Monday, August 31, 2009

Learning Spanish for THE CASTILIAN

My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

There was a lot to do before the start of principal photography, and since we had the right of approval on the casting of all the principal parts, we were included in the casting sessions. We were hopeful of securing actors who could at least learn their lines in English - even with an accent. We would be forced to dub all of the voices later anyway, due to the inability of the Spanish technicians to maintain quiet while the shooting was going on. They, like the Italians, were accustomed to dubbed pictures and were still hiring actors for their looks without regard to their voices. It was not uncommon to have two actors for each role, one you saw and another you only heard.
Since I had a limited understanding of Spanish, I was completely dependent upon Jose Luis Bayonas, the son of my Spanish professor. Bayonas could have been a movie star himself. He was even more handsome than Gregory Peck, to whom he bore and uncanny resemblance. He was completely fluent in both English and French, and he had a deep resonant voice, which all of the women called sexy. He had a constant troupe of females trailing him, and he was so weak when it came to saying no to women that he was always in hot water. This, together with his inherent laziness, kept him from the success that cold so easily have been his. Bayonas appeared in small parts in almost every one of my Spanish productions, and he became the associate producer and assistant producer on the Pink permanent payroll.
Bayonas was great at his job, and I depended completely upon him for my Spanish translation until I began to get the feeling that he was not telling me the truth about what was being said around me, and even sometimes to me. I don't know what tipped me off, unless it could have been the looks tht some of the technicians, actors, and workmen were casting at each other. Not that Bayonas was protecting anyone but me; he just didn't want to hurt me by giving the exact translation of what was said. I knew then I had to learn to speak Spanish, well enough to defend myself against the possibility of being taken, due to his overprotectiveness.
I learned Spanish in exactly thirteen days and nights. I bought every "quick-learn" book available, and I insisted that Bayonas spend every working hour (evenings too) helping me to master the art of Spanish conversation. I didn't give a damn about the verbs or tenses of the proper accent. I just wanted to know how to say what I needed to say and be able to understand what was being said to me.
Two weeks after I felt sure I was being played for a fool, I was able to understand what was being said around me. I didn't get every word, but I damn sure knew the meaning of every sentence. I swore Bayonas to secrecy, and I spent the next week discovering what I had sensed was true. Not that anyone was deliberately sabotaging anything I wanted done; it was more in the sense of poking fun at what they perceived was my naivete in asking for things they felt was unnecessary and the rather uncomplimentary way in which they perceived Americans in general. I let a week pass before I made my move.
It was a Tuesday morning when I heard a particularly nasty remark about the "stupidity" of our attempts to make a scratch soundtrack to be used in our dubbing. Their norm was to have the script girl write the dialogue as it was said, in shorthand, and then later type it on a dialogue sheet for ultimate use in the dubbing studio. The Spanish, with utter disregard of lip sync, did their cutting with no soundtrack to guide them, and they cut solely for action. This permitted an editor to cut right into the middle of a word of important pause. This meant nothing to a Spanish or Italian producer, since thye redubbed everything in the studio without continuous lip synchronization. We needed the perfection that American and British audiences were accustomed to seeing. None of these technicians had ever worked on an international film before, and they scoffed at what they saw as the "nit-picking" that was making their jobs more difficult.
I was angry. I said in my best Spanish (good enough for them to understand every word): "I understand what you are saying and I have understood for a long time. Now I am telling you I will not tolerate any more of your slurs. The next one who complains about the way we do things will be looking for another job." There was a stunned silence, and from that day on, we worked with mutual respect and understanding, and that crew became as disciplined and expert as any I had in the States. We were even able to shoot direct sound in our next picture PYRO, which had all English-speaking actors. From the day of that outburst until the day I left Spain, all of our conversations were held directly with me in Spanish.

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