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MORIARTY Meets Bruce Campbell On Set Of SAND PIRA... Um, THE MAJESTIC!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

It’s starting.

It’s one thing when someone is talking about making a film. Even pre-production is a sort of theoretical thing, as evidenced by the recent last-second collapse of CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. But when that first bit of film runs through a camera and a filmmaker and his crew actually get down to the business of shooting a film, there’s an energy that’s unlike anything else, an electricity that’s communicated among the crew and the cast, a tangible something that actually makes the air crisper, the sun warmer.

Or at least that’s how it feels to me. I’ve said it before, but I can’t stress it enough. There is nothing that makes me happier or feeds my soul with more reliability than visiting the set of a film. I adore the time I spend on these half-finished houses, these painstaking recreations of places real and imagined. Until the day I sit behind the camera on my own films, this is what keeps me going. Watching people who are genuinely good at what they do actually doing what they’re good at is one of life’s rare thrills.

And over on The Lot in Hollywood, it’s starting.

It was a week ago, last Thursday, when I woke up mid-morning, excited and ready to go. Frank Darabont had e-mailed me to tell me that they had shot their very first day, wide master shots of two stuntmen dueling. He invited me to come down for the first day of shooting, something he promised would be very special. I was practically whistling as I let Henchman Mongo out of the special room I made for him under the stairs and told him to clean up, since we’d be spending the day with decent folk. Once he was looking approximately human, we headed topside. The Lot, which used to be Warner’s Hollywood Lot, is located at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Formosa, right across from the uber-hip Jones and next to the Formosa Café, seen to such memorable effect in LA CONFIDENTIAL. It’s the same lot where they shot the classic Errol Flynn ROBIN HOOD, and it’s also where I spent so much time observing the production of Frank Darabont’s THE GREEN MILE.

That was a process I saw close-up, that I considered an education in terms of working with actors and maintaining control over every element of what's onscreen. Love that film or hate it, it’s Frank’s movie. He has established a distinct visual style of his own in just two films, austere and reserved. Because of the subject matter of the films, SHAWSHANK and GREEN MILE are both somber, with a sense of humor that’s wry, just under the surface of things. They’re unabashedly emotional films. Frank’s gotten damn good at playing those notes. I’ve actually reviewed the script for THE MAJESTIC, back when it was still called THE BIJOU. It’s no wonder Frank jumped at directing Michael Sloane’s script... it’s got a big giant heart, but it’s smart and funny in a way that Frank hasn’t had a chance to do yet. There’s finally room for him to play. In particular, there’s a movie within a movie that is going to make every movie geek who sees it smile from ear to ear.

Right now, with pre-strike fever in high gear, the Lot is ridiculously busy. There was a line of cars at the gate as we pulled up, moving slowly, and when we finally checked in and picked up our parking pass, we started driving from one parking area to another. Each one was full, and as we circled the last soundstage, heading back for the main gate, we passed Anna Ferris and a number of other actors. Ferris was the lead in last summer’s SCARY MOVIE, and as soon as I saw her, I realized they had to be shooting the sequel in some of the stages. I also saw a lot of parking set aside for a film called FOOLPROOF, directed by Barbet Shroeder, which is shooting at the moment. That’s a surprising amount of activity for such a small lot. We had to park by the Formosa in the studio’s extra secret backup reserve spare parking lot, then walk back to check in.

Once we were past the gates, we checked in with the production office, where we were issued our VIP passes. Each one features an early MAJESTIC logo, the title of the film in the style of a postmark. They directed us to Stage 4, and on the way over, we walked past the soundstage that actually housed The Green Mile itself. It was one of the two in use by SCARY MOVIE 2 for the day, and we walked past it to the smaller stage by the main gate, checking the doors, waiting for the red light to shut off. When we got our chance, we slipped inside.

