Monday, December 19, 2011

Not Bad for a Human by Lance Henriksen

Lance Henriksen and Joseph Maddrey. Not Bad for a Human. Canada: Bloody Pulp Books, 2011.

Lance Henriksen began painting at age 15 and threw himself into his art.  He added pottery as a passion.  He dedicates himself to his work without deciding when starting what it will be when he ends.  He then went into acting, which he handled with the same philosophy which he calls “compulsive energy”.  He went into narration and voice over work.  He feels consistent with director Sidney Lumet’s philosophy of “I don’t want life reproduced up there on the screen.  I want life created.”

Actor Charles During advised Henriksen that Henriksen’s unusual looks meant he would get more roles when he was older.  This proved correct. 

Henricksen’s father was a Merchant Marine who was seldom around.  He spent time in children’s homes where he regularly defied authority.  He didn’t learn to read.  He had only three years of grammar school.  He worked the streets as a shoeshine boy.  His uncles pleaded with him to earn more for the family by deliberately getting hit by a car, to which he refused.  He ran away from home and kept running, doing odd jobs along the way. He snuck into a theater and watched a play.  When he saw the actors swear on stage, and observed how the audience loved it, he knew he wanted to be an actor.  He walked into the Actors Studio, announced he wanted to be an actor, was told he was too young, and he was kicked out. That frustrations made him decided to become a man.  He joined the Navy, in part, to mimic his father’s life.

Henriksen was 16 when he joined the Navy, and lied by saying he was the minimum age of 17.  He enjoyed having friends and being challenged.  He was given responsibility, which taught him about himself.  His mother made the Navy give him 30 days emergency leave because she had no money during winter.  He realized he couldn’t do anything about that, so he ran away again.  He made it to Denver where he was arrested for not paying rent.  He was then arrested for being AWOL.  When in the brig, another prisoner threatened to kill him.  Henriksen decided to act first and beat the guy with wooden shower shoes.  After release, he tried to escape again, het his vehicle caught fire after going just 500 yards.  He was expelled from the Navy and given $15.

Henriksen used the money to buy funny looking clothes, in protest against the world.  He hitchhiked and was picked up by a guy in a stolen vehicle.  He spent four months in jail awaiting trial on charges he was involved in stealing the vehicle.  The Judge let him go and he went back to traveling.  He returned to art, received a commission for murals, yet they were rejected.  He then went overseas.

Henriksen was jailed for vagrancy in Tucson in 1960.  A film crew was in town filming the TV show “Sunday Showcase”.  He pleaded for help and he received $5 for being an extra.  He went to Boston and auditioned for a part as a mime.  Out of a block long line of mimes, he and a friend got two of the four mime parts. He saved an act when a foam rubber golden calf fell and he mimed as if it the fall were part of the act.  The mime artist, Claude Kipnis, was impressed and offered Henriksen work in a touring company.  Henriksen ironically played a prisoner in the play “The Brig” in San Francisco.

Until this point, the mostly illiterate Henriksen did not need to rely on written words.  His acting was being “on just being”.  He wanted to “live as the character” and not as someone else’s written words.

Henriksen won the lead role in a Eugene O’Neill play at the Masterworks Laboratory Theatre in New York.  He didn’t realize he had the lead role until rehearsals.  He would land several roles, usually as an angry person, in New York and Boston theaters.

Henriksen hung around the Actor’s Studio.  He could observe and attend meetings.  He never auditioned to become a member.  He disliked Leo Strassberg.

Henrikson studied Method acting and placing his own memories and emotions into his roles.

His first movie was “It Ain’t Easy” in 1972.  It was critically slammed. He then did some more plays.  In 1973, his next movie roles was in “To Kill the King”.  He couldn’t identify with the part.  Still, he continued during film work.  He was hired to work in the movie ”Dog Day Afternoon” with director Sidney Lumet..  Henriksen observed how Lumet directed. 

Henriksen’s next film was “Close Encounters of the Third King”, where he worked for six months for less than two minutes of film time.  The director, Steven Spielberg, didn’t like it when Henrikson suggested a plot change.

Henriksen filmed several horror films, including “Damien: Omen II”.  He was in “Piranha 2” as directed by James Cameron.  In that film, he broke his hand diving 40 feet from a helicopter, accidentally drove a boat onto a dock, and his helicopter almost collided, almost stalled, and crashed.  Cameron was impressed by the risks Henriksen was silling to take and also in his interest in the acting process.

Henriksen appeared on the TV soup “Ryan’s Hope” for two days.  He didn’t like the acting work there, which he thought was awful.  He turned down a three year contract of $50,000 for the first year, $75,000 for the second year, and $100,000 for the third year.  Instead, he had a few minor roles during that time.  He had a role as a hostage negotiator on “Cagney and Lacey” which went so well it is used in a government film for training hostage negotiators.

Henriksen appeared as Wally Schirra in “The Right Stuff”.  He then helped James Cameron negotiate approve to film “The Terminator”.  Henriksen turned down the role later given to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He didn’t regret this.  Instead, he took the role of Hal Vukovich.

James Cameron brought Henriksen back in the “Alien” sequel.  Henriksen did conceptual drawings and hired a costume designer to give himself ideas on how the role should be played.  Henriksen reached into emotions from his youth for this part.  He lost weight the role and tried taking on the physical characteristics of the parts he had.  He would attempt to remain in character to better understand his roles,  Henriken notes that the greatest villains are not those that committed a lot of violence, but those that has a lot of power.

In playing comedy in HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt”, Henriksen was successful by not acting as it if were a comedy.  That tone worked better.

In the movie “Stone Cold”, Henriksen immersed himself into his character. He improvised his lines and the director realized Henrikson understood his character more than was in the script.

Henriksen found it difficult to empathize with his sadistic character in “The Pit and the Pendulum”.  Henriksen adopted a primal life style during the shooting by walking barefoot and having only bread and water.

During filming “Gunfighter’s Moon”, his friend Rex Rossi, a stuntman, suffered a heart attack on the set.  The cast and crew had to keep shooting during the two hours waiting for the ambulance to arrive.  Fortunately, Rossi survived.

Henriksen was on the TV series “Millennium”.  He discovered that TV work involved long hours over continuous weeks.  He found learning 60 pages of script each week for 22 weeks “overwhelming”.  His acting challenge was to bring a human touch to horrific scenes so that they would appear real.  Henrikson worked with director Thomas J. Wright on developing his character.  He wanted closure for his character and he received it when series creator Chris Carter had his character appear on Carter’s next series “X Files”.  Afterwards, Henriksen devoted more time to his family and newborn daughter.

Henriksen’s voice attracted voice over work.  He did a voice on the animated “Tarzan” movie.  Narration work followed by voiceover work in video games.

Henriksen advises low budget filmmakers not to compete with a large budget movie.  He urges finding some originality that will make the movie different and special.

Henriksen had the role of a dying man in “AVP: Alien vs. Predator”.  He smoked four packs of cigarettes a day to make his voice sound sickly.

Henriksen observed “when I’m acting, I’m admitting who I am”. He finds it difficult, after completing a film, waiting until he finds more acting work.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Film School by Steve Bowman

Steve Bowman. Film School: A Memoir That Will Change Your Life. Dallas, Tx.: Benbella Books, Inc., 2011.

