HOSTAGE TO HOLLYWOOD
SOF Duo Makes Film Debut
“AUY SAY, old chaps, there will be no obscene or vulgar language in the studio or on location. A good movie doesn’t have to have profanity, sex or violence.”
Boom Boom John Donovan looked at me and I looked at him -the message passed at a glance: ” With this rude introduction, Donovan’s and my movie careers were off to a flying start.
Some weeks earlier in l986, a Special Forces reserve buddy of Donovan’s who had turned movie producer, contacted me,
“Brown, how about playing a role in a movie I am going to film in South Africa. You can play the commander of a group of mercenaries who were to whack a bunch of Moslem terrorists (that’s right, MUSLIM terrorists!) who had kidnapped the grandson of a wealthy businessman,” he said.
I wasn’t particularly enamored with the idea as I had a walk-on role in the movie, “Stage Coach” which was filmed near Nederland, Colorado in 1966. There was plenty of star power – Slim Pickens, Stephanie Powers, Bing Crosby, Ann Margaret, Robert Cummins – and a lot of waiting around. I was a stand for Robert Cummins, which meant I rode in the stage coach and fired blanks at charging “Indians” They really weren’t real Indians but Hollywood stunt men with make up. The real Indians that had been brought to location kept riding their horses down to Nederland and getting drunk. Enough was enough and they were sent back to their reservation.
And if you think anyone ever shot an Indian on a galloping horse out of a bouncing stage coach, you are smoking to many funny cigarettes. Being on location was disillusioning as I got to see how phony Hollywood is. For instance, when the “Injuns” are chasing the stagecoach, the movie carpenters simply moved some rocks and trees around over a 50-yard stretch of ground, giving the impression that the action was going on over a half-a-mile. The major lesson I learned was to bring lots of books to location.
However, though the money offered – $500 a week and expenses was far from attractive, the fact that we would shoot for 10 days, be off 10 days and shoot for 10 days would allow me to go hunting for a week and a half.
“I will only do it if you bring over Donovan and write him into the movie,” I insisted on one condition. I had no intention of being limited to associating with a bunch of fruity movie personalities for the best part of a month.
Leighton flew me out to Hollywood to meet the director, a South African. I met with this clown in Leighton’s office,
“I think you should let me get former Rhodesian SAS veterans to play the parts of my mercenary team,” I offered.
“I say,” he whined, “We’ll get the extras from central casting.” Though Donovan and I were also to be the technical advisors, it was obvious this dork was going to listen to no one but his “inner self.”
Leighton, who allegedly had made his fortune computerizing the commodity market before he moved to Hollywood, was a smart businessman, but a bad drunk. We were out eating/drinking at some fancy-dance Beverly Hills restaurant one night and pretty far into our cups. Once Leighton had more than two drinks, he was uncontrollable and a real asshole. He started running his mouth to the maître’d and I, barely functioning, sidled out the front door and into the front seat of his Cadillac.
And, of course, the cops showed up, dragged me out of the Caddy and threw me in the drunk tank with Leighton. Well, they threw us out at about 0600hrs and never charged us. I still don’t know if it was because they didn’t want to fill out the paper work on a couple of drunks or Leighton had some clout as he was somewhat of a Hollywood personality.
In Africa, first day in the studio and we’d found we had come all that way to play parts in a movie about mercenaries directed by a powder puff named Percival who didn’t understand that soldiers don’t talk -or act -like church deacons.
He selected to film in South Africa where there were no labor unions and where the government was desperate for business. I sensed there was some kind of currency hanky-panky but never uncovered the details. Leighton brought over a bunch of fading movie stars from America, to include Karen Black, Kevin McCarthy who was a real pro, “Wings Hauser” who liked young boys so the movie would have more appeal to an American audience.
As I was leaving his office, Karen Black, who played the part of a run down, aging porno star, while waiting to be interview by Percival, started singing, in a gurgling voice, opera! While being driven to the airport by one of Leighton’s foxy assistants, I asked her,
“Is Karen Black crazy?” She responded smugly, and grimacing said,
“All actresses are crazy.”
After our initial meeting with Percervil in JoBurg, John and I went to the nearest bar to ponder whether we had been brought over to help make a “terrorists-take-hostages, SOF-led mercenaries-kill-terrorists-and-save hostages” movie, or the African version of Peter Pan.
Percival was chosen as director at the insistence of some of the investors. He obviously wasn’t amused with the technical experts he’d been provided.
“He appears to be intimidated by our attitude, experience, background and earthy language,” guessed Donovan.
Early on, when we tactfully suggested to Percival
“Americans would like a certain level of expertise and proper techniques in their shoot-’em-ups, Percival countered with,
“We’re not making this movie for Americans.”
In our dual roles as actors and technical advisers for “Hostage,” we should have been in Africa and involved with production weeks before filming began, not two weeks after it started. By the time we arrived in-country Percival had already made some bad technical decisions that could not be changed.
22-year-old fuzzy-cheeked actors portray grizzled military veterans, for example.
“We could use Soldier of Fortune Magazine staffers,” we suggested to the clueless producer.
No go, perhaps justifiably since the movie’s meager budget couldn’t handle the cost of airfares to Africa for a large group.
“Then how about fleshing out the mercenary force by drawing on an almost unlimited pool of former Rhodesian Selous Scouts and SAS types who were not only the right age but who also knew how to assemble, wear and handle their weapons and who were locally available.”
