ON SET: LINCOLN












HOLLYWOOD – On a breakfast visit to the set of Lincoln and Daniel Day-Lewis is sat in the corner in full costume eating biscuits and gravy with a side order of cornbread. I was about to go over and say hello when Spielberg pulled me to one side. “ I’m worried about Daniel “ he said. “ He hasn’t spoke to anybody for the last three days he just comes into the cafeteria, orders the same meal and sits there reading the bible until it’s time to clock off and we’re way behind schedule”.


I told Steven I’d have a quiet word with him and so I sauntered over to his table and offered him a handshake. “ Mr Lincoln” I said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Day-Lewis looked up at me, put down his knife and fork and shook my hand “And it’s a pleasure to meet you Sir. Won’t you join me for breakfast?”


 I sat down, ordered coffee and he rambled on about emancipation and battle tactics. I played along as you have to when he’s fully absorbed in his character. I remember on the set of ‘In The Name of the Father’ I spent an entire week with him planning an assassination attempt on the British Royal Family. We even went as far as procuring a pound of Semtex and making a replica model of Buckingham Palace before he finally snapped out of it.”


I could tell he’d got a lot worse since back then though. P.T. Anderson had told me that during the filming of ‘There Will be Blood’ Lewis had drank half a pint of crude oil every morning.

I used to a have a lot of time for method actors. When De Niro said he wanted to go to Italy and eat 10 pizza’s a day to bulk up to play Jake LaMotta I said no problem. When Mick Rourke asked me if I could get him some Virgins to sacrifice to prepare for his role in ‘Angel Heart’ I didn’t even raise an eyebrow but the older I’ve got, the less tolerant I’ve become. Not only that but I like to keep Spielberg sweet just in case I ever require the services of a Mossad hit man.

I listened to Day-Lewis for another 20 minutes or so but halfway through his recital of the Gettysburg address I grabbed his fork and stabbed him right through his hand into the wooden table.

“ Listen you stupid bastard “ I said as he cried out in pain. “ You’re costing us a hundred thousand a day with this bullshit and I don’t give a rats ass how many Oscars you’ve won. If you don’t get in front of that camera and do you job within the next hour. The next time you see yourself on screen you’ll be playing Seth Rogans submissive gay partner in a Judd Apatow re-imaging of ‘The 120 days of Sodom’.”

I got up and went to take a piss leaving Day Lewis weeping at the table like a stood up school girl on prom night. When I returned he was laughing and joking with the crew and talking over the next scene with Spielberg. I was going to go over and apologise but I didn’t want to ruin their flow so I snook out the back door and climbed into the waiting limo.

The next day I got a 40 year old bottle of scotch delivered to me with a note from Steven that simply said “I owe you one”. He didn’t. I was just doing my job but it’s good to know that if you ever require the services of an  Israeli assassination squad; As you do in this business from time to time. One is but a short phone call away.

ON SET: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK


April 3rd, 1979

George had come down with a bad cold and for three day’s straight he’d been existing on a diet of malt liquor and Night Nurse. He’d never been much of a drinker and I was a little worried about his mental state, so I told him to take the afternoon off and go get some shut eye.

The next morning I was on set bright and early and asked where George was at but nobody had seen him hide nor hair of him since yesterday. I poured myself a cognac and prepared to send out a search party when I got a call from NASA mission control at Cape Canaveral. They said they had George in custody and could I get over there right away and collect him.

Five hours later I’m escorted to a holding room on the base and find George wrapped in a sheet surrounded by Star Wars action figures. He’d arranged them all into various sexual positions and was currently ramming C-3PO into the back of Princess Leia and making lewd noises.

The officer in charge told me they’d caught him trying to board a rocket with a sackful of toys and, when they asked him what the hell he was doing, he said he wanted to release his little children into outer space. Then he started crying and begging forgiveness for destroying some place called Alderaan.

I explained to the officer that George had been self-medicating and he’d been under a lot of pressure lately. He said he understood and this wasn’t the first time he’d had to stop a director from attempting to commandeer a space shuttle. Apparently 12 years earlier Stanley Kubrick had got as far as initiating the launch sequence before he was apprehended.

I said I’d send everyone on the base a ticket to the premiere and get Carrie Fisher to come over and play a benefit concert if they would release George and keep what happened under wraps. The officer said no problem and so I gathered up the toys, took George by the hand and made a hasty exit.

After that day I never saw Lucas with a drink in his hand again. As for me, well, that was the day I started taking three valium before breakfast instead of two. 


ON SET: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK


April 3rd, 1979

George had come down with a bad cold and for three day’s straight he’d been existing on a diet of malt liquor and Night Nurse. He’d never been much of a drinker and I was a little worried about his mental state, so I told him to take the afternoon off and go get some shut eye.

The next morning I was on set bright and early and asked where George was at but nobody had seen him hide nor hair of him since yesterday. I poured myself a cognac and prepared to send out a search party when I got a call from NASA mission control at Cape Canaveral. They said they had George in custody and could I get over there right away and collect him.

