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Tom Savini Journal from Django Unchained #4

April 9th: We are picked up at the hotel at 5:30 am and taken to the set. It’s at a swamp but we are delivered to our trailers just off the highway near a dirt road leading to the swamp. I get into costume with the rest of the Tracker’s: Dave Steen, Ted Neeley, James Parks, Robert Carradine, Mike (never learned his last name) and a few others who I never quite met. The ones I mentioned became our little click, especially me and James and Dave. Robert had a hump on his back as part of his costume and character and all day whenever somebody said anything about his hump he said “What hump? (ala Young Frankenstein. Get it?)

We were hanging out on set outside the Tracker hut. A rather spacious kind of bunkhouse that would be where we lived on the plantation. It had bunks and a huge stone fireplace, a wood stove and a table and some crude chairs, and would be where we are all killed later on in the movie on the rebuilt interior on a sound stage sometime in the middle of May.

Leonardo DiCaprio arrived on the set and came over and introduced himself to us and I didn’t realize it till later when I saw his performance that he introduced himself to us….in character. He is playing the leader, the head, the master of the plantation as a fragile, but tough as nails Southern aristocratic gentleman… slavemaster, and that is how he had introduced himself to us.

I am very impressed with Leonardo DiCaprio. One, he is one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever seen. Forget him on screen. In person he is stunning, gorgeous, extremely good looking. I kept staring at him when he was talking to us and I really felt like kissing him. I AM NOT GAY… but I had the same feeling that you get when talking to a beautiful woman. It was the beauty that was attractive, and his manner. There is a reason people like him are movie stars. And on set…he would be there, off camera for someone else’s close up, and be a hundred percent THERE for them. In character and doing it in full out performance mode all day for them. When he is not even on camera… but doing it for the other performers down to the least featured characters.

When the camera WAS on him he was amazing. Varying his performance and giving a wide variety of deliveries take after take. This is a true movie star and professional.

I asked for the dogs and I got the dogs, and at the end of the day, Dave and I will have to go to the hospital and get Tetanus shots.

Quentin wanted to see who would be good with the attack dogs. I mentioned to him that I wanted to be one of the Trackers who cared for and trained and handled the dogs. They sent me and James and Dave to work with the dog trainers. A really lovely lady named Tamira, her husband, and Tom Roach, a young trainer who worked with me. He brought out Bullet, an older dog, ten years old and this dog was smart and had talent. Tom said “left side” and Bullet rolled over onto his left side. Tom said “right side”, and Bullet rolled over onto his right side. Tom said “stand, sit, beg, lie down, hit your mark” and Bullet did everything he said. Tom put a dog treat on Bullet’s nose, and Bullet just sat there looking at it until Tom said get it, and Bullet would flip it in the air and catch it in his mouth.

Tom handed me Bullet’s leash and said he was going to put Bullet in “Aggitated mode” and it was up to me to hold onto him. He told me to brace myself and showed me how to hold the leash and gave Bullet and little hand single and the dog went berserk. Barking and yelping and jumping up and advancing on Tom’s position. It was like holding back a car… HE WAS GOING TO GET TO TOM… and I was just a hanger on.

Tom showed me where to put my hand, holding the loop at the end of the leash sort of behind me against the side of my waist, and bending my legs and that really helped me center myself and made it harder for Bullet to pull me but I’m telling you…it was a workout. I worked with Bullet for a while and pretty soon I was leading him around and forcing him to go where I wanted to go. Tom said “Just go where you want to go with confidence and the dog would feel it and go with you.  Pull on his leash but don’t tug on it cause that makes him think you want him to attack. Be forceful with words like “Stay,” and “Come with me,” and “Mark,” for making him stay on his mark, and “Leave it,” when you want him to not play.” I got really comfortable with Bullet and it looked like he was my dog and I had been with him a long time.

When we got to the set, me and James and Dave were to have the dogs in “Agitated mode” holding them back and away from a runaway slave who climbed a tree to get away from the dogs. The head trainer thought it would be a better match for some reason if I had one of the younger dogs name Hank and took Bullet and gave him to Dave. I didn’t know Hank, hadn’t worked with him and he seemed a lot more rambunctious. The trainers hid near the tree and gave a the signal and all three dogs went insane…barking and yelping and trying to climb the tree, and running in circles and running at the tree again.  Otto, the young black actor playing the escaped slave D’artagnan was up in the tree acting suitably scared.

On the way to the set a handsome cowboy on a most gorgeous horse called out my name. It was Freddie Hice. He looked great. Tanned and healthy and hasn’t change since 1980. We talked later about that experience and how he was hurt when they cabled off a motorcycle he was riding, as me in the film, and his thigh bones slammed into the handle bars, and how almost every stuntman on that movie got hurt. On the last day of the last stunt after two stuntmen did a “cable off” the stunt men jumped up, checked themselves over, saw they did not have any broken fingers or collar bones and screamed with joy.

Soon, a gorgeous fancy carriage being pulled by a really beautiful and huge Clydesdale horse, and carrying Leonardo, and Christoff Woltz, the Academy award winning German actor who played that amazing Nazi in Quentin’s Inglorious Basterds, pulls into the scene. Leonardo has some words with D’artagnan reprimanding him for running away and saying he paid five hundred dollars for him and he expects five fights. He tells us to shut those damn dogs up so he can think, and Dave hands me back Bullet and I take Bullet and Hank out of the scene.

We did this over and over again and on one take I heard Dave yelling, like he did in most to the takes, but this time it was different. He was sort of screaming “FUCK!!!!!” and when I turned to look he was being attacked by the other two dogs. One dog had bit him square on the ass tearing off his pant and pulling him down to the ground, and Bullet was making a beeline for his throat. Just as Dave put up his hand to protect himself from Bullet the trainers ran in and calmed the dogs down. Dave was upset and kept saying he was “bit.  The first A.D called “Lunch.” We all left and were taken to lunch at a catering camp just off the highway down the road. We just let them take care of Dave. After lunch we saw Dave and he said he had holes in his butt and when we wrapped shooting he would have to go get a Tetanus shot. We continued the shooting, and on one take I went to get Bullet from Dave to take out of the scene and I felt an incredible pressure on my left arm as if a vice had suddenly closed on it…then I felt the teeth.

When I reached out to take Bullet I had extended my arm out too much to Dave and Bullet, in “agitated mode”…went for my arm. I continued to exit the scene as I was supposed to but the trainers came in and stopped it and removed Bullet from my arm.  We rolled up my sleeve and there was hardly anything there. Two of the tiniest little bruises but my arm hurt like hell. It wasn’t from the teeth but the pressure Bullet put on my forearm muscle. So, of course, I have to get a shot. I didn’t want to but they insisted that I must.

So Dave and I became the favored actors, members of the same club…The “He who was attacked by the same dog” club.  Quentin came over and said “I only have my best guys attacked.” On the way to the hospital Dave and I wondered how they were going to react when we tell them he and I were attacked by the SAME DOG.

The hospital was a breeze. They were waiting for us and after filling out some simple papers they gave us the shots and we were out of there. Dave went to his room but I absolutely HAD to get to a drugstore and get some gel foam foot inserts as the boots I have been wearing had become Viet Cong torture devices. It was unbearable. I felt like I was walking on wood turned sideways every step I took. I bought four pair. The idea being to put two in each boot.

Check out Tom Savini’s Django Unchained Journal Entry #5!

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