NOTES FROM MEXICO CITY -- WEEKS SEVEN/EIGHT
(Oct/Nov 1999)

Dear readers, excuse my absence last week for I am overworked, underpaid, diarrhetic and wiped out. As I sat by my computer last weekend trying to compose a diary entry I found my self adrift in a tequila shot of exhaustion. Unable to write anything worth typing, let alone reading, I promised myself I would write on Monday. Yet that Monday night blew by me in a wash of some Telemundo show I stumbled upon in my sleep-deprived state that had a lot of Mexican girls in bikinis dancing to Wang Chung. No way was I going to write--That night or the next or next...

The last two weeks have been an incredible, challenging ride. We've had everything from a location manager being held-up at gunpoint, to an actor unable to come to set because he was too drunk (perhaps he was drinking with our fired gaffer). But through it all we've been filming some unbelievable images, getting wonderful performances and managing in every way to beat the odds. The production problems we suffered in the first few days have smoothed themselves out, the enormous crew like any family, fights, laughs, works hard and gets the job done.

On Stacy Edwards first day of work we shot on a street where six(!) murders happened in the past month. We were told not to walk too close to the buildings because people jump out and grab you and pull you inside where you are robbed, stripped and beaten--if you are lucky. Teenaged guards stood holding machine guns at every store on the block.

This was one unsafe area. Almost surreally so.

Stacy has her own Pecaso -- security guard. He's unarmed (no guns on the set, lest we risk a shootout) but he's tough and nice and follows her everywhere. This made her first day working in Mexico City a little easier. Otherwise she might have taken a look around and been on the next flight to Cancun to drink a bunch of blender drinks surrounded by Frat guys. Sue her? Go ahead, she wouldn't have cared. At least she would be alive. But thankfully on her first day she was well protected and thus happy and we filmed away. This location had true character. A homeless woman, made up like a French Tart of the 19th Century slept in her box home outside the cantina we were filming. The local shoe-shine man walked in while we were filming unable or unwilling to understand that his services would not be needed and that the beer being drunk by our actors was fake. Hundreds of people (some scary, most not) gathered as we filmed on the streets as if this movie were starring Harrison Ford and I was James Cameron. I have never seen so many people watching a movie being made. It was exhilarating. They stayed for hours, through take after take, scene after scene. They asked for autographs from people they didn't recognize, but thought were important. Stacy signed many, as did Jorge Robles. When Dan Hersey, our Ist camera assistant was asked for his autograph by a bunch of giggly girls he responded by signing Aldolfo Rolonso, Italian Movie Star. It was that kind of day. Incredible.

We spent the next several days filming in an intensely poor neighborhood called Sante Fe where we were told not to wonder off alone at any cost. It may have been unsafe, but we witnessed none of it. In fact, several of the people in the neighborhood made breakfast for the advance crew that arrived early to set up. Here we were, a million dollar movie, invading their poor neighborhood, making lots of noise at six in the morning, causing them to not be able to use their streets or play their music loudly and they were making our crew breakfast because they felt sorry that they had to work so early. I am constantly surprised and inspired by the heart and decency of so many of the people we've encountered. In America people are so jaded and annoyed by film crews that they throw bottles at them and try to screw up their takes by farting near the boom mike. Here--so far -- the people have been just the opposite. In return I have tried to hire as many local extras as possible -- kids from the neighborhoods we are filming--so we can give some money back. It's a small gesture, but one worth making.

One day last week we filmed on the streets near the Zocalo. The Zocalo is the center of downtown. The streets near it our insane. Crowded. Noisy. Like Macy's around the Holidays. No where is worse for filming--Which is exactly what I wanted. I had an elaborate slow speed foot chase planned. My second unit director Jesse, our great 1st Ad Frederic (French, raised in Laos during the Vietnam war, lived in Mexico for the last 10 years) Sarah and I planned a guerrilla style filming. We were going to leave the crew three blocks away and just take eight essential people (no script supervisor, no sound, no slating, no grips) and shoot covertly from cars, from apartment windows, handheld on the streets like a hyped-up student film. All gritty, great filmmaking. Think French Connection foot chase minus Gene Hackman's salary. We would have thousands of free extras and the complete vibrancy of this amazingly vibrant city. No one yet, I think, has captured that vibrancy on film. I was going to try. All we needed was Stacy to go along with my plan and none of the thousand of free extras to look in the camera. Surprisingly, somehow, this all happened. It was noisy. It was crazy. It was more than exhausting. But it was about as much fun as I've ever had filming a movie, ever.

