Years ago I shot a movie which had an opening scene set in some hot, sweaty South American jungle location. The white guy, an errant archeologist, is running from some dusky Mayan natives who are pissed off because he’s stolen a precious jewel from them.
Which is is why I found myself on December 24th (almost shortest day of the year) in a dusty field in the Valley with the white guy archeologist actor guy and six even whiter and rather plump stunt guys playing the Mayan natives. It’s difficult to say what we needed more of – the dark-brown skin-lotion to make the stunt guys look vaguely dusky or the green spray-paint to make the few sorry trees and bushes in the field look even slightly verdant. Needless to say all we had was a small pot of the former and two cans of the latter.
When we’d broken the ice off the puddles I was ready to make it all look like a jungle and shoot the thrilling opening chase scene. Needless to say I failed. I went home and cried – it was the most miserable Christmas I ever had.
Last night I went to see Apocolypto. No green paint required – Mel Gibson actually was in a rain-forest, a real one, lucky bleeder. And his ‘Mayan’ actors weren’t balding, chubby white folk either – they actually looked the part: savage, noble, frightening. As I watched Mel’s minions running hither and thither I realised that having the right location, lots of time and credible-looking talent isn’t enough. You also need to know what you’re doing – and Mel certainly knows what he’s doing: Apocolypto is as exciting as 2 hours in a dark room gets.
So, if I’d had all Mel’s toys, would my chase scene have been better? A bit maybe, but not much. I was still learning back then and one of the big lessons I came away with that day is that a six foot 200 pound Irish guy with red hair and sneakers doesn’t look like a Mayan native no matter how much brown goop you put on him.