Going to school five days a week is a grind. I ride my bike and leave early every morning. My journey to St. Augustine happens to lead me along the studio’s fence lines. First, I pass the backlot, and I peek through the many existing holes as temptation stares back at me. Eventually, I arrive at school, with an arm full of books and Pee Chee folders and a head full of MGM daydreams.
This is my normal routine, but on this morning, I am flabbergasted by the images appearing on the backlot side. It is as if a circus had arrived. Tents, with movie extras in rag tag looking clothing dominate the landscape. There is a calm order as people are dressed by wardrobe, touched up by make up artists, then fed breakfast by caterers. I can see all of this from a hole which has transformed itself into my personal TV set.
This hole is about 12 inches wide and 2 inches in lenghth. Strategically placed, it is the best hole to see things from on the entire fenced lot. It is located on Montana Ave., just south of Overland. New York street towers above this fence.
Trucks of every size and shape are squeezed into the perimeter of this massive set. All this is in the foreground of my hole. Orange dump trucks, some parked, some driving, are being positioned on the the iconic N.Y. street, itself—the street most famous for MGM musicals. I have no idea what I am looking at quite yet, but I must head to school or I will be tardy. All day, my body is in class, but my mind is on the backlot.
I tell my best friend, Pat, a leprechaun looking lad who is tough as nails. He is going to go with me when the school day ends, to figure out what is going on at lot 2. I have a couple of other pals who have been bugging me for a tour and I am inviting friends from both Culver and St. Augustine for a large site seeing tour this Saturday. That is still days away.
Today, Pat and I will take the plunge into the backlot under feature film conditions. That means people are everywhere you turn, on this set. As the clock on the school wall hits 3 pm, Pat and I are on our bikes heading to the circus. We stop and peek inside the same hole that captivated me this morning. Let me just say that it’s even better now.
CHAOS is being filmed. Garbage trucks that I saw this morning, are scooping people up on the streets. I told Pat this is going to be cool… but not this cool!
We climb in at the train station, after parking our bikes and dumping our books off at my house. I have never seen so much activity on the lot. We encounter set “dressing;” craftsmen are positioning props, such as tables, chairs, and porch lights, to give a different look to a regular old building. Obviously decorating the mansion for another show. They see us walk by, watching us, as we act like we belong. The Bronco passes by without seeing us… another plus.
We arrive at the perimeter of NY street after a long methodical, calculating journey. On the way, we identify the movie through a cardboard sign in a car windshield, Its title is called Soylent Green.
We climb to the top of a five story building to observe below. The fence is a short distance away from this structure, which is handy in an emergency. There is a guard on set that we recognize. He seems to be guarding the large craft service tables, full of delicious looking goodies. We see the iconic MGM sign and water tower in the distance from our perch. The Lion is roaring today.
We cannot believe what we our watching. There is a huge building getting the brunt of the action and it obscures our view. This is the hub of activity as rioters are being scooped up.
As time passes, it is starting to get dark. The assistant director calls a wrap and immediately, like ants below, things are rapidly put away. That is our cue to leave also. We glide to my house, still captivated by what we just witnessed. No one in my neighborhood has a clue about what is going on just a couple blocks away.
Everyone is locked into their daily routine. Mine happens to include backlots. Anything can and does happen here.
Word spreads like wild fire. Two schools are impacted and many kids are becoming curious about this event. Extras are being used and many locals, or residents without jobs, are in this mob scene. 20 dollars and a box lunch are the offerings. I arrange a time to meet at my house, for a grand tour, this Saturday. Be there or be square!
There is still more filming before then, as I am reminded, on my way to school the following morning. Day two… more of the same, but by Friday, the entire set is empty of actors and extras. Just workers moving stuff around.
I figure it is over with, now, and it’s a set strike, so, when I give a tour tomorrow, we will be hunting souvenirs in this area.
A sunny morning is upon us and the magnitude of what we are about to do is apparent by all the bicycles parked in my driveway. Pat brings a couple guys I never met who go to Venice High.
