GTO 3987 on Mulholland

GTO 3987 on Mulholland

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Napoleon and film crews

Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach. He was Emperor of France and knew a thing or two about armies. A film crew of any size can be likened to an army serving long hours under difficult circumstances doing a job that is result-oriented rather than just putting in the hours of a shift. The food provided and the conditions under which meals are served take on greater importance relative to the difficulty of the job at hand.

My first experiences with movie locations were with The Wrecking Crew (Palm Springs), Winning (Riverside Raceway) and Sole Survivor (Victorville). It was typical that we would be served lunch on the set by movie caterers and dinner was at a restaurant of our choosing paid for by the per diem provided by the company. For the most part, we would all eat in the hotel restaurant because the remote location meant a limited number of available restaurants in the area. One exception to this was on The Wrecking Crew when I took a “co-worker” to a Chinese restaurant in my Ferrari...

Any shoot tends to be economical with time but this is especially true of a production on location. Breakfast and lunch tend to be hurried and to the point. Dinner is a more relaxed occasion unless after dinner shooting is planned. The imperative is to keep the camera rolling.

Living in France, I found that food took on a completely different significance. Not only did its preparation become elevated to an art form, a meal was the social convention that formed meaningful friendships. As I acclimatized to living in Paris, dinners starting at eight in the evening and lasting until well past midnight were quite common. Fine food and interesting conversation bonded people who had previously been strangers. I decided to carry this ritual into my filmmaking.

On my first film, Montmartre, we ate in various restaurants around Paris where we were shooting. Couscous Merguez and steak-frites were favorites. Vin rouge was the beverage of choice. Preparing to shoot The French Chef, my partner and I dined out in some of the best restaurants in Paris where the proprietors (in France, the chef is also the owner of the restaurant) would “audition” for the shoot by inviting us to a dinner that they would present on the show.

Some shoots found us in isolated areas that offered limited choices of places to eat. Desert Center, Success, Terminal Velocity, Dead Right and Double Cross were all shot in part on El Mirage lake bed and in and around Victorville and Las Vegas. When we were in Victorville breakfast was always at a truck stop where the biscuits and gravy were intoxicating. Lunch was where we could find it but dinner was open to crew input and we would have prime rib one evening and pasta the next. Las Vegas offered even more exotic possibilities as did Mexico when we were there shooting Fait Accompli. In Ensenada, dinner one evening was hosted in the restaurant of a former New York gangster who took a liking to us.

Regardless of where we took our meals, they were unhurried affairs and I could generally get a feeling from the group when they were ready to return to work. This approach made for some very pleasant shoots and, no doubt, the thought of doing things this way would drive any respectable unit manager crazy but I've found there's more to making films than making films.

My special thanks goes to France and my Parisian friends who informed my approach to filmmaking and, yes, to life as well.

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