The first real kick of the day for me is always that moment when you’ve just stepped in from the bright sunlight outside and your eyes try to adjust to the darkness of the soundstage. In this case, we had chosen the perfect door, bringing us in directly in front of the main Egyptian tomb set from SAND PIRATES OF THE SAHARA. As soon as I saw it, I broke into a grin. The last time I had stood on this soundstage, it was being used for the tunnel that led away from the Green Mile, the tunnel in which the bodies were transported. This time, it was a great stone tomb with a huge bird-headed statue at the top of a large set of stone steps. As we walked onto the set, I ran into Denise Huth, Frank’s always-charming assistant, and she greeted me with her customary cheer. She took great delight in pointing out some of the details of the set for us. Statuary from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, set dressing borrowed from the upcoming MUMMY RETURNS and THE SCORPION KING. She told me to be on the lookout for a particular gold idol on the set that I would recognize, but left it at that. I spotted Frank on the set, talking with David Tattersall, his director of photography. They worked together on THE GREEN MILE, and I was always impressed when observing their collaboration. They seemed to have a great rapport on that film, and this sequence marks a chance for them to cut loose and geek out. Everyone who grew up on the great adventure movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s can understand the pure pleasure of shooting a sequence from one of those black and white half-remembered matinee shows. The key to shooting a great homage to those films is casting the right matinee hero, the perfect combination of cheese and charisma. Frank, of course, arranged to hire the very best, and as we checked the set out, I realized that Bruce Campbell was standing a few feet away.

If you read the Talk Backs here at AICN often, you know that Bruce Campbell has a rabid, vocal following that would pretty much love to see him play every role in every film ever. I’m not that kind of rabid loony for him, but I’m certainly baffled by those of you who take the opposite stance and claim to hate him. I think he’s a remarkably funny performer, and I think he’s been sadly underutilized by major filmmakers. To have my first personal encounter with Bruce take place while he was dressed in a white shirt, khaki pants, high leather boots, and a gunbelt seemed impossibly cool. Here’s Ash himself, all duded up like Indiana Jones, a pencil-thin moustache on his lip, looking lean and fit, posing for a photo with a couple of people. I decided not to hassle Bruce, waiting for a natural opening for a conversation. Instead, Mongo and I explored the set a little further, taking in the details. At one point, I bumped into Bernie Wrightson, the amazing illustrator, who is a long-time friend of Frank’s and a hell of a nice guy in his own right. Frank finally called lunch, and the cast and crew took off.

Mongo and I headed over to the commissary, where lunch had been set up. We ended up sitting with Gerry, a guy I’ve met a few times through mutual friends, who told us about the morning’s shoot, a big smile permanently etched on his face as he described Bruce, playing Roland, the hero of the film, swinging through fire and dropping off the rope to face Cliff Curtis, all oily menace and swarthy swagger as Khalid, the bad guy of the film. If you saw THREE KINGS, you’ll remember Curtis. He played the main rebel, the one whose wife was killed in the film. He's excellent in BLOW, Ted Demme's new film, as infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. He seems to be able to play many different ethnicities, but he’s actually from New Zealand, and his facility for various voices is quite striking. The other shot they worked on in the morning was Curtiz striking the Professor on the head with the idol Denise had mentioned. Gerry couldn’t contain his smile as he described the idol to me, not that he had to. All he had to do was quote one line of dialogue: "Throw me the idol, I throw you the whip." Yes... it’s true. When you finally see THE MAJESTIC, and you’re watching Jim Carrey standing in the back of a theater, watching SAND PIRATES, the movie he wrote, play out on that screen, you should keep your eyes peeled for one of the all-time coolest film geek props as it’s used to bonk The Professor. What Professor? Come on... there’s always a Professor. There was a perfect one wandering around Frank’s set, sitting near us at lunch, a man who appeared to be in his seventies, his face covered in a huge moustache that wrapped up into mutton chops, pith helmet topping things off. He was hysterical, and I accepted him as an older actor on first sight. Little did I know...