Screenwriting courses teach that protagonists must overcome tribulations, the author reports in relating his coursework at the University of Southern California.  This book is the memoirs of someone who overcame difficulties of raising a family and being older than most other students to complete film school and successfully create a TV series.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was created in 1927.  Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. was President.  His first project created an awards system, which is the Academy Awards.  His second project was to create a film school.  The University of Southern California (USC) agreed and became the first film school.  The first course it offered in 1929 was Introduction to Photoplay.  Among the first teachers were Fairbanks, Mark Pickford, Darryl Zanuck, D.W. Griffith, and Ernest Lubitsch.  The USC School of Cinematic Arts has the most film school students in the world with 850 undergraduates and 650 graduate students.  UCLA opened its film school in 1939 and New York University opened its film school in 1965.

A full time USC student takes 8 to 10 credits per semester.  52 credits are required to graduate with a Master of Film Arts in Film Production.  It costs $1,500 per credit or $80,000 in tuition.  Completing film school can cost $150,000 to $200,000 total.

The Production 507 course creates a B to continue in the program.

USC offers a student designed Interdivisional Media Arts and Practice Ph.D. degree. 

The Introduction to Screenwriting course is CTWR 528.

An initial assignment was for students to film a two minute film on a digital camera, which required shooting in order as the film would be shown.

Acting class has a strong basis in acting theory, especially the theories of Uta Hagen.  In the acting class, students had to act and direct.

Film Production class required making short films with limited dialogues.  One film was allowed just one word in eight minutes of film viewing.  The next assignment allowed just one sentence.  Students were to then describe the intentions, synopses, strengths, and weaknesses of each other’s films.  Film should convey information about characters, their directions, relationships with other characters, and make an audience wish to watch.

The author calculated that a four credit course taught in a 341 seat auditorium represented $2 million in tuition for USC.

There is an informal rule that the police won’t hassle a film shoot by film students lacking a permit so long as there are three or less people involved in the shoot.

The permit office FILM MA is described by the author as being slow and ineffective.

Many film people find they may earn a good living working on film sound.

Film was useful in World War II.  16 millimeter film cameras activated when on American airplanes with the planes fired.  This could show exactly what happened.  It could also prove useful for training purposes.

The author notes that film school is very competitive.  Students want to associate with the top level students in hopes of furthering their own careers. 

Much of learning in film school is how well one learns from mistakes.

The author took a course on pitching ideas.  Industry people listened to students pitches.  The author successfully pitched an idea that became a CBS TV series, “Three Rivers”, which aired in 2009 to 2010.

USC provides students with safety guidelines on filmmaking. The author strongly advises they be followed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Carla Laemmle by Rick Atkin

Rick Atkin.Carla Laemmle: Among the Rugged Peaks. An Intimate Biography. Baltimore, Md: Marquee Press, Inc., 2009.

Carla Laemmle was born on October 20, 1909.  She is the niece of

Carl Laemmle, who created a movie studio on 230 acres he purchased in Lankershim Township, California for $165,000 that became Universal Studios.

Carla studied dance from the age of six, attended dance school, and portrayed the Prima Ballerina in his uncle’s 1925 movie “The Phantom of the Opera.”  She also appeared in the 1931 Universal film “Dracula” as well as dancing in movies such as “Don Juan”, “La Boheme”, and “Camille”.

Before Carl Laemmle moved to California, he rented a downtown Chicago store called the White Front Theater, a nickelodeon with 120 folding chairs.  He then operated a second movie theater in Chicago called Carl’s Family Theater.  He then sold both.  Carl Laemmle had belonged to Edison Patent Company, who held a monopoly on movies by owning the production studios, camera, and film.  Laemmle wanted to create his own movies and he refused to pay royalties to the Edison Patent Company.  Laemmle instead worked with Lumiere film from France and then created the Motion Picture Distribution and Sales Company.  The Edison Patents Company fought back with 280 lawsuits.  The court dissolved the lawsuits in 1915.

Carl Laemmle started the Independent Moving Pictures Company.  Laemmle was unique then in claiming European film rights.Laemmle produced films at 53rd Street and 11th Avenue in New York.  “Hiawatha” was the company’s first film.  It starred Gladys Hulette.  It was first shown on October 25, 1909 in New York.  Carla Laemme was five days old at that time.

Carl Laemmle produced a film in 1913 entitled “Traffic in Souls”.  It became the first movie to be booked in 30 New York City theaters at the same time. 

Laemmle hired Erich von Stroheim to direct films.  Von Stroheim’s detailed directing style cost him his job at Universal.  He was replaced in the middle of directing “Merry Go Round” by Rupert Julian.  Julian later directed “The Phantom of the Opera” which starred Lon Chaney and Mary Philbin.  Philbin was a childhood friend of Carla’s. 

Carl Laemmle opened his Universal Pictures movie studios on March 25, 1915.  The company’s official name was the Universal Film Manufacturing Company.  This was the first common area for producing movies.  250 movies were produced in its first year.

Carl Laemmle created the star system.  Florence Lawrence was the first big film star.  She was followed by Mary Pickford. 

Carla received private dance lessons for four years. She also wrote poetry and had poems published in two different Chicago newspapers when she was six years old.  At age 15, she had a poem published in a Los Angeles newspaper.

At age 19, Carla became the personal secretary to Irving Thalberg, a studio General Manager.  Thalberg pushed to produce the movie “The Phantom of the Opera”.  Universal bought the rights.  Thalberg then left Universal to work for Louis B. Mayer Productions.

Carla and her family moved to Universal City in 1920.  Carla befriended a hermit named Pete, who lived in a shack.  Mae West also was a friend of Pete the Hermit.  Carla also enjoyed the studio back lot zoo.

Carla became the Premiere Danseuse at the Shrine Light Opera.  Her live performance won critical acclaim.

Carla appeared in a dramatic role in Universal’s “The Gate Crasher”.  Universal then loaned her to perform in MGM’s “The Broadway Melody of 1929:.  Her scene was cut from the film yet the scene was placed into the movie “The Hollywood Revue of 1929”.  Carla did not know this happened until decades later.

Carla next was in Universal’s “King of Jazz” with Bing Crosby.  She appeared in “Dracula”.  As her line opened the movie, she thus because the first person to speak dialogue in a horror film.  All previous horror films were silent films.  Her cousin Carl Laemmle, Jr. was the film’s producer.

The Depression and gambling problems facing Carl Laemmle and Carl Laemmle, Jr. bankrupted Universal.  Loans could not be repaid so Standard Capital acquired 80% of Universal common stock and took control of Universal.  Carl resigned as President and Carl, Jr. resigned as General Manager and Vice President.  “Magnificent Obsession” and “Showboat” were later released but still listed Carl Laemmle, Jr. as Producer.

Once Carla was no longer under contract with Universal, she was able to work for any studio.  She changed her professional name to Carol Lenard.  Carl danced in several movies such as Warner Brother’s “Mission to Moscow”, MGM’s “The Chocolate Soldier” and RKO’s “Step Lively”, where she danced with  Frank Sinatra.  Her 1946 appearance in “Night and Day” was her last for some time.  She danced professionally in live theater.  She left the entertainment business yet returned to appear as a vampire in “The Vampire Hunter’s Club” in 2001 with Forest Ackerman and Mink Stole.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hoda by Hoda Kotb

Hoda Kotb with Jane Lorenzini. Hoda: How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair, Cancer, and Kathie Lee. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2010.

