We were shooting a half hour independent drama about a spy in Ottawa, Canada, and although the Director, Dave, had put the project together at great personal cost, I was producing.
He toiled for months on the script with his creative partner and writer/actor, Neil, and pulled every favor he could beg, bribe or extort from his buddies in the CBC.
He scoped out the locations, timing the shoot so the protagonist could crash through the regalia of the Changing of the Guard in front of the Parliament buildings, nearly knocking the bearskin hats off a dozen of them.
Luckily their rifles weren’t loaded. After all, this was Canada.
He talked his way into Trenton Air Force Base, even seconding a military flight crew complete with army jeeps and an RCAF Hercules transport plane at no cost, having explained to the Base Commander what wonderful press their participation would confer on Canada’s underwhelming military forces.
He marshaled the crew, wrangled the camera and equipment, arranged the transportation and craft services, sourced the props and arranged for post production virtually single-handedly.
I think I was brought in as Producer at the last minute simply to fill out the Above the Line credits, though I did what I could.
On the shoot day, Dave showed up thin, unshaven, exhausted and quivering with anxiety. But we went at it full-tilt boogie and got all our shots just in time to shoot the scenes at the Base.
When we arrived, the Hercules was ready for us and the lieutenants and captains dressed with all the spit and polish one could ask for.
Since time was short, we quickly positioned the crew and equipment. We had a vague feeling that reports of our activities might be working their way up through the chain of command, and we’d better wrap this show up quickly before some bureaucrat pulled the plug.
The actors were in place, and a quick rehearsal was in order. The lead was to be driven by Jeep to the plane, accompanied by three enlisted men, and leap out, running up and into it, in a mad attempt to make his getaway.
The rehearsal went off without a hitch. Until the Director keeled over on the tarmac, unconscious, and began to have a seizure. His head pounded on the concrete in rapid-fire succession, and thick, ruby-red blood began pooling out from under his skull.
Everybody was aghast, and it was only several heartbeats later that we could comprehend what happened.
“An ambulance! Somebody get an ambulance!!!” Which was already in the garage, since this was a Canadian Forces installation.
“He’s an epileptic,” we explained to our uniformed compadres. But we knew he’d been up all night prepping for the day and snorting cocaine.
As the EMS pulled away, sirens blaring, the Captain turned to me and gave his condolences. But they couldn’t keep their assets on hold for us. I pleaded with him to get an extra two hours, and he relented.
“You know you have to direct this yourself,” my associates told me. “He won’t get out of the Emergency Room in time. We’ll never gain access again, and everything he worked for will be for nothing.”
I was on the horns of a dilemma. Between a rock and a hard place. Damned if I did and damned if I didn’t. Not quite up a creek without a paddle though, I thought, and certainly not screwed six ways to Sunday.
But if I didn’t direct it Dave was out of luck. And if I did, it would destroy his lifelong dream - and our friendship.
“Let’s go get him,” I said, against their advice.
We spent twenty minutes locking down the set and roared off to the hospital. When we got there, he was just coming around, his head in a bandage and his spirits sagging to the breaking point.“He’s okay,” the doctor assured us. “It’s just a scalp wound. The bleeding can be profuse, but no serious harm done. We’ll need to keep him overnight.”
“Wonderful!" I told him. “I just need to borrow him for 90 minutes.”
Before the doctor could sputter a word, we wrestled Dave off his gurney and dragged him semi-conscious into the production vehicle.
We made it to the Base with 40 minutes to spare, shot the scenes and packed it in. Then we bypassed the hospital altogether, and drove directly home.
Leaving more than a little blood on the battlefield.