Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dead in Five Heartbeats, Three Days in the Desert

It’s been a couple of weeks now since principle filming wrapped on the set of Dead in Five Heartbeats, the movie based on the novel of the same name penned by the man himself, Sonny Barger ( I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days on set in the Phoenix area just prior to the last days of production. Who says working in the motorsicle bidness doesn’t have its perks!? Sure as hell isn’t me. Still can’t believe I get paid for this, but I’ll take it
Yours truly (lower left) and my extra pals. Jeff Black, the star of Dead in Five Heartbeats lurks in the back row (five from left)
My ticket to the “fantasy factory” that is a modern day movie set was the fact that our company, Tucker Rocky, had stepped up to the plate as the official apparel sponsor of the flick. We provided River Road ( and Speed and Strength ( clothing for the lead characters, as well as, some of the extras. While the story is based on a work of fiction, all the action and characterization is straight out of real life……..well, more to the point, straight out of Sonny’s life. That’s not to say it’s a film biography, because it’s not. What it means is pretty much everything you see on screen happened at some time, to someone, in some context. Think a mix of reality show, documentary and full on feature film and you’re getting warm.

Jeff Santo (son of a very famous Cub by the same last name, you can look it up) is the director and creative genius behind the scenes. On a set populated by more than its share of “real deal” bikers and club members, Jeff blends right in. And if you want to find out just how tough he is……..start up a conversation during filming. Yeah, don’t screw with him. That said, Jeff was warm and engaging, and when he had time he was more than generous tolerating my non-stop barrage of questions. He brings a respect for the material and a passion for film making that is truly infectious. You can’t help but be stoked.
Jeff Santo (center in blue) working with cast and crew

The team Jeff’s assembled is a mixed bag of industry pros and kids newly minted out of film school, a totally rag-tag army of enthusiasm, all in it for the love of the game. With the budget these guys have to work with, no one, and I mean no one, is getting rich. Did I mention these are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met? Just try wrangling bulky lighting rigs in 110 degree Arizona heat for twelve hours and you get the idea. Now do it for weeks on end for very little dough. These people redefine dedicated.

Remember when I mentioned “part reality show”? There’s a reason for that. See, aside from the lead character Patch, played by Jeff Black (great guy and a dead ringer for a younger Sonny Barger) and appearances by David Dela Rocco (Boondock Saints!!), and Dan Haggerty, the rest of the cast are either first time actors, or actual club members…….talk about type casting. And the crazy thing is, it works, and it works well. These guys life the live, so they know what’s real and what’s not. Everything from making subtle changes to the dialog to correcting the way bikes would be parked at a clubhouse; these guys ensure that this movie oozes with authenticity. You think a real One Percenter is going to utter dialog that doesn’t ring true, ah yeah, not gonna happen.
Jeff's hard working crew resets lighting for filming another camera angle

As is the case on any movie set, locations change on a nearly daily basis. Day one of my time on set  we  found ourselves at an actual clubhouse, refitted with Infidelz paraphernalia (it’s amazing the level of detail involved, from the club support t-shirts, neon bar signs, and even motorcycle accessories adorned with Infidelz logos……very cool!). The next day we were in downtown Phoenix in a working class neighborhood filming at what looked like an abandoned deli/bar/restaurant that had the patio converted to represent the Infidelz Arizona clubhouse’s outdoor bar. And that’s when I got my big break.

As I stood on the periphery of the set, doing my best to stay well out of the way (not always easy in the organized chaos that is a working set), I got a tap on the shoulder. Figuring I was impeding the progress of some harried sound guy, or an overburdened gaffer, I spun around while stepping out of what would have been the path of my unknown victim, only to see Zorana Barger (better known as “Z”) holding an Infidelz cut in her hand……..”so do you want to be an extra today, one of our guys is a no-show?” “Say what!?” OK, this just got real.
Patch's Victory gets set up with a camera rig

“Ah, sure”, I think I muttered………….how could you say no to Z?? Simple answer, you don’t! And to be honest the thought of having even the smallest part in the production of this movie sounded pretty cool, something to talk shit about with my riding buds. I’d be forever on film………or digitized, (DI5H was shot in a very high tech 3-D, as well as, conventional HD) or whatever. Cool.  I threw on my jean cut; damn, I wish I could have had one of the badass leather jobs, at least I was a “full patch” member and not a prospect!

