I must start on my shot list. I must…
I must start on my shot list. I must…
We are on a technical scout when the good news arrives that my new collapsible travel bike is in Spain. The bad news is it’s still in Madrid in customs. I’m about to lose it (unreasonably as this has NOTHING to do with making a movie) when I check my machine in LA and hear from a mutual friend that Warren Zevon has been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Warren’s feisty reply on hearing he will soon be arranging a personal tete a tete with St. Peter? “It’ll be a drag if I die before the new James Bond movie comes out!” Does the phrase REALITY CHECK mean anything? For the first and only time (I hope) I wish I wasn’t in Spain so I could see Mr. Zevon. After not seeing him for many years I bumped into him a month or two back and he said “Let’s get together.” His smile was wide and broad and without a trace of sadness – did he know then I wonder?
My guitar arrives. I annoy Guillermo, astonishing Spanish AD, with some tired blues licks while he asks me important questions. How do you get a guitar players attention? Take his guitar away. Our favourite location for the hotel where SClub wake up managerless is taken away from us. Alan is very decent about breaking the news to me. I’m prepared to deal with it until I realise the last 3 hours spent working on my shot-list were wasted.
While the rest of the world remembers I start a meeting which never ends. As everyone here smokes and I have been yacking non-stop all day my throat is raw and painful by the end but much work has been accomplished. My biggest fear is that I have made some decision today that will irrevocably alter the delicate balance on which making a movie constantly dangles.
My bag arrives. My guitar is still missing in action.
After 2 hours in London happy to arrive back in Barcelona – if only my bags had joined me I would have been ecstatic. John Agoglia (stalwart production manager and man of steel) did the same journey and came via Frankfurt and together we ignored our jet-lag and set off for Sitges to scout locations – this is where the Club will realise that things are not as they should be in SClub land – what Robert McKee would call the Inciting Incident.
6 hours to pack and then dash for the airport. Watched Unfaithful on the plane and found it very disturbing – not in the least because watching Diane Lane doing it with a Frenchman while we flew high above Greenland still provided me with some ideas for the movie we’re making – which has no sex & no Frenchmen though, I can reveal here, all the SClubbers will get naked – ooh er!
We complete first 2 days of shooting – drive-bys in LA. The long suffering SClubbers have patiently dealt with me yelling at them from a distance as they drive through town packed into the back of a Buick Skylark – the only cool car we could double in Spain. Of such things are artistic choices made! AJ and Howie from Backstreet Boys would be happy to learn that I called Rachel Hannah, Jo Tina, and Jo Rachel. It doesn’t matter what kind of band you’re in I’ll still get the names wrong!
Week 1 pre-pro…
Monday…By 830 I’m scouting a sunny cove where SCLUB might make their first cup of tea as Act 2 unfolds. It’s a gorgeous spot and a fine morning to be taking location pix but I can’t linger as I must race back to Hollywood to meet the band for the first time. I have spent so much time studying them recently that I feel I know them already but of course they must view the meeting differently – I’m just some director person sent to bellow at them for a month!
Tuesday…A frustrating morning sorting out why it’s taking an hour to download one lousy picture from Spain on the web. The computer doctor rushes across town to rescue me and concludes instantly my DSL is in the toilet. At dance rehearsal the band are flopped on the floor like rag dolls – there is no a/c at the rehearsal room. I promise Priscilla (valiant choreographer) I will wield some directorial muscle and get them a new room. It’s not a matter of me showing off but pure selfishness – dancers are athletes, if they sweat too much they can dehydrate or chill off fast and get sick: I want my team in full health for the next six weeks.
The band and I start our first acting rehearsal and it’s a particularly important moment for me – I need to show them who’s in charge and also engage their trust for the weeks ahead. I decide to tell them what I want to achieve with the film and ask them what they want. To my delight they all express excitement about doing a movie and are refreshingly honest when we discuss who the characters of Hannah, Jon, Tina, Brad and Rachel are and how the characters differ from their own personalities.
Wednesday…We’re scouting in the South Bay by breakfast and the weather is cold and miserable – so different from Monday. My second rehearsal with the band starts well but is soon heading for disaster. I have ambitiously started showing them some exercises to help with dialogue and one by one each attempt inexplicably crashes in flames like a Russian jet at an air-show. I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth and starting to panic. Then we do a sense memory exercise where we all imagine opening up our front door at home. How does the key feel? How does it fit in the lock? Which way does the key turn? Somehow we are soon discussing an infamously strenuous weekend in SCLUB history which culminated in the gig from hell. The band’s shoulders slump, their eyes become listless and they visibly shiver and huddle together for warmth from the terrible memory.
