We had our actors Jordan, Neil, and Sam packed in the back seat and me driving, Diederik, our cinematographer, in the passenger seat manning the FS7 resting on a sand bag between us, filming as we tore through the city in a classic four door 74 Mercedes Benz.
And yeah, I was speeding. I mean proper speeding, but it was important to set the tone and keep the actors engaged. At least, that's what I told myself at the time. I don’t think anyone was really in danger - we were like a bunch of teenagers blowing off steam, our own private rebellion against the city and the hordes of tourists on one of the busiest Saturday afternoons in Amsterdam I can remember.
Samuel White (Rey), Neil Webster (Alfi), and Jordan Maycock (Abba)
Of course we had the film permits, but what good are permits when all the locations are in the dead center of town? A cluster-fuck of tourists, trams, cars and cyclists spinning around us like locusts flying in every goddamned direction. We had to get the shots of Sam (Rey) exiting the sliding doors of the banks. It had to look real, like a real bureau de change or bank. The montage sequence wasn’t going to work unless we had those shots.
So, bank after bank and bureau de change, we hit one after the other until the final location, parking the Mercedes in the standing area of the bus stop on Rokin, right in front of the ING bank. Sandwiched between the bicycle lane, the bus stop and the tram stop; a misstep in any direction could have easily spelled disaster.
Boyd, our first assistant camera, jibed that safety was a "goddamn joke" on the film. "Well, Boyd," I replied, "you know our motto at Studio Seven-- Safety Second." It became a running joke for the rest of the shoot. Ok, maybe Boyd was right - it was a little dangerous. But when you’ve got all these people, hired actors, rented equipment, a Mercedes rented for the day… I mean, the fear of failure is so overwhelming. There’s no coming back and there’s no living with yourself if you don’t get the shots.
Jordan Maycock (Abba), Neil Webster (Alfi), Emad Muhamad (Mustafa, the taxi driver)
It was the kind of situation where our biggest adversary become our greatest asset. The shots of Sam exiting each bank and the reaction shots of Jordan and Neil just wouldn’t have worked if not for the sea of tourists scrambling in every direction - it would have seemed staged-- free extras ;)
Around four o’clock we were heading towards our next location when I looked in the rear view mirror; the little white follow-van had disappeared. I got Joppe, our driver, on the phone. They had broken down a few streets back. We were already behind schedule and hadn’t even shot the finale of the whole sequence; two pages of dialogue, an easy three-hour scene, but we only had two hours of light left. So I called Andrew, our neighbour and resident mechanic guru explaining to him the situation. Without skipping a beat, he asked how many people I had with me. "Ten, or so." I said. He replied, "I want you to put the car in neutral, get everyone behind you to push, get going as fast as you can, then pop it into second." Without any hesitation, all the actors and the whole crew got behind the car to push. We were flying down the street. I popped it into second and BAM! -It started! I couldn’t believe the fucking van started! I don’t think anyone thought it was going to start.
But, the whole fiasco had cost us valuable time we didn't fucking have-- it was all slipping away. This was the fourth day of shooting and we hadn’t come close to meeting our schedule for the first three days... the most horrid despair creeping up my spine, the blood rushing to my head, blinding me as we tooled through the streets. My hands drenched in sweat, gripping the steering wheel; mad visions of pulling hard to the left, jumping the Benz onto the sidewalk, ploughing through the bodies of tourists-- I was loosing it. The streets were packed like sardines, we just needed a quiet place to get the fucking scene before losing the light.
Samuel White (Rey) exiting a bureau de change
Then I heard them - Jordan, Neil and Sam rehearsing the scene in the back seat. It took me a second to catch on, but it sounded pretty good… when I finally calmed down and listened, it sounded great. I think it was Neil who said, "Let’s just shoot this goddamned scene!" I yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, banging the axle against the curb as I ripped her up onto the sidewalk. Joppe pulling up and parking the follow van behind us. Everyone piled out. Zeb, our light guru, set up the LED on a c-stand, and Matt, our sound guy, took all of two minutes to rig the interior of the Benz with microphones. After two or three rehearsals, we shot the scene right there in the back seat of the Mercedes, hordes of tourists buzzing around outside. Ironically enough, the Mercedes created the perfect sound barrier. The performances were brilliant and the sound was fantastic.
We finally did it! We got everything we needed for the day. And for the first time there was glimmer of hope that we might actually be able to pull this film off.