Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Tense times in the Middle East...

This time, I'm going to tell you about a night on Dubai Creek.

I was working on a film which everyone knew going in was terrible: The script was no good, and as we say in the business of show, "you can't polish a turd".

So, we were halfway through the 5 week shoot, tensions were high, and we were on the last of 10 days of night shoots before a turnaround. Our sleeping patterns were utterly kaput, and the bad relationship between the Director of Photography and myself had spread to the point that the director and producer weren't communicating with me particularly well any more either. Tensions were high.

We're setting up for one of the last few shots of the night, a stunt shot, of a drunk man committing suicide off Al-Makhtoum Bridge. The bridge is something of a landmark, throwing a motorway over the breadth of Dubai Creek as it does. We had half a dozen cameras set up to capture the stunt, including one on a little boat that had been firmly anchored to the middle of the river, about 15 yards away from where the stuntman was supposed to land.

We had locked off the road in both directions, and had a police cruiser boat at our disposal to patrol the waters and make sure that, when the time came for our stunt, there wouldn't be any unplanned vehicle activity in the area.

After 2 hours of setting up, we were finally ready for a take. We were pushing it for time, people were getting stressed. The actor takes his place on the edge of the bridge, I call for the cameras to set, and just before I call the roll, I hear the siren of the police boat blart to life.

"Bastard's going to hold us up," I thought.

Then I heard some worried shouts from the opposite side of the 6-lane bridge. I can't make out what's being said.

Something about a boat.

The police launch shoots out underneath us, tracing a figure of eight as a policeman onboard frantically waves and gestures.

Down the radio Khaled, one of my trainee Assistant Directors, laughing in apparent disbelief, says "Get ready for Titanic 2!" Khaled, I remember, is on the camera boat.

Almost before we can register what's happening, a fully laden dhow, hulking mass menacingly dark as all its lights are off, emerges directly underneath our lead actor, at considerable speed. It's heading straight for the little camera boat, and the laughing Khaled.

The camera boat is anchored. They have maybe 5 seconds. Not enough time. The dhow is slowly beginning to change direction, but it's not enough, not nearly.

The little boat, and the 4 people on board, disappear underneath the black prow of the massive ship, and everyone above watches, absolutely horrified, as the dhow ploughs a trench through the water, right over Khaled and the three others.

For a moment, no one can believe it, but as the dhow continues on and the police give chase, the little boat appears behind the dhow, bobbing left and right in the wake, straining against its anchor.

It appears undamaged. It's dark, I can't see. I call down the radio to Khaled. I call again. No reply.

The radiowaves go mental for a second, and I can't hear myself think, never mind a reply from Khaled, before I shout at the top of my lungs "WILL EVERYONE SHUT THE FUCK UP UNTIL I'VE ESTABLISHED WHETHER OR NOT EVERYONE IS OK DOWN THERE!"

Everything goes deathly silent.

A beat.

And then, cutting through the silence:

"Dude, there are women around. Watch your language." It's Khaled. "Everyone's OK on the boat".

65 people simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief, and as other members of the crew let out the tension exchanging a few jokes as they work, the Director of Photography and I re-engage with the job at hand: getting the shot.

The rest of the night was rough, culminating in the DoP telling me point blank to fuck off during the final shot, and I knew then that I would not last the rest of the shoot, and that this was the last film set I would ever work on.

Nonetheless, I knew that night that I'd dodged a bullet.

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