It’s a victory – this is the way they should feel when they approach their first dialogue scene in the movie! I’m so relieved I finish rehearsal early: quit while you’re ahead etc. But down in the parking lot I climb into my car like a defeated man – I have so much still to learn. I go home and work on my shot list. The DSL is still broken.
Thursday…I’m also making a video for SCLUB next week and spend the morning looking at clubs. Some are well thought out and fascinating – others are tawdry, smelly sheds with a bar and a sound system. In the afternoon, scouting for the movie again, I receive an excited call from my old assistant Jill. The video I directed for Chad Kroeger and Josey Scott singing “Hero” from the Spiderman Soundtrack has just won an MTV award. I’m so deep into the movie I didn’t even know the awards were on. I scroll through the cell calling all the members of the crew to share the news – it was a team effort and we all bask in our brief moment of glory.
Friday…Breakfast with Judy, my one-time acting teacher who combines her endless enthusiasm with honest and tough criticism. We discuss my near escape on Wednesday night and she let’s me know I was too ambitious. She advises me to start working on how SCLUB will play the clones and I finish breakfast excited about tonight’s rehearsal. At lunchtime I go for my medical – the Bond people want to know if I’ll make it through the coming weeks and apparently they’re optimistic. I meet Jo for the first time – she flew in last night and is still jet-lagged.
At rehearsal we all start out by jumping up and down and making stupid noises like zombies, robots and ghosts. Brad refuses to make a noise and Jo won’t stop giggling – I think they were both embarrassed – I share their pain as I’m doing a bad zombie impression too. We do some Clone improvs which start out well and get better and better. Amongst the favourite moments was Jon taking Clone Bradley to the video store – Brad wound up at the Adult Section (SURPRISE!) and Tina showing Clone Jo how to brush her teeth which was very real and touching. I make a note to include some of this work in the movie.
Saturday…It’s been a week of early starts and so I get up at 6 to get in a 22 mile ride along PCH before our script meeting at 930. I ride like the wind and so the endolphins (sic) are jumping when I finally get to meet Kim Fuller, our valiant scriptwriter, for the first time over bagels and coffee in Alan’s house. We spend 4 hours examining the script line by line and some good work gets done. It’s not till I’m racing back to Hollywood that I realize that one of the scenes we ripped out and trashed was the one I spent those hard hours storyboarding on Wednesday night. Rats!
I arrive ten minutes late for the casting session for the video in a foul temper: the room isn’t big enough, the music isn’t loud enough and I act like a prick who needs to take a large chill pill. 130 dancers later I’m energized and stunned by what appears to be a resurgence in 80’s fashion and new dance moves which seems to allow male dancers to provocatively stroke their female partners along the inner thighs. I have to admit I’ve tried it a few times myself in the past but usually got a slap in the face and a bottle of beer poured over me. Progress is a fine thing!
As I drive west into an extraordinary sunset I conclude it’s been a very useful week. But there’s no time for laurel sitting yet. This has just been the opening prologue: the time trials and the important mountain stages are still ahead.
The waiting is over. Tomorrow work on the movie begins in earnest. The last weeks have been a rest period for nearly everyone on the cast and crew who was working on the series. Meanwhile I have been pedalling around in increasingly small circles feeling guilty about taking a break I don’t deserve and trying to prepare for a schedule which has not yet been drawn up.
What is a director to do? Well this one goes and watches a shed load of movies to see what ideas he can steal, borrow and avoid. I’ve even been inspired to invent a few of my own! From whence cometh my inspiration? Try: Amelie, The Hit, The Italian Job, Austin Powers: Goldmember, XXX, Sex And Lucia, All About My Mother, The Commitments, The Mexican, Bandits, Spy Kids, K:19, Tadpole, A Hard Days Night.
Of course you lot have no clue as to what the story is about (and I’m not about to tell you either) but you might reasonably draw this conclusion from the above list: S Club, on a quest to find a missing vintage weapon, travel by Russian submarine to Paris where they meet up with a waitress who, deciding she no longer wants to play in a soul band, hitches a ride with them in three Minis to Prague where they meet a new kind of secret agent in a Pontiac GTO who is then knocked out by some members of the London crime scene who hand them over to another secret agent with bad teeth and a Jag who takes them through time to Madrid for a meal in a restaurant with another waitress who likes to get naked a lot. After dinner they catch a train to Barcelona with a woman who’s lost her son, and all the while they are whistling Beatles songs. That might be your conclusion but you’d be wrong!
