The Paul McCartney Project

Filming of the “Say Say Say” promotional video

October 4 to October 7, 1983 • Posted in “A day in the life

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From Club Sandwich N°31, 1983:

The original idea for the clip accompanying “Say, Say, Say” was Paul’s. He was busy finishing off his “Pipes of Peace” album, and had his “Give My Regards To Broad Street” film to complete, but wanted you all to see him and Michael in “Say, Say, Say”. So it was pack the bags—and off we went to Los Angeles for four days.

The director was Bob Giraldi, who’d worked with Michael on his sensational “Beat It” video. The chosen location was a nice little town called Los Alamos, about 70 miles from LA (we later learned that this was the town where the world ‘s first atom bomb was exploded). My job is to scout out the locations and check that everything is okay. Fortunately, Trevor Jones is coming along. We’ve worked with Paul for some time, so know just what is required. We were all staying in a little town called Buellton (which is famous for its pea soup!) while Michael was staying down the road in Stavanger (which is famous for its pastries!). Paul and Linda are safely installed in the place they’ll be staying, and the next day I am due to drive Paul down to a meeting with Bob Giraldi to discuss the shooting. Paul takes one look at the hire car, though, and decides to drive me! It’s a real space-age Corvette, the dashboard’s all lit up with graphs, lights and things to tell you how many miles per gallon you’re doing at a certain speed. It certainly makes a pleasant change to be chauffeured by Paul McCartney!

Los Alamos itself is an amazing place—a real old cowboy town, straight out of the 1880s; you half expect John Wayne to walk down the main street. You’ll remember the scene in the finished video when Paul goes into the hotel, well that’s an incredible place too. The owner has kept it just like a hotel out of the 20s and 30s, and everything is right, even down to the magazines and toilet fittings! We’ve hired this warehouse, where they have built the sets you see in the finished video, and Paul and Linda come down for costume fittings and Paul learns all his dance steps from a choreographer called Jeff who’s great, really good and really fast. So, it’s all over by four in the afternoon, Paul and Linda go back for a rest, and we all relax—the calm before the storm. I go and have a look at another one of the cowboy towns further down Highway 101, it’s great, and the only thing that stops it being exactly like something out of “High Noon” is the town’s petrol station!

October 4th is the first day of the shoot, and we’re all up ridiculously early, something like 5.30a.m.! There are dozens of vintage cars on set when we arrive. They’ve all been perfectly restored for Hollywood films, and the only difference is that they’re all fitted with automatic transmission—apparently, actors can’t act and change gear at the same time!

The first shot is just of Paul, Linda and Michael looking over a truck. After being made up and in costume, Paul and Linda are on set, when it’s “Lights, action!” just like in the movies. It all goes well that first morning, except that one of the grips falls off a ladder, and is a bit shaken, so we break for lunch early. He’s okay, though, just a slightly sprained wrist. The local girls have laid on this beautiful barbeque for lunch. It’s a lovely hot day, and the trestle tables are all set up, so we sit down and eat, and “Say, say, say’ ‘—waddya know? It’s all “Meat, meat, meat’ ‘—a 280z. steak is no big deal over here.

It’s at lunch that the first of a series of amazing coincidences occur: The lady who owns the ranch where we’re filming is called Rita, and comes from Yorkshire! (She says that this bit of California is just like Yorkshire—except for the lizards and tarantulas!) After lunch, Paul, Linda and Michael went out to meet a bunch of local school kids who’d come down with their headmaster. They all signed autographs and chatted to the kids and made everybody very happy.

After lunch, we move on up to the orphanage to film a scene. Paul and Linda’s daughter, Heather, is in this scene, and she looks lovely. She runs across the lawn to meet Paul and Linda, who come up the hill with a big bag full of money for the kids. In the background, Michael’s doing this spectacular dance routine on top of the fence.

