REPRESENTING - JOHN DECUIR, JR.
2529 Foothill Boulevard – Suite 210 – LaCrescenta, CA 91214 - Phone 323-455-4540 - Fax 323-337-8208 -
(Note; For those
of you who have come from our Facebook page you can jump down to the text in
yellow for the balance of the story)
Here is a short story that is not
designed to glamorize the art of film design but rather point out the many ways
the adage, “if it can go wrong it will”, is a daily part of the film
designer’s life. In this case it seemed that nothing could go wrong that night
as I sat in a San Diego restaurant having a lovely birthday dinner with wife and
friends. We were on location filming Top Gun.
Cell phones were big and bulky in those
days, ugly and large enough that you wouldn’t want to put one on the table, so
we mostly communicated by pager. Mine buzzed in the middle of dinner to announce
that there was a small problem at the volley ball court. We were creating one at
the naval training center. The producers had brought in a world renowned volley
ball trainer to prep Tom Cruise and company for the volley ball scene. Part of
this process was that I had to sit through a 30 minute discussion on the
texture, depth and moisture content of the sand; I must acquire to build the
court. It could not be commercial sand but had to be beach sand.
This didn’t appear to be much of a
challenge in that naval training center was only about 4 miles from good ocean
beach sand. What could possibly go wrong with prepping a volley ball court when
compared to managing up aircraft carriers and F14 Tom Cats? The
traffic was bad that day and the trucks didn’t make an appearance till late in
the afternoon. Once I was satisfied that the sand had arrived I went off to my
birthday dinner and left things in the capable hands of my construction crew.
After the sand had been spread out to its proper depth my construction
coordinator noticed something he thought might be a problem. Nothing
as frightening as sand fleas; no, it was simply excessive water content. The
sand was terribly wet. This might not seem like a tragedy but the humidity level
was high. It was clear that the sand could not dry out overnight. The scene was
scheduled to shoot early the next morning.
I had seen the boys practice at the
hotel for over a week; they were all buffed up and sported heavily oiled torsos
so their muscles would ripple and glimmer in the sun. I envisioned a not so
pretty picture of them jumping up after their first dive, into the wet sand, and
coming up looking like brown sugar coated cookie monsters.
It was now about 10:00 pm. A phone call to our
special effects man and the supply warrant officer brought out a dozen 400K high
powered propane air heaters. These were placed at intervals around the court and
turned on full blast. Then a crew of about 10 men with rakes and shovels started
raking and turning over the wet sand. These
poor fellows worked all night (sweating profusely) while raking over 2000 cubic
feet of heavy wet beach sand. I am sure each “raker” must have lost at least
5 pounds that night.
Like any good production
designer I went home and crossed my fingers. I was there when the sun came up
and let the sand trickle though my fingers. Well, it was a lot drier but still
felt pretty damp, certainly not dry enough for hourglass duty. Moments
later the crew arrived and shortly thereafter the rehearsals began.
I found a bench at the far end of the field. Close enough to watch the
action and yet far enough away to slip away under the bleachers if Tony Scott,
the director, came running after me. And then it happened. The gruff volleyball
trainer and my unit production manager headed straight for me. A list of his
probable comments raced through my mind like, “were going to have to postpone
the shooting till the sand is dry. That should only cost the company a hundred
thousand dollars or so”, or the infamous “you’ll never work in this town
again, and he wouldn’t have meant San Diego”. When he reached me he had a
grim look on his face and then it burst into a broad smile. He said ‘”I just
wanted to thank you. I have traveled the world and played on courts from Bombay
to Geneva and never has the moisture content in the sand been so perfect. The
footing is the best I have ever seen or played on.
I am not sure what
the moral of this story is other than in film design, “if it can go wrong it
will”. More importantly, even though we were on a Naval Base, I will always be
true to my old Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus“ – be sure you are
…“Always Ready” ….for the