Safety Second – A Damn Shame
Our actors Jordan, Neil, and Sam packed in the back, Diederik, in the passenger seat manning the sony FS7, me driving, as we tore through the city in a classic 72' Mercedes Benz on one of the busiest Saturday afternoons I can remember in Amsterdam.
And yeah, I was speeding. I mean proper speeding. But it was important to set the mood and keep the actors engaged. At least, that's what I told myself at the time- Maybe we were showing off a bit, like teenagers blowing off steam, our own private rebellion against the city. Joppe was in the white follow van filled with the crew trying to keep up.
Samuel White (Rey), Neil Webster (Alfi), and Jordan Maycock (Abba)
Of course we had the film permits, but what good are permits when you can't move in any direction? A cluster-fuck of tourists, trams, cars and cyclists spinning around us like locusts in every goddamned direction. We had to get the shots of Sam -Rey exiting the sliding doors of the various banks. It had to look real. The fast forward montage sequence wasn’t going to work unless we had those shots.
So, we raced through the city, one after the other- the worst of it was 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 cameraman, jibed that safety was a goddamn joke on the film. I can remember my response, you know our motto at Studio Seven, Boyd-- 'Safety Second.' It became a running joke for the rest of the shoot. Ok, maybe 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)
Ironically enough, our biggest adversary become our greatest asset. The sea of tourists scrambling in every direction provided an authenticity that, had they not been there, would have made the shots looked staged otherwise. There's nothing like free extras.
Around four o’clock, heading towards our last location, the follow van disappears from my rear view. I got Joppe, on the horn- They had broken down a few streets back. We were behind schedule and had two pages of dialogue still to shoot, an easy three-hour scene, and we only had two hours of light left. So, I called Andrew, our neighbour and resident mechanic guru. Without skipping a beat, he knew exactly what to do- Put the car in neutral, get everyone to push, go as fast as you can, then pop it into second. All the actors and the whole crew got behind the car. In seconds, we were flying down the street. I popped it into second and BAM! -The piece of shit actually started- I couldn’t fucking believe it! I don’t think anyone thought it was going to start.
The whole fiasco had cost us valuable time. This was the fourth day of shooting and we hadn’t come close to meeting our schedule on the previous days... that horrid desperation began creeping up my spine, the blood rushing to my head 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 dialogue scene before losing the light.
Samuel White (Rey) exiting a bureau de change
Then, I finally 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… We had originally written the scene for the street, but 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, 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. The Mercedes creating the perfect sound barrier from the hordes of tourists buzzing around outside. The performances were brilliant and the sound was fantastic.
We finally 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.