Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A new Amazon review

A new Amazon review:

A book every actor should own, April 15, 2014

This review is from: Action/ReAction: A unique and innovative technique for actors and the history of its origins... (Paperback)

Action/Reaction was recommended to me by an actor friend and before I had even finished the book I was recommending it to other. Stephen's gift for communicating this unique technique into a language that is easily understood and practiced is masterful. Stephen breaks down the ways that the actor can connect with the audience through this technique that is incredibly useful for actors at all levels.

Stephen is also a gifted storyteller and his tales from the set and snippets from his life experiences included in the book are highly enjoyable and a fantastic addition to this terrific book.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April 12...

The day began early as my father and I headed south on the freeway towards Long Beach in the family Cadillac Coupe de Ville. There, we would board a U.S. Navy minesweeper on which we would spend the day as guests of the Navy watching it performing maneuvers and demonstrating how a minesweeper would snag and reel in enemy mines. Somewhere along the way, a rock flew up and hit the Cadillac's windshield leaving a large, spiderweb crack obscuring much of the view. I remember thinking it was a lucky thing the windshield didn't break open.

The minesweeper was a pretty big craft and a navy boat has to be quite substantial in size before it's called a ship. I'm not sure I understood all that was happening but I was fascinated by how the boat carried out its tasks. The crew members were friendly but business-like. At a certain point, we--the guests--were summoned to the mess where we were served lunch. I seem to recall it consisted of sandwiches and soup; tomato soup that was spicier than I was accustomed to.

After lunch, we returned to observing maneuvers and it wasn't too long before I began feeling ill. I don't know if it was a case of seasickness or a reaction to the rich soup, but I suddenly found myself unable to maintain interest in the demonstration that would continue for at least another couple of hours. One of the crewmen lead me to a bunk where I could close my eyes and hope to recover. Eventually, I began to feel somewhat better but the boat was returning to port.

That evening on the way home, my father and I stopped in Westwood at the home of family friends. She was a friend of my step-mother (who was visiting her parents in Oklahoma) and he was a cameraman for KTLA-TV. While they had dinner and talked, I watched television in the den eating ice cream still not feeling as I should. When it grew late, my father and I said goodbye to Connie and Jim and started on our way home to Woodland Hills.

It had been a long day in the sun and sea air and I was quite tired. Riding home, I fell asleep in the front seat.

I don't know what woke me but, at one point, I opened my eyes and looked up to see a pair of lights coming at us. My initial impression was that they reminded me of a bird of prey swooping down on us. Immediately, the lights disappeared, obscured by a glimpse of something white. Later, I would realize it was the Cadillac's hood as it crumpled from the impact of a head-on collision with another car which had been on the wrong side of the freeway. Before I could grasp what was happening, I was unconscious.

Some time later, I regained consciousness. My father and I were slouched down in the front seat of the Cadillac. Most of  the windshield had disappeared. The steering wheel had broken its spokes and was hanging from the steering column down near the dashboard. I couldn't move my left leg --it was dislocated--and I could only move my right leg down to about mid-thigh--it was literally broken in two. My right elbow hurt like hell; broken. As I sat there taking it all in, I realized what had happened. Outside, I could hear people walking around on the freeway. "These two are dead," someone said. I hope he's not talking about us, I thought to myself.

I looked at my father and saw that he was conscious. "I think I broke my leg," I told him. "Good," he said meaning he was glad if that was all I had suffered. At that point, the right side of my face got very warm as blood began to flow from a head laceration. It would require 150 stitches but before anyone could worry about that, they had to get me out of the car. The passenger door was too crumpled to open. They were able to open the driver's side and, after putting my father in the ambulance, the paramedics were able to get me out that side by pushing a board under me and pulling me out.

The ride to the hospital was memorable. The only pain I could feel was in my elbow. The paramedic later told me that he couldn't stop the bleeding because when he put pressure on one area of the cut with his fingers, blood would start spurting from another area. He told me it was like playing a piccolo.

When we arrived at West Park Community Hospital, they wheeled me straight into an emergency room and, after strapping me down, they elevated the foot of the operating table. I was later told that I had little or no pulse and they were trying to get the flow going. The last thing I remember seeing before I went unconscious again was a very large, curved needle coming towards my forehead as a doctor (Dr. Justin Brandt, who later became my GP) was about to stitch up my wound.

