Announcement – trailer for Death In High Heels

 

Just wanted to share a trailer that I put together for our local community playhouse – the Magenta Theater and their production of “Death in High Heels.” I started by creating the sound/music track, to which I edited Tom Hubbard’s stellar video and animated Amy Baumgarten’s beautiful graphics. Thanks also to the talented actors of the Magenta troupe.

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.”

Camelot on the Warner Lot

Camelot on the Warner Lot

Principal photography on Camelot commenced in Europe. The director, Josh Logan took his key cast members and some of the key crew on the expedition, and filled up the balance of the crew (a larger contingent) with Europeans. It was a quick trip over there to set the big locales against the backdrop of real castles and landscapes. If you remember Lancelot “singing” his way down to the sea to take a boat for England, that was all shot at that time.

While they had been busy shooting in Europe, the carpenters back at the studio were busy constructing the sets based on production designer John Truscott’s vision of Camelot. Under his direction the largest building on the lot, called The Mill, was buzzing. It was the facility where all the props, large and small were fabricated. And besides “dressing up” the sets they supplied the actors with most (not all) of their hardware. They were called upon to supply the armor and swords for those filling the part of knights.  [Howard – some chain mail and boots were brought back from London].

So when Howard drove his 1966 GTO onto the WB lot that day when photography began at the studio, he found the Casablanca street converted into King Arthur’s mythological England. [A side note – this standing set was later converted for use on the TV series Kung Fu starring David Carradine].

First up before the cameras was Laurence Naismith, who had the part of the wizard Merlin. His costume, Howard says, was a marvel, with all manner of strange critters, slugs and bugs woven into it. In fact it was more striking in person than what the camera was able to capture. And the actor was fitted for a pair of contact lenses that had a mirror-like surface that gave a striking cast to his appearance on screen – lending a air of mystery, fitting for a character who was living his life backwards in time.

A winter scene was set up for the arrival in Camelot of Guinevere, Vanessa Redgrave.  The stage was decked out with a blanket of snow, and nestled in the background was Camelot castle.  Of course, no snow was harmed (or melted) in the filming of this picture. Lots of salt stood in for that wintry substance. It was replaced in close ups, when the actors needed to fall back onto a “snowy” cushion, by ice that was ground into a fine powder. In that instance the doors were kept closed and the AC on the set boosted, prompting the crew to don parkas. And that castle in the background was actually a miniature. This miniature also had been made at the Mill.

This winter scene was the showcase for the title song – “Camelot.” As was the form, Redgrave lip synched her part, but Harris had other ideas. [Howard – “Harris wanted to sing live, not on pre-recorded track – – because Rex Harrison (who could sing) was over at the Fox lot singing/filming Doctor Doolittle.  Logan and the music department were against this.  And it showed in the movie.  Harris couldn’t sing.   Have you ever watched American Idol or heard a friend who THOUGHT he could sing, but really sounded terrible. Well……”].

Though Howard was given an office on the lot he spent little time in it. Instead he had a “stand up” office on whatever set he was working. [Howard – “it was a little stand up desk 3’ by 3’ on wheels. A high stool came with it. The top was tilted, higher at the back than the front”]. There he kept his records and tended to an important facet of his job – co-ordinating the orders of director Logan and the director of photography Dick Kline.

Join me next week for “Josh Logan – Director” the next post in The Adventures of Howard Kazanjian.

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.

Camelot or the Making of 10 Dash 894

Camelot or the Making of 10 Dash 894

Howard Kazanjian’s job as an Assistant Director on any project begins with a read through of the script. He missed the original round of prep on Camelot, as he came on board just after the location shoot in Europe. [Howard – “When I joined the picture upon their return, I redid or supplemented any changes.   I did not create the original.  But it was like starting all over again using very little of what had previously been established.”]

So what follows are the steps that are taken in breaking down a script for filming. With the first read out of the way, they flip back to the beginning and go through it all again, this time armed with a fistful of different color pencils or felt tipped pens if available (later when at Disney he tells me that the tools of choice were mechanical colored pencils – they were overflowing with them). Of first importance were the character parts that made up the cast, they were marked in one color; then all the sets in another. The designations “DAY” or “NIGHT” were underlined. And lastly other colors marked any special props, animals or effects.

All this data is transferred to paper – one page for each set or scene (the scenes were already numbered). This information was then transferred to strips that were 1/2 inch wide by a foot and a half long. They would be mounted on a long board. On this board there was a header upon which the names of the cast were listed, each name beside a number (e.g. 1 – Richard Harris; 2 Vanessa Redgrave; 3 Franco Nero and so on). These numbers were written on the strips, if the referenced person was in that scene. When done, the strips could be manipulated, grouping similar locations and sets together. They would pick the amount of scenes that would make up a day’s shooting and put a black strip after it to delimit the one day, and so on.

[Howard – “We usually arrange all location or exterior days first, yet keeping in mind actors working days. We try to keep each actor’s scenes grouped together for financial reasons. There is always the challenge of keeping actors in a tight number of days, vs exterior shooting first, vs some kind of continuity in shooting. When the board is complete, we create what we call a “Day-out-of-Days”. It lists all the actors, the total days worked, days off, total pay days, and any travel days. This is helpful to the casting and legal departments in negotiating salaries among other things.”]

The next step is list making. Lots of lists. For Camelot, there were bit lists (extras with speaking parts), animal lists and extras lists. And since this was a musical – a list for the pre-recordings to be made – a schedule really, as to when and by whom would each of the songs be performed and recorded.

Further along in pre-production the storyboards are created. On Camelot only the jousting sequence was storyboarded. I asked Howard the reason for this. [Howard – “It was strictly for the stunt people and the art department – to plot out how it would function and how it would look” – more on that later).

Just before shooting the Cast and Costume lists are worked up. For Camelot, the costume list shows that Vanessa Redgrave had a total of thirty three for her character Queen Guinevere.

Howard – “Eventually we get all our info down on sheets that lists each day’s shooting. The whole schedule (Shooting Schedule) is created and this is what we use to create the call sheets for each day.”

There were three types of call sheets. The first call sheet goes out to everyone in the cast. (Note it was not a sheet with only the recipient’s name on it – it was not individualized – it included the whole list of who and when).

A second call sheet has a more limited distribution, listing what other productions on the lot are doing. For instance at WB on April 28, 1967, Camelot was on the backlot over in Devil’s Gulch, filming the jousting sequence; Sweet November and its director Robert Ellis Miller was on Stage 12; and Richard Lester was on location up in San Francisco, shooting Petulia.

And a third call sheet goes out to the crew, listing call times for them and equipment. [An aside of interest – on that same April 28 for the jousting shoot, two cameras are listed – a “BNC, Reflex, PANA, Mark” and an Arriflex. Howard tells me that the first was a unique, one of a kind camera, a prototype created by Panavision.]

Once shooting began, as the scenes were completed, Howard marked them off on his script copy and dated them.

And be sure to tune in next week for the second post in this series – In the Loop with Camelot.