The director wraps her film by punishing and praising those who deserve it. 2,474 words. Part One. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Fed up with my lead actress Brittany, I decided to pay a visit to Rex Durand in his suite. The famous actor in my movie Lost Encounter, now shooting, was not feeling well. His bodyguard was at his side. His dresser was also there. Everyone confided that Brittany was sleeping with the screenwriter. I had to wonder how much rehearsal had really been going on between them. Obviously, very little. For an actress already on shaky ground, would this affair be the final blow? I had to talk to the scripter. I was sworn to secrecy not to reveal my sources, as the lovers did not want me to know.
The following day another six hours were los because of Brittany. Once more, we did the best we could by shooting around her. I had had enough. At first, the screenwriter denied anything was going on. I told him I knew the truth and it was pointless to deny it. And if her work kept suffering, they ultimately were hurting the film. He promised to keep the situation under control. I was still naïve enough to believe that he would help the film by making sure Brittany was prepared.
On our schedule the following week was the fashion show and that was when the film’s producer Lawrence Perlman arrived. He was to be a first row extra. We had secured a very large space with plenty of room to build a stage and a walkway as well as the biggest Atlas crane to make the most of the expanse. Inspired by Chanel, I had asked for a series of multiple mirrors on the stage and liked the results. And my costume supervisor pulled off a miracle with the clothes and all the accoutrements and secrets of a great stylist. The difficulty had been to make the fashion believable and she had done so a thousand times over.
My personal challenge at this point was physical. I became sick on the very first day of the shoot. The pressure of it all, and the very cold weather, had gotten the best of me. By the third day, I was barely conscious. Between takes, I wrapped myself in blankets, doped myself with flu medicine, drank a lot of hot liquid and prayed that lighting would take a little longer before I had to spring back into action.
Lawrence was very complimentary. He thought we had done a great job so far. And he had assured me early on, “If you have a problem – any problem, call me and I’ll take care of it.” He had been very supportive, kind of a dream producer. In turn, I was pleased to work with Lawrence, one of the smartest people I have ever worked with — and I had worked with several remarkable people before him. He did not suffer fools easily. His time was precious and he would let you know this by saying frequently, “Get to the point, make sense and move on.” A friend had confided in me early on in Paris that Lawrence was “terrified of a strong woman particularly if she is sexual. If you were not a woman, he would have steamrolled you.”
But Lawrence also was a tough customer who always found a way to come out on top financially — maybe sometimes at the expense of his partners. His dealings with me were fair. He paid me well. I had no complaints. Well, maybe one. When he told me, “If you had demanded more money, I would have given it to you. I was surprised that your agent did not ask.” I was surprised, too. It was money I really could have used.
I had dealt with most problems on my own up until then, but now it was time to call Lawrence because members of my team were getting pink-slipped without my okay. I told him, “The bean-counter must have been waiting for just the right moment to make his sneaky move. It must be about revenge because it cannot be good for our film to fire these people two weeks before the end of shooting.”
Lawrence assured me he would take care of it. I trusted him. He joined us at the Hotel Raphael. Somehow a deal was struck. My people would finish the film but would agree to work without pay or per diem so the bean-counter could save face. After they all polished off a great bottle of Chateau-Latour, Lawrence signed his promise on a paper napkin.
It was now March 24th and I was very happy and very sad at the same time. Dad was no longer with us. I had often wondered if I could go on living if or when my father died. Well, I survived. The thought cut right through my heart. My mother and sister came to visit. The highlight of their trip was Rex’s kindness. He was gentle, caring, and willing to take pictures with them. I was deeply grateful.
This would be our last two weeks. And each morning, I started the day by kissing every French crewmember as I walked onto the set. I had forgotten how much the French love to kiss and greet, kiss and greet. Lunch was a feast. Beautiful tents were raised wherever we were over multiple buffets with large shrimps, tender meats, fresh vegetables, desserts fit for a king — and alcohol. The crew stayed sober on set but, back in the trenches, they were often plastered.
Because of the permit problems, we had a single day to accomplish a long series of shots, and the date was set in stone. These involved the actors pulling up in a taxi and walking towards a building and going up a glass elevator, then climbing onto a roof with a spectacular view of Notre Dame de Paris for the key moments of the scene. But Brittany was not on set. Soon it became clear that she could not be located. The hotel concierge was enlisted to knock on the door of her suite. A message came back. Brittany was very sick. I ordered production to call a doctor. By early afternoon she was finally in her trailer. I went to see her. She could barely open her eyes and could not sit up straight. The doctor arrived. His prognosis was swift and clear: Brittany was drunk.
Slowly, the truth emerged. Brittany had spent all day Sunday with the screenwriter doing absinthe. Nothing could be done to bring her back. The rest of the day was lost. After much begging, production managed to coax half a day more out of the permit people. We were granted from early morning to 11 a.m. and we took it. In the freezing cold, we rushed to finish the breakfast scene on the rooftop. The view from Notre Dame, one of the best in the city, filled my eyes.
Production also managed to get a permit to shoot on the Champs Elysees. Our dilemma was that we did not have a permit to shoot our car going off into traffic. We decided to attempt the shot anyway. It was tense. We had one chance to pull it off. Lots of onlookers were watching and potentially alert the police. Ready, set, go! Rex was at the wheel of a BMW. He took off, burning tires, and was almost immediately rear-ended as he squeezed between a bus and a car. Not the great escape we had envisioned. Fortunately, not an accident either, and we managed to get a great shot of the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.
