This line was directed toward me, late one night, in a field outside Wilmington, North Carolina.
It was a big production. The biggest this studio has made at the time. It involved a few units:
The main unit – shooting the plot with the actors
The stunt unit – shooting things that did not involve the actors
Miniature unit – Since the movie involved a giant, and that was before visual effects became so popular, an actor in a suit was put in miniature surrounding duplicating the location we were shooting at.
Giant mechanical parts of the monster to be shot with actors, like an arm.
Full size monster being surrounded by live people and carried by a helicopter.
To orchestrate it all, a very experienced director has been hired. He was known as a master of disaster movies and did a few that brought in a lot of money.
But he wasn’t passionate about this project. He was doing it for the money and hated the producers who were haggling about every expenditure. He was tired and despite living many years in Los Angeles still considered himself and was proud to be – a Brit.
Why is it important? Because he surrounded himself with Brits, including the 1st Assistant Director. This guy was good. Very good at keeping the director happy with long, and mostly liquid, lunches. Good at surrounding himself with people who are ready to move up in their profession and have a lot of experience, and good at deflecting any blame to other departments or people, calling them all ‘morons’ and ‘incompetent bunch’.
The director and his assistant were both drinking heavily, mostly after work. Starting at 5 pm the British Property Master would bring the director a generous shot of whisky in a paper cup and would refill it dutifully until the end of the workday. But sometimes work started at the usual drinking hour, and as the night wore off the director would get more and more impossible to talk to.
This was a night like that.
We didn’t have much to shoot in pages, but it involved an army. 200 soldiers, a few tanks and a helicopter. It took a few hours to put all the pieces in place, arm the soldiers with blanks, put explosive charges where the tank were supposed to be hitting and so on. The first take started and something went wrong. One of the tanks wouldn’t move. We had to stop shooting. When the director heard that it will take at least 2 hours before another take will be possible, he became agitated.
The 2nd take went all the way through but looked pathetic. We had to shoot it again.
The director had it. He’s not going to wait another 2 hours for a take. He turned to the Assistant Director and barked “You do it. You know what I want.” He jumped into the car his driver keept warm and disappeared, leaving behind his nephew who was hired to be his personal assistant and lived with him in the specious rented house on Bald Head island.
The nephew didn’t care. He was glad to spend the night on the set away from being a sounding board to everything the director found irritating. He happily followed me around.
What the director forgot to talk to the Assistant Director about was an additional shot that had to be done that night.
I pointed that out and the Assistant Director gave one look at the script and jumped into action setting the shot up. He was full of energy, full of stamina. This was his moment to shine, do things as he wants them to be done, not the director. He will show them how it can be done quickly and efficiently… He was the general and that was his army.
Half way through this setting up, I noticed something was wrong. Grabbing him by the sleeve to make him stop for a minute I whispered: “Hey, they supposed to be retreating, not advancing!” He ordered the nephew to bring him his bag, looked at some story boards as said: “You have no bloody idea what you are talking about. Stick you nose in your script and shut up!”
That’s it. I lost all credibility with him and there’s no one else to talk to. It’s 4 am. There are no producers on the set – they were all kicked off at the beginning of the night by the director who didn’t want them to see him drink, so he found a reason for a tantrum. The Director of Photography didn’t want to get involved in this dispute. I was alone against the 1st British Assistant Director who looked down at me and avoided my advice.
We shot it very quickly and when the sky turned dark grey the workday was over.
A few days later I was asked to come to the set a few minutes earlier to talk to the director. That wasn’t unusual. When we had a complicated scene, he would dictate to me the shots he feels he needs and it was my job to make sure we didn’t forget any. But this time he wasn’t in his office. He was sitting on a chair at the corner of the stage and looked mad as hell. By this point in the shoot, everyone was afraid of him. He had an acerbic tongue and hit you were it hurts. We are not going to talk about the shots of the day, I gathered, something else is up.
Just then the nephew rushed in with a cup of tea, which wasn’t to the director’s liking. He berated his kin with devastating words about his inability to perform any task correctly and turned to me.
“What kind of script supervisor are you? Do you know at all what you’re doing?”
If he expected an answer, none was coming.
“The bloody army was supposed to be retreating! Not advancing! Retreating! Have you read the bloody script at all?”
Still couldn’t say much. My tongue turned to stone.
“You made me look bad! You know how much money this mistake will cost the production? How could you have done such a mistake?”
I finally came to.
“But… I told …”
“Told what to whom? Speak up!”
Goddamn it! I’m trying!
Out of the blue the nephew chimed in, from somewhere in the background. “She told the 1st Assistant Director they supposed to be retreating and he told her to stick her nose in the script and shut up. I heard it.” The camaraderie of the walking wounded, I guess.
“Is that true?”
“Go get him!” Of course he will not skip a confrontation.
Faced with collaboration from the nephew, The Assistant Director had to admit he made a mistake.
He got reprimanded by a wag of the figure and a date for dinner after work that night.