FILMING IN TUNISIA II
Tozeur is an oasis. Now I’ve seen those beer ads. I know what an oasis is. Tozeur isn’t it.
Mark and I stood in the sand-blown village street in the pre-dawn chill of a desert day. Warm in the car, we passed a dog lying in the road. Dead. Outside the town we swept by a pile of palm leaves. Eyes peered out at hub height.
A few miles later we arrived at TATOOINE – DESERT – LARS HOMESTEAD – DAY- though it wasn’t quite the latter yet. The greying sky showed the hulk of the sand crawler or at least the bit that would show up behind us in the scene. It was convincingly realistic. A worn out rusty-tank-tracked machine – made out of wood and paint. If the camera slipped up it would reveal the naked ends of scaffold poles, rented by the day like me.
Nearby were tents and trailers. Well caravans really – the tinny sort in which I’d spent Welsh summers of my childhood. But I got a tent. So much for Hollywood glamour.
After two hours of appalling conflict – man against machine – the tent flaps opened and See-Threepio strode into the rising sun. Audible gasps turned to an awed silence. The crew were impressed but the locals thought I was the Second Coming. The way I limped to the set soon gave the lie, confirmed by the wodge of stuffing up my shin to protect me from the golden shoe, now crumpled to a knife-like blade.
In spite of that the contrast was extraordinary. Not until the Ewoks fought the Empire would technology come face to face with a simple-seeming culture such this. We seemed like Vandals in this ancient world.
“My first job was programming binary load lifters.” I couldn get the words out. Exhaustion, nervousness and the rapidly rising pain levels on the inside were making me stupid. George muttered in my ear, or at least where he guessed my ear might be, that I could always correct the words later. Of Course! My first job was… berwa waw wawa.
A more dramatic moment caught my eye. A throng of loudly livid Germans on the road had come all the way into this middle of nowhere to look at the world-famous nothingness of the famed salt flat. And now the local sheriff had said that we were filming and they couldn’t. In understandable fury they hurled a common vow to never watch our movie. Yes, international relations took a bruising that day, all right.
I suppose the salt flat was impressive. Miles of droughted vastness to the curved horizon. Well, above ground anyway. Three feet under was the water table. When Luke tripped sulkily down the steps into Uncle Owen’s house, he had to crouch on duck-broads to get out of shot and avoid wet feet. I was meant to follow, with Artoo close behind. Take 1 – he crashed into me. I held him back from pushing us both down the drop, until his operator moved in and switched him off. Take 2 – he crashed into me. I held him back again. Take 3 – I stepped aside, politely letting him go first. I was already learning about Artoo’s little ways.
Finally, as the sun set, I could take off my suit. Or rather have it taken off for me. I can’t remember the order in which I did things, but they included, bathroom, food, drink, resigning.
Next morning’s head lamps picked out the dog. Still dead. The palm-leafed eyes peered out again. But then the day improved. I had the courage to quit my suit for lunch and sit with the other actors. I almost felt a human. Of course it meant another hour of shoving and twisting to put it on again. But we were planning to work late. You know the scene. Luke looks wistful, gazing at the twin setting suns. One of them is real, the other matted after it.
There was lots of hair and make-up, the sun sinking all the while. Much fiddling with lights and cameras – the reddening sun still falling. Many final,”Here we goes.” Then one,”Oh dear!” The sun had set whilst no-one watched.
So we went home.
I looked away as our headlights brushed the road. I knew already what was lying there.
I had some free time and wandered in the local village. I was persuaded to ride a camel. It felt like sitting on the heads of Sumo wrestlers, grappling in slow motion – spitting. I drifted into a mini-mall – Tunisian style. They had camels, too. Well, really just the heads – on hooks. They had the sad, extravagant eye-lashes of a faded movie queen but their spitting days were over. Fresh meat they may have been, but like everything in this wind-blown world, a layer of grit blended them into the sandy landscape.
Suddenly a native figure loomed beside me then vanished back into the wastes. A real sand person and quite scary. The desert wind was piercing each nook and chink in my suit. I felt forgotten and uncared for. Soon I thought, I might become a sand dune but “Action!” They waved and I began to walk. The wire snapped and we began again.
Next day I stood alone with Nature, an escape pod and Artoo on a wire. The crew had brushed away their foot prints as they fled backwards towards the camera which seemed a mile away.
Minutes passed – quite a few – and I began to feel very much alone.
Suddenly a native figure loomed beside me then vanished back into the wastes. A real sand person and quite scary.
The desert wind was piercing each nook and chink in my suit. I felt forgotten and uncared for. Soon I thought, I might become a sand dune but “Action!” they waved and I began to walk. The wire snapped and we began again.
“My joints are almost frozen” was never said with truer feelings. I was the only member of the crew not parkared-up against the bitter wind. Too, I had to stand there whilst they debated how Artoo could achieve the summit of a dune. On a shorter wire, they hauled him up sand-coloured sheets of ply. It had been two hours and I was very cold. That kick did something to relieve my feelings.
And then I fell.
But only once. In spite of what you may have read. Once is enough. Think of wearing sixty extra pounds of weight and walking in an egg-timer. The fine sand finally gave way and I knew there was nothing I could do but fall. I stuck out my arm and parked myself rigidly – a battered sign-post pointing to the earth’s centre – until they rushed to help me up. They could have left me to become a sand-dune.