's heart holds up, we'll find it this week. I've never been as picky about locations as I am on this movie. The locations we've found so far are extraordinary and unique and beautiful. They capture the fear, the love, the good and bad of this city. I think they will blow people away.

Casting is also going very well. Of course the Zavalla Brothers know everybody in this entire country, so they have hooked us up with many of the most talented actors working in Mexico City today. However my favorite actor so far is one our casting directors brought us. This man, Roberto, auditioned for a very small part in the film (only two lines), but he refused to leave after the meeting was over and proceded to spend well over an hour trying to explain to us -- in the most pathetic English this side of my pathetic Spanish--how multi talented he was and how his part should be bigger. He didn't just act, he told us, but he sang as well. He also danced and did clowning. Did I say that his sons were equally talented as well? Well, it seems they are, or at least according to Roberto.

The day after the one hour meeting, Roberto returned, uninvited, to try to persuade us to hire his dancer sons. All three of them. It was difficult to explain to him--especially considering the language gap -- that there was no need for his three dancing sons since there were no musical numbers in the film... though come to think of it, an All dancing! All kidnapping! All political assassination! Mexico City musical could have some commercial possibilities.

I know just the tenor for the big cantina number...

With only 11 days till cameras roll, things are extraordinarily busy, but truly exciting. I can barely believe it's actually happening. I keep rewriting. I keep shot-listing. I keep pushing myself. This is a once in lifetime opportunity and I can't afford to screw up. The pressure's on...

Wish me well.



Back: The Films of Richard Shepard - Mexico City