After lunch, we returned to the stage to watch them do a reverse on the earlier scene of Bruce, a close-up of Khalid as he menaces Emily (Amanda Detmers), an adorable double-scoop of alabaster sweater girl goodness. Khalid, having just brained The Professor, walks towards Emily, who is sprawled on the steps, and arches his eyebrow as he glowers down at her. "Did you think you would just... fly away from me?" he asks. As he makes a menacing moe closer, an offscreen voice pipes up.

"Not so fast, Khalid!" Even though Bruce is off-camera for the shot, he’s got his eyebrows working overtime as he delivers the line each time, ready to swing in and kick some ass. As Emily sighs, "Oh, Roland," Khalid looks up at him, shocked, and goes just a little pale. "You... I thought you were dead!" Bruce can’t help but mug as he delivers his response, "You thought wrong." Khalid does the only sensible thing when he’s confronted with the good guy about to kick into good guy mode: he knocks over a large oil lamp and runs off.

We stood and watched them run through several takes of the scene. Amanda seemed to be having a great time, joking between takes, adorned in stereotypical Egyptian garb. Cliff worked to master the move that would knock over the pre-rigged oil lamp, while a special effects crew worked to figure out just how high to make the fireball that erupted on each take. On each successive take, Cliff did a different, more elaborate leap out of frame. The scene kept getting funnier as they ran through it, too, with both Bruce and Cliff adding flourishes to their delivery, clever, hammy touches that really sold the scene.

As they were running through the scene, I was talking with another familiar face on the set, a guy named Constantine who made a behind-the-scenes documentary about THE GREEN MILE, and who also shot a short film during that production called WILD BILL GOES TO HOLLYWOOD that is, by all accounts, hysterical, an elaborate inside joke that used most of the principal actors from the film. We were talking about the various cast members for SAND PIRATES, and I asked Constantine if he knew who was playing The Professor. He told me that it was actually Michael Sloane under the makeup, making me laugh out loud. I had bought the makeup completely, and I had to walk over to Michael and introduce myself. Considering how much has been said about Frank Darabont as a writer, Sloane should be given credit for being able to get Frank interested in directing something he didn’t write. Sloane’s script, which Frank did a directorial polish on, is essentially unchanged from when he first presented it to Frank as an old friend just sharing a piece of work. I love that Michael got to be in the film, especially in the film within a film. As I talked with him, one thing was obvious. He’s having the time of his life watching this dream of his come true.

As the crew prepared for a different setup, a closeup of Cliff, Bruce Campbell walked over and took a seat. He was no more than ten feet away from us, and as we turned to glance back at him, he started talking to us about his moustache, making fun of how tiny it was and how low it sat on his lip. We started chatting back and forth, and I finally walked over to him and introduced myself. He asked what I was doing on set, and I told him I was a friend of Frank’s, and I mentioned that I was a writer for Ain’t It Cool News. He arched one eyebrow at me, a slight smile playing at the edges of his mouth. "You work with my friend Harry?" he asked. I told him I did, indeed, and we just fell into conversation. In the ten or fifteen minutes we talked, we discussed his upcoming documentary short, FANALYSIS, and his desire to press the film on a DVD that could be included with copies of his book when it comes out this year. As he talked about fans and what led him to work on the short, I realized just how much fun his book promises to be. If anyone has seen the naked face of fandom close up, it’s Bruce. Like the cast of the original STAR TREK, this is a guy who inspires an almost evangelical zeal in his most avid admirers. He made the film so he would have the chance to turn the camera around on his fans and "torture them," as he put it. I was surprised by how approachable he was, how immediately friendly. When he got called back in front of the cameras, it was a shame to see him go.

Of course, we got to see him swordfight with Cliff, so we weren’t exactly complaining. As they were preparing to shoot the fight, Frank appeared with the RAIDERS idol in his hand. He looked over at the group of us standing together and held the idol up over his head. Spontaneously, all of us began salaaming to the idol and speaking in mock-Hovito. Frank burst out laughing, and then went back to working with the actors on their choreography. Both of them seemed to be comfortable with the physical work, and they were able to run through their flurry of moves at a quick clip.

