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Painting Stars and Falling Knights

Painting Stars and Falling Knights

For Howard Kazanjian, the day started before 6AM. He had to be on the Warner Bros. lot and look in on the two stars of the production, Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave. They had appointments to keep with the make up people each day at 6:00 sharp. If they were in place, he could check two items off his list.

They each were given two hours for the process.  Vanessa kept her appointment in the make up department itself. She had her hair tended to for the first hour – washed etc., then make up took up the second hour. Harris had his make up done in his dressing room. Howard would bounce back and forth between the two, asking if there were anything at all that they needed. And he had it as his responsibility to keep a vehicle on hand at all times for them, even if they decided to walk to the set afterwards.

[Aside – The terms bungalow and dressing room are often thrown about without reference, so it might be important to understand the difference between them. The bungalows were little cottages, built right on the studio lot. Harris and Redgrave had ones right across from the tennis courts (now gone).  (David Hemmings also had one). They were for daytime use (naps etc), and could only be used overnight by permission of the studio guards. The dressing rooms were located right on the sets themselves or just outside the stage doors. They were little 10’ by 10’ wooden structures on wheels. They were spartan, containing little more than a mirror and a cot, a little hideaway retreat when not needed for a shot. Make-up would get a touch up when there and they only could be moved by the transportation department].

In the pre-production phase, Howard was present for some of the costume and hair tests on Camelot. These were important to keep all the production departments in the loop, especially the art department. Howard cites an example of what can go wrong if, say the wardrobe and art departments are not communicating. On an indie production on which Howard was executive producer, an academy award-winning actress appeared in a red dress at a funeral parlor with red flocked wall paper – with the result – all you could make out was her face.

If stuntmen were needed for a shoot, Howard had to put them on his call sheet the morning before also. He would also list what they would need for wardrobe and equipment. Here again the wardrobe and art departments would take note. Armor came within the purview of the Wardrobe Department.  There were two types of armor used in Camelot. Metal or rubber. The horses were always in the rubber version. And depending on what was being filmed, people were in metal ones for close ups, and the lighter stuff for action or battle scenes.  Extras in the BG were usually in rubber. (Their swords were rubber too as can be seen by too close attention to that area of the screen during the battle sequences). The Wardrobe Department  would age them governed by the cues gleaned from the script, i.e. before battle or after battle.

One of the major sequences requiring stuntmen was the jousting tournament between Lancelot and three of the knights who disliked him. These stuntmen came on early in the production to work with the co-ordinator and the Art Department. Joe Cannutt and his brother Tap were two of the main stuntmen. (Hal Needham of Smoky and the Bandit fame also worked with them – all three had recently worked together on another medieval period film – The War Lord with Charlton Heston).

A lot of planning went into it.  The jousting scene was a wire gag. They would rehearse the gag beforehand. The jousting field was scheduled for an exterior location, listed on the call sheet as Devil’s Gulch, a special area in the backlot.  The dirt in the jousting area was combed through and any rocks removed. Consulting with the Art Department they picked a structure upon which to anchor the wire, paying close attention to the height at which it was attached.

The wire would be attached to the back of the stuntman and of a measured length so as to yank him off at the desired distance – coinciding with his being struck from the front by his opponent’s lance. (Howard – “Any sign of the wire would be blurred or erased using vaseline on the glass plate in the printing process”).

Howard was only involved directly with the stuntmen after the camera was turning. In one of the screen captures of the joust that I sent Howard to identify, he said that he was one of the figures in the frame running to check on a minor accident. Any time anyone hit the dirt, he had to check them out.  In this particular incident, one of the stuntmen had fallen and hit the rail that separated the charging knights. A center section of the rail was balsa wood, but not all of it.

Howard was making sure that the falling knight had landed on the right section of the rail. Thankfully he had, and he was uninjured.

Join me next week for the next installment in the Adventures of Howard Kazanjian – “Howard’s Friend Joel Freeman.”

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About rwoz2

Poet, historian, writer for stage and screen. Responder to Jesus (Romans 5:8)

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