George Parker continues his tale of the world’s most shagorifically expensive TV shoot – for British biscuit brand McVitie’s..
..All too soon it was time to hit the road for “The Other Merida” in the north of Venezuela. The scenery was stunning, the climate was perfect, the people were charming, and unlike the previous Merida, the hotels, restaurants and bars were wonderful. And yes, there was wheat growing in Merida. Unfortunately, it was so sparse, the resulting footage was useless. So, after all that expense, not to mention the anguish of my three days in the “Other Merida,” when we got back to London weeks later and edited the spots, we chucked the footage and inserted a fifty dollar piece of stock film showing lush fields of golden wheat under a perfect summer sky.
When, we showed the spot to the McVitie’s client he thought it was exquisite, but asked, how come, if we had filmed it in South America, why was there a quaint English church in the distance (everyone involved in the edit having been either too stupid or too drunk to have picked up this unmistakable image?) “Ah”, I replied, “We were shooting in a part of Venezuela that had been settled by English immigrants, who because of nostalgia, when not sheep shagging, decided to create a bit of Old Blighty in their new home.”
“Oh,” he replied, “how charming, and how clever of you to find it.”
I have to admit, sometimes, I even surprise myself with my innate ability to immediately answer any challenge with an immediate answer, which though it is more often than not bullshit, is delivered with such conviction it’s rarely challenged.
Before this transpired though, we should return to the shoot. Over a period of six weeks an entire film crew moved up and down the Caribbean chain and a few countries in South America, hopping from island to island shooting just about everything else you could possibly put in a biscuit. We managed to maintain a crippling schedule, thanks to the therapeutic pleasures of Appleton rum and unlimited amounts of Jamaican ganja. Fortunately, unlike “Apocalypse Now” no one had a heart attack. Although, I have to be honest, there was one hair-raisingly fucking scary situation when we came close to losing a couple of people.
We needed to shoot a sequence with barrels of sugar cane syrup being loaded on to a schooner in Scarborough harbor, Tobago. The plan was to shoot with two cameras, one on the dock and the other from a plane doing circuits around the harbor. Harvey, the cameraman, and I would be in the plane. But, just as we got to the airport, a rainstorm swept in, so the pilot suggested we wait in the bar ‘til it blew over. Harvey and I ordered a couple of Appleton’s, and to our surprise, the pilot ordered the same! Well, I thought, he’s a local and used to it, what harm can one drink do?
Unfortunately, waiting for the storm to ease up, he drank five more. However, they didn’t seem to have much effect on him, so when he said it was time to get airborne, Harvey and I thought, fuck it, he probably does this all the time.
Once we took off and got over the harbor, everything was great, the schooner looked like something Errol Flynn should be swashbuckling on, and muscular chaps were heave ho’ing barrels up the gangplank. Perfect! But, not perfect enough for Harvey. He insisted the pilot should fly lower and slower. The pilot told him we were barely above stalling speed. Harvey took no notice. During all this, I was in the back taking photos with a couple of Nikons strapped around my neck. Harvey was leaning out of the front passenger window shooting the schooner through a giant 35mm camera with a two foot long zoom lens on it, which was a handful, to say the least.
I was glued to the Nikon. Suddenly, there was a bump but I didn’t think too much about it until I realized that the “perfect azure ocean” I was looking at through the lens was no longer outside the cabin, it was inside, and I was inside the cabin. Then it dawned on me that, Holy Shit, we’d just hit the surface of the ocean and were now sinking!
Now, there have been many versions of what goes on inside your head when you find yourself in a situation that could quite possibly end up being the last five minutes of your existence. Some would have you believe your entire life flashes before your eyes. Others would have you think you find an acceptance of your impending fate. Those of a religious bent would seek to convince you that you are floating towards an ethereal light at the end of a long tunnel.
Well, let me tell you what really happens. You fight like a fucking wild beast to get out of the situation you find yourself in. Meaning, you manage to find the strength to rip through the shit around your neck trapping you in your seat. The one Harvey is slumped over in, because the camera he was using had hit him in the head and knocked him unconscious. And because the only way out of that crappy airplane, which was by now rapidly sinking to the ocean floor, is through the window Harvey’s body is wedged in. And, through some miracle, you develop the strength of twenty Conan the Barbarians and, manage to push Harvey out of the window.
The asshole, pilot had already bailed out and was swimming towards shore while Harvey and I were in the process of drowning. He obviously didn’t subscribe to the tradition of going down with his ship. Or, fuck the passengers… I’m outta here.
I pushed Harvey out the window and struggled after him. At this stage I have no idea how long we have been under, Harvey had sunk to the ocean floor. I managed to grab him under the armpits and start kicking towards the surface. It seemed like it took forever but, for some reason or other, I never let go of Harvey (much later when we were back in England, I was able to spin this out into an epic of heroic proportions, meriting untold pints and free fags over many boozy nights at The Ship.)
When we finally broke surface, we were a couple of hundred yards from shore, so I started to pull Harvey towards the beach. Then I noticed hundreds of people lining the beach going fucking crazy! I discovered later these were locals thinking we were shooting the next James Bond, and that the crash was an elaborate stunt, with Harvey and I being stuntmen. So, in spite of my frenzied cries for help, they continued to applaud, rather than spoil the film.
When we were six feet from the beach, six burly guys waded in and helped us to our feet. I read in next day’s paper this was the Scarborough Fire and Rescue service who had bravely risked their lives to save Harvey and myself from a watery grave.
Harvey was in far worse shape than me, so had to remain in hospital for a couple of days, which left me in the hotel bar for the same period, working up the courage to do what I realized I had to do…
Go for a swim.
‘Cos, I knew that if I didn’t get my arse into the water within forty eight hours, I’d never be able to look at the ocean again. I was staying at a hotel where I could walk out of my door and be on the beach in seconds. So, after a bottle of Appleton’s, several fags, and a few grams of Trinidad’s best Ganja, I finally took the plunge.
I swam for ten minutes, flopped out on the beach and cried my eyes out. The other people on the beach thought I was some kind of lunatic and removed their children as far away as possible. The bottle of Appleton rum I was slugging down, and the fact that it was only nine in the morning, didn’t improve my image – But when the fuck did I ever worry about that?
There’s a lot more to tell, but it’s time for my morning Appleton’s, so if you want the gory details, it’s all in Confessions of a Mad Man. Get off your arse and buy it.
(To be continued)