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Across the river, into the trees

I spent a good deal of January and February 2021 on a movie set, but it wasn’t a very positive experience

Through a friend I got a job as a body double for Liev Schreiber on the set of a movie adaption of Hemingway‘s last novel Across the River, into the Trees.

There are some scenes where the protagonist rows a Venetian boat, but Liev hadn’t managed to learn the technique sufficiently well.

With a bit of makeup, a haircut and letting the beard grow we do look alike a bit. He looks older then me. He isn’t.

So far so good. I was to go and do some rowing scenes instead of Liev, and I’m not somebody to let go of a chance to fool around in a boat in a movie, so I accepted.

The boring part

Then came the boring part.

Or rather, the boring parts, because overall working as a double on a movie set is immensely boring.

They kept calling me for all sorts of non-rowing things. I spent days going around knocking on doors searching for something nobody ever told me what was. Lucia, the double of the female lead in the movie, drove me up and down canals in a vintage motorboat for days on end.

They would summon me for the most inconvenient hours, sometimes at 6am, other times at 8pm. Costume and makeup, that’s a couple of hours, then to the set in a motorboat.

On the set I would sometimes spend ten to twelve hours doing nothing whatsoever, dressed up as a 1950s US Army colonel. Some days they would have me do something, most often as a stand-in, but other days I would do absolutely nothing.

The most interesting days were with the second crew doing B-shots. At least I was doing something rather than just hang around.

After a few weeks I realised that they only called me three days each week. They had everybody work 12-14 hour days, so after three days they’d have to pay overtime. That’s after 40 hours weekly here in Italy. The trick was of course to have us work a full week, but only pay us for three days.

Kind of clever of them, but not exactly endearing. In the end we did very long days for much less than minimum wage.

Finally, finally we arrived at the scene where I would be rowing, and they told me to be at base at 6am. I was on the set at 8am, and sat there until 5pm. When they eventually got to the rowing part, Liev wanted to do it. I had to wait even longer before he gave up.

The rowing scenes

Another month passed before we got to the final rowing scene.

This was up in the northern lagoon, and I had to get up at 4am so they could pick me up in a car at 6am, and the days were just as long.

The first day up there I did nothing. What they did didn’t actually involve any rowing, just the boat as a stationary prop.

The second day I met a young man on the boat who proudly told me that he was going to row in the movie.

The fools had forgotten why they’d called me in the first place, and had called in somebody else. We didn’t anything all day, as the camera crew didn’t show up. They hadn’t been paid.

I spend the day fooling around in the boat, followed by a fairly good lunch. The next day the other guy didn’t come, and I got do the rowing bit.

Then, when I thought the ordeal was finally over, they asked me to go to Trieste for another scene there in a car on a road overlooking the Golf of Trieste.

The Aftermath

The Italian production company behind Across the River, Into the Trees hadn’t paid anybody for two months, and there was a lot of grumbling on the set the last few days.

That’s why the camera crew didn’t show up one of the last days.

The company kept promising, and kept not keeping their promises. Their lawyers even sent formal letters with promises that weren’t kept.

In the end I had to threaten repeatedly to withdraw the permission to use my image in the movie to get them to pay. They only paid me in September.

I was on the set a bit in December 2020, then a good deal in January and February 2021, and a few days in March.

They didn’t pay friends of mine, who manage places where the second crew stayed and ate, until later still.

Needless to say, I’m not going to run around looking for movie sets. It’s probably the most boring job I’ve ever done, and my first job as a teenager was washing dishes.

The movie Across the River, Into the Trees

The movie is still in post-production. I have no idea when it’ll be out, or even where.

I don’t think my name will be in the credits, but I’m at a point where I frankly don’t care.

The shots where the colonel is seen from the back or in the distance will most likely be me rather than Liev, though I know he did some distant shots too.

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