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.