That was Friday night, Good Friday. I regained consciousness on Sunday, Easter Sunday.

My father suffered lacerations, some cracked ribs and a bad gash on his knee. Apart from nearly bleeding to death, I suffered a dislocated hip, a broken leg, a broken elbow and a jaw that was broken in three places. For all of that, my father and I were incredibly lucky as head-on collisions at freeway speeds aren't considered survivable.

One of the factors in the outcome was the car we were in; it was a large Cadillac impacting a small Opel Kadett with a closing speed of about 140 miles per hour. At impact, we pushed the other car backwards more than a hundred yards. The two occupants of the Opel died instantly and a posthumous blood test revealed that they were so inebriated that they should not have been able to walk much less drive.

Decades later, I would speak to the widow of a man who also survived this accident. He had been behind us and rolled his car to avoid becoming directly involved in our collision. The story of my conversation with her is here:

All in all, April 12 was a memorable day.

Monday, March 24, 2014

My interview with John Fitch for the Carrera documentary

There was no money in the budget to fly to Connecticut to interview John Fitch for the Carrera Panamericana documentary project that had landed in my lap but after speaking with John on the phone and enjoying the way in which he received me as a stranger, it was obvious that John would not just be a desirable addition to the cast of interviewees I had in mind to shoot but, rather, he was the sine qua non of the project. Film producer/distributor John Lawrence Ré offered up his home as a place to stay just across the border in Massachusetts making the trip easier and providing the opportunity to dine with him in a restaurant from another era that relies solely on candle light.

On the day, we arrived at John's house not knowing what to expect. John had been suffering declining health and I was cognizant of the fact that he might tire easily and I should be prepared to get what I needed in the shortest amount of time possible. John welcomed us and presented his good friend Don Klein with whom I had conversed over the phone. We set up quickly, without rushing; the oxygen tank and mask parked nearby a constant reminded of the state of John's health and the extraordinary gesture he was making in allowing us to come to his home for his interview.

As we got underway, it was a very gracious and enthusiastic John Fitch I found before my camera lens. Someone later asked me about John wanting to know what he was like. My reply was, "Where you might expect arrogance there was only enthusiasm." John was a gentleman and was still very passionate about racing. As we exchanged questions and answers, I had to constantly remind myself that this was the man who had had an impact on the survival of the Corvette, who had raced at Le Mans and the other great races of his era including the Carrera and yet he could easily be mistaken for a university professor of English.

For me, the highlight of the interview was when I asked John if he could ever imagine himself as a passenger in one of the classic road races rather than the driver. He reacted as though the thought was anathema to him and said, "A driver is always an optimist and a passenger is always a pessimist." What a wonderful observation!

When an hour of interview time had run out, I began to turn off the camera and prepare to load-out. John looked at me and asked, "Don't you want to continue?" I certainly did but not at the expense of his health and I was afraid he might be tiring. John made it clear that he was enjoying the interview and wanted to keep going; and so we did--for another hour.

Before leaving, John escorted us across some icy, slippery snow to his garage. He wanted us to see the Fitch Phoenix, a car he designed that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Corvette Stingray (Mako Shark) that came later after GM had taken a few months to study John's creation. [Place a pregnant pause and a knowing look here]

Only a small part of my conversation with John was used in the Carrera documentary and we spoke of a number of other topics that were of interest to him. Maybe one day, I'll share them with you.

Monday, March 17, 2014

James Bond: The complete & perfect brand

When I began looking into the concept of branding actors and applying it to the members of my film and TV repertory company in the early 1980s, I didn't use the word 'branding' as it was not commonly applied to actors as it is today. The word I used was 'signature' which implies that the attributes belong uniquely to one individual. The French word for signature is griffe and literally means the sharp nails of an animal or the mark left by the animal with its claw. So it was that I had the people in my organization who were branding our members use the term signature.

