The film director now contends with off-screen drama from her lead actor and actress. 2,069 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Everybody was thrilled with the progress of pre-production of Lost Encounter. The picture had survived another day. Luckily, I made a great choice for a director of photography the second time around. Working with my chosen few on our still imaginary film had its laughs and daily rewards. And we ate well. We were in Paris after all.
It was February 12th, and the start of production was now two weeks away. I had begged for a later start but the rights to the story owned by the people who had made the original film were expiring. We had to go. It was a mad dash. My producer Lawrence Perlman asked me to meet with the American actress who said she loved the project and thought the world of me – in other words, the usual Hollywood crap.
Beyond exhausted, I agreed to meet her. “No strings attached,” I was assured. Later on, a story went around that our film’s leading man Rex Durand had seen a magazine with a photo of the American actress, pointed his finger and said: “That one. I want that one.”
When I met with Brittany in my hotel suite, she was physically impressive. Tall beautiful body, luscious red hair like Rita Hayworth’s, an uncomplicated but pretty face. She was oozing charm and promising to be the best collaborator I ever had. I could not think of one reason not to hire her. I gave her the part on the spot. At that point in time, if I had rejected Brittany, the film would have collapsed or I might have been fired. I did want to direct so I let this one slip by.
The cast now complete, we were expecting Rex to arrive February 24th, a few days before the start of shooting, with his entourage consisting of an assistant, bodyguard and trainer. In confidence, his screenwriter friend revealed that the actor was in the process of losing thirty pounds. Besides scouting locations, I worked on the script with Rex’s scribe, drew up my shot list and collaborated with wardrobe mistress. Back in December, she had flown to Los Angeles to go over Rex’s clothes for the film. But he had his own ideas. He wanted to wear only a t-shirt and jeans or Armani. She had her eyes on an up-and coming Paris homme designer. Once Rex finally saw and tried on the newcomer’s clothes, he agreed.
On the 24th, after a long afternoon of location scouting, I approached the front desk where a message from Rex demanded, “Please join me in the dining room.” Excited to start our long-delayed collaboration, I hurried to the hotel restaurant. But Rex did not look well. His lips were swollen and his face was reddish from all-too-apparent plastic surgery. I cracked a wild smile of welcome. Rex’s gravelly voice, his seductive eyes and his bad boy charm, incredibly, still came shining through. But as fast as it was polite, I frantically rushed back to my hotel suite. “I cannot, cannot, shoot this man close. It will ruin the film. I need a crowd scene. What shots can we realistically move up on such a short notice?” I asked my team.
We needed fifty extras for that Monday, all dressed, for the two days were planned at the location. I had to pull off the scene without going extremely close on Rex, at least for the first day. I crouched by the camera as Rex began the scene. We got through it. I called, “Cut.”
But I caught Brittany whispering into Rex’s ear and Rex pulling away from her in a rather brusque manner. Rex waved me to come over. I sprang forward. Rex complained that Brittany had corrected him for changing a few words in his dialogue. “Who the fuck does she think she is?” he said angrily. I somehow managed to calm him down.
We were shooting the next beat of the scene. Then Brittany’s voice cut through the silence on the set. “What’s my name?“ The script supervisor obliged. But Brittany could not say or remember the name.
I called “Cut.” We went again. Now she mispronounced it. I saw that she was shaking. I pulled her off the set and put her back together. We got through it. After I called “Cut” for the last time, Rex ushered me away.
Rex said, “I cannot work with this woman. I want Brittany fired. Now!”
I didn’t think it was the right time to remind him that Brittany was his choice not mine. “She was nervous,” I explained. “Don’t you remember the first time you acted with a big star?”
“Yeah. I blew my co-star off the screen. Is there another girl you liked for this part? Call her. Brittany stinks. She thinks she knows everything. She won’t listen. She won’t treat me like one of her boyfriends.”
“Rex, two days ago that would have been easy, but now? The production is finally going. I think it would be too destructive to re-cast now.”
“Do it or I’ll do it,” Rex stated firmly.
“I’ll call Los Angeles and see what I can do.”
I spent hours on the phone that night with all my producers, and the verdict came in: we could not re-cast at this time. My mission was to change Rex’s mind. I called Brittany and suggested she apologize to Rex. That night. I tossed and turned. Another grueling day was coming. I finally dozed off. The next morning, Rex approached me and said everything was going to be fine. Brittany had gone to his room and told him how nervous she was and that she did not know her lines. I saw for myself that under his gruff demeanor, the man had a huge heart.
