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Untold Tales of Hollywood #70

I am going to wrap things up here in regards to Conan the Destroyer.

I wanted to include another of my hanging miniature designs, “The Valley of the Gods”, but I haven’t been able to find it. It’ll turn up. When it does, I’ll post it. It shows Conan and his crew riding through a field of gigantic stone sculptures of gods from another era.

Meanwhile, here are two more set designs. The first is Jehnna‘s bedroom. She has just awakened from a nightmare. This is Pierluigi Basile‘s set sketch, followed by my interpretation of his sketch:

This next set is interesting as it was originally a long, narrow set for Dune. I stripped out the Dune aspects of the set and used the still existing wood construction and turned it into a long Conan the Destroyer set. Sorry about the glare; I shot this one framed and through glass.

Finally, a bit of office humor. I love what the Brits call “taking the piss” (taking down a pompous poser). There are a lot of big egos on a film set. Many of those huge egos are undeserved. These folks are often usually trying to make themselves appear more important that they actually are. I hate that unnecessary crap, so I often do something about it.

In a humorous way, of course.

The sheet below was posted one day without explanation. It indicates that we would be punching in with time cards each day. The idiocy of this is the fact that we were picked up from our hotels by the production each morning and then returned to our apartments in the evening via the company’s transport vehicles — so there was no need for time cards.

After I posted this, I wrote a public congratulatory note to the production company, noting that time cards were a clear indication that we were going to be paid for overtime. I thanked them profusely for the opportunity to make more money.

The time cards and their notices all suddenly disappeared by the next day.

In relation to living in Mexico, I’ve got good stories and bad.

One morning I was picked up by a company car that was taking several of us to work. We arrived at the front of one hotel but the guy we were picking up was not ready. So, we waited, parked on the street next to the curb. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, dozens of armed police officers appeared. Several surrounded our vehicle. One cop stuck the nose of his AK47 against the head of our driver, a fellow we had all come to regard as a friend. My American sense of “What the hell are you doing — you can’t do that!” immediately took over my mindset as I rushed to prevent something bad happening to our driver. Piero and my friends grabbed me and restrained me.

“Bill! Cool it! You’re not in the US!”

The cop shouted at our driver to get out of the car. All had weapons leveled at him. The cops immediately whisked him away. We never found out what he was arrested for, nor did we ever see him again. My attempts to contact him were thwarted by the authorities, another reminder that, Bill — you’re not in the US. This all could have happened because he parked a little too long in front of the hotel.

For the most part, though, I loved living in Mexico. The Mexican people were some of the kindest, warmest, most generous folks I have ever met. That’s why I was shocked one day when out of the blue Piero proclaimed, “I hate the fucking Mexicans!”

“Piero! How can you say that? These are some of the nicest, most gentle and hard working people I have ever met.”

“Exactly. They are very sweet fucking sheep. Would you put up with the shit they face each day from their police and government? No. Neither would we Italians.”

I kinda got his point. Most Americans consider Mexico a Third World nation. It’s actually one of the richest countries in the world. Loads of oil and valuable minerals, vast agriculture — generally, an abundance of most things countries consider valuable. But that wealth is in the hands of just a few Mexican families. It has not been fairly distributed to the populace in general.

I met some fine police officers in Mexico City. In general, though, if you get into trouble, the Mexican police are the last people you want to turn to. Notoriously corrupt, by going to the police your bad problems could become seriously much worse.

Funny corrupt cop story:
I was driving through Mexico City one day and the traffic light turned red. I stopped of course, to wait for the green light to go. The light turned green and I began to proceed. I was immediately pulled over by a traffic cop.

“What’s the problem, officer?” I said in Spanish.

“You just ran a red light.”

“No, I didn’t. The light turned red and I stopped. I waited for the light to turn green. It did, and I proceeded.”

“You ran a red light.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Would you like me to take you to the police station?”

“No, I would not.”

I’m usually pretty smart, so I’m amazed it took me so long to figure out that the cop was fishing for a bribe.

“OK; what’s the fine for running a red light?”

“Four hundred thousand pesos.”

That’s about $20,000.

“That’s insane! I don’t have that kind of money.”

“OK. Two hundred thousand pesos.”

The negotiations had begun. We haggled and haggled, always with the threat of him taking me to where I did not want to go: the police station.

I finally said, “Look. All I’ve got in my pocket is 400 pesos (about $20). That’s it. Not a centavo more. You are welcome to it.”