Since those early days, I have learned much about the obvious as well as subliminal aspects of branding people as actors and even as businessmen in the corporate world. I found that the better defined the brand, the easier it was to market. I was reading an article the other day about Ian Fleming who was the author of the James Bond books and creator of one of the best and most enduring personality brands that I can cite. The James Bond brand is such a full tapestry of characteristics and defining facets that I thought it might be interesting to see the detail with which Fleming branded his literary alter-ego.

The brand begins with what we see. In the first James Bond film, Dr. No, we encounter Bond seated at a Baccarat table wearing a tuxedo (or as the British would say, a dinner jacket). He looks strong, masculine, dangerous and elegant. Not a bad first impression for a brand. In defining Bond, Ian Fleming was painting something of a picture of himself and his own personal brand. Reading Fleming's biography, it is easy to spot the intersects between the real man and his fictional construct.

Is it necessary for an actor to be so thorough in creating his or her personal brand? If you are driven to make your mark rather than rely upon luck or Divine Intervention, I think it is. The way an actor dresses, the articles or 'props' he or she might carry with them and what they read all make an impression.

I was talking to a man who was a custodian at a high school. He was complaining that the teachers at the school had no regard for him and often ignored him as though he didn't exist. "Do you want them to talk to you?" I asked. Yes, he did. I told his to go to the newsstand and buy a copy of The Atlantic Monthly and roll it up so the magazine's name could be seen and stick it into his back pocket while he was at work. The next time I saw him, about a week later, he was stunned that a few of the teachers had noticed the magazine and began saying hello to him for the first time. It was a function of branding which caused an immediate and positive change in the way he was perceived.

What other trappings of James Bond further defined the brand? Well, Bond wore a Rolex and used a Ronson cigarette lighter. He wore Sea Island Cotton shirts and ordered his Martinis shaken, not stirred. He carried a Beretta 418 (.25) with a skeleton grip until it was replaced by a Walther PPK (7.65). He drove one of the last of the 1930 4.5 litre Bentleys with the Amherst Villiers supercharger. The Bentley was a battleship-grey--not grey, mind you, battleship-grey . Later, he was outfitted with an Aston-Martin DB Mk III in the book which was changed to changed to DB5 in the movie.

One need not go into such depth of consideration when contemplating the aspects and trappings of one's brand as an actor or business executive though doing so will certainly provide an edge that your peers don't have. It brings to mind that wonderfully cynical line of dialogue from School for Scoundrels spoken by Alastair Sim, "Just remember, if you're not one up on the other fellow, then he's one up on you."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The film I made for Tropicana

When I was living in Paris, I shot my TV pilot The French Chef starring French movie star Philippe Léotard. We shot for two or three days with backdrops that included the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Arc de Triomphe and La Place du Tertre with interiors at La Mère Catherine and inside a professional chef's kitchen . When it came time to do post production, I engaged a company that was recommended to me by my friend Jean Collomb who was the lighting director for Claude Lelouch on many of his films including A Man and A Woman and And Now My Love. The editing and post sound recording and mixing went smoothly and we got a good product. We paid our bill and left after about a week.

A few days later, the phone rang. The owner of the post production facility was calling wanting to know if I would be interested in shooting a publicity film for one of their clients. I have to admit that the idea didn't thrill me as I hadn't come to France to make PR films, commercials or anything other than projects I originated. Not wanting to be rude by saying no immediately and feeling grateful that he had thought to call me, I asked who was his client. "J. Walter Thompson," he said.

J. Walter Thompson, for those who don't know, is said to be the fourth largest advertising agency in the world with offices in 90 countries. I was impressed but I didn't think I had a chance of being hired by them; I was inexperienced having only made Montmartre and The French Chef at this point. I said as much to the gentleman on the phone. "That's not a problem," he replied. "They already want you."

You can imagine that this caught me by surprise. How is it that J. Walter Thompson even knows that I exist much less 'already wants me'? He hesitated before telling me, "They came by and I showed them what  you did with The French Chef." Really? Apparently, they liked it a lot and wanted me for this job. Would I be available for a meeting at J. Walter Thompson to discuss the project and meet with a representative from their client Tropicana Orange Juice? The 'no' that had been imminent suddenly became a resounding 'yes'.