In Paris, the interest in Rex was surprisingly high. They still loved him. Some say the French are crazy because they love Jerry Lewis. But also Rex Durand. Everywhere Rex went, the paparazzi would follow and he was endlessly gracious. But one day, as the two cameras started rolling, the paparazzi came closer and closer in spite of our tight security, and one of them managed to sneak in close enough to get a picture of the scene. Rex’s bodyguard immediately jumped into action, grabbed the guy’s camera, pulled the film out, and threw all of it to the ground.
Our last three days were to take place back at the Hotel Raphael, a bittersweet way to end our journey. As we moved from scene to scene inside the closed quarters, I had time to reflect on the challenge I had faced directing these two actors of such different talents and temperaments.
Rex wanted to “show me”. What I mean is that he had ideas and imagination and, although easy to direct, he wanted to participate and contribute his ideas. We would finish a take and he would look at me, and if my eyes would suggest that I needed something slightly different, very quickly I would hear “I know, I know…” And sure enough, more often than not, he knew exactly what I wanted. I remember once, as we finished a scene, the words “I love you” came out of my mouth. I loved his talent.
On the other hand, Brittany was the kind of actress who had to be led beat by beat through a scene. Later on, I was told that Brittany said I should have spent more time working with her. The fact that so often she did not know her lines made me lose respect for her. I could forgive her lack of experience, but not her lack of preparation.
Starting April 14th, the movie came together nicely in editing, with performances better than I thought. I was proud and happy after screening the first rough cut. Editing is the art of solving problems and getting the maximum value out of what was written, acted and shot. So an editor and a director can get into a zone where they’re pleased because of the problems they solved or the value they got out of a scene but in the end the audience will only go with what’s on the screen and won’t know if the script was weak or the actors mediocre or how much labor there was to transform the footage into a watchable movie. Our project had inherent weaknesses, some that we solved and some not because they could not be solved. Like Rex’s appearance.
On June 6th, the editing of Lost Encounter was complete and it was time to screen the film. After the warm cocoon of the editing room, it was time to bring the baby into the cold world. My ulcer, which had been misdiagnosed during the shoot, came rumbling back. The general comments from the financiers were that the film was too long, Rex’s appearance was a real problem and some performances were over the top. But they also said that, considering how hard the production had been and how little time I had to shoot the movie, I did a great job.
The sound and music for Lost Encounter had to be done in England due to our financing. I made many trips back and forth between London and Los Angeles during July and August. Rex at first could not be found for looping, and Brittany was refusing to fly to London because she did not want to see us again. She argued that making the movie had been the most horrible experience with the most horrible people. After multiple back and forth exchanges, she came.
The first thing out of Brittany’s mouth as she entered the studio was, “I have not had a drink since the film. I’m in AA.” I stared at her, speechless. A friend of mine had reported seeing her with her manager Sue (they were back together) drunk at a famous bar. But I let her comment go by, as we had work to do. Brittany had never really done looping. Diligently, I helped her to improve her performance. I gave her line readings, told her where to put the emphasis, where to place her voice. It took three days. Her final comment was, “The movie is much better than I expected.”
Meanwhile, Rex was difficult in his own way. I had been forced to leave a message on his answering service begging him to do the ADR “for me.” When he finally showed up, it took us six hours to complete the entire job as his never-ending ringing cell phone ruined take after take. I was totally drained trying to keep the ship that was my movie afloat midst the chaos of Rex’s cigarettes, calls, drinks, food, jokes and entourage.
As usual, on the last day, I was caught in the worst Paris traffic and by the time I got to the airport I had to race to catch the plane to Los Angeles. Out-of-breath and sweaty, I collapsed in the middle seat. A sudden malaise swept my entire body. The crew was closing the doors of the airplane, so getting up was out of question. My nervous system had short-circuited. I knew I could not possibly be dying but it sure felt as if I was. When I finally regained consciousness, light was slowly appearing at the edge of a long dark tunnel. Kindly faces were leaning in and I heard, “Ca va mieux?” I forced a pathetic smile to reassure them. Shivering, aching, every muscle and nerve in my body screaming, I stumbled back to my seat. The flight felt like days.
Once down on the ground, I could barely walk. Then an unstoppable urge to vomit overtook me. I hurried away from people’s eyes and finally threw up. It was the closest I have ever come to feeling like an animal. The moment was private, profound and fundamental and I accomplished it without the help of a single Kleenex.
Back in Los Angeles, I had a dream. I was riding with another person, not sure who. We were going up and down. The ride was rickety and noisy. I kept slipping, could not hold on. I addressed my traveling companion, “I know what’s going to happen. We’re going to arrive at the top of the cliff, there will be a big drop and, bang, we’ll fall.” Suddenly, we’re there and to my surprise it’s the most beautiful landscape in the world – a perfect Eldorado. Backdrop to a huge stadium in the form of an amphitheater, where thousands of people are watching. I try to get around the back bleachers for a closer view but before reaching my destination, I wake up.
During the month of October, Lost Encounter made the rounds of distributors and was finally picked up but never released theatrically in the United States. Every single distributor mentioned Rex’s appearance. The movie opened for one week in France and promptly closed.
It had been that kind of a year… A great bad year.