Friday, November 6, 2009


Our full crew is now together at Windhoek, which is impossible to pronounce without affecting a bad German accent like Colonel Klink. I confess its kind of fun to watch each crew member emerge from the Johannesburg puddle jumper all bumpy, cranky and confused, like schoolchildren after nap time. 

So now we are eight. The first order of business is to meet our local ‘Fixer’ – the man on the ground whose job it is to liaise with the resident community and set things up for us. Put another way, the Fixer explains the local customs and traditions to us, and (more important) sets up the contracts so we, the film crew, don’t get absolutely hosed. He also pays people to do stuff at a lower rate than we could ever get. So he’s kind of important.

Rick the Fixer 

Our Namibian fixer is a large man – in every sense of the word – named Rick.  With a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous sense of humour, he’s the Falstaff of the film set. A South African Santa Clause, with a Tintin tuft of hair shooting straight up and out from his forehead. Rick enjoys life in full measures and full pleasures, and it shows. Every so often he makes a comment which suggests he’s seen a lot in his 50 years.

Originally from South Africa, Rick wanted to fight in the war between that country and Namibia… but he couldn’t decide which side he wanted to fight for. He doesn’t go into too many details. He simply refers to the war as ‘our Viet Nam’ and leaves it at that. 

In any event those days are behind him. After all, everyone has a story. The bottom line is, Rick is indispensible to our shoot. And here’s another reason why:

Just this morning Rick gave me a driving tour of Windhoek, including the enormous gated palace of the ex-president. It is a monstrous piece of real estate; something Mussolini might fashion for himself.  As we rounded the last corner we ran into a ‘security guard,’ also known as a lone gunman with an AK-47. Wow. Guess I didn’t need that second cup of coffee this morning after all...

Rick knew not to panic. But he also knew enough to turn the car around, rather than attempt to negotiate. You see? The Fixer at work.

After lunch and a much-needed nap our crew regroups to head out for some traveling scenic shots, and we plan to finish the day with some 'magic hour' (dusk) shots from a Robinson 44 helicopter (that’s a small one – only four seats). 

The drive to each location is a logistical challenge: we have to travel as a caravan of 4 by 4s, since the sandy roads are too uneven for anything larger. That means we are divided between four vehicles and two trailers, connected only by good will, a road map… and walkie-talkies.

The Vente Namibiccino

The upside of working with walkie-talkies is that it brings out the inner comedian in just about everybody. Just try it: there is something slightly ‘One-Man-Show’ about speaking into a small receiver, knowing that everyone in the crew can hear you. It’s like your own stand-up routine on pirate radio:

‘Good Morning, Namibia!!! We’ve got a stax of wax to spin for ya this fine day, currently peaking at 41 degrees in the shade, so come on cats! Throw your mittens around your kittens and AWAY WE GO!!!!’

Everyone’s a cut-up; everyone’s a card.

A whole caravan culture soon establishes itself, and with it some fierce competition: which van has the most fun? Which van has the best music? Who’s got the best snacks? Which van gets lost the most? And so on. I believe working on this show is the closest thing to running away and joining the circus that I’ve ever experienced. And this is from someone who has done his share of children’s theatre tours.

For the record, I believe our van wins on at least two counts. Since I am the one who decides who gets to ride with whom, I make sure that music and sound guru Bryan Potvin is riding with me. So he’s in the backseat with his laptop, burning some special travel cds just for this trip.

In the meantime we’re singing along to ‘Radio Koodoo, Namibia! 95 Point One Eff Emm!!!’  The mix is eclectic. From Dire Straits to Herman’s Hermits to Avril Lavigne (go Canada!) we are a traveling jukebox. A van careening down the sandy canyon, filled with grown men singing ‘Mrs. Brown you’ve got a lovely daughter!’ at full volume. It’s a good life.

The drive to the dunes is a long one, made longer by the fact that we frequently stop to admire (and oh yes, film) some of the jaw-dropping vistas before us. In two and a half hours we will pass through four different ecosystems. Canyons, valleys, broad plains, dried up river routes, rolling hills and rocky cliffs.

The sand dunes in Namibia are a little different from the ones you may have experienced as a child in, say, Kincardine, or Cape Breton, or (if you were lucky) the Hamptons. For one, these sand dunes are about as tall as a mid-sized skyscraper. One can, and does, literally ski down these dunes.

 Readers of this blog (a.k.a. my close friends and family) will know that, in South Africa, I had my first taste of directing television from the cockpit of a Jet Ranger helicopter. In fact I played the whole ‘director’ card just to ensure I got a seat – but the TV people don’t need to know that. As it turns out I DID direct the scene – and it was a blast.

This time out, as much as I wanted to repeat the experience, floating over the dune-scape, pushing out to the coast… I decided rather to take on the challenge of directing these aeriels from the ground.  All communication between me, the pilot and my shooters would be via walkie-talkies. That’s right; cue the comedian. But the stakes are a little higher when the ‘talent’ you are directing is a helicopter – at a cost of $15,000 per shoot.

Clarity is key:

‘Go left.’


‘That’s right… I mean correct! Not right!’

And of course the goofy walkie-talkie humour kicks in. And here I’m thinking of that classic scene from the movie AIRPLANE:

‘We need clearance, Clarence.’

‘Roger, Roger.’

‘There’s a problem with the plane.’

‘Plane? What’s that?’

‘It’s a big flying vehicle with wings, but that’s not important right now.’

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