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.”

Shooting the Train

In the morning, the actors were the first ones on set. They had to be there early for the ministrations of Al Greenway, who was in charge of make-up. As an AD Howard Kazanjian had to be sure that they were there in place to get their make up on and if necessary their mustaches glued in place. Wardrobe would follow. However, the director Peckinpah was always late, usually last on the set. Borgnine always complained about Sam’s tardiness. But that was nothing compared to when Ernie noticed Sam handing out live ammo to the Mexican extras. To Sam it was an aesthetic concern, they were the only thing that looked good in their bandoleers. Noticeably not all of the cartridges were returned, however, with fifteen or twenty going missing, and afterwards gunfire could be heard at odd times. At the following day’s distribution, Ernie left the set in protest and returned to his room.  He stayed there until he was notified that all the ammunition had been returned.

Difficulties of a different sort for an AD awaited Howard in Sonora.  They were there to capture the sequence in which the Wild Bunch plunders a train for the weapons shipment being transported on it, all by agreement to be handed over to General Mapache.

First, there was the stunt that went bad. The engineer was to be thrown from the cab, as the Wild Bunch seized control. All was set for him to be flung off the moving train onto some crash pads, but the stunt person did something he shouldn’t have. Instead of just sailing free over the side, he grabbed one of the handrails, thinking to ease his fall. With the train moving forward and with the point of contact acting as a fulcrum, he was spun in an arc, and all he succeeded in doing was cracking his head against the coal car. It fell to Howard to handle the aftermath. ADs had the duty to negotiate with the stunt people the recompense for special stunts which was always done after the trick, and not before. But it can be a particularly ticklish affair when the stunt didn’t come off.

In one of the next setups, Peckinpah was in his director’s chair beside the track at a little distance from the locomotive with Pike (Bill Holden) aboard. Howard was tasked as a runner between the two. Howard is not sure what set off all the tension at this point between the director and his star, but tension there was. Perhaps it was just the fact that it was hot out, and even hotter in the cab of the locomotive. After a spell of doing nothing but sweat, Holden yelled to Howard, “What’s happening?” This sent Howard bouncing back and forth between them relaying messages of rising ire on both sides. Sam would often stall while he was considering his next move. Holden finally retorted to one of Sam’s evasions, “What am I supposed to  be doing?” By this time both were clearly hearing one another, since both were yelling at the top of their lungs, but kept up the fiction that they didn’t. At the last, Sam yelled to Howard, “You tell Holden, I’ll tell him when I decide.”

Who knows if this didn’t lead to the next accident.

Further down the rail line and the next setup, Sam reigned from above on a crane with the camera. Sam had insisted that Holden drive the train himself and bring it in at full speed, and stop it quickly next to the buckboard into which they were to load the stolen weapons. Several takes in succession ate up the morning and Sam didn’t like any of them. It was another hot day. And Holden was getting tired of it, so for the next take he just pushed it to the stops.

Just ahead out of view of the camera and beyond where the train was supposed to a stop, was a small bridge upon which a flatcar was parked with all their equipment – generators etc. The train was barreling and the brakes were thrown – the wheels locked –  sparks were flying and it looked like an accident were imminent. Howard was beside the crane and saw it all.

Warren Oates who was riding on the flatcar attached in front of the engine, saw the gap closing between his flatcar and the stationary one. He turned and ran for the comparative safety of the engine behind him. The two flatcars collided and the heavily laden one bounced about a foot in the air.  Crew members who had been keeping out of sight under the bridge bolted from that haven, running up the arroyo and away from the bridge and their fears of an explosion, or worse yet the flat cars falling off the bridge down to where they were hiding.

Thankfully no one was hurt. The camera did not catch the crash, which was just as well for the script did not call for such a stunt. The engine’s cowcatcher was severely bent. With any movement it would now plow the ground ahead of it.

It fell to Howard Kazanjian, the second assistant director to fill out the report about the accident and send it off to the studio.


Join us next Wednesday as we bring to a close this series on Howard Kazanjian’s time working on the Wild Bunch with “Shall We Gather in the River.” Stay tuned and Watch This Space.