Stacy is amazing. She never complained during that hectic day. Heck, she was having fun too. I can only imagine if we had cast a certain actress who was strongly suggested for this part. Let's call her 'R"...

"Ummmm R. Uhhhh, today we're shooting a chase scene."

"Whatever. You know my check hasn't cleared."

"We're working on that. But I want to talk about the scene--"

"You know I turned down a USA cable movie with Corey Feldman for this, and I'm not happy..."

"I know. I know... Anyway about today..."

"Who's my stunt double? She better have a great butt."

"Uhhh, No stunt double. I want you. It will look more realistic if it's really you going through the street with all those people."

"They''ll be extras, right?"

"No real people."

"Real people? Ugghhh. I'll be mobbed for autographs."

"Actually, I doubt anyone will really care since you've sucked in all the movies--"

"What?!!"

"Nothing."

"Will my security guard be with me when I'm out with the "people""?"

"Uhhh, well yes and no, R. He'll be with you, but you know... a bit away."

"Near my trailer?"

"No. Well, you see, there will be no trailer--"

"No trailer? You've got to be joking. You know they offered me a king size trailer on that USA movie with Corey Feldman, and a helluva lot more money"

"I'm sure. But there will be no trailer today, I'm sorry."

"Well, where will I piss?"

"In the skanky Chinese restaurant across the street."

"What?!!! No way am I going to piss in a Chinese restaurant."

"We can't afford the time for you to walk three blocks to the trailer."

"Forget it. Get Courtney Cox. I hear she has a large bladder."

"You know we talked about this in L.A. before you came, R. I told you this might happen."

"I don't remember that conversation, Richard... And do you really expect my personal make-up girl to make me look beautiful in the mirror of the smelly can of a Chinese restaurant? It's Mexico City for Christsake! Who eats Chinese food here anyway!?"

"You are beautiful, naturally R. Make up or no make up."

"You really think so?"

"Yes."

"You don't think I look fat?"

"No"

"I better not look fat in this film"

"You won't. I promise."

"Cause I won't do press if I look fat. I've not done press before because of fat."

"I know."

"Okay. So where is the make-up girl going to do me up?"

"She won't. You'll do yourself up."

"WHAT?!"

"We're trying to keep the crew to 8 people!"

"Eight people?! What is this a porn film!!??"

"I like to think of it as artistic guerrilla filmmaking."

"Guerrilla filmmaking!!! That's it. I want off! I want off this stupid film. I want to be on the next plane to Cancun drinking blender drinks with a bunch of frat boys. Forget you. Forget your film. I hate you. I lied about Oxygen. I actually hated Oxygen. It stank. The L.A. Weekly was right! You're talentless. I don't know why I agreed to do this dumb movie. I'm a star, not a guerrilla. Adios!"

And that would have been that.

Thankfully I took a lot of heat, did not offer the movie to R, hired Stacy, and have filmed (I hope) a great cool scene. Definitely no one will think we're on a soundstage, and Stacy will always go down in my book as one of the all time cool people to work with.

The next day Stacy had her trailer, but again no not stunt woman. We offered but she turned us down. She was going to run and run and run her way through a crowded bazaar (this time a set -- an amazing set to be exact, thanks to Carlos our purple sweater wearing and utterly genius production designer). By the end of the day we were calling the movie, "Run, Stacy, Run" Because I had made her do the scene so many times in so many angles. She was being chased by a stunt man named Alex who tripped, fell, shoved, and hit his way through the scene so many times that a lesser man would have gotten on a plane headed to Cancun and...uhh you know the rest. But Alex had not seen the worst. The last two shots pushed him to the limit and beyond. The script called for Stacy to bash a stool over his head. I guess in Mexico they don't much believe in breakaway props because the wooden stool that was provided us was definitely not breakaway. I was concerned. The Stunt Supervisor was not. This is how they do it here south of the border. He approved it. So Alex had no choice but to be...bashed by Stacy on the back of his head. I swear to God you could hear the sound of the wood breaking on his back from here to Baja. Stacy swung that chair like she meant it and Alex fell to the ground like it hurt. And it did. A lot.