During all of this, I made sure I could see the monitor, where this gorgeous set showed up in black and white. Seeing it like that, I could imagine the moment in the final film where Jim Carrey stands in the back of The Majestic theater, watching SAND PIRATES play out. I could imagine sitting in a theater in 1951 enjoying this film, and I can’t wait to see the footage when it’s finished. As I said to Frank just before the lunch break, it’s moments like this, days like this, that feel most like we’re getting a chance to live out our childhood dreams thanks to this strange profession, filmmaking. Watching my friend and his exceptional cast and crew as they played, as they laughed and ran around the sets, I was delighted. This is the way these days recharge me. When we hear nothing but Hollywood horror stories, when we talk to people who have seen their vision compromised, when we talk to writers who feel beaten by the development process, it’s easy to think that this system never works, easy to get demoralized. But on days like this, it’s also easy to believe that this is the greatest job on the planet, that there’s no profession as magical.

Principal photography of the film starts next week, and I hope I’m going to have the chance to write more about what I believe is going to be one of the year’s finest films as it makes its way from the page to the screen. I had to leave that afternoon, but I know they shot well into the night, and again on Friday. They had to, since Bruce was leaving to head back to Dallas, where he’s shooting SERVICING SARA right now. He told me that he’s been working quite a bit before he strike, and that he’ll keep working right up to the moment someone calls to tell him to stop working. It’s sad to think that he’s already done shooting his part in the film, but there’s a lot of amazing performers still to come, including Martin Landau, Bob Balaban, and a veteran character actor who’s currently negotiating to step into a role that was almost played by James Cromwell. More than anything, I’m dying to see what happens between Laurie Holden (THE X-FILES), who’s going to be playing the female lead, and Carrey himself. This is a role he’s never played, and it’s rich, textured stuff as written. I’m rooting for Jim to come in and knock this one out of the park. He’s proven his versatility and his fearlessness in the past, and now he’s got the perfect project to bring all of his gifts to a new level.

After saying goodbye to Frank and our other friends on the set, we left them to their swordfighting and headed for the car. Stepping back out into harsh sunlight after spending time in the controlled fantasy of the soundstage is always the hardest part. Shaking off the dream in favor of reality always feels disappointing, and the long walk to the car gave me time to play back my audio tape of the day and smile at each take of the dialogue during the fight.

CLIFF: Your persistence is... tiresome.

BRUCE: Yeah, I get that a lot.

Vintage Bruce. A great day. What more could an Evil Genius ask?

"Moriarty" out.



Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 22, 2001, 6:18 a.m. CST

    Bruce tha Bad Ass

    by Captain Fantasy

    You know, people think Bruce comes off as a real ass to his fans sometimes, but with out a doubt folks, he is the coolest actor out there with his followers. I was on the set of Spiderman and the whole time he was smiling and talking with fans and even after 15 hours he was still all smiles and handshakes. Cool guy!

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 7:13 a.m. CST

    getting better all the time

    by reni

    Bruce - salute mate...

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 7:30 a.m. CST

    Moriarty: a beacon of light

    by Jack Lazarus

    Moriarty is such a great writer. I love the reviews he writes, because you can be assured there will be absolutely no trace of pretentiousness, unjustified arrogance, or attempts to turn the review around to focus on him rather than the subject. Take this lovely little gem of a comment, "Until the day I sit behind the camera on my own films, this is what keeps me going." I'm sure we all are waiting with quivering anticipation for Moriarty's undoubtedly brilliant directing debut. I know I am. Beause if the theory is true, that people whose life experience revolves around sitting in front of a computer eating twinkies all day make the best directors...then Moriarty is set to redefine the artform. Godspeed Moriarty. I can't wait to see your autobiographical message film that will be "about your life," and, as always, I look forward to more of these unbloated and genuine reviews you manage to crank out. Ciao.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 7:59 a.m. CST

    BRUCE CAMPBELL IS GOD!!!! BRUCE BRUCE BRUCE BRUCE BRUCE BRUCE!!!

