Going Fishing with Bill Conrad

Bill Conrad wrangled another 1.2 million budget from Warners for his next project – Chubasco – on which Howard Kazanjian would continue his DGA apprenticeship. Besides being the name of the lead character, the title refers to the heavy thunder storms at sea along the Pacific Coast during the rainy season, a fitting metaphor for the troubled, mercurial young rebel (portrayed by Christopher Jones) who becomes involved in a star-crossed relationship with Bunny (played by Susan Strasberg), the daughter of a Portuguese tuna fisherman (played by Richard Egan).

The director Allen H. Miner also wrote the script. It was a passion project for him. He had covered the lives of tuna fishermen before in a documentary for which he wore all the hats – producer, cameraman, director and editor – The Naked Sea, released in 1954 by RKO. Bill Conrad’s connection to Miner dates back to this film. He provided the narration for it, and a few years later he appeared in a western directed by Miner, entitled The Ride Back.

According to Howard “we had a very strong cast for the day, basically all names.” And many deemed Christopher Jones a rising star. He was being boosted as a successor to James Dean. Miner brought Jones with him as his choice for the lead, having directed him in a couple of episodes in the TV series, the Legend of Jesse James. At this time Jones was married to his co-star Susan Strasberg, and a lot was made of that fact in the ongoing promotion for the picture.  Articles appeared in the press asking the question could they be as successful together as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Sadly, they split the year that Chubasco was released. Strasberg remained in the acting profession, but Jones, after appearing in David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, dropped out of sight for a myriad of personal reasons.

Originally Robert Burks was tapped to be DP. He was Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, teaming up with him beginning with Strangers on a Train through Marnie (only missing Psycho). Howard does not recall Burks on Chubasco at all. So for whatever reason, Burks must have left the production prior to Howard’s involvement with it. Two DPs are listed instead. Between Paul Ivano and Lew Jennings, I am not sure which was his replacement. Howard tells me that when you see two DPs, one of them is usually responsible for a specialized type of photography.  In the case  of Chubasco this was most likely for the underwater sequences.

The AD on the project, Fred Gammon, handed Howard the usual assignments. [Howard –  “Checking in actors into make-up in the morning, seeing that they get breakfast if needed.  Getting them to the set.   All paperwork, time cards, call sheets, production reports, etc. etc. etc.”] He also set the extras for the scenes on shore, notably the confrontation between Jones and the motorcycle gang that was crashing a party under a pier and Jones’ subsequent arrest. Howard placed extras for the bits when the fishermen brought their catches in.  [Howard – “I remember watching the tuna being unloaded and moving up a ramp bumping their heads on the wooden sides.  And then seeing huge piles of tuna in the warehouse.  I loved tuna sandwiches until I saw how they were handled”].

The first phase of the production was tough. The home port for the story was San Diego. So that is where principal photography commenced for the exteriors. [Howard – “I think we were down in SD only two weeks. I stayed at the El Rey Hotel, that was the place to stay at the time. While on location I got the crew and cast to the harbor and sent them out to sea.  I stayed back on shore doing whatever needed to be done. Shooting on water is always difficult.  Always the fewer at sea the better”]. There were more vessels than one involved. Besides fishing vessels upon which the cast performed, another was set apart as the crew vessel. It also acted as a camera platform for master shots focused on the fishing boats. The studio hired a huge yacht to act as courier between the ships at sea and the company base on the mainland.

Just because Howard was land bound by his responsibilities, didn’t mean that he didn’t get to go out on the water. [Howard – “I recall being taken to dinner by Joe Cramer at the Coronado Hotel on the weekend. Joe was one of the best and nicest guys I met in the business and he took me under his wing. He was the assistant to the head production manager at WB, Dutch Meyer, to whom we all reported]. (Aside – The following year Cramer was the unit manager on “Bullitt” and AD on “The Green Berets”).  Cramer arranged for Howard and a few others to have a short cruise and a meal that Sunday. On location the production was shuttered on Sunday, and this yacht sat idle (you can see it in the above video, beginning about the 10 sec mark). It was paid for, so why not use it. Prior to this Howard’s experiences on the water had all been less than pleasurable (even outings to Catalina with his dad when younger, or on fishing expeditions with his uncle). And so it proved again. He became sick immediately upon the yacht casting away from the dock and had to lie down. Someone suggested a meal. In the dining salon a gigantic table (20 foot long) had been set up. It was on gimbals, so it could move but stay level. The chef brought out the meal. The blood from the meat moved around on the plate ever so slightly, but it was enough to send Howard up on deck to the rail.

After the two weeks in San Diego, the production moved up to the studio in Burbank for interiors. [Howard – I was on the film exactly 30 days.   I don’t recall if I saw the wrap or not.   I know I went onto Cool Hand Luke the next day].

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.”