The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
[I was corrected. Rick Merciez didn’t head west on Woodward from the lab to Highland Park, he went north].
So, heading north on Woodward, Rick stopped in Highland Park to pick up a hooker. When he opened the door a man jumped in and stabbed him to death. The hooker actually turned in the assailant to the authorities. I don’t know if he was indicted.
Rick’s funeral was held in a little church in east Detroit. This was my first open-casket funeral. Covered with excessive base makeup, Rick looked really dead to me. I looked around and saw that none of his filmmaking friends were there, including his buddy, the FX man, Bart.
Back at our offices, I explained to Sam, Bruce and Rob that we had to buy Rick’s equipment or it was probably going to get thrown out. Nobody but us knew its value. Just the 16mm Canon Scoopic I’d borrowed several times was worth about $2,000, and there were 4-5 other 16mm cameras. One of them was a CP-16, a news camera from the 1960s that recorded sound right on the film (as a severe film buff I must add that John Waters used the CP-16 to shoot Pink Flamingoes ). And there was that oddball, 35mm Arri-C, plus the myriad of other stuff. I said, “Let’s offer her two grand for everything.” They agreed.
I called Bart, Rick’s old buddy, and asked him if he’d speak to Mrs. Merciez and make the offer. Bart was hesitant as hell, but said he’d do it. I added, “She’s poor. She could probably use the money.” Bart agreed and said he’d do it. I called him a week later and he hadn’t done it. Bart said that upon reflection, he said he couldn’t do it. So I called Mrs. Merciez, whom I’d met several times when borrowing equipment. I gave her my condolences, then made her the offer.
Please keep in mind that I was being far more opportunistic than altruistic. We could just sell the Canon Scoopic for $2,000, then everything else would be free – except that I really liked the Scoopic and we weren’t going to sell it. In any case, Mrs. Merciez heard the offer and burst into tears. She said that she hadn’t yet paid for the funeral expenses, and this money would be of great help. She thanked me and thanked me, and I of course felt guilty because I was kind of ripping her off. That strange 35mm Arri-C, with a box of lenses, had to be worth about $5,000 to somebody, but who? I actually knew who, but that’s not the point, and we didn’t sell that either.
The next movie up was Crimewave (1985, aka, The XYZ Murders, Joel and Ethan Coen’s first movie credit). The film went through a number of reshoots and pickup shoots (getting new material), and each one had less money. That last pickup shoot for Crimewave – a series of tight close-ups of clocks – was in my office and using Rick Merciez’s 35mm Arri-C.
The next movie after that was Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except, and we used a lot of Rick’s equipment. I did most of my pickup shooting with that Scoopic, and it’s a cool camera.
People often ask me and Bruce, and all filmmakers, I suppose, A. do you watch your own movies? And B. can you get into them?
The answer is no and no. I’d say that this is pretty consistently true among most filmmakers and actors. You finish a film, you move on. But this is the difference between those who made the film and those who are watching: in Crimewave, Sheree J. Wilson (who co-starred with Chuck Norris on nine seasons of Walker, Texas Ranger) dressed as a nun is in a car full of nuns racing to get somewhere, and in the montage of the sequence appear those shots of clocks which we shot in my office with Rick’s Arri-C. Now, you see the clock and it's 12:27; I see the clock, and I think about Rick, the camera, and that whole day of shooting hauling clocks in and out of the office. For us who made it, the magic is lost.
This is particularly true for Evil Dead. I’ve been asked hundreds of times at horror conventions, “Was it scary making Evil Dead?” No, not at all, it was just really, really hard. And as they say in Hollywood, “It’s hard to make a good movie and it’s hard to make a bad movie.” Movies are just hard to make.
But they can be fun to make, though hard; or miserable, and hard. Here is one of the truly daunting aspects: frequently, the films that were the least fun to make turn out to be the good ones. It’s almost like if the cast and crew were having fun, the audience won’t. The venerable producer, Rob Tapert, once said, “The audience’s fun is in direct proportion to the lead character’s suffering.”
The other day Bill Maher said rather offhandedly, “Art is the receipt for pain,” which I found interesting. I would add, “Art is the receipt for pain, or joy, or anything in between.”
Art makes life bearable.