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    Just figured I'd do that before anyone else got a chance. What's sad is, I'm one of those RABID Bruce fans and have met him a couple of times at functions and have to say, he is pretty cool in person. I've never told him that I'm one of those psycho Bruce-fans who thinks his "The Love Bug" is the shit because it's him and Kevin J. O'Connor, or that I actually own a copy of "Menno's Mind" on DVD. Anybody know if he is hosting the Saturn Awards again this year? Bruce is the Bomb. It will be nice to see him in "The Majestic," "Spider-Man," and his third-billed role in "Servicing Sara" which is actually a pretty funny part for him, but as the lead in "Bubba Ho-Tep," that's the one to watch out for.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 8:24 a.m. CST

    bruce rules but i want to know one thing...

    by harryisavirgin

    hows moriarty gonna live when frank darabont completes his work on this film and doesnt make another one for about 6 years..?

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 8:25 a.m. CST

    Bruce Campbell kicks ass!

    by Jarek

    If you haven't yet, watch a little gem that The Bruce was in called RUNNING TIME. It's quite an interesting film, and the second movie in history to attempt the "movie-in-one-take" method. That's right, the second movie after Hitchcock's ROPE. So watch it, you'll be rather impressed.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 8:45 a.m. CST

    Drew's Prose

    by Pietro_Kozlowski

    Drew: Not a bad piece...the language was often tight. But try to exclude the rambling tone in the future. I liked what you were discussing (the asides about Campbell and Darabont), but punch up the energy a little. I almost fell asleep by Page 3.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 9:07 a.m. CST

    Bruce Campbell... Must be mentioned in every subject line!

    by Saluki

    I was a little confused at first. The script is called "The Bijou", the actual movie is call "Majestic" yet the set Drew was on was "Sand Pirates". ANYWAYS, that was actually one of the best writings I have read on this site in the past two years. Very clear and simple. Bruce Campbell and Jim Carrey both in the same movie with a great director... oooohhhh....

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 9:11 a.m. CST

    I so look forward to Gateway this year

    by Geekgrrl

    'Cause Bruce is a GOH. Mark your calendar, kids. July 6-8 in Saint Louis. And you can buy some of my art while you're there :-)

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 9:13 a.m. CST

    Hey, Moriarty!

    by mrbeaks

    Another great piece of unfettered film geek reportage that sets this site apart from the competition (to those who complain about a lack of scoops, *this* is why we come here.) Glad to hear that you finally communed with the Bruce, and I'm envious as HELL that your set your naked eyes upon The Idol. This sounds like a script I'll avoid until I can see it brought to life by Darabont.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 9:32 a.m. CST

    Bruce Campbell: The coolest motherfucker ever!

    by Warlord92

    I think it would be cool if Bruce could play Roland from the Dark Tower seris(providing Mr. King ever puts them into movie form-not likley)But he is perfect for that role(& every other ever made)

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 10:13 a.m. CST

    I'm certain the Bruce scenes will be far more entertaining than

    by Regis Travolta

    The whole movie should just be "Sand Pirates of the Sahara" with Bruce as a mock Indy Jones on a crazy spoof of an adventure. "Until the day I sit behind the camera on my own films, this is what keeps me going. Watching people who are genuinely having fun doing what they love to do."

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 10:22 a.m. CST

    RE: Jesus H. Christ

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    As Bruce has said many a time, he's turned down a lot of projects because doing stuff he wants to do is more important to him than being a Hollywood playah. It does suck that he missed stuff like "Once and Again" and "The X-Files," but there's a lot of people in Hollywood who think the only thing he can do is that "schtick." Hopefully, by doing all this stuff in a row, it'll change that perception. As for trashing Moriarty, what is that old Samuel Johnson quote about jealous bastards being cockheaded assholes? Was that Johnson? Hm...Boswell might've misquoted him, but what do I know?

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 11:38 a.m. CST

    Can we please see Sand Pirates instead of The Majestic ?

    by darius25

    Come on Mr. Darabont, forget about Jim and The Majestic, just make Sand Pirates with Bruce Campbell instead!! It would be ten times better than both of The Mummy films combined!