The meeting that took place in one of the JWT conference rooms was interesting. It seemed as though my engagement on the project was a foregone conclusion. The people from Tropicana wanted only to discuss the project and not my credentials. We spoke of their intent for the film and what they needed it to convey. We talked briefly of scheduling. It was clear they wanted me to write the script. Is it always this easy?, I wondered.

The next day, I received confirmation of all that had been decided in the meeting along with an announcement of the fee I would be receiving. I was overwhelmed. We would start shooting in about eight weeks weeks.

With The French Chef ready to present to TV buyers in the States, it was time to make the trip to Los Angeles to try and sell the series. My partner and I, along with our girlfriends, got on a plane and flew into LAX with appointments all over town arranged by my manager who was a former girlfriend. Oddly enough, my first meeting was not about The French Chef. It was with Al Burton who was Norman Lear's director of development. What did he want? He wanted to know how I managed to get the US cable TV rights to the Crazy Horse Saloon (in Paris) after he had been negotiating with the owner Alain Bernardin for months. The best answer I could give him was that I was there on the spot, spoke French and was wearing a gold Rolex. Al shook his head in disbelief but I understood the dynamics even if he did not.

We made the rounds of Hollywood with The French Chef as our calling card. It was universally well received. The problem was that cable TV was in its infancy and the proliferation of channels, including food channels, had yet to manifest. Cable was still showing movies and short subjects. No one knew what to do with The French Chef. This didn't stop me from getting an offer from an investor to make a film. Off we went to the desert to El Mirage which would feature in a number of my future films and shot for about ten days. As I was editing the film, the investor liked what we had done and wanted to do another film right away. However, the time was drawing near to make the Tropicana film and here I was in Los Angeles, not Paris.

Early one morning, I made a phone call to Paris and spoke with my contact at J. Walter Thompson. "I'm in Los Angeles finishing a feature film and they are giving me money to make a second one. Would you like to have another director do your film?" No, they would not, the client wants you. I sensed there was no room for negotiation. I tried another tack. "The problem is that when I made the arrangements with you, I was in Paris and now..." Before I could finish my sentence, he said "Don't worry about that, we'll send you a round trip ticket." Before the end of the week, I was on an Air France flight to Paris.

A day or so later, and before I flew back to Paris, I heard the phone ringing at about six in the morning. I might go to bed at six but rarely did I get up at that hour. Something compelled me to answer the phone. It was J. Walter Thompson in Paris. It had occurred to them that they had not received a script for the Tropicana film. This would have been easy to explain as I had yet to write it but I held my tongue. We were only days away from shooting the film. I asked if he wanted me to send it to them. "No," he replied. "Just read it to us over the phone and my secretary will take it down." Can you imagine?

So at six in the morning, without benefit of what I would call a full night's sleep or even a cup of coffee, I started 'reading' the script to them over the phone off the top of my head, "Interior_bottle of Tropicana Orange Juice_day..." I went on like that for almost half an hour giving them an improvised script of the film I would make for them though I had made no preparations whatsoever prior to the phone call that morning. He quite liked it. In fact, when I arrived in Paris, the word was that everyone at JWT and Tropicana like the script. I liked that they liked it!

I was very glad to have had the chance to make that film. It gave me the opportunity to play with multiple sound tracks, having as many as five or six going at any one time. I was also able to give some voice-over work to an actor friend, Rick Grassi, who happened to be living in Paris at the time. One of the scenes in the film showed a crew placing a Tropicana poster into the display window of a bus shelter/kiosk. I was given the poster which I kept along with all my other memorabilia from France not to mention masters of my films and television shows--until they were all 'lost at sea'. A misunderstanding wherein I thought "I'll put it all in storage" meant "I'll put it all in storage".

Since doing the Tropicana film, I've never declined a project without good cause because each presents its own unique opportunity to learn about a craft that I love whether it is the journal of a long-haul trucker, a show about my friends driving their incredible Ferraris on incredible roads or shooting documentaries on subjects that are nostalgic or informative.

There is nothing like shooting a film.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Action/ReAction: Book cover as movie poster

Creating posters for my films is something I've enjoyed doing over the years. I've long been fascinated by film posters and I began collecting them before they could be purchased in film memorabilia shops or online. In those days when I saw a poster I wanted to add to my collection, I would have to go to the theater on a Wednesday night when they would be taking down the old one-sheets and putting up the new ones for the incoming film. My timing had to be good or I would miss my opportunity. Sometimes I could make an arrangement with the theater manager to set one aside for me but this was unreliable because a separate company was in charge of delivering and installing the new posters and removing and returning the old ones.

