Tuesday, June 17, 2003

June 17, 2003
It was ten years ago this month that Jeff Morey called me and asked me if I wanted to visit the movie set of Tombstone. I took along Deena (13) and we drove down to Tucson, picked up Jeff at Bob Palmquist’s house and headed for Sonoita and Elgin. Finally got to the set around two. It was up a canyon, probably less than three miles from where Dave Daiss now has his ranch.

I remember there were huge cables running out of a couple big semi-tractors and we followed them up the draw to a “Cowboy Camp.” We immediately recognized Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer (who had on pasty, white makeup).

I was immediately knocked out by the authentic costuming and commented to Jeff it was the best hats I had ever seen in a Western. A security guy came by and warned me not to take any photos. I promised and tucked my Nikon around behind my hip.

We wandered through the set, then ambled up a small hillock where we could see the action. The Earp vendetta posse rode over the top of a Mexican cowboy (they were filming the close-up on his face, swearing in Spanish, with his eyes bugged out). They yelled, "That's a take," broke down and set up in front of a cowboy tent where the posse confronted one of the cowboys. The director and author of the screenplay, Kevin Jarre, stepped in front of the camera and showed Kurt Russell how he wanted the fight to go. I noticed Kevin’s movements were very Victorian and Queensburyish. I thought it was very original. Unfortunately, when Kurt tried to mimic him, his moves were patent B-movie fighting and the scene quickly disintegrated into a stock, Hollywood punch-out.

Later, Kevin Jarre sought out Jeff and I sitting on the hill and he sat down to talk to us. I told him how much I liked the hats and he beamed. Instinctively, I pulled my camera up and shot off a photo of Jeff and Kevin (as we left I also snuck one of the fight scene being filmed from a reverse angle. Kurt Russell sat on a ladder instead of his horse).

We watched part of two setups, which was no doubt a tiny fraction of probably 120 shots they planned for the movie.

Two days later, I got the call that Kevin had been fired as director and that they were bringing in the director of Rambo and Cobra to finish the movie. Of course the finished product made money and is considered a cult classic by guys of my ilk (typically, none of the scenes we watched ended up in the movie). But I’ve often wondered if Kevin could have actually filmed the version he had in his head, would it have been even that much better? And, for the past ten years I have wondered about what was the final straw. I’ve heard rumblings from some of the extras, “He was moving too slow,” and “he insisted on using sticks (tripod bound cameras) totally.”

Last weekend when we were filming in Turkey Creek Canyon, I asked one of the crew who had worked on Tombstone if he could cast any light on why Kevin lost his job, and the guy says, “I know exactly when he lost his job. They were filming a fight scene and Kevin insisted on this bullshit way of fighting and Kurt just lost it. That was the final straw and Kevin was out of there.”

So not only did I get a photo of Kevin Jarre (he also wrote Glory the excellent Civil War movie that got Denzel Washington his first Oscar) at the exact moment he lost his movie, but I learned a valuable lesson: sometimes you can be too creative and too historically accurate for your own good.

By the way, I ran the photo of Kevin and Jeff in “The Illustrated Life & Times of Wyatt Earp,” fourth edition, page 136.

"Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty."
—Mark Twain

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