SODOM, Israel — After nearly three weeks of crew problems that appeared to threaten Sylvester Stallone's third "Rambo" epic, filming by the Dead Sea near here looks to be getting back on track.
"If you need to find me, darlin', you know where I'll be. Just look for the next bomb blast." With that, Sylvester Stallone smiled and prepared to go back into action Monday--in midday temperatures of more than 120 degrees--as the star of "Rambo: First Blood Part III."
Stallone wore his usual Rambo uniform: dark pants and boots, headband, bare chest and muscles. He also sported a new-to-this-sequel accessory, a specially made foot-long knife.
For the scene he filmed, Stallone piloted a mock Russian HIND M124 helicopter (actually a refurbished American model helicopter) in an attempt to rescue his mentor, Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna), and Afghani prisoners from invading Soviets. (Israel is doubling for Afghanistan.)
In other words, in this, the fourth week of filming, it's business as usual on the set of Carolco's "Rambo III."
Finally --after a spate of behind-the-scenes creative conflicts during the film's first 2 1/2 weeks of filming.
According to sources on the set, the problems stemmed from some key crew members' varying interpretations of what the next "Rambo" movie should look like, to personality conflicts among crew members, the producers and/or Stallone.
When Stallone arrived on the set two weeks ago, he called the situation "a runaway train."
As a result, director of photography Ric Waite (whose credits include "Cobra"), assistant director Andy Stone and the entire camera crew were dismissed. P. David Gurfinkel, who shot "Over the Top," is now the "Rambo III" cinematographer .
And Peter MacDonald, 48, is making his directorial debut--replacing Russell Mulcahy.
For a brief period, it also looked as if property master Sam Moore might exit the project.
But, stressed Moore in an interview on the set near here, "My plans to leave had nothing to do with the other problems that were going on. Mine was strictly a heat-of-the-moment burst of anger on my part with another party." (He declined to name that party. "But it was not Mr. Stallone.") He explained: "My anger lingered on for a day and a half and a lot of things were said on my part that I probably shouldn't have said. Those things have since been repaired, and we've shaken hands."
Of the crew changes that did take place, Moore said, "They had to do with different personalities, different opinions."
Said line producer Buzz Feitshans: "Sometimes you have a mixture of people. None of them, on their own, are wrong. It's just that when you put them together, the chemistry is off. In our case, the mixture didn't work."
Added executive producer and Carolco Chairman Andy Vajna, "What happened was unfortunate, but the fact is you really don't know how people will end up working together until you get them on the set." In the case of Mulcahy, Vajna surmised, "I think Russell was really frustrated (because) his vision of 'Rambo' wasn't our vision of 'Rambo.' "
Vajna, Feitshans and Stallone all stressed that the crew changes were based on a consensus and that Mulcahy's departure was a mutual decision, reached after discussions with the director.
Still, to those who have followed the saga of this, the latest "Rambo" sequel, the Mulcahy departure is surprising because he has been associated with the project for more than a year after being hand-picked by Stallone.
But Mulcahy has never worked on a film the scale of "Rambo." (His credits include rock videos and the cult films "Razorback" and "The Highlander.")
Said Stallone: "The canvas of this movie is so large you have to constantly think 10 scenes ahead. You can't wing it. They didn't go into the Battle of Waterloo not knowing what their strategy would be. Well, this movie is kind of like a cinematic warfare. We have a huge cast and crew (more than 250 people) and tough locations to deal with. Everyone and everything has to coordinate."
Of the decision to move MacDonald into the director's slot, Stallone said, "Are you kidding? He directed the action scenes in 'Rambo II'--some of the most outstanding footage in that movie. He's also probably the best camera operator in the world. He can pull this off."
A veteran of 31 years in the industry, MacDonald served as director of photography on the recent "Hamburger Hill." And he was the second-unit director for films including "The Empire Strikes Back," "Labyrinth" and "Dragonslayer."
Still, said MacDonald, he had to be talked into making his on-the-spot directorial debut. "Sly convinced me that with what he knows about his character and with the support of everyone that we could make it work. Sly and the producers had more trust in me than I had in myself."
He smiled, adding philosophically, "Only time will tell."