Kotb graduated college from Virginia Tech in 1986 with a Communications degree. She applied to and was rejected by all three network news agencies. A friend of her uncle helped convince CBS to hire her for errands and for ripping wire. Her parents are Egyptian and she speaks Arabic. She was working for CBS in Egypt when she received an important assignment to film a Dutch ship believed to have armaments that was crossing through the Suez Canal. She helped film this and hid a tape so the Egyptian police would seize a second decoy tape. The tape made “CBS Evening News”.

Kotb then obtained a mews reporter position in Greenville, Mississippi. She became an emergency evening news anchor replacement, starting nervously greeting viewers with “good morning” for the evening broadcast. Despite several errors, she was given another chance. She improved and became the 5 pm news anchor. Afterwards, she worked in other cities’ news stations, including New Orleans, before winding up in New York.

In 1998, Kotb became a correspondent on “Dateline”. She covered anti-American protesting in Pakistan when demonstrators started chanting against her and her film crew. Her assignments took her to Turkey and Iraq. If Iraq, she handled interviews while gunfire surrounded the area during the interviews, as those being interviewed were used to it. She went to Burma and interviewed Sun Kyi, under house arrest, in Kyi’s first interview in 11 years. Since it was illegal to interview Kyi punishable by seven years imprisonment he posed as a tourist and hid the tape with Kyi in a shoe. She filmed in Afghanistan not realizing she was in an area that had land mines. Numerous assignments followed.

Kotb’s work process at “Dateline” was to cover a story, write the script, select of the parts of the taping for the segment, screen it, review, and then send the segment to the senior producers. She and staff often had to argue with the producers and their ideas for revisions. The Executive Producer would be the decision maker. The segment would get its first screening. Further revisions would be made for a second screening. The Legal Departments and Standards and Practices Division representatives would attend the second screening. Standards and Divisions would seek a sense of balance in the presentation.

Kotb began hosting a TV show “Your Total Health” in addition to her “Dateline” duties. She developed breast cancer that required a mastectomy. She decided to present her experiences with breast cancer on the “Today” show.

Kotb sought to host the final hour of the “Today” show. She made an appointment with Jeff Zucker, NBC Universal’s Chief Executive Officer, and pitched her causes. She got the job sharing hosting duties with Ann Curry and Natalie Morales. Morales became the 9 am cohost and national correspondent.

NBC decided to pair Kotb with Kathie Lee Gifford for the final hour of the “Today” show. Gifford has left television eight years prior. Gifford wanted to first meet Kotb. They had a multi-hour initial meeting.

Gifford didn’t use an IFB to hear control room advice during the live show, as she had not used one before. Gifford convinced Kotb to stop using her IFB and to stop referring to notes. The two started clicking better and the show improved with their spontaneous exchanges. They even began drinking alcohol on the air. Kotb observed that “Today” show Executive Director Jim Bell is a good manager who gets people working together.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Behind the Seen by Charles Koppelman

Charles Koppelman. Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple's Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema. Berkeley, Ca.: New Riders, 2005.

It is the film editor who creates a coherent film by selecting pieces of film a director selects. A film editor needs to be both a specialized technician in the editing process and a creative generalist in choosing the correct final product of beauty. A film editor has to work well with a director's lead as well as knowing when to lead the director.

Walter Murch invented the N-VIS-O splicing system. This ides splice marks from the screen.

The film business involves an unpredictable future. Predicting that future is recognized by screenwriter William Goldman who observes in Hollywood "no one knows anything". Still, studios use tools to increase the likelihood of success. Moves are screened before test audiences. Scenes and endings to movies have been changed if test audiences don't like them.

A movie may have 500 years of work placed into its creation.

Film editing begins while shooting. Otherwise editing through perhaps over 40 hours of film could place adding months into getting a movie ready for release. This means the film editor travels to where the film is being shot.

The editing process often means working late and not having time to eat properly. Murch gets himself into physical shape beforehand.

Murch worked on sound effects and mixing on "The Godfather", "American Grafitti", and others. He switched to picture editing with “The Conversation". Others have made the same switch in their careers.

Director Francis Ford Coppola, after his success with "The Godfather", got the studio to agree to let him make "The Conversation" in order to then make "Godfather, Part II." "The Conversation" had to be made on a tight schedule before "The Godfather, Part II" began work. Coppolla thus was working on "Godfather, Part II" while Murch was still editing |"The Conversation". This was challenging since 10% of the screenplay was missing because it was never filmed. Coppola asked Murch to postpone editing "The Conversation" until "Godfather: Part 11" was finished. Murch opposed his and he finished "The Conversation". Murch won two British Academy Awards for editing and sound on "The Conversation".

Murch reedited a line in a crucial scene that changed one of the film's premise in "The Conversation". Murch felt, without the editing, the audience was missing a key point. Coppola agreed with the reediting.

Murch uses many notes formed with memos to the director. These memos of Murch were often 6 ti 8 pages. Murch becomes very involved in his work and communicating with directors.

Murch went to USC and worked for Encyclopedia Brittanica Educational Films and then Dove Films. Upright Moviola editing machines were used then. This machine had foot pedals to move film back and forth and a hand brake. The view was postcardsized, much smaller than what was seen on screen. The Moviola would sometimes scratch and destroy film. Murch would later use both the nonlinear Moviloa and the linear KEM.

Computes began being used for film editing during the 1980s. Computers stored lots of information and let editing be completed more quickl. The Avid computer editing system which also converted film to video cost $80,000 to $100,000. Most feature films budgeted for two Avids, with many using just one.

Premire editing machines appeared in 1991 for video use. The Premiere could not turn 24 frames per second film tin 40 frames per second film.

The Final Cut Pro (FPC) digital editing system appeared in 1999. Apple made it and Macinstosh users such as Murch liked it. Murch decided to edit "Cold Mountain" with FPC. THis was the first feature film editoed with $995 software. FCP was marketed as something between consumer and professional use. Many antiicipated how it would work for a feature film.

Murch worked with director Anthony Minghella. Minghella's style was to shoot a lot of material and reconsider the story and make revisions throughout the filming and editing.

Murch and Coppola had created the 5.1 sound formal with an automated mixing board. This allowed sound be heard 360 degrees in a theater. Coppola added speakers or rewired theaters to accommodate this, and paid for it himself.

Digial Film Tree worked with Murch. FCP, a Mac computer, and FCP software then cost under $4,000 compared to a Fast 601 with abilities similar to Avid which cost $13,00o. Digital Film Tree used FCP. They also used a DVCAM OSR 2000, which cost $15,000, which Sony loaned them.

The film editors decided the pattern that the negative cutter uses in creating the final film. The cut points are indicated by key codes. These codes are essential, as "Cold Mountain" was an index of 114 miles of film. An EDL list of cut points is important. A computer saves times in creating the EDL line.

It is important for a film cuter to know if an adjoining frame where a cut is made is needed for another scene. If this is the case, a duplicate, or dupe negative, is made.

It was found that Avid sometimes crashed and media was corrupted or lost. FCP crashes less frequently,

Murch edited "Captain Eo". This was a $20 million George Luca film starring Michael Jackson shown only at Disneyland.

