When filming began on the third segment of the Rambo adventure in mid-1987, I was called to work on the film. I was told we would be working in Thailand, Israel, and in Yuma, Arizona.
As it turned out, I did the locations in Thailand and Yuma. I did not go to Israel due to work immigration problems but as it turned out, most of what was shot, or never shot, in Israel was re-shot in Yuma due to terrible production problems and the continuing threat of war breaking out at any moment.
When we filmed the stick fight in Bangkok it was very hot and the warehouse that we used was crammed with people. It was brutally hot and smelly in there during our filming, and it was not a fun place to be. We also worked in Chiang Mai, which is located in the mountainous part of Thailand and is much cooler. That’s where we filmed all of the temple scenes.
When we were finished in Thailand, I returned home to work on the Robert De Niro film, Midnight Run and some of the cast and crew of Rambo III traveled to Israel. During the very difficult shoot in the Israeli desert, I got several phone calls asking me to please come. I could not go because I was on location in freezing, at that time, Chicago. The problem was that they had to hire an Israeli still photographer as part of the production deal to film there, and he knew absolutely nothing about working on a film set or under filming conditions. As it turned out, I had to recreate 95% of what he did when we were in Yuma. This caused some very difficult problems for myself and the second unit still photographer that I brought down there to help me.
When we got to Yuma, The crew was split into two different units, with the first unit shooting what was scheduled to be done in Yuma and the second unit re-shooting most of what had been shot in Israel. This was very difficult on the cast members because they were running back and forth between two different locations and trying to remember what they were supposed to be doing on each one. It was professionalism at its highest level.
People always ask me why I carry so much spare equipment when I go on location shoots. On this location we were dealing with very hot days with no shelter and lots of fine sand that was always blowing around us. Everyone had huge problems with sand getting into places where it was not welcome, and I was no exception. When I returned home to LA and took my eight camera bodies in for cleaning, the man at Nikon Professional Services just laughed at me and had me deposit them in the trash bin next to him. He did offer me $50 each for the bodies in case they could salvage some parts to service other cameras in the future. Once Nikon stops making a certain camera, they stop making spare parts for it too. It is then that these old parts come in handy for repairs.
One of the best scenes that I photographed on this location was the big battle that took place at the film’s end. We used marines stationed in Yuma as the Russian soldiers and 700 mounted Civil War re-enactors as the Afghan horsemen. Everything was real and there was no stupid CGI (computer generated imagery) to make it look like a laughable cartoon. Those were the days of real filming and when you saw it on the screen, you could certainly see it.
Working on the Rambo films was a great adventure. We worked with great people and we had a lot of fun. We worked hard but the end product was certainly worth it.