My first poster find was from the film The Last Run starring George C. Scott. It was a clean, elegant presentation with a photograph of Scott sitting at a table in front of an open window in a hotel room in Portugal. He is seen cleaning his .45 automatic and on the table is a bottle of whiskey and a pack of Marlboros. So much in this photo conveyed masculine adventure and danger and my first thought was this film would be the sort of story Hemingway might have written. Only then did I notice the log line "In the tradition of Hemingway and Bogart"--but the photograph spoke first.

Creating a book cover is much like designing a movie poster. The idea is to make a visual statement that conveys the essence and, perhaps the theme, of the offering. When it came time for me to create the design for Action/ReAction, I was at a loss for I didn't have a clue as to how the book should look. I considered the classic theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy but quickly rejected the idea as I felt they referred to theater more than cinema and my  technique addresses both. My next thought was to use a selection of Venetian masquerade masks but after looking through quite a few of them, I realized they all suggested masquerade balls rather than performance.

I was discussing this with writer, actor, photographer Tom Gurnee who began showing me photos he had taken in Basel, Switzerland during the Fasnacht festival. They were very colorful and expressive. Each mask seemed to have a distinct emotion and one could even intuit the unspoken thoughts the masks conveyed. They were a perfect expression of the Action/ReAction technique. Then we stumbled upon a photo Tom had taken of several masks lined up on a counter. It was a great arrangement and I began to visualize how the cover would be presented.

I needed a context that would be a visual presentation of the technique and since the technique relies heavily on the dictates and discipline of music, I had the idea of positioning the masks on a musical stanza as though they were the notes of a song. Tom played with the spacing and arrangement of the masks we had selected through a process of trial and elimination and came up with the presentation that became the cover art.

I then turned to my friend Kevin Courtright who wrote the book Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music for a discussion of music. Action/ReAction is a complex technique with many layers of nuance applicable to both male and female registers and so we decided on a treble clef. We turned our attention to the time signature that would be indicated on the stanza. I wanted it to convey that the technique was sophisticated and felt a 4/4 notation would send the wrong signal to those who understood music. We decided on 7/8 time signature. The sharps will remain an unexplained inside joke.

We now had what I felt was an adequate visual statement of the technique even if some of the 'code' could only be understood by those with musical training. The final element was a one sentence quote from me that summarized the technique and put into words the illustration we had created for the cover art. This was the result: "Think of yourself as a singer/dancer and know that the rules of those two disciplines also apply to acting."

This was an interesting exercise in visual, nonverbal communication and coded, subliminal expression--like my seeing 'Hemingway' in the photo of George C. Scott before seeing it in the log line on the poster. My thanks go to Tom Gurnee and Kevin Courtright without whose help and expertise, this cover would not have been.

Action/ReAction is available on Amazon and I was notified today that it will be carried by Book Soup on the Sunset Strip, a short distance from where we have our Elysée Wednesday gatherings.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Stuntman: Connections and resonance

Apart from the fact that The stuntman is one of my favorite films, I have a number of personal connections to the film. A friend and mentor of mine was Robert Lecky who worked with Mel Simon whose company financed the film. Robert helped Mel segue from being the largest builder of shopping malls in the United States into becoming a force in the film industry. The cinematographer on The Stuntman was Mario Tosi who was a friend and fellow Ferrari GTO owner in the late sixties. If you have seen the footage I narrated that was shot by Peter Helm of our group and our Ferraris at Willow Springs, you will have noticed Mario driving one of the three GTOs in the film.

