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.”

In the Loop with Camelot

In talking with Howard Kazanjian lately about redoing sound for a film he cited this example. He had recently watched “Room with a View” – and noticed the sound of the wind blowing in the background on the track, yet the dialogue was perfect – crisp and clear.  He deduced that the dialogue had been redone later.

It is difficult to record a good sound track outside of a sound stage. Once principal photography is done, if necessary the actors are called back in to re-record their lines. The process is called ADR or Automated Dialog Replacement.

Or back in the days that he was working on Camelot, it was simply called Looping. This is because the scene (or clip of film) is run repeatedly in a loop, while the actor stands in front of a microphone with headphones on, watching the scene and listening to the recorded lines that he is trying to improve. He speaks and is recorded trying to match the lip movement among other considerations. It’s very difficult to get the right tempo, the right inflection – to get into the moment again – (if the actor did not think that he got it right, he would often beg for another take to improve it. And no wonder, for his future career depended on his performance.)

Howard was there for the first looping session which was with Franco Nero, who played Lancelot du Lac. Franco had a heavy Italian accent. Howard spent two to three weeks with him in this process. And Franco’s grammar and pronunciation gradually improved over this period. He came back later for three additional lines and was better still. Howard was also present with the director, Josh Logan, for the looping sessions with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave. Alan Jay Lerner, the lyricist (and in this case the screenwriter for the film) was there. Sometimes it was just the producer or the sound crew, and other times the sessions were run by other people in the production.

This brought up the question, what about the music? Did they have to come in to re-record the songs? Howard set me straight on that right away. For musicals (like sound tracks for animated films) the songs are always recorded first, usually weeks ahead of shooting. This was the case on Camelot, with a notable exception that will be discussed in the next post.

Howard – “The pre-recorded songs are played back in sync with the camera during photography.  That way the editor can cut from shot to shot without missing any part of the song or the sync.  And usually there is a musical assistant on the set watching lip movement to the recorded track.   He knows if he can adjust the recorded track to match lips if the lips are several frames off.   Nowadays, this is much easier to do with digital tracks, vs. the days of tape recording.”  

     Join me next week for “Camelot on the Warner Lot”  when we continue in this series The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian – the Musicals.