Beyond Finian

With the curtain calls in for Finian’s Rainbow, Francis Ford Coppola was hot to get on the road for his next project, The Rain People. But Howard Kazanjian was faced with a dilemma as to what he would be doing next.

Francis had asked Howard to accompany him on The Rain People as his AD. They were going to be on the road traveling light, catching those places and situations that crossed their path, much as they had when up in the Bay area for Finian. So he only wanted one AD for this film. This restriction placed a stumbling block to Howard’s participation.  Howard was a 2d AD at the time, but this arrangement would require him to be a 1st AD. To remedy this problem, Coppola called the DGA to ask for a waiver, or perhaps get Howard “promoted” to 1st AD early, since he was so close to qualifying already. The DGA turned Coppola down on both counts. Coppola turned to Howard and gave him this advice – “Quit the Guild.” Howard had to tell Coppola “No.” He just felt he could not. It would be too difficult (nigh on impossible, not to mention expensive) to try to get back in afterwards.

[Aside – As I mentioned in an earlier post George Lucas did go along with Coppola for The Rain People, not as AD, but as a general factotum, a gopher. He shot a documentary about the making of the film. On the road, somewhere in Colorado, Francis and George took in Kubrick’s “2001 A Space Odyssey.” George told Francis that he wanted to do something in that vein. It was one of the seeds for what later would become “Star Wars.” In tribute to Kubrick, they painted an inscription on one of the vans in their caravan – “HAL 9000” in three inch letters].

Instead, Howard went on to work for Sam Peckinpah and his film The Wild Bunch, (which is covered in other posts on my blog).

Later, in 1971, Coppola wanted Howard to be his AD on The Godfather. Again, the DGA rules intervened. Back then a member of the West Coast DGA (of which Howard was one) could not work within the jurisdiction of the East Coast DGA, where the film was to be shot.

Under the Spreading Cement Tree

Link to pertinent scene from Finian’s Rainbow

It really wasn’t made of cement. It just looked like it.

While Francis Ford Coppola and Howard Kazanjian were busy filming location footage up in the Bay area, the construction crews back at the studio were prepping sets both on the sound stages and in the backlot. One of the structures of note was a tree at the center of the setting for the fictional town of Rainbow Valley. It was scheduled to be used over a period of several days. Though not actually cement it was built of some other sturdy materials and plastered over. It had to be sturdy to support the weight of up to three actors (in one instance, Fred, Petula, and Barbara were all up in its branches). Also, one of the show’s song and dance numbers was scheduled for the platform built around the base of this “tree.”

Filming this number (“Look to the Rainbow”) featuring Fred Astaire and Petula Clark took place over a two day period. A bit of film history occurred under this tree, other than which was recorded on celluloid. On the day that they were working on the dance, Howard got a call from a former USC classmate and DKA Honor fraternity brother – George Lucas. Just two years prior to this, WB had set up an annual 6 month scholarship for a lucky student at USC. George was the second recipient.  (Howard – The first was Joyce Gellar. While there she wrote a script called the Cool Ones, which WB bought. I worked as 2d AD on that film. One of the actors on a day rate was unknown Glen Campbell). George reported to the studio on the day his “internship” was to begin, was assigned an office on the lot, but was given nothing to do. George called down to Howard to tell him of his plight – he was sitting there bored out of his skull.  Howard invited him down to the set.

Gratefully George joined Howard on the set, and between takes Howard introduced George to Francis.

As part of their production routine Howard would accompany Coppola back to his office at the end of a day of shooting, and there they would debrief, talking over the day and planning for the next. Sometimes these sessions led to extra work for Howard. One time Francis casually mentioned that they would be using a crane for a shot the next day – the only thing was, none had been requested on the equipment call sheet. This was the first Howard had heard of it – so he had to put in an order for it immediately. Sometimes the crisis involved people that he would have to line up last minute. If it were for instance the corps dancers, he had to track them all down by phone. It was a terrible chore, and could take hours, not to mention the costume department that needed to be alerted also. But it was also a fun time. George accompanied Howard to the meeting that day. They listened to Coppola with keen interest. Coppola had some strong opinions – he hated Hollywood, its system, and wanted to be out on his own. George was definitely a kindred spirit. Later, George showed Francis his student film THX 1138.  Coppola encouraged him to turn the script into a feature, and then got WB to buy it and he himself stepped up to produce it.

George stayed on, but just as an observer and later was given the privilege of attending the dailies. (Howard – there was one thing that George got to do for the production.  Francis needed to review a particular film clip. Howard couldn’t leave the set, so he asked George to go fetch it from the editor).

Coppola took George on the road with him for his next project, The Rain People. Howard almost went along too – but that’s a story for another day.