During the late autumn of 1993, the two new co-chairmen of Scala Productions encountered a serious twist of misfortune. Dark Blood, produced by JoAnne Sellar, was proving a horrendous shoot, stuck 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah, and being steadily poisoned by a feud between its director and star. Tempers had grown so heated between the Dutch-born director Sluizer and Australian actress Judy Davis that Powell had to fly out. He called a meeting between Sellar, Sluizer, Davis, Jonathan Pryce and River Phoenix on his arrival in an attempt to calm things down.
"It was basically a clash between two control freaks and the people caught in the middle were Pryce, River, the producers and the crew," Powell explained. "It was an abrasive meeting, and all of us probably wanted to dive under the table. River was very good in it, wise beyond his years...." However, the meeting solved nothing and the atmosphere remained as rancid as before.
The following night, after rehearsals, Powell and the twenty-three-year-old Phoenix, who had dyed his hair black for the part, drove back to the local bar. Phoenix, who had already completed thirteen feature films and picked up an Oscar nomination for Sidney Lumet's Running On Empty nearly five years previously, was well practiced at film-shoot fall-out. He too was finding the location filming difficult, but the young star appeared calm and collected about the problems. Over a beer, Powell told Phoenix in a fatherly fashion, "Don't ever lose that wisdom, whatever happens, River."
Six weeks later, Sellar called Powell in Spain on a Sunday afternoon: "Nik, hold on to your seat." On hearing those words, Powell immediately thought that an earthquake had erupted, and then made the more likely assumption that either Davis had flown back to Australia or Sluizer had returned to Amsterdam. He was bored of hearing about personal politics on the set of Dark Blood, but Sellar continued, "River died last night."