Apple released OSX as an advancement over OS9. Yet many FCP systems continued using OS9 due to a lack of software and hardware development for using OSX.

"Cold Mountain" was filmed in Romania. Murch edited in a Kodak Cinelab in Bucharest. Murch viewed dailies by himself so so could view them without anyone's input. Murch read Minghella's notes during a second viewing that happened weeks later in preparation for cutting. Murch did not go to the sets, as he wishes to view only what is captured on film.

Murch recalls an old saying that movie production occurs in six stages, 1.) enthusiasm, 2.) confusion, 3.) despair, 4.) searching for those guilty, 5.) punishing the innocent, and 6.) rewarding the non-involved.

The general rule that one part of scritp approximates one minute of a movie does not apply to Minghella. When Minghella directed "The English Patient", its 121 page script was 4 hours, 2 minutes. This was cut to 2 hours, 42 minutes.

Hitchcock and Spielberg shoot exactly according to the script. Minghella frequently deviates from the script.

Murch track film in File Marker Pro database. Murch uses a bin to track trims, in case they are needed later. There is no industry standard for tracking film.

Murch observed that 30 percent of an initial movie is usually trimmed. "Cold Mountain" would be trimmed by much more and took much longer to edit,

Murch found some problems with FCP. Some images faltered. This was easily resolved by resetting the resolution on the computer terminal from "millions of colors" to "thousands of colors". There were problems getting the color corrected editing on the fly to operate properly. Murch corrected it later, since the problem was not resolvable. The Romanian Kodak technician did a good job and little additional color correction was required.

It is also discovered it takes a minute for FCP to load. This meant to took several minutes to lead several videos. Murch realized not to put all his work into one FCP filter.

Mirimax Film had a distribution deal where they provided half the financing for "Cold Mountain". The financing casts were expected to be about $80 million total for "Cold Mountain". Murch was asked to create a promotional film with already shot iflm to be used to attract another studio financier. A 25 minute sampler DVD was created. This helped show that editing with FCP worked.

Minghella fell behind in shooting. He was legally required to be finished by a date certain. Minghella sarted filming 2.3 scenes a day, a pace that would finish on time.

The first version of "Cold Mountain" was almost four hours long. This was too long for FCP to show without often freezing. It could not be shown to others. Murch discovered that rendering the audio solved the problem, as FCP could not play lengthy media with multiple filters.

Afterwards, Murch and Minghalla edited together for three months. Newly written lines were added. Scenes were cut while maintaining continuity. 48% was cut to bring it to an initial showing of 2 hours, 37 minutes plus 6 minutes for closing credits. The audience received comment cards. A focus group was able to discuss the film. 12 of 33 participated in the focus group said it was excellent and 6 said it was good. Some of those who didn't care for it found it predictable.

Murch many sound refinements getting the sound density, reverberation, and pitch he sought. He also used editing to sharpen and clean some lighting in some scenes.

Mirimax is known for its successful marketing. $30 million was budgeted for promoting and advertising.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I'm Walking as Straight as I Can by Geri Jewell

Geri Jewell with Ted Nichelsen. I’m Walking as Straight as I Can: Transcending Disability in Hollywood and Beyond. Toronto, Ontario.: EDW Press, 2011.

The author, who has cerebral palsy, was been one of the few people with physical disabilities to have recurring roles on network TV shows. In themes on her own name, she played Geri on “The Facts of Life” and Jewell on “Deadwood”,

Jewell’s mother was hit by a car while pregnant with her. The doctors thought she had died and removed her in a premature birth. She was, of course, alive and weighed less than three pounds when born. She developed pneumonia, was not expected to live more than a day, yet survived. Her mother had cared for a child with cerebral palsy and named Geri after that child. Whether the naming was a premonition or coincidence, Geri’s mother’s previous experiences with cerebral palsy led her to recognize before doctors could tell that Geri indeed also had cerebral palsy. Her family moved to California where cerebral palsy care was known to be good.

Jewell was teased by neighborhood children for her physical condition while growing up, which made her feel ashamed. As a child, she loved reading about famous actors. In high school, she took a Drama class. In her first time of stage, she accidentally fell, ran onto stage when she wasn’t supposed to, and had her kimono costume fall off while dancing. She learned that making people laugh helps resolves some problems.

Jewell wrote poetry and sent it to her hero Carol Burnett. She went to a taping of the “Carol Burnett Show” and was surprised when Carol Burnett went into the audience to meet her and tell her that her poetry has hanging on Carol Burnett’s walls.

Jewell told her guidance counselor she wanted to be a nun, actor, or psychologist. After graduating from high school, she was placed in employment with Goodwill Industries to learn keypunching. She then went to Cypress Junior College where she loved Theater classes. The State Rehabilitation office would not let her major in Theater, so she left Cypress and later transferred to Fullerton Junior College yet failed some classes. She tried stand up comedy. She appeared in the Bely Room, the smallest stage at the Comedy Store. Female comics were mostly assigned to the Belly Room. The owner Mitzi Shore only let her perform in the Main Rom once. She loved how the audience enjoyed her performances. She got laughs wearing a t-shirt that reads “I don’t have cerebral palsey (sic), I’m drunk”. She joked the t-shirt cost 30 cents per word, so she wished she had polio instead.

Jewell learned how to respond when audiences did not respond. Jewell also found a manager who took 25% of her earnings as management fees and another 50% in a partnership clause for creating Jewell Productions. Her manager claimed he kept her earnings low so she could continue collecting Social Security disability benefits. She knew this was illegal, which frightened her into trusting her manager. Her manager was later convicted of stealing $1.5 million of funds from others.

Jewell got a role on the PBS series “The Righteous Apple”. She then got a role in the movie “Nice Dreams”. She broke a finger and thumb on the set. The cast led to her role being cut from the film. The three weeks of working on the movie earned her a Screen Actors Guild membership.

Jewell auditioned and won a role on “The Facts of Life”, She found the cast as very supportive. Lisa Whelchel helped her rehearse and worked with her on her role. Jewell ad-libbed “I love you” to Whelchel’s character, but in appreciation of Whelchel’s help. The ad lib was kept on the show. Whelchel and Jewell became friends and then roommates. Lisa, an activist in a fundamentalist religious community, and Jewell, who belonged to another religion, grew apart yet Jewell is proud of what Whelchel has done in life,

Jewell once received a $45 check for working of “Facts of Life” She learned her manager took advances of funds from her paycheck. She never got the money back.

Jewell befriended actor Charlotte Rae’s assistant. Jewell learned this assistant was a liar who stole $7,000 from Rae.

Jewell’s character name on “The Facts of Life” was changed from Geri Warner to Geri Tyler. Jewell was never told why, although she believes people on the show no longer wanted her character to be Lisa Whelchel’s character’s cousin after Jewell began a romantic relationship with Charlotte Rae’s assistant. Some gay double entendres were written into her scripts. Her character was cut back to one line in an episode. Charlotte Rae advised her they were writing Jewell off the show.

An autobiography was ghost written for Jewell, “Geri”. Jewell skimmed the book. This led to problems when she was interviewed on “The Phil Donahue Show” and had trouble answering questions about what was in the book.

Ed Simmons wrote a pilot for Jewell called “Sid’s Kid” with Sid Caesar and Jewell. Jewell writes it was a great pilot but it never sold. Ed Simmons was supportive and paid for a hearing aid for Jewell when he observed she had trouble hearing.