No go again.
“Well then, how about if we procure uniforms and kit for the movie,” we were trying to salvage his show.
but “noooooo. ”
When we arrived on the set for the first day of shooting, we choked when we saw the moth-eaten, antique miscellany of packs, web gear and uniforms Percival had rounded up. Not to mention having to listen to Percival say,
“OK sonny, here’s how you wear your beret. ”
The casting, uniforms and kit were bad -but the weapons were worse. Some of the would-be mercs were to be armed with Armi Jager AP-74s, the Italian manufactured. 22-caliber M16100k-alikes!
We pleaded with the director, “PLEASE position these atrocities as far from the cameras as possible,” but to no avail.
Prop master Mike Folly, a veteran of 80 some films worldwide, including ” Zulu,” “Zulu Dawn,” “Charge of the Light Brigade,” “Shout at the Devil” and “The Wild Geese,” and who generally imports his weapons props from England, walked off the set when he got a taste of Percival’s production standards. He didn’t want to risk his credibility on the sub-par quality of the props.
Luckily, Donovan and I had enough sense to bring our own uniforms and web gear.
Four weeks into filming, producer Mike Leighton arrived, took one look at what was going on and told Percival to go back to filming church conventions. Folly returned, which helped, but with four weeks of film in the can we basically had to march on with what we had.
From the time of Leighton’s arrival, Donovan and I did have input, but that late in the game we weren’t able to change much.
Fortunately, all the merc scenes take place at night, so the errors that had John and me biting our nails and gnawing our knuckles would not be all that obvious to the average viewer.
And there are a lot of obvious implausibilities in the script, over which we had no control. Such as inserting the male lead, Wings Hauser, into the AO by hang glider; using an acetylene torch to cut an entrance into the bottom of the plane where the hostages are being held while the main body of terrorist troops is only 50 yards away; a garrote scene and a c1uster-fuck attack across an open runway. Against my better judgment I let them talk me into filming a scene where I pull a grenade pin with my teeth. I busted the scene and on the retake I refused to bite out the pin and fuck up my teeth as I knew Leighton would not pay the dental bill, so they just spliced the two segments together to get what they wanted.
The terrorist-villain lead, Tullio Monetta found it all as amusing as we did. Monetta had been a real life merc in the Congo and later participated in the abortive Mike Hoare lead unsuccessful merc op to take over the Seychelles islands..
The show had a lot of yelling, screaming, whining, crying, shooting, gurgling, smoke, deaths and stupidity. And, to add insult to injury I didn’t get to go hunting as once we got behind schedule we worked for 30 straight days. Fuck making movies.
SOF’s TV Series – How Hollywood Smart Asses Pissed Away 45 million dollars
SOF’s next exposure to the entertainment industry focused around a 1997-98 TV series, initially, entitled strangely enough, “Soldier of Fortune.” For several years I had been pursued by a Neil Livingston, a self-styled terrorism expert and author along with a Neil Russell who I never did learn much about, Other than he hosted some very expensive dinner parties for SOFers and friends that easily ran several thousands of dollars. Finally they put together a deal for the SOF series to be funded by a Hollywood outfit named Riecher – to the tune of 45 million dollars!
From SOF’s point of view, it was a boondoggle from the beginning. The theme of the series was about a Special Forces operative who got deep sixed by the Army bureaucracy because he did what he thought was right but violated orders. Upon discharge, he was tasked to recruit a team to perform “non-authorized, deniable missions” for the US government. The basic premise was reasonable but it all went down hill from the first episode.
Inept leadership ended up pissing away immense amounts of money. First they sent some yo-yo to travel around Eastern Europe looking for locations. Then they were going to shoot it in South Beach, Miami, ala Miami Vice. Finally decided to shoot in L,A, to save money.
Reicher decided to syndicate the show rather than go with a major network as they did not want a network “sticking their fingers in the editorial pie.” And I could agree with this. However, it ended up that the series was aired with no consistency. It might show at 2:am on Saturday in Chicago, 4:00pm on Monday in Miami, 10:00pm in Denver…you get the idea. Furthermore, they had blown all their PR budget on a couple of massive press parties…like on aircraft carriers and had no funds available to promote the series in TV Guide, etc.
An, of course, far be it for the Hollywood know it alls, to consult with anyone at the SOF offices about a TV series titled “Soldier of Fortune.” At one point, I threatened to break Jerry Bruckheimer’s legs, joking of course. He didn’t find it amusing and that didn’t help things. At a dinner thrown by the Hollywood pukes at the 1997 SOF convention in Vegas, being unhappy the way things were paying out, I got a bit into my cups and allowed, stealing a line from “Full Metal Jacket” that SOF was getting fucked in the ass without a courtesy of a reach-a-round.” That didn’t help things either.
The only redeeming aspect of the show was that former SEAL Harry Humphries was the very competent technical advisor and a very creditable Brad Johnson played the lead.
The ratings weren’t what the Hollywood pukes wanted so, without consulting SOF, they changed the name of the series to “Special Operations Force.” And made one of the dumbest casting decisions I have ever seen. Some dunderhead decided they would raise the ratings if the cast Dennis Rodman as one of the covert team members. Talk about stupid! Inserting a six foot six black with yellow hair into a team of covert operatives? With such an incredible mistake, the show’s ratings went lower than whale shit. They canceled the second season after shooting only 17 episodes whereas they had shot 23 the first season.
I’d love to meet up with the publishers,