How mortal combat taught me enlightenment

This guy I was travelling with in Cambodia had a portable games console. He had just about everything actually, in a backpack that weighed twice as much as he did. Unloading off a boat in Phnom Penh, the baggage guy dropped the whole thing in the Mehkong. Fortunately the console survived.

We toured Angkor Wat together, and almost at the top of the central temple we got chatting to a group of monks. They wanted us to read to them from an English book of Buddhist teachings.  I’d read that it was culturally insensitive to hand anything directly to a monk – you’re supposed to lay it on the floor for them to collect. However by the way they reached over and helped themselves to our cigarettes, I decided that the guidebook may have got that wrong.

Then my companion pulled out his console. The monks lost interest in the book as he queued up a bout on Mortal Kombat and handed it over. One of the younger monks took charge, while the others gathered round to watch.

Now if you don’t know Mortal Kombat, it’s an arcade style fighting game, known for its high levels of bloody violence.  One particularly vicious feature is the ‘Fatality’ whereby the winning player gets to execute the loser in one of a number of sadistic methods. It takes a good knowledge of the game, and a complex combination of button presses to perform. I was never able to do it.

When the monk’s game finished, I heard a strange sound. The scary computer voice announced ‘Friendship’ and I was just in time to see the monk’s character handing his opponent a present. This feature requires a one in a million combination of button presses.

Or perhaps just an enlightened soul.

How my life became a movie

My first gig in film was as a runner and stand-in for the male lead in I Want Candy, a British comedy inspired by the success of Hollywood’s gross-out renaissance of the late nineties. It’s about two film students who accidentally agree to make a pornographic film. I don’t suppose you’ve heard of it. The script read well enough, and the casting of Carmen Electra as a porn star with a heart of gold was a real coup for the studio. As a fresh-faced wannabe, the job was a dream come true. After just one day on set I was beginning to wonder what on earth I’d let myself in for.

“Hi Mum.”

“Hi Mike! How was your first day?”

“Oh good. Quite long, but good.”

The average call on set is around eleven hours. For a good runner that means a minimum of fourteen hours with a working lunch. You need to be first on, last off and always have a smile on your face. Add travel time and six day weeks, and you start to feel the strain. Complete the picture with a hard-ass first assistant director, and life can be pretty tough for six weeks. Then it’s back to unemployment and touting for your next gig.

“So what did you do?”

“Oh, you know, making tea. Standing-in.”

“And what does that entail?”

“The actors block the scene. You step in and pose while the Director of Photography lights it. Then you step out and the actor’s step back in.”

“And what scene did you do today?”

Well Mum. I lay on my back on a bed whilst a female runner whose name I haven’t caught yet straddled me and we simulated intercourse. The director, first and DP discussed how this should look, whilst five electricians fixed lamps and three camera guys checked levels and focus.

“Well Mum… it was a bit like Love Actually.”