Thursday, July 29, 2004
Non-Journal, Day Fifteen, And Shady Goings-On Elsewhere

We shot some stuff today. Just little pick-ups, nothing exciting. It was over in like an hour; I'm pulling another over-nighter to force myself onto a diurnal schedule, since we'll be doing early shoots for the next four or five days.

Enough of the boring stuff.

The biggest film-related news in Memphis today is this:

Extra claims sex assault by actor, assistant director
By Chris Conley
July 29, 2004

Rising Hollywood comic star Anthony Anderson and an assistant director in the movie "Hustle & Flow" were bailed out of the Shelby County Jail Wednesday night after being accused of raping a movie extra.

Anderson, 33, and Wayne Witherspoon, 42, were arrested late Tuesday by Shelby County Sheriff's deputies at the Shelby County Correction Center in East Memphis after the female extra in the movie ran naked from a trailer on a set, saying she was sexually assaulted.


Anderson's comic scene-stealing, gap-toothed smile and boisterous presence have made him an audience favorite, especially among children.

He has appeared in "Barbershop" (as the hapless thief who steals an ATM), "Me, Myself & Irene," "Kangaroo Jack," and "Agent Cody Banks 2." His latest movie, "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle," opens Friday.

Witherspoon, second assistant director on "Hustle & Flow," also has worked on the crews of such films as "Ali," "Star Trek: Insurrection" and the upcoming "Collateral" with Tom Cruise.


Local filmmaker Craig Brew er said he was inside his trailer at the time of the incident and would not comment on the arrests. Neither would the film's producers, who include John Singleton, the director of "Boyz N the Hood," who is financing the current movie's $2.8 million budget himself.

The arrests stopped a two-day shoot at the correction facility at 1045 Mullins Station. It was unclear how it would affect the movie schedule.

Anderson, who has a key supporting role as a friend of the movie's pimp protagonist, still has many scenes to shoot. Wednesday's filming was at the King of Clubs, a closed strip club on Brooks Road.

Deputies were called to the Correction Center about 4:30 p.m. by George Little, director of the facility, who told them a sexual assault had occurred.

The alleged victim, he said, had been taken by ambulance to Saint Francis Hospital.

A witness, James G. Williams, 60, heard screaming and unlocked the trailer door from the outside, and the woman ran out naked, according to the charges. It was not clear whether Williams, who gave officers a Los Angeles area phone number, was part of the movie crew.

The 25-year-old woman told police she was lured into the trailer by Witherspoon, who then exposed himself. Anderson, she said, joined in the assault. She said her clothes were removed and she was sexually assaulted by both men.

She said the two held her down and took graphic pictures with a camera telephone. Investigators said a camera-phone had been recovered, but not the photo chip.

Little, who said he first assumed an inmate had caused the commotion, described the woman as "distraught."

Deputies "questioned a number of folks," he said, and escorted the two men off the set late Tuesday. Little said his employees secured the scene and kept everyone on the set until the officers arrived.

Et cetera.

Even though it happened late in the day, it was already the gossip du jour all over town by this evening, particularly among the film community. There are a number of conflicting emotions: mild shock, dark amusement, some pity for Craig Brewer, a touch of indignation, and just a hint of schadenfreude. My own responses have ranged from, "thank god I'm not working on that film," to "how the hell is Craig going to pull this one off?" to "well, this is what happens when you bring Hollywood types into the local community."

I really do feel bad for Craig. He's a bit of a smoke-blower, but every time I've met him he's seemed like a decent guy: cordial, friendly, accessible. Some are envious of his success; that's understandable. But even though this ugly incident doesn't necessarily end the shoot, this is some bad mojo for the film. Or, at least, it seems to be at this point. It's just such a mess... certainly Craig didn't deserve anything like this. I have a feeling the men accused won't be quite as exonerated as they claim they will be, although to be sure the facts are far from clear. For the moment, I am blaming it all on the Hollywood influence... often as not, when the Hollywood people come (especially the lower-rent Hollywood people), negative things ensue. This hasn't be the case so much for Walk The Line, which is also shooting in Memphis now, and I hope it won't be. But certainly the Forty Shades of Blue people caused some problems while they were in town... I don't think anybody walked away from that shoot happy.

There just seems to be this assumption among the lesser Hollywood folks that whatever works in LA works here, too. But Memphis is like Mayberry compared to Los Angeles: you can't get away with as much. (Of course, my feelings about LA are conflicted anyway; perhaps I'll try to explain it sometime if anyone's interested -- I have lots of vaguely-metaphysical theories about Los Angeles -- but now's not the most opportune time for that.)

But what a mess for Craig; what a mess for Memphis. I hate to see stuff like this happen, it feels like a big black mark on a film community that's already fragile, even if the worst always does seem to be perpetrated by outsiders. This is the part of the film industry I revile; I wish these leeches would just go away.

Moral: when Hollywood comes to town, you best be on your guard. They bring money and possibilities, but they bring a lot of darkness, too.

Anyway, when I saw Lee today I tried to use it as a teaching model: see, your problems could be so much worse. Another crew member and I are gradually coming to the conclusion that Lee's really just not production material. He'll likely be happier in post, when it's just him and the material, but first he's got to survive this. I try to help him along, but it gets frustrating; he has no feel for the routine, the method, the system that helps get you through a shoot. He doesn't respond well to the pressure (and hoo-boy is there a lot of pressure), he's not that good at creative problem-solving (which is a huge part of production), and he's not much of a multi-tasker... all crucial abilities. He gets too involved to communicate clearly with the crew, and he takes everything too personally. Like I said, he should be great in post; first, however, we have to get him through production.

Thing is, everything he hates about this phase of the process, I love. Film production is one of the few things I've found that really makes me feel like my mind is fully occupied, that I'm using all my abilities well. I like the fact that there are always a dozen entirely-different things to do at any given moment -- creative things, organizational things, strategic things, mechanical things, abstract and concrete things, the lot -- and I like the structure that keeps the process contained. There are elements of the larger film world that I dislike, but I don't assume they have to be relevant to my work; I generally ignore them as far as I'm able. I just love the process, I love it for what it really is, the way you love a person for who they really are, complete with issues and shortcomings.

Would it sound strange to say I have trouble understanding -- I mean, really understanding -- why anybody would take this beast on without loving it that way?

PS: Yes, they were shooting in the same prison block we were shooting in just a few days ago. And yes, that's pretty freaky.
12:51 AM ::
Amy :: permalink