Friday, June 25, 2010

My Brush With Greatness Death

 In 1988, I worked on a movie called Atuk.  It's entirely possible that you've never heard of this movie.  That's actually quite understandable.  It's never been released.  In fact, to the best of my knowledge, there wasn't even enough film shot to cut together into a single scene.

First, let me tell you the very little bit of information I ever knew about this movie before the notion struck me to Google it this morning.  Atuk was to be a 'fish-out-of-water' story with an Eskimo forced into comical situations in NYC. The star was to be Sam Kinison. I was hired to be a Locations P.A. on the movie and, since this job came immediately on the heels of shooting Crocodile Dundee II, I saw some obvious parallels.

I never saw a script, which in hindsight, may be a good thing (I'm foreshadowing here, guys.)  The only thing I knew about the story was the Eskimo-in-NY part and that we were going to shoot a scene, at some point, with Atuk riding a dog sled down Fifth Avenue.  That would have been tres- cool to do. (And it's also an example of one of those scenes where I wouldn't have cared in the least if it made for a good scene in the movie; what was important was that we were going to take over Fifth Avenue, cover it with snow and run a bunch of yappy sled dogs down it!) 

Anyway, on the first day of filming (which was my second day of employment), we were filming interiors somewhere in Mid-Town.  To this day, I don't know what the shooting location was because my assignment was to hang out in the Extras Holding Area...a banquet room they had rented in The Plaza Hotel.  I got there early and made sure the room was set up and I hung around watching the other P.A.'s deal with signing the extras and then escorting them to set as they were needed.

The other P.A.'s and I gossiped about the fact that Sam Kinison had, apparently, been making all sorts of demands for script changes and showing up late to rehearsals when he bothered to show up at all.  The word was that we were on a Troubled Production!

From my viewpoint, in the holding area, the morning hours were taken up by a whole lot of nothing.  That's not really surprising since the set is where all of the action should be happening.  But another odd thing occurred to me; there was the closest thing to Zero chatter on the walkie-talkies.  There's usually a fair amount happening on the radios whether it applies to you or not -- warnings to have an actor on set in ten minutes, questions about whether or not all of the extras had showed up, requests for craft service to bring a fresh cooler to set, and, of course, hearing the A.D. yell "Rolling" and "Cut" whenever they shot a take.  Now some sets (and the radios on them) are quieter than others, but radio silence was a new one on me.  I honestly don't recall the A.D. calling "Cuts & Rolls" more than two or three times all morning.

Eventually, we broke for lunch.  It was a "walk-away" lunch, so I still didn't get a chance to hear any gossip from anybody who had been on set during the morning.  About 1/2 hour after we got back from lunch, the A.D. announced on the radios, (as if it was a completely normal sort of announcement), "That's a wrap, folks.  There will be no call sheets for tomorrow.  Please see your department heads to get a call time and location to unload trucks tomorrow"!

I still don't know the details, but it was decided that the movie couldn't be shot with it's current cast and the studio had decided to pull the plug.  We had exposed less than 100' of film.  D'oh!

I didn't have a truck to help wrap the next day, so I handed in my walkie-talkie and went home having worked one day of prep and one day of shooting on Atuk.

Now, here's what I gleaned this morning from the geniuses at Wikipedia.  It seems that Atuk is CURSED! Yeah...CURSED!  The first time the script appeared, John Belushi read it and was very enthusiastic about making the movie.  He died of a drug overdose before the movie could go into pre-production.  The version with Sam Kinison, you just read about.  According to Wiki, the studio later sued him for walking off the production, leaving him destitute when a settlement was reached. Shortly after that, in 1992, he died in a car accident. John Candy was the third comic actor approached to play the role and he died of a heart attack while he was reading the script!  Chris Farley is said to have been approached to star in the film, but in 1997, when he was rumored to be ready to accept the role, he too, died of a drug overdose.

The curse is also alleged to have killed others, just for having read the script or for being friends with actors slated to play Atuk. 
The movie was also referenced in the commentary track for 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, in which Adam McKay repeatedly pitches a screenplay called "Eskimo in New York" to Will Ferrell. Will remarks several times that he doesn't think it will make a good movie, and refuses to be a part of it.

I'm not particularly superstitious but I'm glad I've never seen the script.


Eric said...

Perhaps it was written in iambic pentameter by Vogons.

Janiece said...

It does explain your zombie pancreas, however.

Nathan said...

But I never read the script.

Eric said...

Janiece has a point, Nathan: you were exposed, however indirectly. Have you asked around to see if anybody who saw the cover page or maybe a call sheet had any kind of illness or disease? Did you mention this to your doctor the last time you were in?

Nathan said...

Nathan's Doctor: Is there anything else you've been exposed to that might be contributing to this condition?

Me: Well, I once met some people who had read the script for Atuk.

Nathan's Doctor: I'll have to check the literature on that. I know that you had to be directly exposed to that video from The Ring to die, but maybe there's a strain of Atuk that is partially communicable.