I didn't know Chuck Bail well. Chuck played the stunt coordinator in The Stuntman and actually coordinated stunts in the film, but I met with him about an unrelated project at his home and at the airport hanger where he kept the Stearman bi-plane gifted to him by Steve McQueen on his passing. Chuck and Robert Lecky were friends and Chuck directed The Gumball Rally where if you saw a Ferrari Daytona on the screen, you heard a Ferrari Daytona on the soundtrack. I met and talked with Steve Railsback about The Stuntman in Du-pars one day when I was with a mutual friend who had worked with Steve in Yugoslavia on Veliki Transport. Allen Garfield (sometimes credited as Allen Goorwitz), who played the screenwriter in The Stuntman, called to comment on a Discussions episode I had written for Kathi Carey after he had seen it on cable and he later attended the premiere screening of my film Bleeder & Bates at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel paying me the ultimate compliment by saying that Bleeder reminded him of the work he had done with Wim Wenders. Tony Rush, son of The Stuntman's director Richard Rush, acted in my film Terminal Velocity (1984). Richard Rush sat in on a table-read I had organized for an investor/distributor for one of my projects kindly reading one the roles.

The Stuntman's poster attracted my attention picturing, as it did, the devil sitting on a camera crane. When I stopped at the theater box office in Westwood one afternoon to ask the ticket-seller what the film was about, the answer she gave me was, "It's hard to say." Immediately, I knew I had to see the film and more conversant figures in the film business than that ticket-seller had difficulty answering the question as to the film's subject matter. It is a film about filming that deals with the illusion of perception and reality at every level--a journey into the realm of questioning what is--with first-class acting and dialogue that is sharp, witty and thought provoking; everything I could ask for in a film and seldom get.

In making a film about filmmaking, The Stuntman delivered filmmaking excellence in the bargain. Notice Peter O'Toole's entrance into the film as his helicopter flies in and lands hitting the camera mark perfectly with perfect framing on Peter as Eli Cross, the director of the film-within-the-film. One of my favorite line's from the film is the rhetorical question "How tall is King Kong?" making reference to the fact the the 3'6" gorilla was transformed by movie magic into a monster in our perception. Another line of dialogue influenced my development of the Action/ReAction technique and was spoken by O'Toole commenting on an actor's performance by saying "It's not what he's eating but what's eating him that makes it kind of interesting." Richard Rush broke a number of filmmaking conventions and you can see that, on more than one occasion, he broke the so-called 180 degree rule in setting up his shots. I didn't mind at all.

The music score by Dominic Frontiere is memorable, one of my friends commenting that the main theme sounded like an hommage to Nino Rota. Dusty Springfield sang the love theme "Bits & Pieces" (Dominic Frontiere/Norman Gimbel) with lyrics that remind us that once there were real singers without Auto-Tune and with well-crafted and coherent lyrics that could provide perspective on one's life--even change it via the insights provided by those lyrics.

If you haven't seen the film, let me recommend it to you without reserve. It is 131 minutes of rousing fun.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Charles Kynard/Johnny Kirkwood, the Parisian Room & an untold Sidney story...‏

A conversation during a recent meeting with a fellow car enthusiast made reference to hot link sandwiches, sweet potato pies and L.A. jazz clubs in the 60s. What better intro to another untold Sidney story!

My father had been a jazz man before the war and his passion for music and jazz in particular stayed with him throughout his life. When I was a teenager, and well before I was of legal age to be going into such places, my father would take me along with him to various jazz clubs in the Los Angeles area. There was an active club scene in certain areas of L.A. where streets like Crenshaw, Slausen and W. Wahshington defined the region and the greats and near-greats could be heard live playing to a crowd that knew and understood jazz.

Jazz drummer Johnny Kirkwood was a friend of my father and played with organist Charles Kynard in those days. Johnny can be heard on Professor Soul playing with Charles along with Cal Green on guitar. The clubs offered me a new world of of musical sophistication and I loved the atmosphere. As we entered any of these clubs, I would hear the call of "Hello, Sidney" coming from the audience as well as the stage. He was at home there as I came to be. We were the only white faces in the crowd.

Wayne Robinson was another drummer my father enjoyed going to see. Wayne played the Parisian Room on La Brea Avenue which, sadly, is long gone having been replaced by a U.S. Post Office. My father and I became regulars in the audience but especially whenever Wayne appeared. I had a set of Ludwigs at the time and was taking drum lessons from a German gentleman who knew nothing about jazz--or so it seemed. Wayne would sit at the table with us between sets and we would talk technique and discuss the greats who inspired us. What exceptional times these were.

