No Biz Like Showbiz

by Denis Rouse, November 2, 2016

“Hey Weinstein”, says Zuckerman, his wannabe director Monte Nido neighbor one sparkling summer Sunday, “I’ve got a commercial to shoot out in the desert. It’s for a Mexican brandy client, La Rosa Fina. I need you and your motorcycle. The script is simple. Guy on an off road bike rides aggressively through rugged terrain, pauses to pick a rose, then presents it to a beautiful girl at the end of the spot. Nice symbolism, no? I’ve budgeted four hundred dollars for the stunt rider. I know you can do it”.

“Zuckerman, I can ride but I’m not going to do any Evel Knievel shit, right?”

“No, no, nothing like that. A few easy jumps, a little air, some dust; hell if I didn’t have to direct I could do it. It’ll be like a ride in the park, and you get a free lunch and four hundred bucks. Whaddya say?”

Weinstein affirms and shows up at the location in Saugus on his enduro machine one very early morning the following week in accordance with Zuckerman’s instructions. The site is crawling with people; executives from the brandy company, the ad agency, script girls, cameramen, lighting and set guys, and of course Zuckerman in some kind of ridiculous safari outfit that pegs him as the director. Typical Hollywood economics; crowds of go’fers and assorted lackies, and truck loads of equipment for thirty seconds of film.

Scene One. A cameraman is stationed at the fork of a trail. Weinstein is to accelerate to the camera, brake abruptly a foot from the lens, then quickly glance left and right as if in anxious pursuit of something, and then pop the clutch, spin the rear wheel and leave a rooster tail of dust to accent the urgency. Several takes later, repetition that seems redundant as hell to Weinstein, the shot is deemed handled, in the can as they say.

Scenes Two through Six. Much the same kind of thing. Many many takes, hours of takes, and it’s a very hot day; Weinstein’s head is cooking inside his helmet. Ride here, ride there, ride down the hill, ride up the hill. Then, somewhat to Weinstein’s consternation, a ramp is set up for a jump across a narrow ditch, POV from the bottom of the ditch. It’s a short flight but Weinstein realizes if he screws it up the cameraman could die. Zuckerman shrugs it off. “We’ve got insurance Weinstein, we’re covered, don’t sweat it”. Twelve takes later, all is well, no one dies.

Final scene of the day. Zuckerman approaches Weinstein for the umpteenth time in his John-Huston-in-Mexico costume with his fucking clipboard. Actually his hero is Sam Peckinpah. Weinstein hasn’t the heart to tell him that Sam would shove the clipboard up his ass. “Weinstein”, he says, “see that grassy hill?” Weinstein sees it. It’s a high broad angular expanse of chest high rye grass. “Here’s the deal, Weinstein. The cameraman is going to sit in front of you on the gas tank as you ride through the grass, POV hauling ass through the grass, the stalks dramatically bouncing off the lens. It’s going to be a dynamic sequence”.

“What about the rose, Zuckerman? When do I present the rose to the chick?”

“Forget that part, Weinstein, we’re gonna do it in a studio next week. With models. I don’t need you for that scene. The grass shot. Get on it. Then it’s a wrap and you can go home”.

Trouble and pain have been waiting in the wings all day long. The cameraman mounts the tank of Weinstein’s bike with his 16mm Beaulieu in his lap. “Ok, I’m ready”, he says. Weinstein takes off through the grass craning his neck for visibility over the shoulders of the cameraman. The dynamic sequence is underway. “Faster”, the cameraman says, “faster, much faster, I need more speed!” Weinstein complies and abruptly the motorcycle dives into a run off ditch hidden in the tall grass ejecting Weinstein and cameraman in different directions. The cameraman manages to fall flat on his back with his expensive camera still cradled in his gut but blurts “I can’t see! I can’t see!”, he hopefully only temporarily blinded by the occipital blow his helmetless head has taken. Weinstein has endured a nasty uppercut from the handlebars. He can see but what he sees are stars and the distinct possibility of a huge lawsuit filed by a blinded cinematographer.

Thank God, however, the horror passes. The cameraman’s vision normalizes. Weinstein’s headache will subside in a few days. The motorcycle is undamaged. And ultimately the commercial is in the can, although Weinstein is never shown the rushes.

“Zuckerman”, says Weinstein later, “Do me a favor, forget I exist from now on, will you please?”

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