But we got our shot and set up for the martini (or tequila as they like to call it here), the last shot of the day. The unconscious Alex was supposed to have the blood on his head licked up by a dog.

In the script it said, "Street dog" but I was presented with an elegantly groomed animal that wouldn't last two minutes on the mean streets of Mexico City so the crew was sent out to find a stray street dog for the scene. This took all of a second because there are so many dogs roaming the streets. So Alex, completely in pain from his day of stunts and having a chair bashed on his back, now had to have some hot dog meat smeared to his head (to attract the animal), fake blood applied and a street dog come up and lick his face. Somehow he agreed, the dog did what was required in two takes. The entire crew applauded. We wrapped another successful day.

In the past two weeks I've been lucky enough to work with some great actors, I've worked with the nicest, hardest working crew I've ever known, I've been blessed --so far-- with great weather and until last Thursday my stomach was fine.

Then Johnny Zander came to town.

Johnny is playing Stacy's brother in the film and is a fantastic actor. Think Adrien Brody minus the nose. Perfect for the part. It's not Johnny's direct fault that I got as sick as I've ever been in my entire life, but had he not come into town that day, and had we all not gone to dinner to get to know him and celebrate his arrival I would not have found myself nearly passing out the next day on the set from flu-like chills and rampantly outrageous diarrhea.

We were having dinner in a place we'd been before. Eating, drinking and having a good old time. But that night, I could barely sleep. My stomach was having a coup d'etat and I was the old government. I woke up with little sleep and arrived on the set feeling hot and cold and dizzy and achy. I have never been sick on a film set before, let alone never been this sick from food before. But like seeing a matador get a bull's horn rammed into him, there is a first time for everything. By midday I could not stand up. I was sweating and freezing at the same time. Forget looking at performance I was just looking for the bathroom. Stacy, John, Dave (our visiting sound designer) all ate at the restaurant and all were sick too, but they were just sick as in, I've got to go to the bathroom sick, not--I'm sweating and freezing and dizzy and about to faint, sick. (By the by, Johnny, who was the reason for the dinner in the first place, was perfectly fine.) Anyway, I could stand it no longer. I was actually scared for myself. Thankfully we were filming at a hotel, so I told Sarah and Jon Stern what the next shot was going to be, told Stacy that Jon would be directing her so please, please don't listen to a word of acting advice he tells her, and that I was going to pass out until after lunch.

I cannot tell you dear readers what I dreamed in the hotel room, but I woke up naked on the bed, sheets on the floor, covered in sweat like Martin Sheen in the opening of Apocalypse Now. But I broke the fever and was able to finish the day. The shits continued the next day and the set doctor (In Mexico you must have a doctor on set all the time, ours, when he is not treating the director for diarrhea, can be found laying track with the grips) gave my antibiotics, anti-diarrhea medicine and lots of Gatorade. I made it through the week and spent my precious Saturday night going to bed at 8:15 PM. So much for partying my way through Mexico City.

As our last week in Mexico approaches I am filled with a huge amount of sadness. Its not even over and yet I am already looking wistfully back on my two months here. The Zavalla Brothers: Antonio smooth and suave, Victor sweet and happy. Geraldine, Victor's incredible girlfriend, Jesus our Pet Shop Boys--loving Production Manager. Alexandra our bullfighting, boxing and cockfighting (canceled due to shits) expert and general sweetest person in the world, the aforementioned Frederic who manages to have a five o'clock shadow every single day, Gustavo and Enrique our two fat grips who laugh the way happy men who love their work do, the list goes on and on. I will have one more final e-mail, but it will be written from New York where I will be in exactly seven days. The shoot will go on in LA but the experience, the crazy Mexican adventure, will be sadly ending almost too fast for words.

RS

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