What I can tell you is that from Amelie I learnt everything I need to know about how to make a movie. The Hit told me how I should shoot Spain if I had any sense; The Italian Job showed me how to let the essence of a wonderful old city inhabit a comedy; Austin Powers showed me that clones can be believable with over the shoulder shots; XXX let me know that it’s still hip for nasty men to hatch world dominating plots in dank caves; Sex And Lucia taught me a lot of Spanish words for naughty bits; All About My Mother showed me that we’d better shoot more of Barcelona than Pedro did; The Commitments reminded me that non-technical actors can still deliver memorable and funny performances; The Mexican and Bandits showed me that the critics can be wrong; Spy Kids taught me that there’s no shame in making a movie for kids; K-19 introduced me to the concept that accents are not always a good idea; Tadpole alerted me to Robert Iler’s promising career and A Hard Days Night let me know that I’ve got my work cut out to try and improve on what still remains one of the all time great music movies.
As I said. Tomorrow I’m back to work.
Watch your language!…It’s been a tough week full of scouting, casting, watching tapes, more scouting, and making decisions. With a shock I realise that I have been examining the minutiae of the picture with such intensity that now I need to take a step back and decide whether the look and the tone of the picture is going in the right direction. Luckily I will get the chance as I fly back to LA tomorrow for a few days break before we scout the US leg and I finally get to meet the band.
But why, I ask myself, has it been so intense? and I realise that language has something to do with it as we are working on a bi-lingual picture. Most of the crew are Spanish and few of us English or Americans speak their tongue. I remember the shame of directing Johnny Halliday, the Elvis of France, in Paris some years back and the entire crew, Johnny included, had to speak English because my French was so appalling; on one embarrassing occasion Johnny even had to act as my interpreter. Here in Spain it is even worse as I speak only about three words of Spanish and so the crew have to discuss everything with me and amongst themselves in English so I know what’s going on. But however good the crew’s English is, and it’s universally VERY good, some of the short-hand is missing and it requires more concentration to make sure that everyone understands what I want – or what I think I want. So, in a vain effort to show some solidarity, I’m trying to pick up some Spanish and Nike, my assistant, has bought me the Berlitz Spanish Vocabulary Book.
Once upon a time there was a Monty Python sketch in which the Pythons were learning phrases from a guide book and of course most of them were laughably useless; my favourite being: “My hovercraft is full of eels!” So, to show solidarity with our cheerful Spaniard crew, and demonstrate my grasp of their tongue, I am learning the following two phrases which the Berlitz book helpfully provides. 1: “El misil que habia sideo derribado esparcio escombros sobre un area extensa.” and 2: “El concierto de Pink Floyd se emitio en directo desde Venecia?”
If, like me, you are not bi-lingual let me translate for you. #1 means: “The missile, which has been shot down, scattered debris over a wide area.” Pretty useful for chatting up the birds that one! And #2: “Was the Pink Floyd concert broadcast live from Venice?” I’m sure the S-Club lot will be very impressed!
Confusingly the book, which as you’ll recall is for English speaking people trying to habla a bit of espanol, also provides you with the phrase for, “Portuguese spoken here.” But why? Early on the book gives you key words for various vocabulary topics and I note that a surprising touch of cynicism seems to have crept into the language learning industry. The first word they teach you for Love and Marriage is affair – the first word for Birth and Children is abortion!
And so I admire every one of my crew who, unlike me, were not born into an English speaking family. I can get work just by being employable – they have to have a great resume and be fluent in English as well before they get the gig. And just think on this fellow mono-linguists. Nike, my aforementioned assistant, is German and is consequently speaking most of the day in 2 languages of which neither is her native tongue!
I will leave you with: “No soy muy bueno para los idiomas, pero mi hermana es dotada para las lenguas.” which I think means “My Spanish is awful but my sister is a cunning linguist.”
Day off in London.
650 am…Overslept, threw a few clothes and my shiny new Spanish Vocabulary Handbook into the carry-on, and raced downstairs in a pointless blur of impatience as the cab I’d ordered is 15 minutes late. I have a gig in London tomorrow night (a real one with guitars and musicians) and production has kindly let me out of school for the day.
1030am…Landed in London with a large British Airways breakfast swilling around in my belly and very frustrated because I couldn’t finish the quick crossword in the paper – two hours of pencil chewing and I still had four clues unanswered which reminds me of my favourite clue of all time: Diddley (guitar player), two letters starting with B.
