Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Brian Alphonzo MacKenney Is Dead
It was an honest mistake...or it was honestly stupid. Either way, I didn't mean anything by it. I took a well meaning, simple minded country kid and lead him to his untimely demise.
Brian Alphonzo MacKenney was the next big "IT". He had a smile that would melt a million hearts and eyes that would moisten the underwear of both genders. He was as buff as Adonis and would have made Narcissus fall for him. He was in a handful of teen romantic comedies and quickly jumped to this year's hot guy to watch. He held the new record of number of magazine covers in one month by a single celebrity. So when the studio offered me a breakout film, I leaped at the chance to work with the one young man who could guarantee me box office gold.
I met with him at his loft and we had a few beers. I told him that if he did my picture he could make seventeen million on his next one, more than doubling his present net gain. The stupid oaf just shook his head no. "I live pretty good now. What do I need money for?" he said with a bankable smile.
Of all the money grubbers that Hollywood chews up and spits out, I had to run into the first honest guy. I had to try a different tactic. "This will be a stretch for you as an actor," I explained. "You will be breaking your typecasting and opening yourself up to new roles. People will perceive you differently and you will get primo parts in movies with a message. Hell, you could do a new Shakespeare movie!" When it comes to actors, if you can't appeal to their greed, appeal to their ART. Shit, most are more ego than brains, and if you can stoke their fragile ego a bit, they're putty.
"I got plans for the future. I'm...uh...gonna settled down and raise a family. Sarah and I are going to tie the knot a year from now. I'm done doing movies after that. I just want to be a good husband, a good father, and a successful farmer. I'm workin' with several charities now." He shuffled his feet as he said this and I knew I had him.
"Well you want to provide for your wife and future kids right? You want to put your charities in the limelight don't you? Do this film, and you will never have to worry about either one of them. I'll dedicate the film to whatever charity you say." I waited for this to sink in. "So what do you say?" I handed him my gold pen so he could sign and told him to keep it. He could put it in his next celebrity auction.
This was to be my first action film with all the usual gunfights and explosions. It was a far cry from the summer fluff I had been directing up to this point. I got the job because the studio knew I could bring it in on time, and with a little luck, under budget. Oh sure, the script was not going to win any awards. It was a standard issue jungle flick with the hero saving the village from an evil drug kingpin while falling for the hot local girl, but for a few bucks I had a starving writer friend of mine in San Fransisco punch it up and throw in some classic noir moments that would impresses the film critics.
My location staff found me some excellent land in Honduras. Lots of jungle we could blow up as well as a water fall that had to be seen to be believed. I had a cast of thousands from the local populace that I got for peanuts and the only thing lacking on this shoot was the catering. There was not a bagel to be had. The mayor required a kick back but our security budget would be slashed as it would be provided by the army, just in case the local insurgents tried to mess with our movie while on location. A Colonel Something-Or-Other was assigned to my duty with several troops at his disposal. His name was unpronounceable and I just took to calling him Dimples, as a bullet had once punctured his cheek and exited though the other leaving him with a small, pink pucker on both sides. He accepted the nickname with a careless nod, but I don't think he spoke a word of English anyway.
The shoot goes swimmingly. The second unit was a week ahead of schedule and got me some good shots of the train I wanted, as well as some decent "poverty of the people" stuff. You know, squallier and a crying baby and all that. The pace was frantic but we never had to do more than two takes on any scene and the crack team I'd hired on the cheap worked together like a well oiled machine despite the fact that we are living in tents in a rain forrest. The gaffer made some connection with one of the locals and scored some of the best ganja. I don't care what they say, the drugs are just better down here and gaffers always find the best weed.
So I'm up at three every morning, have some blow with my morning coffee, run the staff meeting, on location by six, shoot until eleven, have some fresh fruit for lunch with a little toot, then shoot until six, sometimes eight if the lighting guys can get things set up in time, then dinner and a couple of whiskeys with the rest of the night spent going through the rushes from the day before, a few hours sleep, then up again to start all over. It was a hellish timetable, but everything that could have gone right did. No weather delays, no clashes of ego, no union rule book thrown in my face. It was perfect.
And through it all Brian Alphonzo MacKenney, or BAM as the tabloids and teen mags had dubbed him, was a peach. He always had a smile on his face and the cast and crew loved him for it. He always had a kind word for everyone, right down to the best boy. He was always on time and on target. Never got drunk or whored around with the local girls. Never threw a fit at working late on the night scenes and gave a performance far and above what the hack writer could have envisioned. When he held the crying baby, played by the Mayor's grandson, and swore to get revenge on Don Diablo for what he had done to his village and his parents, there wasn't a dry eye on the set. BAM had pathos out the wazoo.