Being disabled meant Jewell’s acting work was always for roles centering on her disabilities. She was on “Sesame Street”. She accidentally skated in Carroll Spinney, who is Big Bird, so hard that Big Bird’s head fell off, to the horror of nearby children. Jewell found work in extremes, from children’s shows to “Good Sex with Dr. Ruth.”

Jewell faced a life of bad relationships, coming to grips with her sexuality, and depression when her career stalled. Jewell’s career revived with a role on the TV series “Deadwood” on HBO. The show’s primary actors were on contract with HBO. She was not. She was paid only on days she was filmed. She found all the cast as very supportive. The role renewed her career and more work followed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jeannie Out of the Bottle by Barbara Eden

Barbara Eden with Wendy Leigh. Jeannie Out of the Bottle. New York: Crown Archetype, 2011.

The author was an actress whose entertainment career began by winning the Miss San Francisco contest. She then sang and did comedy at Ciro’s nightclub, who hired her even though a shoe flew off during her dance audition. The other dancers made fun of Eden’s church attendance. She found the cruelty of the other dancers so distressful she was glad when she was fired.

Eden found an agent who changed her name from Barbara Huffman to Barbara Eden. She won a role performing skits and singing on “The Johnny Carson Show”. She discovered Carson drank to calm his nerves. His nervousness was never visible to audiences.

Eden appeared on the cover of “Parade” magazine. She then won a part on “The Ann Southern Show”. Southern got wardrobe to make Eden appear less attractive when they appeared together. Eden was upset at Southern’s rudeness.

Eden appeared in several movies and TV series. She had a small role on the TV series “The West Point Story” and then had a role in the movie “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?”

Eden did an episode of “I Love Lucy”. She found Lucille Ball, unlike Southern, encouraging. Ball told Eden to “let the cameras love your face. Don’t look away from it.” Lucille Ball asked wardrobe to make Eden appear more appealing.

She did two seasons and 55 episodes of the TV series “How to Marry a Millionaire”, based upon a movie. Eden had the role Marilyn Monroe had in the movie. Eden received top billing. During this period, she met Senator John Kennedy, who gave her his phone number. She tore it up.

Eden met and married actor Michael Ansara, star of the TV series “Broken Arrow”. This distressed another suitor such that he attempted suicide,

Eden was cast in the movie “Flaming Star” with Elvis Presley. Elvis told Eden he avoided mobs by staying indoors and watching TV. He was a “Broken Arrow” fan. Elvis confided to her that his agent, Colonel Tom Parker, received too high a percentage yet he credited Parker with his fame and felt he was worth that percentage. In this movie, Eden had to ride a horse. She had never been on a horse before, yet she learned.

Eden filmed the movie “From the Terrace” with Paul Newman. She found Newman put other actors at ease and was good to work with. Eden found Newman was insecure about his height as he felt he was too short.

Eden appeared in the movie “Five Weeks in a Balloon” with Red Buttons and a lion. The lion at times would roam the set. People were wanred not to move much so the playful lion wouldn’t jump on them. The lion once almost jumped on Eden before the trainer and Red Buttons rescued her from possible harm or death.

While Eden was filming the movie “Five Weeks in a Balloon”, her stand-in was also Marilyn Monroe’s stand-in at a nearby set. Eden was pleased when her stand-in informed her that Marilyn Monroe wanted to meet her. She found Marilyn Monroe the most beautiful, glowing person ever. Yet Eden also realized she did not want to be a star that that, as she found most stars she met weren’t happy. She found Elvis Presley felt very vulnerable and was surprised when Elvis tried to seduce her. Paul Newman, she discovered, had a complex about not feeling handsome enough. Lucille Ball constantly fought with her unfaithful husband Desi Arnaz. Eden always remembered when her mother taught her when she faced trouble at age four, which was that she should “rise about it.”

Eden found many entertainment people as eccentric. Irwin Allen, a director, would fire a gun instead of yelling “cut”. Another senile director would stumble in front of the filming camera while directing.

Eden starred with Tony Randall in “Seven Faces of Dr. Lao”. Randall and Eden played gin rummy on the set. Randall was a big winner until she realized Randall could see her cards in a mirror.

Eden appeared in the movie “All Hands on Deck”. She found director Norman Taurog someone who yelled and bullied people.

Eden filmed the movie “Brass Bottle” with Burl Ives. She discovered Ives was kind until he suddenly lunged at her. She avoided his advances. She also found Warren Beatty was filming nearby. She found Beatty scary and avoided his advances as well.

Eden filmed two episodes of the TV series “Rawhide”. Ironically, she wore a costume similar to what she would wear on “I Dream of Jeannie”.

Sidney Sheldon, who was creating and producing the new TV series “I Dream of Jeannie” asked Eden to play the role of Jeannie. Sheldon then asked to see if there were chemistry between her and actor Larry Hagman. Hagman wanted to prove he could have a career as notable as his mother, Mary Martin, had. Eden and Hagman found their acting styles connected.

When Eden filmed the pilot of “I Dream of Jeannie”, she felt it was not likely going to be picked as a series. She also thought her role as a genie would be better awarded to a Middle Eastern woman than to her, a blonde.

Visitors were not allowed on the “I Dream of Jeannie” set after actor Larry Hagman, who abused alcohol and drugs, swung an axe at visiting nuns with the axe cutting some cables. Hagman became frustrated that he was obtaining the star credentials he hoped the series would bring him. He expressed this frustration once by urinating on the set.

The NBC network censors were concerned about the series. They saw the show as a series about a single man living with a single woman.

Hagman sought to be a star and fought to influence the show. He was on about four fifths of the time. He was paid $150,000 a year, which was a high salary for TV work then. Hagman hated the scripts and was frequently ad libbing, which displeased the director Gene Nelson.

Eden was pregnant during 11 episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie”. She filmed up to her eighth month of pregnancy. Camera angles hid her pregnancy.

“I Dream of Jeannie” filmed 132 episodes over five years. Some moralists condemned the show for its innuendos. Some feminists condemned it because the characters were a master and a slave. Eden notes that Jeannie always got what she wanted and that Jeannie controlled the relationship.

Eden’s son watched the show and had trouble understanding why his mother couldn’t turn people into frogs in real life when she could on TV.

Hagman was demanding on the set. The crew was upset by his demands. Hagman, though, always appeared on set and performed well. Hagman would accept acting criticism only from costar Hayden Rorke, a friend of Hagman’s mother. A therapist tried to calm Hagman by telling him to smoke marijuana and drink champagne.

Groucho Marx made a guest appearance on “I Dream of Jeannie”. He didn’t want his usual fee and to have to pay taxes on it. He did the appearance in return for a new TV set.

Bill Daly’s role as Roger Healey was initially meant to be a minor role. Yet Daley’s comedic skills were recognized and his role expanded.

The show helped boost public awareness of NASA. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin made a guest appearance.

The censors would not allow Eden to show her bellybutton. With great fanfare, it was supposed to finally be shown on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In.” The censors prevented even that from happening.

After the show was canceled, Eden appeared in Las Vegas. She spent three years billed with Shecky Greene. Performing there proved eventful. She was bothered by death threats and stalkers. At times, she required police or security protection. She even had a man die of a heart attack while she was singing.