When I suggested he rehearse with her, Rex cracked his devilish smile. “For you, kid? For you, I’ll do it.” Crisis over. We hugged. And from that point on, Rex was spot on with me. Never late, always willing to please.
At the end of the first week of shooting, two French actors played a pair of drug dealers. Rex praised, “These guys have balls, I enjoyed working with them.” I told them. They beamed. Rex loved my team and all the cast and crew. He told me several times what a great job I’m doing. He said he planned to put me in his contracts and direct all his films. One day, as I was saying that no part of my body was worth showing, he said: “Yes. Your brain.” He called me a genius.
But I kept wondering when would fall off my pedestal. I was not sure how well I had performed the first week of shooting. I had seen the first few days of dailies and felt the need to work more closely with my actors. Then I came down with the flu. I woke up in the middle of the night. My head was spinning. Tomorrow was a crucial scene. The entire movie was flying around in my brain like cars zipping by on a freeway at rush hour.
Next, after I survived that, came the movie’s first love scene. Brittany revealed to me that she was looking forward to it because one of her friends who’d had an affair with Rex said he was a marvelous lover and his anatomy… well, you guessed it. On the other hand, Rex had confided in me that for all the money in the world he would never want to bed Brittany. These were my givens. Of course, their feelings were interestingly close to the feelings of their characters in our story. Personally, I just wanted to create a great scene and make my film.
Shooting a love scene has its challenges. You select the right location, the right props and costumes, the right mood lighting to create the atmosphere suited to the story you’re telling. And you play the right music. Two cameras are a minimum. Slow motion is usually the speed choice at least for one camera. You shoot a lot of film praying that somewhere in the footage you’ll find the “magic.”
My ace in the hole was Rex, of course. He had been there and he had imagination. I had done a few of these love scenes before and what I had learned was the sex was boring. Who wants to watch people pretending to have sex? Foreplay is infinitely more erotic. We started in the bathtub – Rex washing Brittany’s hair – and finished in the bedroom. Rex was to tease her with flower petals so a rain of bright color petals slowly fell all over her exquisite buttocks and breasts. Perfectly distributed by Rex. One camera was shooting wide, one camera was following the action close.
I quickly realized that I could not do an entire scene with petals. I grabbed a long-stem purple lily from a bouquet by the bed and gave it to Rex. He immediately went to work. I usually talk a lot through such a scene: guiding, probing, and demanding as I watch the images. I was still dissatisfied. We needed more. Rex requested honey. It ruined the bed sheets and messed up the antique bed but it gave us a few more moments to build a scene with. At the end, Brittany was supposed to cry overwhelmed by the emotion of finally making love to Rex. We waited and waited for Brittany to cry until, finally, Rex slapped her. It worked. She cried… beautifully. And we finished the scene.
The next day, I felt confident in my shot choices. Everything seemed perfect. We were ready but Brittany was missing. I was starting to seriously lose my patience when a hysterical Brittany suddenly charged in. “I have to talk to you!” she said to me.
Turning on my “I’m in charge“ director’s mode, I waved her to follow me into a small side room. “I can’t work. You have to call off the day.” Punctuated by tears and sniffs, she related that she had gone to her manager Sue’s room. The two were inseparable. They even carried around identical white Bichon Frisse dogs. Brittany noticed that Cheryl’s computer was open to a letter and for unknown reason began to read.
It was all about Brittany. “I hate her. I’m so tired of taking care of her. She is a bitch” And so on and so on. Brittany was now devastated.
This indeed was serious. I put my arms around the actress. I told her she was entitled to her feelings. I commiserated on what a shock it must have been to read this from a so-called friend. As I was consoling Brittany, I was also trying to figure out how to get her back to work. No matter what, I knew I had to make my day. I took a deep breath.
“Brittany, we are professionals. In a situation like this, a professional uses her feelings, put them to work and turn in the best performance she have ever given. You’re going to go out there. You can’t let her win.”
Through the open door I could see the crew was starting to fret and wonder, Sue among them.
Brittany wailed, “I can’t work with her around. She has to go. She has to go now.”
“Don’t worry. We’re going to send her packing.” Sue left that day, and a few days later at my suggestion, Brittany’s brother arrived. He gave us assurances that he would take care of Brittany and get her to set on time. An empty promise he never kept.
But we made our day and, as predicted, Brittany did her best work. I had no inkling that this incident was just a taste of what was coming. She had so much more up her sleeve. Like the next morning when she was late and then needed three hours to get hold of her emotions. All and all, six hours were lost that day.