More on Movies
Speaking of movies, as we have done before on more than one occasion, I can now look at movies from a different perspective. I spent most of a week in January just outside of Lake Havasu City, Arizona watching my friend Frank Dobbs direct a movie staring Burt Reynolds and Bruce Dern. It is a western called Hard Ground, which is being produced for the Hallmark Channel. You should be able to see it sometime this summer.
I have a long relationship with movies. As a kid back in McConnelsville, Ohio, I used to go to the picture show every Friday night. It cost 14 cents to get in. The first of the three features was always a western, which we always called the cowboy movie, even if it didn’t involve cattle. The second feature was a serial, which always ended with some kind of cliff hanging potential disaster involving the lead character which would not get resolved until the next Friday. We were hooked. We had to go back. The third feature was The Bowery Boys or some such comedy.
Although I was a dedicated moviegoer, I never thought much about just how movies were made. In fact, I didn’t give it much thought for most of my life. So when Frank invited me to come watch the process, I jumped at the chance.
I flew to Phoenix, rented a car, and drove to Lake Havasu. The speed limit on the lightly traveled Interstate 10 was 75mph and, as is the case in Texas, it is considered to be the minimum acceptable speed.
Frank co-wrote as well as directed Hard Ground, so he had a real clear picture, so to speak, about what the movie was supposed to look like. There were some good guys, Hutch (Bruce Dern) and McKay (Bert Reynolds) being the main ones, and some bad guys, Billy Bucklin (David Figlioli) and Floyd (Marty Kove, the bad guy in all the Karate Kid movies) being the principal bad guys. These two groups were referred to on the set, in highly technical movie terms, as the “the good guys” and the “bad guys.”
The action takes place at the turn of the century, ala 1900, in Arizona and Mexico. There is a lot of gunfire involved and a good bit of swearing. It made me think of Texas around the turn of the next century, ala 2000. There were also horses. All the good guys and all the bad guys had horses. There was only one white horse and it belonged to a bad guy. When I was a kid only good guys had white horses and white hats. Times have changed.
On Saturday, my last full day on location, the big scene of the day involved all the bad guys riding fast down a hill over a small rise and stopping to talk, as luck would have it, right in front of the camera. The rehearsal for this scene started about 9:00 in the morning with Bucklin being introduced to his horse. Actually, Bucklin was introduced to horses in general because he had only seen horses in movies and never up close and personal. He allowed that horses were a good deal bigger in person, or “in horse,” that he had imagined and that he had no idea they smelled like that.
One of the wranglers helped him climb up on his horse. I watched the whole process with great interest. I had never seen anyone so uncomfortable looking on a horse. The wrangler led the horse back and forth for a few minutes while Bucklin got the feel of being in the saddle. It was now time to solo—just like flight training. Bucklin did the manly thing and grabbed the saddle horn with both hands and in the process dropped the reins, which if you know anything about horses, is the main guidance system for the horse. The horse wandered off to find some grass to munch on while Bucklin spoke encouraging words to the horse, such as “Stop, you armpit (he actually substituted another well known body part), stop” and to the wrangler, “How do you make this S.O.B. stop.” The wrangler corralled the horse and gave Bucklin more instruction. Bucklin’s next solo ride was more encouraging—he held the reins in one hand the saddle horn in the other, a much better procedure. In the meantime Frank, the director, had a stunt double dress in a Bucklin look-alike outfit and stand by just in case. After an hour or so Bucklin got the hang of it and the stunt double didn’t have to work that day.
The next order of business was to rehearse the whole scene. The bad guys rode down the hill, over the small rise, and stopped in front of the camera and did some dialogue. They rehearsed this part of the scene for the better part of an hour. Finally Frank was happy with what he was getting and it was time to shoot. “ PICTURE’S UP. QUIET ON THE SET. BE VERY QUIET PLEASE.” And so on. “ROLL SOUND. CAMERA. ACTION.”
The first time through, Frank didn’t think it looked quite right and told Bucklin to try to ride without holding on to the saddle horn. They shot it again. It still wasn’t quite right. The third time looked as if it was to be the charm. It was looking good, right up to the time the bad guys stopped to talk. Just as Floyd started the crucial bit of dialogue his horse, who had been holding it for two or three days, couldn’t hold it anymore. He relieved himself with great intensity—much like Niagara Falls. This went on for what seemed like several minutes. The professional cast and crew did what you would expect professionals to do –they giggled—all of them—even the very tough bad guys.
Finally the horse finished his business and the whole scene was shot again. This time it was perfect. “THAT’S A WRAP. CHECK YOUR GATES.”
My work here is done. It’s time for me to go home.