by: Michael Shields
The circumstances that led me to my involvement with a small pack of filmmakers from the Netherlands are easily explained away. I was, simply put, lured by the almighty dollar and my natural inclination to try new things ((Hanging with Dutch artists being something I have never done.)) to accept a 3 day position as a glorified tour-guide while my new friends, all 7 of them clad in more denim than I garner appropriate ((I was let on to the term ‘Canadian tuxedo’ recently, it applies here.)), scouted locations throughout the 5 boroughs and ultimately shot a short film starring a stunning young woman from Harlem who resembled, a near spitting image, Grace Jones. ((In her prime, the Andy Warhol days.))
My initial thought when a close acquaintance/co-worker sent the job my way explaining the eager young clan from the Netherlands and their mission was the legendary Austin Power’s quote, the one where he hates two things, the first being racial intolerance and the second being….the Dutch.
Without testing the temperature I dove in. We met in midtown early in the morning to begin the scout. ((The term they used for scouting the location was ‘recce’. They appeared to love they word as they used it ad nauseum.)) Few locations throughout the city were unmolested by our resolute team. First up was Harlem: East River Park, The Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, The Apollo. Next we attacked Central Park from several different entry points, on both the West and East Side. Then we worked our way south from the Guggenheim. We hit the Time Warner Center, The Chrysler Building, Empire State, Chelsea, The Meatpacking District, The High Line, The West Village, The LES, East Village and then to countless locations in Brooklyn, the most beloved by the outfit being DUMBO. ((Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.))
Two blokes from Ireland were part of the team, the only members whose capitol city wasn’t Amsterdam (I thought at least). One was a photographer who was shooting the entire process and the other sent from the financiers office, a very well know manufacturer of headphones. He was known simply as ‘the client’. ((Reminiscent of the ‘bond company stooge’ from The Life Aquatic.)) These two were true to form. They couldn’t have been more faithful to the stereotype if they were outfitted in Leprechaun gear and double-fisting Guinness. Morning commenced, for these two, with tales from the pub the night before. Noon would be still far off in the distance when discussions of this evenings drinking began, the when and where already confirmed before lunch. The previous nights pints did not hinder, in no way, the ability of these two to produce on the project at hand. In fact their enthusiasm thwarted Netherlands finest easily, more than double. These two were a site to behold, my type of folk.
The location scout went swimmingly, as did the shoot, and during downtime we would pepper each other with questions about our various corners of the world. I was as curious about a young filmmakers life in the Netherlands as they were about my life in the center of the world. We, of course, learned that people are not so very different no matter where you are from, that governments are, and that no matter what side of the pond you live on one can appreciate the genius that is ‘The Wire’. It took me no time to gravitate towards like minds, the ones who could tell me about the seedy underbelly of North Western Europe. The ones who could tell me tales of late nights turning into even longer days. And I had a few tales of my own to reciprocate.
The quietest of the bunch, the most polite, the Director of Photography, took me aside amid the projects waning moments. He needed help. He had been offered a chance to stay in New York the next few days to shoot artwork in various location, different galleries, throughout the city. He admittedly labored navigating around New York and with the language. My competency circumnavigating the city, and my patience with the team, made me the man for the job. And his friendly demeanor, and offer of cash up front, made him an easy man to say yes to. A deal was struck.
Without hyperbole I can state that the days that followed bouncing around art galleries ((The Museum of Art and Design, I must note, had exhibits that stole my breath more than once.)) with VIP access and a friendly companion were as relaxing and rewarding as any I had experienced since landing in NYC. Once obtaining access to the exhibit halls desired I was free to wander the galleries unsupervised and alone as my associate took long drawn out shots of artwork from every angle and depth of field imaginable. The gallery my oyster and too my muse as from time to time I would simply drop to the floor, withdraw my writing pad, and write. I leisurely took photos of inspiring artwork and even took a brief, yet rejuvenating, look at the back of my eyelids beneath an ominous large mythical replica bull skillfully crafted from car tires. It was bliss.
Our brief time together wound down and we were both very pleased with the results of our joint venture. We decided it appropriate to grab a drink and learn some more about each other, and toast to a job well done.
I continued to bombard, as I thought only fit, this neighborly now co-worker with questions about his hometown, about his life. A brief look on my companions face told me I either had overstepped my bounds or that he had something to tell me that wasn’t easy to say.
It was sort of both.
He pulled the trigger……
“It surprises me that you ask so many questions about the Netherlands this week” he said then paused for a moment. He looked as if the statement he was about to make could possibly affect my feelings. He would be right.
I braced for impact.
“When besides ‘the client’ and Mike (photographer from Ireland) the rest of us reside in…..Belgium”.