Finian on the Disney Ranch

Coppola states that for Finian he purposefully kept the cinemacality down. Yet it is interesting to note how he opened up some of the dance numbers to a bigger “stage,” working in fields and shooting with a camera from a helicopter. For these numbers he decided to move from Burbank out to the Disney Ranch up in Newhall, California. This decision meant a few more wrinkles for his assistant director, Howard Kazanjian.

Normally, Howard would put out “call-ups” for extras – but in the case of Finian the call was to SAG members who could dance, with the further qualification – that they have a Southern look.

He also had to have buses on hand for transportation. The extras may have driven to the Warner Brothers lot and parked there, but no one was allowed to drive their own vehicles out to another location. If any of the cast members were to be transported on a bus to a location, the clock started when they left the studio. Thus more records to be kept and submitted to the payroll department.

Besides the large scale dance numbers, “The Begat” number was also done out on the Disney ranch. Or more particularly in the area between the Disney Ranch and the Oxnard area. This was Coppola’s ideal situation, to be out of the studio, on the road, in real places. It gave him the opportunity for those chance discoveries that he longed for. (There was one fantastic instance – a field of red flowers near Malibu that made a beautiful backdrop for the singers to drive through).

After the antagonist Keenan Wynn had been changed on the outside by Petula Clark’s wish/curse, and having been “made good” on the inside by Tommy Steele’s spell, Keenan falls in with a quartet, the Passion Pilgrim Gospeleers (Roy Glenn, Jester Hairston, and Avon Long), who are in need of a fourth.

The number takes place all within the vehicle, a 1939 Plymouth P7 Roadking (a convertible coupe with a rumble seat), tooling along through the countryside, broken down alongside the road, chugging up a hill and then coming down the other side and hitting a tree. All ending by being towed away.

Coppola handles it all masterfully. The camera seems everywhere. Planted beside the road, panning. Running along beside. Mounted on the hood, shooting through the windshield. In the air above.  And whenever the cast is clearly in view (a good deal of the time), their lips can be seen to be in perfect sync with the music.  (Remember the track was all recorded beforehand).

There was one major disaster that had to be overcome. Filming on the segment spanned over the weekend, stopping on Friday and recommencing on Monday. Sometime during the weekend, the report came in that a fire had damaged the vehicle. A similar replacement was found, but this car had one big difference. It had a single full windshield in front, unlike that model’s standard split windshield that was set at a deep vee, and very noticeable.

Fortunately the vehicle with the split windshield can be seen only in the section when Wynn first meets the Gospeleers. Since the camera angle is from the side, and the actors focus your attention on them. You can only see it if you’re looking for it.

In one aspect it was a happy accident, for that single windshield gave the camera a clear and unhampered view of the singers in the car when it was mounted on the hood.

Dick Kline DP

Dick Kline DP

So Howard Kazanjian on one side reported to the director Josh Logan, but he also came in the orbit of influence of the director of photography, Dick Kline. Sometimes there can be a struggle between the Director and the DP in creative matters, with the Director holding the upper hand.  Instead Logan concerned himself more with the major talents (and the budget, and cutting costs), and he gave a lot of latitude to Kline in setting up the shots.  He trusted him to do more than just light for the camera.

Dick Kline’s father was cinematographer Benjamin H Kline, who had been working in Hollywood since the silent days in the 1920s – up through the 50s and 60s when he switched to television.  (At Columbia in the 40s he turned the camera on the shenanigans of the Three Stooges).

In Dick Kline, Howard found an excellent friend and a mentor. They had worked together on another project here at Warners – a pilot for a TV series called “House of Wax”.

[Aside – House of Wax was turned down by the network, so WB released it as a feature, under the title it would have had as the first episode – Chamber of Horrors].

Kline’s turn as DP on it had caught the eye of studio head Jack Warner, who in acknowledgement gave him the DP position on his next personal production – Camelot.  And because Kline had been impressed by Howard and his get up and go attitude, he went to the powers that be and asked that Howard be assigned to Camelot too. [Howard – I never walked but ran everywhere, tackling my tasks. I used to be on two phones at once, and listening to what was going on, on set]

Howard also liked Kline’s camerawork. [Howard – Dick had a different way of lighting a scene.  And on Camelot his style conflicted with the key gaffer, causing a little friction].  The old timers were more attuned to the slower film speeds (AS200) which called for tons of light.  Kline toned down the lights, but would throw extra on smaller areas. For example, in Vanessa’s arrival at Camelot, for the dolly shot that followed her horse litter, he trained a PAR light (Parabolic anodized reflector) on the star while they did this traveling shot.

And Howard especially appreciated the fact that Kline was helpful with directors, or more specifically young ADs. Kline kept Howard informed. He would let Howard know when his cameras were in place, and the set lit, giving Howard ample time to have the actors and extras in place. (Unlike Howard’s experience later with the DP on The Wild Bunch). Or conversely he would give him a heads up about delays, and if it were near to the lunch hour, Howard could fully use that intelligence and call an early lunch, saving both time and money.

Kline also gave him advice about the business and about people.  And pointers on why he did things a certain way. Howard would write notes on the margins of his script about camera setups and lighting. [Howard – you have to pick a style – you move or you don’t. Kline only moved when he had to, preferring to keep the camera stationary. And he used the crane a lot.]

For one shot – one end of the throne room set had been converted to the round table room. (These sets were housed within the largest sound stage on the WB lot). A simple establishing shot was planned – the whole entirety of the round table would be in view and the camera operator was to pan up from there and take in the stained glass windows on the wall behind them.  Howard was watching and thought the operator hadn’t quite fulfilled the task. He brought his concern to Kline. Kline quizzed his operator if he had panned up as instructed. The cameraman assured his boss that he had, and it was left at that.  However, the dailies came back and when run they showed that the operator had not covered them completely. But it was all too late, the round table set by that time had been broken down and it would have been too expensive to set up again.

Stay tuned next week for “Painting Stars and Falling Knights,” the next post in The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.