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 11:42 a.m. CST

    Are You Sure That Wasn't *Ben* Jonson, Jack?

    by mrbeaks

    As for Jesus H. Christ, are you still ticked off at Fred Olen Ray for kicking you off the set of STAR SLAMMER when he caught you trying on a pair of Aldo Ray's depends? And you wonder why no one wants you to schlep cable on the sets of their films? A sullied reputation is like Bruce Campbell, my friend: it/he will live forever!

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 11:56 a.m. CST

    Great article!

    by JonQuixote

    Beautiful man, just beautiful. And anybody who dismisses Brisco County Jr. in such an off-hand way has obviously never watched a single episode.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 2:40 p.m. CST

    kudos

    by NiceBri

    Excellent article, McWeeny. "...approximately human,..." was inspired. Fare you well in your film career - there's a lot of readers pulling for you. Judging from your writing alone, yours is a voice that should be heard. Swashbucklin' Bruce and cracking up Darabont by groveling before the idol - how cool is that?

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 9:19 p.m. CST

    Scary Movie's poster promised no sequels!!

    by X-Girls

    Would--would Hollywood lie ? no...I must be crazy.

  • Feb. 22, 2001, 9:34 p.m. CST

    "See this? This, is my BOOM STICK!!!"

    by Tall_Boy

  • Feb. 23, 2001, 5:52 a.m. CST

    Warlord92

    by moviet00l

    I've tried casting Roland in my mind many times - I somehow never came up with Bruce. Kudos! I think he'd be almost perfect in the part. Can't you just see him, standing tall, growling "You have forgotten the face of your father!" Ooooo, shivers. I know, you're saying to yourself, "what do you mean, 'almost' perfect?" Sorry, but the perfect actor for Roland is Sam Jackson. If only King had written Roland as a black guy from the start . . . sigh . . . Jackson would eat the scenery in that role. Double shivers.

  • Feb. 23, 2001, 6:23 a.m. CST

    bubba ho-tep

    by reni

    What's the juice on this? Any release dates?

  • Feb. 23, 2001, 9:06 a.m. CST

    Dangerous Mind!?

    by carouselambra

    Wait! "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" collapsed? What? Did I miss a headline or something? What's the story? Man, I was looking forward to that movie - with Mike Myers or Johnny Depp or whoever, doesn't matter. That's the kind of news you should be running. Not when one of the "writers" gets to meet that fool from "Jack of all Trades" for 10 seconds.

  • Feb. 23, 2001, 7:34 p.m. CST

    "All I wanted was some cornbread, you motherfuckers!"

    by user id indeed!

    Moriarity has a nice cock? That's doubtful. He is, you see, a writer/ hopeful director of motion pictures, or as the kids call them, "flicker shows". He has no time to raise a cock. We all know how hard it is to raise cocks these days. I doubt Moriarity is much of a country type, anyway. I remember my early days at the farm... ah, but I digress! Darabont is good, Carrey is good, Campbell is good, life is good. When is this gonna come out? Huh? C'mon. Tell me. This has been a Moment with User ID Indeed! "Was your missus pleased?" "Several times, yes."

  • Feb. 23, 2001, 8:41 p.m. CST

    y'know why I deserve some Coke?

    by JonQuixote

    'Cause I got a big pecker! I love the quote game!

  • Feb. 24, 2001, 10 a.m. CST

    Bernie Wrightson

    by toshiba

    If you haven't seen any of Bernie's work you need to do so now. His illustrations for a 1983 printing of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are nothing short of genius. I don't know if it's still in print (probably not) but seek it out any way that you can. I hate to use this word but in this case it fits.. Awesome.

  • Feb. 24, 2001, 10:18 a.m. CST

    "Grooovy."

    by FreeGenius

    'nuf said...

  • Feb. 24, 2001, 10:17 p.m. CST

    holy crap...

    by kojiro

    Sam Jackson is fucking perfect for King's Roland. I suddenly give a damn about finishing that series.