Gerald, a kid on my block, also brings guys from Culver. Pat and I are Catholic boys and three schools are represented here. We start by playing with my Combat ammo magazines… we pour out the gunpowder, then light it. Enough said…
This fires everyone up and the mission is on. “That is a sample of what awaits,” I proudly say. By the time we get to to the tracks, we have a dozen kids. I don’t know all their names so let’s call them The Dirty Dozen.
I lead them down the train tracks as I think to myself, this could backfire… too big of a crowd. But, I will get away for sure, if we have a security issue… These guys will be lost inside here.
This mission starts like a game of follow the leader. We have all day and plan to cover all we can. We are very adventurous, due to all of our experience in recent months, of doing this stuff. We visit all the same stuff we visited earlier… same sets, different kids.
Train depot first. Kids love trains. Snow room next. Kids love snow. Then, we run into German Village. We look at Combat bomb craters that still exist on this street. A moment of silence for the greatest show ever. Everyone sees the battlefield that my ammo was used in.
Very impressive, indeed. I am a rockstar at the moment, and The Dirty Dozen follows me like puppies.
We run across an old foot bridge that extends over the lake and into the jungle. There, we try to silently weave our way through the jungle. We are close to the Soylent Green set.
We approach as cautiously as a mob can. New York Street towers beyond this jungle and we are close. These guys want souvenirs, and so do I. I think the best place is the huge building that was a hub in the rioting scenes I saw earlier this week.
We run across a New York street. There are about 10 intersections around these parts to give the appearance that it goes on forever. The building we enter is big enough to hold an airplane.
Inside is Soylent Green and Soylent Red, and smashed windows and glass everywhere. It hasn’t been cleaned up and it is exactly how the shot was finalized. We walk into that moment of time. We all stuffed our pockets with this colored bread. Rolls, biscuits, and dyed bagels. We do not know what this show is about and I am like a detective. I am figuring that Soylent Green is food… that is what this set is about, hence the name.
At that moment, I see a call sheet on a table and that is a treasure. All the info I need to plan ahead. This is gold. I stuff it in my back pocket. Each pocket on my blue jeans is full. The Dirty Dozen has filled their pockets also. We are packing Soylent Green.
I fulfilled my obligation at this point. I delivered this group to a huge movie set and we are leaving with the coolest souvenirs, so that we can relive the whole event again, when this show comes out. Confidently, I walk out under the famous theater marquis that extends onto 5th avenue. This is the hub of New York street. You have seen it a million times.
This is the front of the theater street where this part begins…
I am still buzzed from our find, when I see, then hear… the Bronco speeding towards us… Oh darn! Decisions… decisions… everyone stares like a deer in the headlights.
Waiting on my move, I pivot and run back inside. A quick 180 degree had this group tripping all over themselves… literally, as everyone runs into each other. The Bronco is hauling ass. I reckon he’ll get out and run inside, lookin’ for us. But the guard stays behind the wheel and chases the one rogue kid that goes on his own. That would be Pat, my pal from St. Augustine.
He diverts the security away from The Dirty Dozen, and I use this moment to run quite a distance, to the fence. Fake palm trees are blocking the fence. They are laying flat, are tricky to navigate… if you’re scared. It appears this group is.
I sit on top of this section of old fence and survey my troops, when suddenly, there is a clowd of dust, a motor revving and a guard shouting, “STOP!” Low and behold …two gunshots!
Pat takes one for the team. Catholic boys are tough, mind you. Now a syndrome identified as rubber legs kicks in. None of these guys can climb, they are so scared. I climb back in to help a couple of guys get back out, I could have been home safe already.
Eveyone makes it, as they topple over to safety… like their life depended on it. We all run back to my place, minus one.
The bikes leave rapidly, in sucession, never to return. Their one memory of MGM. Enjoy your Soylent Green!… Any more volunteers?
I wait an hour, as the last bike operator arrives… Pat… safely. No blood, no holes, just a bit dirty.
I sit him down and pour him an ice cold Hawaiian Punch, then calmly ask…
“What just happend?”
This ravaged call sheet was in my back pocket during the chase.