With mention of the Parisian Room, we have our lead-in to my untold Sidney story. Late one afternoon, my father found himself in the vicinity and stopped to use the phone booth in the parking lot of the Parisian Room. After completing a few calls, Sidney gathered his things and walked back to his car where he sat for several minutes preparing his notes and files for that evening's appointments (he was still involved with life insurance in those days and was training general agents for his company). As he was about to drive away, he heard a voice calling out, "Sidney!"

Looking around, my father saw no one and thought he might have imagined the voice but as he backed out of his parking space, he heard the voice again. This time it called out, "Victor!"

This not only confirmed that he was the object of someone's attention but indicated the nature of their interest as well. You see, my father was in the habit of carrying more than one driver's license in those days. It was a practical solution to the consequences of being an incorrigible driver with habits that today would be labelled with 'Don't try this at home!' warnings.

"Victor Russo!" called the voice again and this time Sidney saw two uniformed L.A.P.D. officers walking towards his car. They seemed like nice enough fellows. He had left his wallet in the phone booth and the nice officers were coming to return it to him--and to Victor Russo.

A brief conversation ensued wherein Sidney explained to the officers his theories on driving as well the purpose served by the fictional Victor Russo. In his uniquely charming way, Sidney convinced the two officers that his was a reasonable approach to the challenges of driving in Los Angeles. They liked his story and I am only surprised he didn't try to sell them each an insurance policy while he had their attention.

The officers did not cite my father for possession of the supernumerary driver's license though they kept the Victor Russo license (for their scrap book, no doubt). They parted as gentlemen on the best of terms.

My father was still sitting in the parking lot as the police car drove past. They honked and one of the officers called out, "Good bye, Sidney, alias Victor Russo!"

Here is a taste of Charles Kynard playing Where's It At:

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My first visit to the Ferrari factory

I was talking to a Ferrari friend coordinating a visit to the Ferrari factory in Maranello for another Ferrari friend and it looks as though my friend will get to enjoy his Ferrari tour but what became clear is how different things are today than they were in Enzo Ferrari's time. My visits to the factory weren't planned, choreographed, orchestrated or stage managed; I just showed up.

The first time I darkened the door of the factory in Maranello was in 1970. I had flown from Los Angeles to London where I stayed a few weeks looking for Bentleys to buy and ship back to California for resale. I scoured the landscape purchasing cars among them a pristine James Young R-type discovered in Surrey and a beautiful S1 I found (after enjoying a first class lunch aboard the train) in Southampton. It was a wonderful life and I experienced meals at Claridge's, cricket at Lord's, pub lunches in the countryside and plays in London's West End--on that trip I saw Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap and Sleuth starring Anthony Quayle at the St Martin's Theatre. I was wined and dined by my very good friend W.J.D. Clarke and his family in their homes and ventured into some very interesting antique shops. I had been making these trips to London since I was 16 and knew where to go and what to do.

On this trip, however, I did not return home after consigning my cars to the shippers and instead took an Alitalia flight to Milano where I would attend the Italian Grand Prix at Monza (and meet Enzo Ferrari in the process) and absorb some Italian atmosphere and culture. The Grand Prix was exciting and Clay Reggazoni won in his Ferrari though the weekend was was spoiled by the death of Jochen Rindt who suffered a fatal accident during practice. Jochen became the first and only posthumous World Champion.

On the Monday after the Grand Prix, I took the express train to Bologna and then doubled back to Modena. After walking around the town and finding that the Ferrari customer service department in Modena to be closed for lunch, I found a restaurant and enjoyed a wonderful and leisurely-paced luncheon along with some pleasant conversation with the proprietor. I was especially interested in his thoughts on the famous neighbors, Ferrari and Maserati, and his appreciation of their legendary efforts in racing. I told him I was visiting the Ferrari factory after lunch and he asked if I had an appointment. Without seeing beyond his question, I told him that I did not. He called a taxi for me and I took my leave.