1215pm…I’ve had a cuppa in Chiswick and a quick shower, made some calls and I’m now in a mini-cab on the way to Soho doing a phone interview with my old university magazine. Originally I was supposed to be here on holiday at this time but SClub has changed all that so I’m fitting a weeks holiday plans into 48 hours.
1pm…Like a character from a Ludlum novel I’m standing on the north side of the little hut in the middle of Soho Square waiting to meet a girl with dirty blonde hair and a rucksack full of cameras (her description). Unfortunately I’m not about to receive a top secret package that will thrust me into a world of intrigue and danger in which I will battle merciless villains and find myself tempted by scantily clad double agents (or is that how the next 8 weeks will develop?)…my assignation is with a photographer who will snap the pix for the university magazine article. She picks a deserted alleyway for the shoot and I quickly realise we’re in the same spot where Bowie posed many years under the KWest sign for the Ziggy Stardust album cover. Cool!
130pm…Grabbing a sandwich from a deli on Old Compton Street I am accosted by a man with a plastic bag. “Ere! Are you Nigel Dick?” Who wants to know? Maybe I am in a Ludlum novel after all.
215pm…It’s uncommonly hot and sunny in London today, I’m wearing a suit (explanation ahead) and I can feel the sweat starting to drip down my back. Whenever the sun shines in London the place goes mad. Cleavages can be seen everywhere, tight T-shirts reveal chubby bellybuttons and spare tyres, there’s even vast expanses of leg on view…and that’s just the men. I meet Matt who will be our post production supervisor and we retire to a swanky bar for cokes and talk shop – how are we going to do the special effects, how will we treat the film, how complex will the mix be?
315pm…and I’m walking down Conduit Street to meet with the bond company. Now, as we’ll be shooting a stylish action, thriller, comedy, musical, you’ll be assuming that the bond company checks how much Bond there is in the script. Nubile babes? Check. Exotic foreign locales? Check. Cunning stunts? Check. Helicopter shots? Check. Evil men with bald heads? Er…will I do? Check. Sadly the bond company is officially interested in none of these things. They want to know if I can shoot the movie in the time allowed and what my thoughts are on the post schedule as they insure that, come hell or high water, the film will be completed on time and on budget. Now you know what a completion bond is.
415pm…I’m criss-crossing Soho for the third time today to meet with our editor Mark, a cheerful chap who, after editing a thousand episodes of the TV series, knows far more about SClub than I ever will. The meeting at the bond company, which was why I was wearing my suit, was unbearably hot as the sun pounded through the large, closed windows and there was a power cut in the building – as I sit here over a cup of tea the a/c kicks in and a shivver runs down my back.
515pm…Standing on Oxford Street waving my hands like a madman trying to catch a cab. Last weekend I rode my bike into the northern suburbs of Barcelona only to get a massive puncture which I couldn’t repair. As I walked back towards town with my wounded velo the cab drivers drove past refusing to give me a ride. Today my bad luck continues – it appears Chiswick is too far to venture on a sunny Friday afternoon. I smile, as another glob of perspiration drips down my back, I’m travelling the world, I’m making a movie, the sun is out and the weekend is in front of me. Sod the cabbies – life is good.
This week we’re scouting for locations.
This is possibly the most exciting and purely joyful part of film-making – every thing is before us and there’s nothing but excitement and promise in the air. About eight of us are driving up and down the Spanish coast looking for places where we can shoot our SClub story. It’s fun because, for the moment, we’re quite relaxed and we get to visit all kinds of wonderful places, we get to eat for free and there’s only the hint of the tension that the following weeks will bring. This is also a very important bonding period before the tough days that lie ahead.
Normally this is the time where the key members of the crew get to know each other, sound each other out about ideas and find out about each other’s strengths, weaknesses, foibles and eating habits. This movie is different as all the key players have been making a series for SClub here in Spain for many months. The only new person is me!
It’s dawn on July 17th 2002, the Pyrenees are somewhere below me and soon I shall be landing in Barcelona Spain home of Gaudi, Salvador Dali and SCLUB! The gods have smiled upon me once again and I’ve been picked from a cast of thousands to make the journey east to direct a movie for TV’s favourite pop sensation – SCLUB.
Who knows what the following weeks and months hold in store – but why don’t you join me, your humble directing servant, as I traverse oceans and continents, put life and limb on the line and expose myself to all kinds of abuse just to get Jo, Hannah, Tina, Bradley, Rachel and Jon up onto the big screen where they belong?