He spent his evenings in his tent reading his bible but he wasn't above hanging out at night and having a couple of beers with the crew. Daphne, the make up girl, was determined that she was going to have some of him before this thing was over and worked very hard to worm her way into his bed. When she did spend the night in his tent, they spent the evening writing a letter to his dearest Sarah with her suggestions on how the ceremony for BAM's wedding should be. After that, she was overheard to say that BAM was the nicest, most faithful man she had ever met and Sarah didn't deserve this angel. All from a woman who wore her ankles behind her ears for a good parking space in L.A.
Then tragedy struck.
We are down to the shoot out with the villain, Don Diablo. BAM meets him in the street of the village and the two face off. The long tracking shot before hand sets the mood. Now Don Diablo pulls a dirty trick and gets the drop on BAM's character and wounds him in the shoulder. BAM falls to the dusty street and Don Diablo gloats over him with an evil laugh while a baby cries in the background. BAM deliveres this summer's catchiest catch phrase and shoots him in the head. The shot turns slow motion and the gore flys from Diablo's head with some fast-paced Spanish music playing over it. It is a classic clincher and you don't mess with the classics.
The lighting is perfect. The mikes and the explosions are rigged and ready. I'm going to get this shot from six different cameras and splice it together and make "Titanic" look like some cheap student project. With enough return on their investment, the studio might parley this into a three movie deal. If I can get the rights to some Santana music, it might even turn into a franchise like James Bond or Harry Potter. Who knows?
So I'm ready to start the shot. The set is quiet and everybody is on their marks. I settle into my chair with the most amazing Colombian coffee you have ever tasted and am about to yell "Action!" to put a seven hundred-thousand dollar shot in the can when the translator tells me that Dimples has to excuse himself for a moment but he will be right back. Dimples is holding his belly like he has to take a shit when it occurs to me that he is dressed exactly like our villain. I wave him away when David, the props guy, tells me that Monique, the continuity girl, says that Diablo had a different pistol in the previous scene.
Cool. My staff is doing their job and saving me from winding up on the "Big Movie Blunders" website. Cool. I tell David to get the right pistol from the props table and to hurry it up. I'd like to spend tomorrow night in my own hot tub in California sweating out all the South American dirt and drugs while taking calls from studio big whigs who want to line my pockets for years to come. David hustles off and in a minute is buckling on a new pistol belt on the aging Spanish actor we got for next to nothing to play the part.
Okay. We're ready. Action! We get the tracking shot and it looks better than I imagined. The camera has Diablo striking the girl in the face and her falling to her knees in the street with defiant tears at the edge of her eyes. Swivel to hero. Close up of his determined look. Cut back to Diablo taunting him. Second camera focus on BAM's right hand poised above the gun in his belt. Que music. The close ups of each face are done together but are shone one after another in an ever quickening pace. It sets the tempo and heightens the tension. Camera three does a wide angle to capture the roof top assassin in the background before the tight in on BAM leveling his gun and taking fire. Camera four does all of my railing kills and caught this man's plummet with panache. Quick shot of BAM appraising his kill before the switch to camera two as Diablo takes aim and fires.
The squib in BAM's shirt sleeve goes off without a hitch and he tumbles to the dirt street as the drug lab explodes in the background, just like the script. What isn't in the script is the front of his head exploding as a .45 calber hollow point turns Brian Alphonzo MacKenney into a semi headless corpse that flops about a bit before sinking to the street and making a huge puddle of blood no one could explain.
I sat for five whole minutes before it occurred to me to yell cut. I thought he was just trying to hone his craft. The medics were prepared to fight malaria, hang overs, and social diseases but gun shot wounds and brain surgery was a little out of their league.
Brian Alphonzo MacKenny died on a Honduran village street lined with trash, poverty, dust, and explosives that we set off in his honor with all six cameras rolling.
He was a good guy.
I blew my savings from an early shoot on hiring the stunt double at twice his wage and CGIing in the rest of BAM for the final scenes. The audio doesn't quite match up to the lips but most summer audiences won't notice the difference and with any luck, the critics won't either. The press release will say he died defending the crew from insurgents or terrorists even though he croaked from having Dimples put his gun belt down on the props table while he took a crap.
It doesn't matter either way. Should the story leak, the special effects guy is listed as Allan Smithy and everything can be pinned on him. He is the scape goat while I cash in on all of the T-shirt/DVD/novelty ties/bumper stickers I can print with BAM's face on them. With any luck I can market him as this generations James Dean and get royalties for years to come.
The charity I dedicated the film to was the NRA. I think Brian would have wanted it that way.