A screenplay I penned attracted a director, a dashing fellow I’ll call Sir Ian. A tall, rugged dude enjoying some serious Hollywood upswing, Sir Ian was one of those very-foreign-but-English-is-my-first language types. And his attaching himself to my script was for me a definite career bonus. Sir Ian gave me a handful of notes and, while I was off to do my revision, he returned to prepping his next feature, a film top-lined with the Biggest Star in the World.
My picture was set in the East Harlem section of Manhattan during the 1990’s. Over the previous eight months, I’d made a number of trips to New York and felt I’d successfully captured the locale in such a way that it might have been considered a character unto itself. Spanish Harlem was a gritty piece. And that’s exactly what Sir Ian claimed had initially attracted him.
“I want to visit all these cool places in the script,” he told me. “In a few weeks I’m going to be in New York City scouting locations for my (Biggest Star in the World) movie. Maybe while I’m there you and I can sneak away for our own private scout. You think?”
I was glad to oblige. As was the studio. For a third time they flew me out to spend a few days in the city. While Sir Ian sought some daylight in his tight schedule, I did my best to foam the runway so to speak, preparing all my hard-earned connections for the moment Sir Ian gave the green light.
As it turned out, The Biggest Movie Star in the World was also in New York and wasn’t about to let the coincidence go to waste. Thus he demanded much of the director’s attention. I patiently waited, which wasn’t entirely difficult. After all, I was in New York City where I had many friends, and was staying all the while in a first-class hotel with a healthy contractual per diem. Not exactly like being stuck on a frozen tarmac in Bismark, ND.
Finally, on a Saturday afternoon, Sir Ian phoned.
“I’m free,” he said. “Just for tonight, I’m afraid. I still hope we can we do it?”
“I’m ready for you,” I said. “Pick you up at your hotel.”
It was May. Warm during the day, crisp in the evenings. Our first stop was an East Harlem music school, a location I’d generously featured throughout my script. Waiting for us there was a local music institution I’ll call Johnny Salsa. It was through Johnny’s eyes that I’d been formally introduced to both salsa music and the dangerous underground club scene. In some wee hours of the day, we’d navigated through some hazardous territory from East Harlem to the South Bronx. I saw things I could barely have imagined. I was introduced to pistol-packing crime lords and Dominican killers who wouldn’t have thought twice about slicing into me if they didn’t like how I was bopping to their beloved merengue music.
I couldn’t wait to inoculate Sir Ian into this new world.
We began with a twilight tour of some local sites. I could see how Sir Ian was gassed at the prospect of shooting in East Harlem. At every stop he was practically setting camera angles to capture sequences of my script. When dark finally arrived along with some low-hanging cloud cover, so began a club crawl through the underground music scene. The pair of VWB’s (Very White Boys) who flanked Johnny Salsa were skull-balled at every turn, sometimes frisked, and reintroduced over and over again as the “Hollywood Hombres” hoping to make a movie about their private world. In every joint, once we got past the stranger factor, liquor would flow in our direction. Rum drinks mostly, cocktails designed to compliment the crazy, hip-swinging live sounds blazing from each and every stage.
Because I wanted to spare my wits, I did my earnest best to dial back my liquor consumption. Poor Sir Ian, though, was never handed a drink he didn’t want to devour. So by Brooklyn he was drunk. And by the Bronx, Sir Ian had found the beat and was swiveling his hips.
Swell, I figured. Sir Ian is having a crackin’ great time. He’d cut himself loose from prepping his Biggest Star in the World movie and was, himself, cutting loose. Best of all, he was feeling my movie. Hearing the soundtrack. Commenting while visually realizing the scenes in his head.
The fun lasted until about three AM when we returned Johnny Salsa back to his East Harlem crib. One last drink and it would be goodnight and farewell. All we needed was to secure a ride back to mid-town. Because we were too deep into East Harlem to hail a cab, Johnny suggested a fellow he knew who operated an illegal taxi.
Our driver, decked out in black pants, a black pea coat, and a black wool cap, picked us up in a ‘78 Impala with worn-out shocks. It was a near straight shot and some seventy something blocks back to Sir Ian’s hotel. Our driver hit the gas and we rolled south.
Sir Ian, well-oiled and still smiling broadly, slumped back against his seat and tried to hum out the salsa tune that was stuck in his head. To say I was satisfied would be an understatement.
“Uh oh,” exclaimed the driver, easing from the accelerator to the brake.
Immediately my attention snapped forward to the view through the front windshield. Streetlamps cast the wide boulevard in gray. A foggy mist had descended. Despite that, I could still make out the figures of three deliberate men. Each was silhouetted atop the rise in the road. Side-by-side. Marching as if on a mission.
Oh. And did I tell you that each was armed? Rifles and/or shotguns slung low.
Now, I said “in the road” because they were in the road. Smack in the center of it and owning that blacktop like it was turf.
Our driver continued to slow.
“Whaaa’s going on?” mumbled Sir Ian, lifting his head to see what the hell he was missing.
“Got a problem,” I think I said.
“Are those… guns?” asked Sir Ian.
The driver didn’t wait to answer, let alone consult either of his two passengers on how he should handle what appeared to be a damned dire circumstance. Rather than brake and make an illegal U-turn into the wrong, but luckily empty direction, the driver chose to jam his foot into the gas pedal. The engine screamed and the Impala surged toward those men with guns.
NEXT WEEK, the conclusion of LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!