Five hours later I’m escorted to a holding room on the base and find George wrapped in a sheet surrounded by Star Wars action figures. He’d arranged them all into various sexual positions and was currently ramming C-3PO into the back of Princess Leia and making lewd noises.

The officer in charge told me they’d caught him trying to board a rocket with a sackful of toys and, when they asked him what the hell he was doing, he said he wanted to release his little children into outer space. Then he started crying and begging forgiveness for destroying some place called Alderaan.

I explained to the officer that George had been self-medicating and he’d been under a lot of pressure lately. He said he understood and this wasn’t the first time he’d had to stop a director from attempting to commandeer a space shuttle. Apparently 12 years earlier Stanley Kubrick had got as far as initiating the launch sequence before he was apprehended.

I said I’d send everyone on the base a ticket to the premiere and get Carrie Fisher to come over and play a benefit concert if they would release George and keep what happened under wraps. The officer said no problem and so I gathered up the toys, took George by the hand and made a hasty exit.

After that day I never saw Lucas with a drink in his hand again. As for me, well, that was the day I started taking three valium before breakfast instead of two. 


OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL: ON SET REPORT

Wocka Wocka Wocka


HOLLYWOOD – Sam Raimi is having a tough day in Oz. The set designers have been watching to much HBO and everything looks like a prison; the Munchkins have got heavily into identity politics and are revising the script to remove all references to their stature and cuteness; the Witches have been arguing about the size of their respective trailers and now James Franco, to make matters worse, has started acting.
Studio Exec has been granted exclusive access to visionary director, Sam Raimi’s re-imagining of the Frank L. Baum classic universe made famous by the 1931 Judy Garland film The Wizard of Oz , but the yellow brick road has never been a straight one.

‘Ok, action Jamie,’ Sam shouts from behind his monitor.
‘What wondrous place is this, wokka wokka wokka!’ says Franco.
‘Cut, cut,’ Sam shouts. ‘Go again. Just say the line, Jamie without the … Just the line.’
‘This place wondrous is after so many days I have travelled,’ says Franco.
‘No, no, no, no,’ shouts Raimi. ‘Call Bruce Campbell!’
 The first AD calls a lunch break and Raimi takes the opportunity to vent. ‘That fucking Franco is ruining everything. He signed on thinking that the film was going to be a biopic of Frank Oz, the famous voice artist and then film director. I gave him the book, I told him what it was about but he decided that he didn’t care, he was going to play everything like Frank Oz.’
At the canteen Franco is complaining there’s no R in his alphabet soup.
Raimi sits down in front of a small Greek salad and begins to eat. ‘When I came into this industry I was a maverick,’ he says. ‘I wanted to make original movies. First I made Evil Dead and Crime Wave, everything was sweet, but it all began to do wrong. Evil Dead II and Darkman I was still on the right track, but then the Spiderman films and now this. What have I done? What have I done?’
Raimi is weeping now. Tears run down his face and into his feta cheese.
Spiderman 2 was okay,’ I say.
‘You’re a kind man Chad,’ Raimi mumbles but then he catches sight of Franco – who is now ordering a ‘buk buk buk-ARK sandwich’ and his face collapses into pure unrestrained grief. ‘I can’t go on. I’m wasting my life.’ 
Rachel Weisz, Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams charge over to Raimi’s table and I decide it might be better to withdraw.
Oz: The Great and Powerful is slated for release on the 8th of March in Lithuania but the 27th of March in Spain, for reasons of irritation.

ON SET: THE EXORCIST

October 3rd, 1972 

Billy Friedkin told me over morning coffee that he wanted to add a masturbation scene to The Exorcist and what did I think about it. I said it might affect our chances of getting a PG rating and the studio would be against it, but if he thought it was necessary I’d back him thinking that a bit of controversy would get the press interested and we’d get plenty of free publicity.


He said he wanted the character of Regan to masturbate with a lit 12 inch black candle but I told him the insurance would never cover it. Not only would it be a potential fire hazard but solid wax is a bitch to get out of pubic hair.

He said fine and how about a King Cobra instead? I told him I liked the idea and we’d get no grief from the society for the humane treatment of animals because they only give a shit if you start shooting dogs or blowing up horses. I made a couple of calls and managed to procure one from a place called ‘The House of Venom’ based in the San Fernando Valley.

It was delivered to the set the next day and Friedkin said he wasn’t going to tell Linda Blair so he could catch her natural initial reaction on camera. As soon as Billy shouted action and the handler released the Cobra onto the bed, I knew we’d made a terrible mistake. We’d been assured the snake was placid but the God damn thing started hissing and spitting and Linda was petrified . I told Billy to stop rolling so we could get it back in the bag but he wouldn’t listen and kept on filming.