"Maranello," I told the taxi driver and with a smile he steered the familiar course and about twenty minutes later he was dropping me at the factory gate. Approaching a door near the archway over which the familiar Ferrari logo confirms your arrival at a place of legend, I rang a bell that was answered after several minutes by a man in a suit. "Hello. I would like to take a tour of the factory, please," I told him in Italian. He asked if I had an appointment. I felt like Monty Python's John Cleese when he would answer an awkward question with "Not as such" but confined myself to a simple "No". I added that I had come from Los Angeles and that I owned a Ferrari GTO. Though I had, in the course of the previous two days at Monza, met Enzo Ferrari and the Formula 1 team manager Franco Lini (whom I had originally encountered some months earlier at a Ferrari Owners Club meeting in Los Angeles), it did not occur to me to mention this to him. He asked me to wait.

Whatever conversation (or series of conversations) had taken place, the result was that I was beckoned to enter and was taken on a full tour of the factory by a nice gentleman whose name was Pietro de Franchi. I saw the production line that included an example of a new model that had not yet been revealed to the public (it would debut later as the 365 GTC/4), witnessed an engine undergoing a dynamometer test (what a glorious sound!), paid a visit to the foundry and--Holy of Holies--the racing department.

Did I ask to see Il Commendatore or Franco Lini? No. I'd met them two days earlier and had nothing new to say or ask of them, but I have to confess that it was impossible to walk around the factory without feeling Ferrari's presence. Whether he was observing us or I was feeling his proximity via the cars that were his life's work, I don't know. It was, however, hallowed ground and, as my friend Paolo Migliorini Brizzolari said to me, "...it was a very special day impressed in your memory."

It certainly was.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Napoleon and film crews

Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach. He was Emperor of France and knew a thing or two about armies. A film crew of any size can be likened to an army serving long hours under difficult circumstances doing a job that is result-oriented rather than just putting in the hours of a shift. The food provided and the conditions under which meals are served take on greater importance relative to the difficulty of the job at hand.

My first experiences  with movie locations were with The Wrecking Crew (Palm Springs), Winning (Riverside Raceway) and Sole Survivor (Victorville). It was typical that we would be served lunch on the set by movie caterers and dinner was at a restaurant of our choosing paid for by the per diem provided by the company. For the most part, we would all eat in the hotel restaurant because the remote location meant a limited number of available restaurants in the area. One exception to this was on The Wrecking Crew when I took a co-worker to a Chinese restaurant in my Ferrari...

Any shoot tends to be economical with time but this is especially true of a production on location. Breakfast and lunch tend to be hurried and to the point. Dinner is a more relaxed occasion unless after dinner shooting is planned. The imperative is to keep the camera rolling.

Living in France, I found that food took on a completely different significance. Not only did its preparation become elevated to an art form, a meal was the social convention that formed meaningful friendships. As I acclimatised to living in Paris, dinners starting at eight in the evening and lasting until well past midnight were quite common. Fine food and interesting conversation bonded people who had previously been strangers. I decided to carry this ritual into my filmmaking.

On my first film, Montmartre, we ate in various restaurants around Paris where we were shooting. Couscous Merguez and steak-frites were favorites. Vin rouge was the beverage of choice. Preparing to shoot The French Chef, my partner and I dined out in some of the best restaurants in Paris where the proprietors (in France, the chef is also the owner of the restaurant) would 'audition' for the shoot by inviting us to a dinner that they would present on the show.

Some shoots found us in isolated areas that offered limited choices of places to eat. Desert Center, Success, Terminal Velocity, Dead Right and Double Cross were all shot in part on El Mirage lake bed and in and around Victorville and Las Vegas. When we were in Victorville breakfast was always at a truck stop where the biscuits and gravy were intoxicating. Lunch was where we could find it but dinner was open to crew input and we would have prime rib one evening and pasta the next. Las Vegas offered even more exotic possibilities as did Mexico when we were there shooting Fait Accompli. In Ensenada, dinner one evening was hosted in the restaurant of a former New York gangster who took a liking to us.

Regardless of where we took our meals, they were unhurried affairs and I could generally get a feeling from the group when they were ready to return to work. This approach made for some very pleasant shoots and, no doubt, the thought of doing things this way would drive any respectable unit manager crazy but I've found there's more to making films than making films.

My special thanks goes to France and my Parisian friends who informed my approach to filmmaking and, yes, to life as well.