Monday March 25th, 1968. When they showed up that morning, the asphalt streets of Parras, Mexico were covered with dirt and some of the buildings outfitted with add-on facades, all to give it the look of a Texas border town.
Cliff Coleman, the brand new 1st AD had not arrived yet. The studio had put him on a plane with a copy of the script. He would be a good choice, because he was excellent when it came to managing crowds, just what was needed on the first day. For the first scenes to be shot were the first scenes in the film, and if you remember the film there were lots of crowds to be pushed around.
There were four groups to be co-ordinated – the Wild Bunch (in town to rob the railroad), the bounty hunters (there to trap the Wild Bunch), the townspeople (innocents caught in the crossfire), and a subset of the townspeople – teetotalers, preparing and conducting a temperance march.
Howard Kazanjian, as the 2nd Assistant Director was attached to the second unit and put in charge of the last named subset. He was in the revival tent and had as his task to teach the Mexican extras that made up the temperance procession how to sing Shall We Gather at the River.
And he was very busy indeed. In fact he wore two hats that day. Peckinpah intended to shoot the master scene for the entire flow of the action from the entry of the Wild Bunch into the town, the shoot out and their exit. Because there were five cameras rolling to catch all the interaction among the actors and the two hundred plus extras, and because there were not enough crew to man them, Howard served on this unit’s camera crew, pulling focus.
By the afternoon, Coleman had arrived and took up his tasks as 1st AD. By the end of the day the master shot was in. The next few days, as was the practice, the coverage was closer, little isolated snatches of action and close ups for the name actors. It was a smart and economical way of doing things. The number of people in front of and behind the camera were pared down. By the end of the week they moved inside to shoot interiors.
By that time, Howard had another reason to check out the interiors too. He had worn out his socks, and went in search of replacements in the only place at hand – the one General store in the town of Parras.
Tune in next Wednesday for the further adventures of Howard Kazanjian – in “Shooting Time to Pieces,” here on Watch this Space!