Eden starred in the movie “Harper Valley PTA” in 1978, which was 14 years after her previous movie. The success of the movie led to a TV series of the same name which lasted for 29 episodes. Sherwood Schwartz, along with his son Lloyd, produced the first season. New producers handled the second season. These producers concentrated more on smoking marijuana than on working. The show suffered and was canceled after the second season.

Eden filmed a pilot for a TV show “Stone Street” that was not bought by any network. She played an undercover police vice squad officer. While filming past a real X rated theater, the real life ticket agent was given a line. The ticket agent confided to Eden she didn’t want to remain a ticket agent. Eden encouraged her to never give up. The ticket agent, Ellen Barkin, went on to find a successful acting career.

NBC presented “I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later”, a two hour sequel. Hagman was starring in “Dallas” and his role was given to Wayne Rogers. She was allowed to show her belly button.

Eden guest starred on four episodes of “Dallas”, reuniting her with Hagman. She enjoyed the experience. NBC then did a TV movie “I Still Dream of Jeannie” with Major Nelso in space and thus absent from the script. Ken Kerchival from “Dallas” was cast with her in this TV movie.

Eden filmed the movie “Dead Man’s Island” with William Shatner. She found Shater, contrary to rumor, fun to work with.

A detriment to an acting career is what it does to a family. When Eden married, her husband Michael Ansara was the family TV star. As her career grew and his faded, her husband became troubled by this. Her working required her to be away a lot. Her son Matthew resented her absences. Matthew started smoking marijuana at age ten. He went into drug rehabilitation eight times. He would steal money to get drugs. He died from a heroin overdose at age 35.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Tina Fey. Bossypants. New York: Reagan Arthur Book. Little, Brown and Company, 2011.

Fey wrote the screenplay to the movie “Mean Girls”, She researched this writing through attending a workshop on youthful bullying conducted by Rosalind Wiseman.

Fey was active in local community theater as a teenager. She acted and directed younger children. She then majored in Drama at college. Her first job after graduation was night box office manager of a theater in Boystown, Pa. She then worked with the Second City theater group in Chicago. She describes the incessant artistry in improvisational theater as cult-like. Fey enjoyed improvisational acting better than acting as taught in college following Stanislavsky’s. and others’, methods.

Fey advises improvisational across to agree with what the other actor on stage with you states, then add something to that, say things in statements rather than questions (which puts the scene back upon the other actor-, and look at each line as an opportunity, and never as a mistake.

Fey was hired in 1997 as a write to “Saturday Night Live” (SNL). She stayed for nine years. She learned that the show was full of creative people and other the producer had to control an excess of creativity into something manageable. She notes SNL has a good mixture of educated writers, mostly from Harvard, and improvisational comedians. This mixture blended with what makes SNL successful. Fey learned about writing for a visual show and allowing content to control styles in a showy manner.

Producer Lorne Michaels tends to promote existing personnel. When a position opened on the SNL for on camera work on the Weekend Updates sketches on SNL, Michaels hired Fey. She then started appearing in a few sketches when another female character was needed

Fey pitched an idea of a comedy series based on her writing a comedy show that NBC agreed to show, “30 Rock”. She learned doing a TV on film involved multiple takes on the same lines. Moving cameras to shoot new angles takes time. There are many 14 hour days.

When Sarah Palin was picked as John McCain’s running mate, it was noted Fey and Palin looked similar. Fey returned to SNL to portray Palin in sketches.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tales from the Script by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman

Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman. Tales from the Script. New York, N.Y.: It Books, HarperCollins Publishers, 2010.

The book notes that screenwriters are usually kept from the prioduction end of the movies. Writers such as Diablo Cody are becoming involved in seeing their scripts handled past the writing stage.

Few scripts are ever produced. Writers who attempt to mimic others are other unsuccessful. There is little universal advice for screenwriters. There is no formula that guarantees success.

A screenplay is not literature meant for a reader. It presents the images and dialogue of a visual medium.

Joe Forte notes screenwriters need to know the limitations of their writing screenplays versus writing other areas such as novels. They need to maximize the limited available tools of showing stories and not writing long detailed writings.

Kris Young observes there is a rhythm to screenplays. Much of screenwriting can't be taught. Successful screenwriters need to find their successful voice and rhythm. Screenwriters must aspire to become a writer, which requires much self-motivation.

Mike Binder argues screenwriters need to believe in themselves. Rejection is common, should be expected, and should not be detriments to continuing writing.

Linda Voorhees warns industry officials after reject scripts in a nice manner. Yet their niceties are often not what they really think about how much they disliked the script.

The movie industry seeks greatness. Greatness, though, is found in many different forms that are not predictable,

Naomi Febder notes great movies touch a chord. A writer needs to find the true inner chord and project it.

Kat O’Brien notes a screenplay requires a strong story and commercial potential.

Andrew Marlowe describes screenwriting as a profession where you never really succeed. You always fail at a higher level." Even if one writes a hit movie, one is expected to write another hit.

Screenwriters need to realize their scripts may and usually are altered. Screenwriters may have no say in these changes. Writers should anticipate this. They should be prepared to make alterations in their rewrites to fit studio expectations. They must accept that other writers may rewrite their scripts. Directors will make adaptations to fit their directorial visions.

Justin Zackham notes that the lead character has to be interesting and good at being interesting in a manner that attracts or repels the audience. They need to change during an arc in the story,

Reputations are important. A writer should be known for delivering and for being able to work with others. Writers who are difficult, threatening law suits, and fail to meet deadlines may develop bad reputations that follow them and hurt their careers.

The Writers Guild handles arbitration decisions and who gets credit as a movie's screenwriters. David Ward observes he didn't get a credit even though he had written 85% of that script's dialogue.

Many screenwriters become directors to retain control over changes in their scripts.

Screenwriters often find their reward in knowing their stories affected people. Their reward tend not to be in fame, nor in seeking their work completed as they intended. Many screenwriters see their work as a craft and they strive to perfect their craft.

Ron Shelton states "Bull Durhan" was written with one draft over 10 weeks. Antwone Fisher wrote 42 drafts on one movie. Gerald DiPego envisions a script for three weeks to a month before he starts writing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

An Improvised Life by Alan Arkin

Alan Arkin. An Improvised Life: A Memoir. Cambridge, Ma.: DaCapo Press, 2011.

Alan Arkin states he realized, as an actor, that he didn’t want to just “do it” when acting, but he wanted to “be it” and become the character when acting. He dedicates the book “to everyone who wants to be the music.”

Arkin knew from the age of five he wanted to be an actor. He watched plays, listened to music, saw ballets, and felt he would become a part of that entertainment process. He envisioned becoming what he saw and heard in acting and in music. He watched movies and pretended he was there, in the scene, watching the scene through a peepholde. He took acting classes at the Academy of Music.

An an actor, Arkin is attuned to the emotions in his life. He recalls reacting to emotions for his acting craft. This improves his acting abilities, but he notes it is “not so good for the human being living inside”.

Arkin took an Acting class in junior high school, which he enjoyed. In high school, he won the lead roles in school dramas. He watched films and realized he wanted to be an actor who allows the audience to experience his characters. People may applaud wonderfully articulated dialogue, he notes, but they enjoy feeling the emotions of a convincing portrayal.