I nervously ambled out to the set where I was promptly instructed by Jeff Santo to go get mic’d up. Huh? Standing around trying to look tough, maybe I could do that……..but dialog, with real actors, on a real set, with real movie people??? All the fun of playing pretend biker was replaced by the cold fear of screwing up. Screwing up in Sonny’s movie, screwing up after Z asked me to help out. Oh man……….
My acting partner and scene stealer Chico (r), an actual club member, funny guy, and damn good actor

Turns out I had only a couple of lines, and I guess it went pretty well, God knows Jeff has more than enough takes and camera angles to choose from so anything I did to mess up those scenes can most likely be disguised by skillful editing. And who knows, maybe sanity will ultimately prevail and they’ll cut me out altogether………one thing I do know is, you’re going to have to wait until the flick comes out to see if yours truly made it up on the silver screen. Sorry, no spoiler alerts here.

As we wrapped for the day Amy ( Amy ran the entire wardrobe department for DI5H, was our main link to the production team, and is one of the hardest working people I have ever met) came up to me and asked what I was doing for dinner. Seems her and her husband were going out for a bite, and there was a chance we would hook up with Sonny and Z, did I want to tag along? A chance to meet the man himself, have some food and real conversation!?!? Oh hell yes…….I’m in.

We drove to the outskirts of Phoenix to a little family owned Amish restaurant (who knew, Amish in the desert!) where we met up with Mr. and Mrs. Barger. After nearly 25 years in the motorbike business I’ve had the opportunity to meet countless racers from Rossi to Spies (for a number of seasons I actually managed a top flight AMA Supersport team for Cycle Gear), industry bigwigs, famous builders, Hollywood luminaries, and the like, but this was on a whole other level. I was stoked beyond belief; Sonny Barger and me, having dinner, just talking. Very cool.
The legend, Sonny Barger and me

We talked for more than a couple of hours, covering a wide range of topics, and while I don’t want to get into specifics, it was after all a dinner, not a formal interview, I would like to share a few impressions of the man about which so much has been written and said (much of it unfortunately nothing but rumors, untruths and outright lies). 

First off, the man is a real rider, a real enthusiast. He digs motorcycles, and he knows his shit. He’s up on all the current machines, and has opinions about motorcycling that might just surprise a few folks.  Not a shocker when  you remember that he owned a repair shop in Oakland back in the day. He still rides whenever he can, and enjoys the hell out of it. For that matter, Z is quite an accomplished motorbike pilote herself.

 First and foremost, for Sonny  it’s about the bikes… it should be. As we talked I was also impressed by what a humble, thoughtful person he is. No big ego, no bravado, no “do you know who I am” BS, just a regular, down to earth authentic man. That said, there’s no doubt that you’re in the presence of a real leader, someone used to commanding, demanding  and ultimately getting respect. Of that fact, there is little doubt. And the man doesn’t miss a trick, while we were chatting he even noticed that my watch was still on Texas time……..impressive. He loves animals and is passionate about his horses, up at dawn every day to feed and water them. You can tell they’re much more than “pets” to Mr. Barger. Oh, and by the by, I’ll bet you’ve always mispronounced Sonny’s last name……….most of us have. Here’s the deal, Barger is pronounced, “Bar-grrr” with a hard “g” as in "Gerber"; not with a soft “g” as in "Germany". So now ya know……….say it right!

Lastly, Sonny is fully committed to Dead in Five Heartbeats, he has been involved in every detail from the outset and has been a valuable resource to Jeff and his crew (no wonder really, he did after all, write the book…….which if you haven’t read, you should, it’s damn good). And that feeling of being "all in" for the cause is reciprocated by the film crew, everyone wants to get this thing right for Sonny. The passion and respect that permeates this project is truly amazing. And for that reason alone, I think we’re in for a really special treat when the movie hits the big screen.

Stay tuned for Dead in Five Heartbeats updates…………