I didn’t know what the hell to do so I grabbed a fire extinguisher, pointed it at the snake and hit it with a jet of water but this seemed to piss the mean sonofabitch off and he reared up in front of Linda’s face ready to strike. I remember thinking we were going to have a big fat lawsuit on our hands if our 13 year old lead was killed by a King cobra doing a masturbation scene but before I could start mentally writing my resignation speech. Max Von Sydow appeared from nowhere, grabbed hold of the snake and bit it in half with a single savage bite.

Friedkin yelled cut and for a second I thought that Syndow had been in on it and this had been the plan all along. That notion was quickly dispelled when Max began chasing Billy around the room flailing the severed torso of the Cobra at him screaming “I wouldn’t take this s*it from Bergman and I’m not taking it from you Friedkin!

It took a while to calm Sydow down but when I thanked him later over drinks for saving the day, he said it was no big thing and that growing up in Sweden he’d bitten many animals in half in order to defend himself. Billy was on cloud nine saying it was the best footage he’d  ever shot and if that didn’t get him the Oscar, nothing would. I didn’t care I just wanted to get back to my hotel room and wash a couple of Valium down with a large scotch and fine cigar.

It had been one hell of shoot and I made a promise to myself there and then that I would never mix children and potentially lethal reptiles again. I never did keep that promise, but that’s another story for another day.


NYMPHOMANIAC: ON SET REPORT









COPENHAGEN – Lars Von Trier is more commonly known for his light as fluff family friendly comedies, such as Antichrist and Breaking the Waves, so it came as a shock when it was announced that he was going to make what is already being dubbed as the Debbie Does Dallas of Denmark. Studio Exec was privileged to be the only high-ranking media outlet to be allowed EXCLUSIVE access to the set.


When I arrive at the studio some miles north of Copenhagen it is early morning, but shooting has already begun. Candles have been lit. Incense smoke rises to the hot studio lights. Von Trier – or Larsey as he prefers to be known – is wearing the gag he got Gucci to design since his infamous appearance at Cannes in 2011. He says something indecipherable to Shia LaBeouf who is naked except for two nipples tassels – like the ones lady strippers wear in Vegas. Uma Thurman sits to one side, texting. “Quiet on the set” is called for, and some music with heavy vibes is played to get everyone in the mood and then the only sound that can be heard is a kind of wet slapping – like someone spanking a baby pig – and the occasional fragile sound of a woman crying out in ecstasy.

The film charts the sexual life of a woman named Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who recounts her life as a self-styled nymphomaniac to the man who saved her from a beating. The high powered cast includes Lars Von Trier regulars like Stellan Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman and Willem Dafoe. At lunch, Dafoe is sitting with me now in the cafeteria, dressed as a plumber. I ask him about his role. “I’m a plumber.”, Dafoe says, “I come to fix her pipes. Then we have some dialogue, you know, ‘I need to screw this really hard’ ,and, ‘Oh, my nuts came loose’, and then we go for it.”

“What attracted you to the film?” I ask.

“Oh the writing,” Dafoe says. “Definitely the writing.”

Shia LaBeouf is wearing a dressing gown and eating coleslaw. “I hear you sent Lars a video of you having sex in order to get the part?” I say, “Is that true?”

“Yes and no.” answers the bafflingly famous actor. “I did send him a tape, but I’m an exhibitionist – I regularly send them to anyone I can. I didn’t even know he was making a film. I didn’t really know who he was, I mean ‘Lars’, is that really a man’s name? But once the story came out, it would have been like embarrassing to have just said you know. What’s your address by the way?”

As the day of filming end, I stand by the DP Manuel Claro. There have been girl on girl, man on girl, man on man and the day ended with an orgy scene. ‘It must be exhausting filming this,’ I say.

“Filming? I’ll let you in on a secret,” Claro leans close, “There’s no film in the camera. Larsey is just having his little joke. You know what he’s like.”

Nymphomaniac is due for release in December 2013

ON SET: MAKING JAWS

HOLLYWOOD – I remember when Stevie Spielberg first came into my office with his script. It was called Amity then. I read it as he played pin ball, whooping and hollering and full of energy and vim. 

‘Well?’ he asks.
‘I like it,’ I tell him. ‘The peaceful seaside community, the cop from New York, kids Karate chopping fences. It’s great. But I got one word for you: Shark!’
His eyes lit up. I gave him a novel I’d read, Godawful piece of trash but there was a shark in it: Jaws by Peter Benchley, who I knew because of his father. A week later back comes Stevie, script rewritten. He shoots some hoops in the yard while I read. The cop’s son befriends the lonely shark and they have adventures. ‘You didn’t read the book, did you?’

He shakes his head. ‘I looked at the cover, briefly,’ he admits.
‘Okay,’ I tell him. ‘We need a severed head, a bitten off leg and a great score by Henry Mancini.’
Well, two out of three ain’t bad. 

(This extract was taken from the forthcoming book Lunches with Assholes: How Films Get Made due out for Xmas