Arkin discovered he could become the character and push himself and his feelings aside when acting. He would thank and respond as that character.

Arkin received a scholarship to attend Bennington College, a women’s college that allowed a few men for their plays. He married and left the college without graduating.

Arkin got a small role in an off-Broadway play. He earned more money than other actors because he had to play a lute in his role, qualifying him for higher pay as a better paid musician. He turned down a work offer in Chicago. Yet after a year of frustration in New York, he asked if the Chicago offer was still valid. It was, and Arkin went to Chicago to act with Second City.

Arkin found his first months at Second City challenging. The Second City group did improvisational theater and he learned to be spontaneous, funny, and topical. He felt he was too serious a person for a comedy group. He developed a character he felt comfortable with that made audiences laugh. He clung to that character, and then developed additional characters. He learned to fail, which was fine, as audiences expected part of such shows would fail. He learned from failing which helped him learn and grow. The group went to Broadway for a run that ended after three months. They were invited to work at a club in Greenwich Village, where they developed a following.

Arkin received the lead in a Broadway play “Enter Laughing”. After a year, he returned to Second City and then went to another Broadway play “Luv”. He then received a role in the movie “The Russians Are Coming”. He feared a backlash of a movie appearing during the Cold War showing Russians as humans, but there was no such uproar. He went on to film the movies “Popi” and “Catch-22”. He learned to enjoy work more while struggling with it less while filming “The In Laws”. He notes audiences could tell that he and costar Peter Falk enjoyed their roles in “The In Laws”. Arkin observed different actors worked from different perspectives. Tony Perkins requires critical self evaluation. Jack Lemmon felt a certain magic to his work.

Arkin never intended to become a director. He was asked to look over a play when, in doing so, he discovered it in disarray. Having no other work, he agreed to take over its direction. He discovered he was able to make sense out of chaos. The show had a one year run. More directing offers followed, and he accepted them.

Arkin discovered many actors don’t grasp how their character fits into a role. They focus on their own lines but not on the whole script, so they don’t understand their role in the story. He also found improvisational actors were easier to direct, as they tended to develop instinctual understandings how their roles relate.

Arkin urges actors to approach their roles with open minds and to consider the many directions they could go as a character. While this may confuse and frighten some actors, he urges them to embrace those opportunities.

Jean Renoir, when directing, had actors initially read their scripts together without worrying about how to act their roles. Renoir wanted his actors to avoid making decisions too soon about how their characters should be presented.

When Arkin teaches acting classes, he observes that students often compete for attention on stage. Arkin instead wants actors to learn to work together. He teaches group awareness. An actor should understand the intentions of a character, provide an emotional context to the role, give it a feeling state, and act so that something is happening.

Arkin observes “acting is nothing more than a metaphor for life, and a pretty transparent one at that”. The drama of the stage is like the drama of everyday life.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It by Georgina Spelvin

Georgina Spelvin. The Devil Made Me Do It. Los Angeles, Ca.: Little Red Hen Books, 2006.

The author was a star in pornographic movies. She write “Yeah, the first time was pretty awful. What was the guy’s name?” She had previously been acting and editing film when she responded to an ad for film editing at a pornography film production. She was 35 years old and had trouble paying her rent. She impressed them with her knowledge of the production end of film, such as sound, loading film, boom handling, cable, wardrobe, film location scouting, etc. She was a member of SAG, AFTRA, and Equity. The film company if she could play some of their older roles, such as a madam or high priestess, in their films. She agreed.

Prior, she had been in a Broadway play for six months in a leading role in “The Pajama Game”. She was having an affair with the stage manager who hired her. Bob Fosse was sympathetic to her because the show did not last longer. Fosse helped Spelvin obtain work as Shirley MacLaine’s dancing double in the movie “Sweet Charity.” Splevin married the stage manager and was hired to appear in and to choreograph a touring company of “The Pajama Game” that appeared in South Africa. The marriage didn’t work and they divorced, She then worked in summer stock theater.

Splevin realized her career had stalled. She learned about the porn film industry. They would make arrangements, such as feeding 17 people over three days with a $500 food and wardrobe budget (including obtaining sex devices for $200).

Splevin could act, which helped her in porn for being flat chested. She also cooked for the cast and crew, which earned her an extra $25 a day. Splevin notes it was helpful that she had a director shoe could trust.

Splevin was stunned when she was invited to a premiere of a porn movie she did, “The Devil in Miss Jones”, including TV and press interviews. She was given $500 for wardrobe for the premiere. Judith Crist of the New York Herald Tribune reviewed it, was very critical, but wrote that Splevin “touches the emotions”. The review is considered the start of the “Porn Chic” cinema. Newsweek magazine ran an article on the movie.

Splevin observed many people in the porn film industry also worked in the non-porn film industry. Working in the porn industry, though, was “the kiss of death” in getting work in the non-porn entertainment industry. She did find work directing theater in Maine.

The FBI considered pornography crossing state lines as against Federal law. They issued a nationwide fugitive arrest warrant for her. They offered her immunity for her testimony.

Splevin moved to California and film some soft porn movies. She won an AFA Award for Best Supporting Actress. She also worked as a stripper in conjunction with a showing of “The Devil in Miss Jones”. She even had two nuns asked for an autograph, telling her they agreed with the message in the movie that God would not forgive suicide.

Splevin at first did not wish to return to pornography when offered a cameo in the remake of “The Devil in Miss Jones”. The amount of money offered changed her mind.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lessons From the Mountain by Mary McDonough

Mary McDonough. Lessons From the Mountain. New York: Kensington Books, 2011.

The author, who had the role of Erin on “The Waltons” for its entire nine seasons, states the cast were all close. She was 10 years old when the show began. She later was Mrs. Wilhoite on “The New Adventures of Old Christine”. It was costar Blair Underwood who convicted her to write this book.

As a girl, McDonough wanted to be a dancer. She studied dance, practiced hard, and learned how to dedicate herself towards her goals. She begged her mother to let her go to auditions. Her first auditor was for a TV special “The Homecoming: A Christmas Story”. She received several callbacks and then won the role of Erin. She did not realize when she did her first reading with the rest of the cast that she had the role. The special had a 39 share.

McDonough was going to audition for “The Exorcist”. Her Catholic mother refused to let her audition when she read the book. Today, she is friends with Linda Blair, who got the part.

McDonough’s role as Erin continued when CBS decided to turn the TV special into a series “The Waltons”. She, with as many as 14 textbooks, attended studio school while also filming the series.

McDonough enjoyed filming. She enjoyed seeing the propos and the costumers, so as the actor in a bear suit. She learned a valuable lesson of not eating antique props. She learned to focus on her acting and not to look at the camera.

The author was scared when she to cry.

Costar Will Geer had been blacklisted in the 1950s. Geer taught McDonough to appreciate working on the show. Being on the show was something she’ll cherish.

Costar Ellen Corby taught her to visualize. This helped her acting.

McDonough went on a cruise with costar Judy Norton. She was surprised that people became upset when they learned they were on “The Waltons” and they hadn’t told them. She and Judy Norton never thought they were obligated to tell people that.

The author, at age 10, leared from her 6 year old costar Kami Cotler where babies come from. Cotler had already read a book on the subject and knew the facts.

A wardrobe woman asked McDonough if she had gained weight. This caused her to become worried about weight and to try several diets.