There’s a break in filming, and Trevor’s gone off to help Linda sort some things out when Paul asks me for a cup of tea. Now, normally, it’s no trouble, but when you’re virtually in the middle of the desert, this poses a problem! I run to get some hot water and wind up making the tea on a stone. It was a right rough old cup of tea, so I had to reboil the water to make a proper cup, which is something the Americans stilt haven’t mastered. The location is really out of the way, so when filming’s finished for the day, I take Paul and Linda’s truck back, while they hitch a ride back in Michael Jackson’s “wagon” —a Rolls Royce!

The next day, we’re back filming in Los Alamos in the Union Hotel. Paul is being filmed having a game of pool with this really tough-looking character (who is really the film’s director, Bob Giraldi). We then move outside, to film an important shot of Paul, Linda and Michael driving down the main street in this truck. Obviously they attract quite a crowd, who were held back on one side of the street. Everyone was busy setting the shot up, when Trevor noticed that the crowd were reflected in the hotel window, which was lucky, as he managed to prevent the shot being filmed, saving an expensive re-take.

They then all move upstairs, to film a shot in one of the rooms. Linda’s lying on the bed playing a guitar, while Paul is shaving. They’re busy filming away when Paul dabs his shaving brush on Michael’s cheek, which was completely unrehearsed, but Michael’s reaction was so great they kept it in the finished film.

Earlier on, I’d got Paul and Linda some lovely omelettes from the cafe next door to the hotel, and got chatting to an old guy there. He was about 77, and looked exactly like Buffalo Bill. He’d spent his entire life in Los Alamos, apart from one period during the war when he was stationed abroad—in Liverpool!

Amazing. While they’re filming inside, I got chatting to one of the security guards, writing a history of the town. Apparently it used to be a real hide out for all the old outlaws in the days of the Wild West. It was where the original “Alias Smith And Jones” used to hide after robbing stagecoaches and stuff. The guard agreed that he had another chapter to write in his book —the day that Paul and Linda McCartney and Michael Jackson came to Los Alamos.

The scenery round here is unbelievable, real cowboy country, horses, cattle and the most incredible sunsets. The last shot of the day was Paul, Linda and Michael bowling down the road in the van towards the sunset. The sun was in perfect position, just setting on the back of the hills, this great big red ball. The sunsets really are amazing, with the orange sky, and the background which goes all black. It looked marvellous, and we were lucky to get that shot that day because the locals told us they’d been getting a lot of rain lately.

The last day of shooting—the scene in the warehouse/studio where the “Mac & Jack Show” really gets underway, with Paul and Michael dancing around in check suits. The “Fred Astaire” routine with the top hat goes a bit wrong when Paul’s top hat keeps sticking to his head! Anyway it’s all sorted out, and Paul goes into costume as the magician with his magic cauldron.

Before the day’s shooting is over, Paul obliges with a couple of television interviews, and he and Linda go out and meet another party of schoolchildren and sign some more autographs. As Paul and Linda are getting changed, I go down to their car to find it covered in messages, scrawled by the fans in the dust.

A quick wash and brush up, and it’s as good as new. On dropping them off, Linda asks us in for dinner, which was lovely. Trevor and I eventually get back to our hotel, and relax with the crew over a few drinks, a welcome change from all the pressures of filming.

On our last day, Paul drives the Corvette to Los Angeles, which he did — at 100 miles an hour! Because of that, we got to the airport really early, and went to eat in a Mexican restaurant nearby. It’s no good hanging around an airport with Paul and Linda, they are always recognised, and things start getting crazy. On our way in, I go with them to the duty free shop, where they buy some tee-shirts and presents for the family, then onto the aircraft, and off they went.

Trevor and I had a few drinks in the airport bar, and caught our plane on time. We slept most of the way back, and by the time we woke up we were back in dear old Blighty. Los Alamos already seemed like a dream. At least every time I see the video of “Say, Say, Say” I’ll be able to recall those four action-packed days.

By John Hammel
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Michael Jackson, Latoya Jackson, Paul McCartney, on the set of “Say Say Say” promo video filming.

Last updated on May 4, 2020

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