The policeman finally agreed. I reached into my jeans pocket where I kept my cash — and out popped a 10,000 peso bill.

Busted!

I covered my eyes and reluctantly handed the cop the 10,000 peso bill. He cautioned me to stay put. Then, he dashed across the street to a store. He came back and handed me my change: 9600 pesos. Then he waved me off.

So, he was a corrupt cop — but an honest corrupt cop. We had ultimately negotiated a payment of 400 pesos. The policeman honored that negotiation.

I found Mexico to be a mix of the beautiful and the profane, the incredibly kind and terrifyingly dangerous. It’s got, IMHO, the finest and most varied cuisine in the world. My favorite restaurant on the planet is in Mexico City: the narrow five-story Fonda Del Refugio. I ate there at least three times per week, trying to eat my way through their entire vast menu (I failed).

If you would like a sample of what it’s like to live in Mexico, I highly recommend the 2004 Denzel Washington movie Man On Fire. It’s the terrifying, unvarnished truth. If you think I’m lying or exaggerating, believe me —- I’ve got true, firsthand stories of my travels in Mexico that are much worse.

And even more that are wonderful.

Just in case you think this is a “Rah Rah America!” piece, it’s not. Living in Mexico, I found the only truly obnoxious people I ran into in Mexico City were Americans. Case in point:

I had breakfast every morning at the Century Hotel. The hotel hosted an incredibly diverse breakfast buffet — one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever encountered in my world travels. Eating there everyday I got to know the staff.

One morning, as I was having breakfast with my wife, I heard a small commotion. A few tables away, two Americans, a man and his wife, were browbeating one of my favorite waitresses. She was in tears. I offered to help. The man angrily accused the waitress of cheating them.

“It says one price, all included, for the buffet! Two bucks! She added a tip to our bill. She’s a damn cheating Mexican!”

“She’s actually a very nice person and the best waitress here. Let me see your bill.”

The guy showed it to me. Indeed, there was a two-peso tip added to their bill.

“So, you’re telling me you made this poor girl cry and fear for her job over ten cents?! I’ll be happy to pay your fucking tip.”

I reached unto my change pocket and threw a dime down on the table.

“Where in the hell are you from?” I asked. I was pissed off.

“Texas…Why?”

“I just want to makes sure I avoid disgusting assholes like you when I get back to the States.”

“You live here? With Mexicans?!!”

“Better than living anywhere near the likes of you, my friend.”

My oldest son was a baby at the time. When he fell asleep, we’d put him in a basket and carry him down the street to Fonda Del Refugio. Within the restaurant, we received angry glares from every American in the restaurant because we had brought a baby with us. The Mexican people there, however, lit up with big smiles upon seeing our sleeping infant.

They would gather round the basket and warmly whisper, “Gordito…” (little fat guy, a term of endearment. In Mexico a fat baby is a healthy baby) and then grin at us with approval.

My wife was grocery shopping one day. Our son was in a stroller. She got in line to pay for her purchases, then realized she hadn’t brought enough cash. She picked up the carton of milk in her basket and tried to return it to its shelf. The owner of the store stopped her. He took the milk and put it back in her basket — free of charge. He was very upset and near tears at the thought of our baby not getting the milk he needed.

“Your baby — he needs milk! Please — take it!”

Now that’s a typical Mexican.

My wife took the milk and groceries back to our apartment, then dashed back to the grocery store with payment for the milk, of course.

One thing I need to add in regards to Conan the Destroyer, that should have been part of the first Conan the Destroyer posting:

My work on Conan the Destroyer comes under the Unwritten Rule of Hollywood known as “That was then; this is now.” I was approached by Dino DeLaurentiis to work on Conan the Destroyer at the same time I was suing Dino for the artwork of mine the producers had “lost” from Conan the Barbarian. A good chunk of this art (in horrible condition, as you can see from previous posts) miraculously showed up on my doorstep around the time they had asked me to work on the second Conan film. Absolutely no one I knew in the film business thought it was even the least bit odd that I was working for the same guy on one film while I was currently suing him for what he had done to me on another film. That was then, this is now.

Next: David Lynch and Dune

1 thought on “Untold Tales of Hollywood #70

  1. Just want to say thanks for all of the interesting stories you are posting here. I very much enjoy learning something about how these feature films go from script ideas into real sets and costumes. Also like the behind the scenes accounts of what it’s like to actually work as a designer for a feature film, or in any capacity on a film set. Please keep the stories coming!

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