McDonough had good comedic timing. The writers began writing funny scenes for her.

McDonough took Drama as an elective course. Although she was in a TV series, the acting exercises were new to her. She felt insecure acting in front of the class. She came to overcome her fear of failing when acting.

After “The Waltons” was cancelled, McDonough had numerous guest appearances. NBC did three Walton’s Movies of the Week. She had a role on the soap operate “One Life to Live”.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Knight Rider Companion by Nick Nugent

Nick Nugent. The Knight Rider Companion. Los Angeles: Will Garris Publishing, 2008.

“Knight Rider” was created by Glen Larson, who had it is disputed had one remaining project for Universal after Universal allowed Larson to develop shows at 20th Century Fox. He created “Knight Rider” for Universal. The show featured a talking robotic car.

“Knight Rider” faced challenges. It’s Executive Producer had a heart attack and died while working. A new Executive Producer, Robert Foster, admits he wasn’t thrilled with the project and had to be asked three times before agreeing to take the position only through the first season. Working on the show made Foster desire to continue working n it. Ratings improved and the show lasted four years.

Tom Greene, a writer for the show, learned that Foster was very involved with the show. Foster provided him with 27 pages of notes to his first story idea. Greene notes the NBC TV network made more notes on “Knight Rider” than on any other show of which Greene is aware.

Among the NBC memos was concern that the male character and the car’s relationship had homosexual undertones. The bond between the driver and the care was key to the show’s success, according to Greene. He found it amusing that worried executives read more into that bond. In reply, the writers did write in some subtle gay references.

David Hasselhoff, the lead actor, felt so good about his audition that he was convinced he would get the role of Michael Knight. He immersed himself in the role.

William Daniels, the car’s voice, recorded his lines in a recording studio separately from the rest of the cast. He only saw David Hasselhoff at the Christmas parties. He did not take credit for the role because he wanted the car to have its own identity without a human attached to it. He also didn’t want people to connect his voice to his work on another TV series he was doing “St. Elsewhere”.

Robert Foster did not like the acting of Patricia McPherson. She claims Foster wanted his girlfriend in the role and then another actress. She was not asked back for the second season. Strong fan support brought her back in season three.

McPherson was replaced by Rebecca Holden as the car mechanic. She wanted to remain on the show yet she followed management’s advice to do other work and left at the end of the second season.

The show initially had three cars, one hero car and two stunt cars. The use of the cars was limited due to fear of ruining one. Eventually, Pontiac sold damaged cars to the show. The show had 18 cars. Polyurethane shells were placed over car frames to reduce denting. A driver viewing was drilled through the grills so it could be driven with the appearance of there being no driver. A $10,000 ramp allowed pushing air to increase the jump of a car while turbo boosting. A car was thus able to jump 140 feet at times where other car jumps were 90 feet or less.

Jack Gill, who did stunts, created a special harness with bungee cords that allowed him to make jumps while the cords prevent back injuries. Back injuries happened to other stunt people making similar jumps. Jack Gill has a titanium plate in his neck from all the whiplash from spine compressions from all his jumps.

12 cars were ruined by flooding when parking in a garage three floors before the street.

An underwater motorized platform allowed the appearance of a car floating on water.

Title music on TV shows usually lasts 30 seconds to one minute. The idea is that hearing the familiar music lets listeners realize a TV show they recognize and like is airing. The time of this music has changed in recent years. A theme has to be 15 seconds or less to be considered for an Emmy award.

Don Peake, the composer, would view an episode and write the background music in one week. The next morning (which was on Fridays) he would conduct an orchestra of 25 to 40 people. The music was recorded mono with no overdubs.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Unsung Heroes by Neil Summers

Neil Summers. The Unsung Heroes. Vienna, WV.: The Old West Shop Publishing, 1996.

The author, himself a professional stuntman for over three decades (as of 1996) notes that stunt people are not to be confused with daredevils. While both make dangerous moves, stunt people make their actions appear as a normal flawless part of a movie scene. The stunt work itself is dangerous. Professionals have died and many more injured performing movie stunts.

There are no classes for teaching stunt skills. Stunt people are taught by other stunt people who then pass along this knowledge. Among the lessons stunt people need to learn include not just how to perform the stunts but to perform them in a the correction direction as needed for a camera to film the stunt according to what is needed for an audience to see. In the fast paced world of filming, stunt people need to retain proper caution with the need for quick arrangements of stunts. This requires much skill.

Stunt people makes actors look good. The character (and the actor playing that character) not only gets the public recognition, but this is the goal of a stunt person. The audience has to believe that character, not a stunt person, performed the stunt. A good stunt person does not get the limelight. Yet, they know they are a special elite within Hollywood,

The book presents numerous photographic examples of stunt people in action. It includes some dangerous stunts since prohibited.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

Portia de Rossi. Unberable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. New York: Atria Books, 2010.

This autobiography tells of an entertainer’s career, life, and her struggles with anorexia that left her with lupus. She describes her fears that her homosexuality could hurt her career, and how, after being exposed, her career continued and she now is married to Ellen DeGeneres.

While anorexic, de Rossi fixated on counting calories and exercising to lose weight. De Rossi also smoked cigarettes, beginning at age 14, to suppress her appetite, as well as to impress other girls.

The author started modeling at age 12. She was told her butt was too big and she needed to exercise. This message drove her towards over-exercising and under-eating. She later stopped exercising because she felt muscles made her look too fat.

The author quit law school to try acting. She met and married her husband Mel while filming a movie “The Woman in the Moon”. They married, even though she told Mel was she gay.

DeRossi was cast on the TV series “Ally McBeal”. She was worried about hiding her sexuality. She noted there had never been a lesbian leading lady in Hollywood. She felt insecure while filming “Ally McBeal”, as the cast did not mingle and social much. She felt isolated.

The author would cry with wailing sounds driving how after working on “Ally McBeal”. She didn’t understand why she was crying, as she cried even when she thought her performances had gone well. She feared being fired even though no one suggested she might lose her job. Her insecurities dug tightly into her.

Her self-doubt reemerged while a second character similar to her character was added to the series. She wondered if this had been done because her acting wasn’t good enough, or because they thought she looked too heavy. She was uplifted when L’Oreal hired her for shampoo commercials and when she appeared on the cover of “Vogue”. She returned to self doubt when L’Oreal personnel expressed surprise she was a size 8. She felt she had to become thinner. She began limiting her calories as she went from 130 pounds to 82 pounds.

The author panicked when she learned her contract with L’Oreal had a morality clause. Violating the clause would require her to return the money they had paid her. She feared if it became known she was gay, the morality clause would be invoked.

Her brother was worried about her weight loss. He told he felt she was killing herself. Her doctor told her she had osteoporosis. She realized she wanted to live. She overcame her anorexia, yet did so by swinging into an opposite obsession. Her weight increased to 168 pounds. At that point, she noted she “had no sense of myself”. She was further troubled by a photographer who constantly followed her, in the hopes of outing her sexuality.

The author had a role in the TV series “Arrested Development”. She told the show’s producers she is gay and was glad to know it did not matter to them. A photographer finally outed her homosexuality to the public. She found it uplifting to no longer hide her secret. She was able to then obtain a constant 130 pound.

She is now married to Ellen DeGeneres. They met when de Rossi weighed 168 pounds.