Howard in the Middle

Howard Kazanjian was all set for the first day of shooting on “Finian’s Rainbow.”

His director Francis Ford Coppola had fixed on an idea for the opening title sequence. He wanted to shoot his two main stars on the Golden Gate bridge. At that time no one shot anything on the Golden Gate Bridge, for the simple reason that you could not even get a permit to do so.

Not to be deterred, Francis set out to do it anyway. He and Howard took a rented station wagon, picked up Fred Astaire and Petula Clark, then headed for the bridge.  Francis dropped Howard and the two stars off at the San Francisco end of the bridge. From there the threesome pretended to be pedestrians out for a stroll, sightseeing. (Of course, Howard kept out of range of the camera). With the tailgate on the station wagon down and the camera set there to shoot, Francis had the key gaffer drive the vehicle past them and then slow down to a crawl, while he and his cameraman caught his stars as they walked the pavement.  By the time they got to the end of the bridge the police had arrived to investigate what was going on. They pulled them over into the scenic turn out on the Marin side.

The production manager from WB for Finian was waiting for them in this parking lot when they pulled in. And he just so happened to know the officer that was threatening to arrest them. Another fine mess they avoided. [Aside – you won’t see a hint of this bit in any of the DVDs. Howard remembers that in the roadshow release a section was used, including a distant glimpse of the flashing red light of the cop car when it came after them.]

A couple of days later they mounted a larger expedition. Again they held on to the station wagon, but added a truck, and a car. They used the car to transport Fred and Petula. With Francis driving, Fred sat in back on the right and Petula on the left, with Howard on the hump in the middle. Their route was all planned out as they headed south out of San Francisco. However, Francis was soon off the route when he spotted some sheep off on a hill. They soon lost the other vehicles in pursuit of their bucolic shot. Once they were up by the sheep, Francis had Howard get out and herd the fleecy critters past their one camera.

By the time they loaded up the station wagon, Howard knew he had to do something to head off the possibility of a meal penalty. It was already late afternoon, so he put the question to them.  He stated did you want to have your meal here, gesturing to the passing scenery with no eatery in site, or wait for the hotel where they had scheduled to stop before their day began.  Fred spoke up and said, “No, let’s wait for the hotel.” And Petula nodded her agreement. So Howard had it on the record that they had declined his offer. The stars had graciously played along with the AD to save the production from the cost of the meal penalty.

[Aside – this sheep footage also did not make the DVD cut.]

The Education of an Assistant Director

Having just finished one musical – Camelot – Howard Kazanjian was now being put aboard another – Finian’s Rainbow. But instead of a veteran director, he was being teamed with a young film school grad, who had only one other film under his belt – Francis Ford Coppola.

This production marked the end his trial period with the DGA. On his own time, Howard took in all the PGA / DGA seminars he could, seminars that addressed the rules and regulations of the SAG, the Teamsters, IA, etc. As a result, he became quite knowledgeable in these matters, often knowing more than the first ADs, men that were often 25 years his senior. (Aside – Howard was once in William L Schaefer’s office, the executive assistant to Jack Warner himself. A question arose about one of the SAG regulations. Howard explained to him what the rule was and how it would benefit the production. Schaefer had to call the SAG to confirm what Howard proposed. They did. Schaefer who had worked at the studio since 1933, was completely unaware of this particular regulation).

So on the set, as an AD you had to have your fingers on the pulse of all the situations before you, so as to not fall afoul of any of the SAG or other union regulations and incur unwanted monetary penalties that were charged against the production. Chief among these regulations were those governing work hours and meal times.

First, you had your 8 hour day, at your regular rate, but overtime did not kick in until after 10 hours. Overtime would mean time and a half on the pay scale. That means you could work your people 9 plus hours before multiples of their rates kicked in.

If the production did go into overtime, the AD had leeway to send certain crew members home – like a greensman or a certain number of electricians or even unneeded extras. In these instances they were people that had already finished their work, having prepped the set, and were only on standby for emergencies.

And then there were the meal rules –

Beginning the day, actors in for make up at 6AM would be offered a bite of breakfast. Then counting from 7AM the next meal (lunch) had to be offered within the next 5 and half hours. Counting from the end of their meal period their next meal had to be offered within the next six hours. As AD you had to keep all these things in mind and watch your clock, for there were penalties when these time frames were exceeded.                                                                                                                                          

 If they failed to break for a meal within the prescribed time the meal penalty kicked in – the first half hour meant a rate of time and a half – the second half hour double time.

At the end of the day, Howard took his time cards, made all the calculations and handed them in to payroll.  For his attention to detail, he earned the respect and approval of the studio.  They liked him, and he was being groomed for bigger and better things.

On the other side of the coin, Howard Kazanjian was well liked by the actors and the extras. He tried to have answers for the questions they came to him for. If he didn’t have an answer, he told them he would try to get one, especially for the extras.  Howard knew that as extras, if they were not working, they needed to be looking for work. And they did not want to move on, if there were any chance at all there would be something for them. It was the considerate thing to do.

Come back next week for the continuing Adventures of Howard Kazanjian in “Meeting Francis Ford Coppola.”