One important scene takes place in a bar at a pool table. I knew that there could be no worthy substitute for a bar, so I went in search of the right one early in my locations scouting process. What I was looking for was a downscale place with either a single pool table, or one that was fairly isolated from others. I wanted something a bit cozy, but also with enough room to enable good camera work.
After visiting several dozen places, I found two good prospects and asked in each for the bar owners’ contact information. I made the phone calls and left messages about what I wanted. No one returned the calls, so I tried again. Same result.
When Angel came to Dallas on his first visit, I took him by the two bars. We talked to the managers on duty. They took my number and promised to have someone call me. Again, no one did. This was going nowhere fast.
Another place that Angel and I considered was a big cavernous bar on a highway well outside of town. He liked it a lot because it was a down-trodden place of the sort the movie’s character would visit. I was worried about it because of acoustics issues and the fact that it was open 7 days a week, morning to night, so we’d have to contend with patrons’ noise.
After Angel left, I reinitiated the search and found another prospect, a bar in the Lakewood section of Dallas. This one was good because the guy behind the bar at noon, when the place opened, said he was the owner of the business. He was eager to have the film at his bar and agreed to the sum I was offering. He signed the Location Agreement.
Something about the man made me uneasy. He had hard, unfeeling eyes and a snide attitude. I decided that I would look for a backup bar in case he changed his mind, although I had no inkling of why he would.
The next bar I found was equally good, Belzie’s Bar. It had an isolated pool table and sufficient room. And, like the Lakewood place, the business owner was there. He also agreed to the sum I offered and said he would sign the agreement after his attorney looked at it.
I went back to Belzie’s several times over the next three months trying to get a signed agreement, but was unable to close the deal. Lakewood looked like it would be the film site.
During pre-production, only a couple of days before we were to begin filming—with the first scene scheduled to be at the bar—I took some crew to Lakewood to do some measurements. I had been unable to reach the owner to tell him we were coming by, but thought it should be no problem to go by during the bar’s open hours.
When we entered, the crew began looking for electric sockets near the pool table. The woman behind the bar asked what the hell was going on. I was outside and was called in to talk with her.
It is hard to describe the level of animosity she projected when I told her that the owner had agreed to let us film at the bar. She said, “No way. I am joint owner and I agreed to absolutely nothing.” No amount of kind words would warm her up. She didn’t say the deal was off, but I was worried.
I tried to call the man who’d signed the agreement, but still couldn’t get through to him. Very worried, I scrambled to reconnect with my alternative, Belzie’s Bar.
Fortunately, I reached the owner’s assistant, who said that, yes, the film could still be done at Belzie’s starting on Sunday morning. I made arrangements for the bar to be opened for us at 5 am, with a promise that we would have it to ourselves until 2 pm, the normal opening time on Sundays.
I was really, really on edge Saturday night before filming started for a host of reasons. Among them was worry that no one would really show up to open Belzie’s and that they would not answer the phone at 4:30 in the morning to get them to do so. And, that evening, 12 hours before we were to being filming, the guy from Lakewood finally contacted me. He emailed one sentence saying that I was no longer welcome to film at his bar. That was no surprise and I’d already shifted to Belzie’s, so it didn’t matter. I speculate that he’d intended not telling his partner about the film and pocketing the location fee himself, but couldn’t get away with it.
At 4:30 am I was standing in the dark outside Belzie’s when the equipment truck pulled up. My heart soared as I realized that now my filming was to begin. And at the same time, I was gripped with fear that we’d still be standing outside hours from now, waiting to get in. But just then, the door opened. Elation!
Inside, I saw no one I recognized, not the owner, his manager, nor any of the bar personnel. An entirely new guy was having a drink already at the bar, claiming that he was the new owner. I gulped hard and went to talk to him about doing a Location Agreement and was wondering whether I had to pay a second location fee, as the first one had already been paid to the “first owner.”
After I had got agreement from the second owner, the first owner arrived. He sat at the other end of the bar to have a drink and was glowering at the new owner. When the manager came, I asked her what was going on with the ownership. She explained that the bar had been sold to pay a debt between the two and the closing of the sale wouldn’t take place until the next day, Monday, so I was still okay with the first location agreement. She went on to say that the two men were enemies and would best be kept apart. Oh, great, I thought, just what we need—two guys who hate each other drinking at 5:00 am.
Soon filming got underway and I no longer thought about the bar owners. Not, at least, until we neared noon. Suddenly I noticed that there were patrons coming in, which not only messed up the lighting with sunlight every time the door opened, but caused noise and disruption. I asked the owners what was going on.
I learned that the new owner had decided that he would change the Sunday hours from opening at 2:00 to opening at 12:00 to allow patrons to see the Cowboys’ game on TV. We were nearing a wrap on this scene, so I negotiated for them to keep the TV on mute another 45 minutes. I told Roger we had to put it in high gear, as we needed to get out and get on with the next location anyway.
As we left Belzie’s, I was so very glad the scene was done and fervently hoped that no other locations would be as problematic. More importantly, I was grateful that I had a backup plan for the bar. And I vowed that from now on, I would check the ownership question more carefully.