Swashbuckler

The long drawn out rasp of metal on metal accompanied the image of the sword being drawn from its scabbard. So began Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers. Throughout the title sequence a series of stop action multiple images of two figures locked in combat beautifully set the tone for the next hour and an half.

I was standing on the stairs of one of the exits, checking something behind the screen, when a customer who had recently entered came bounding up these stairs to bump the exit door open and let his pals in. I stepped forward and told the “doorman” that he could join his friends outside. Too bad, they missed out on what was going to happen next.

My friend Dave liked the film too. And it may have been the reason behind our seeking out a fencing club to join. We found one that met in the community center in the Green Lake area north of Seattle.

As for all beginners, there was no jumping into things the first day. Nor the second. Nor any time soon. Basics had to be learned first. How to stand. How to move. Forward and back. The stance at first was awkward, and self-conscious, but as you began to move, it became the most natural thing in the world. Your favored foot was pointed forward and your other heel in line with the front one and pointed at the perpendicular. And you sat into a crouch, with both knees bent, and with your weight balanced over the rear or anchor leg. The lower half of your body was changed into a giant spring, so it was explained. And you felt it, especially in rapid movement.

Then practice, practice, practice. Lunge and recover, lunge and recover. And then we were taught how to hold the foil. (Dave preferred the pistol grip; I preferred the regular). Lectures followed on the geometry of fencing. Everything comes down to two points: the point of your foil and that of your opponent, your line of attack or parrying of his.

I kept waiting for a reference to The Three Musketeers, but was surprised when the instructor mentioned a sequence from another film instead. He was demonstrating the balestra – a movement used to close distance quickly between yourself and an opponent. It is a fast hop, followed by a lunge at the other fencer. This was a movement that Basil Rathbone employed against Errol Flynn in the Adventures of Robin Hood. I remembered seeing it, but it was all so fast – a blur really – that it took this extra knowledge of what the move was to understand what had taken place.

[Actually at the time I was more fixed on another realization. When I saw Robin Hood – at the Harvard Exit, of course – it was double billed with another Flynn flick, The Adventures of Don Juan. Watching them back to back you notice things. In Robin Hood, I saw a scene in which a drawbridge drops down and a number of riders charge out in pursuit. The exact same footage was repeated in Don Juan. It was my introduction to library footage. Say the director or the editor needs to fill a gap in his story, rather than setting up everything for another shoot, you just see what you can use from what the studio has in its “library.” In this instance the makers of Don Juan (1948) went back and borrowed this footage from the older film (1938).]

The Three Musketeers had a long run at the UA Cinemas, from the end of March 1974 through to September. And I was able to check in often and observe the swordplay. About the time it left, I was also leaving the UA (that story later) and moving on to the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle. And you bet I was back when the sequel – The Four Musketeers – opened the next year. And I kept on fencing, even when we moved down to the Portland OR area. But that’s another story for another day – so stay tuned and Watch This Space.

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.