I expect a long day. We need to get five scenes done today… all action. The last shot can’t even begin before 4pm. That is when a guard comes on for nightime set watch.
Pat, Danny and I ride together. All three of us are wearing cowboy hats and boots. We have Daisy rifles, bungee corded to the cross bar of our 10 speeds. We look like The Wild Bunch.
We stop at the cantina fort briefly, on our way to the saloon, where we run into two carpenters. They are smoking a joint when we walk in on them. It’s only 8:45AM. They have tool belts on. After surprised looks all around, I was handed the joint with a question, “What train did you boys ride in on?”
Do we not look cool in our cowboy boots, hats and pendletons? I’m puzzled, but go along with the ruse…
“I never smoked a joint with guys wearing tool belts before…” I laugh back. “Real men wear holsters, like me,” I shoot back. Then I pull out my loaded cap gun and fire off six rounds, up into the air. That gains me some respect. “Try that with your claw hammer.”
My new friends’ names are Tom and Chuck, both carpenters. Chuck, ironically, looks exactly like Charles Manson. He is strangely quiet, and pretty high for 9AM. So much so, I want him in my movie. Damn straight!
They mention they are building an entire southwest village over yonder. Their show, starring Warren Beatty, will be here several months.
So they got Beatty, I think to myself, impressed. I look over my rag tag troupe, it’s all I can afford! Just the way producers must think, is all. We’re competitive.
“Mike Nichols is the director,” he continues… I think briefly… I wear multiple hats, when directing… it’s my Dodger cap. If weapons are used, I switch to a army helmet, usually, from Combat. Today, a cowboy hat will be in order.
My simple response is, “impressive… feel free to party.” Now that we’re passing joints back and forth, I feel comfortable enough to ask my new pals if they can fix the ladder that goes up to the roof… “since it’s very old and rickety.” We need every escape route we can get… They laugh as we depart separate ways.
Well, bad news. Maureen politely turned me down. She insists that westerns went out of style years ago, but I had to remind her, we just saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and loved it. She is still sweet enough to give me an autographed 8″ by 10″ for future-better parts. You never burn bridges in Hollywood…
This is her quote: “This movie is just a bunch of boys cocking and aiming their guns… just blasting away, is all… No plot, No cares, No thanks!”
It’s much more than that, silly girl. We have a card game gone bad, a saloon fight, one shootout, one draw, a hanging, and a chase by the lot sheriff… And I am not talking Andy Griffith.
That last scene was confirmed by Tom. He said that when the crew leaves at 4pm, one guard will be on duty. Little does that guard know, what fire he is jumping into… at exactly 1600 hours.
We will capture this day on film for eternity…
Barry is my camera man. He brings this beauty to the set to capture what will take place today.
“We have three minutes of film, Barry warns me. Panavision, but at a value. He also brought a pair of walkie talkies. Very handy.
We go upstairs and eat breakfast. I bought donuts from a nearby Winchell’s on the way to the studio. That purchase went like this…
We walk inside the donut shop in our hats and boots and stand next to two Culver City officers, also wearing hats and boots. I give a half-assed, sideways glance.
We knew they were inside, so we parked our weapon-laden, tricked out bikes away from their tricked out black and whites with shot guns.
“I’ll take a variety dozen, throw in some jelly ones.” …Please.
I glance again at the lawmen as they sip their coffee, peering back at me.
“Have a good day,” I smile to everyone present and tip my hat. We ride on out towards the warm sun.
I also brought little boxes of Kelloggs cereal for the crew to munch on, along with bananas. We drink water out of faucets located everywhere on the lot.
Frosted Flakes, donuts, and away we go…
It’s 9:30, “Lets get that first shot!” And I rally my men.
First scene: Danny tosses Pat out the saloon’s swinging doors, as camera faces inward from street.
ACTION!… Pat comes flying out the swinging doors, backwards, and falls into the dusty street. Jerry is scraping dust up with a piece of cardboard and tossing it in the wind for that dirty old west feel. Nice touch-effects, more, more, more I direct!
Then Jerry rolls a tumble weed over Pat as he lays there motionless…
Danny walks out all handsome and calmly says, “You were counting cards, cheater!… You better not come back inside or we’ll shoot ya next time.” We can’t record sound, so we emphasize with gestures and slow lip reading delivery… CUT!
I kick the dirt and adjust my hat, as I replay this scene in my mind… not bad at all. I flashback to Chuck Connors in Ride Beyond Vengeance. He fought at this exact spot, in 1967.
Second scene… New set up. Middle street. Load the cap guns… Danny is challenging Pat to a draw. I want camera to be looking length-wise down the street, for a feeling of distance and loneliness. I confer with my camera man. Cap guns loaded. Okay, FIRE ON THE SET! Wait for your cues.
“Wait… traffic coming,” a crew-cab, stake-bed truck is headed right towards us. The driver and its occupants all wave to us, as we smile and wave back. We fit like a nice pair of leather gloves around here.
“Well, Jerry…” I say, “take a walkie talkie and stand in front of the saloon… hold any traffic, please.”
“Danny, I need you to take 10 steps, turn and fire from the hip, keep your torso low,” I direct. “Pat, after your 10 steps, fall backwards, like you did so well, on the last scene, like you got shot in the belly.”
Pat quips “Why can’t he die this time?”… “Because HE is my good looking star” I quip back. “Bobby Sherman politely declined my offer.”
“Hold traffic, Jerry!”
Pat and Danny line up, back to back … “Barry, roll film…”
ACTION… The boys walk off and fire after 10 steps… Pop, Pop, Pop.
Pat lays wounded, agonizing, slightly rolling, as Danny stands over him gloating… “I’m the fastest gun in the west…” Danny ad libs. I remind him that there is no sound but I like his spunk!
I feel like Hal Needham directing Burt Reynolds…
CUT… Next set up, the hanging tree.
Jerry orders a pizza as Pat hangs a noose from one of two trees, center of town. Jerry is a jack of all trickey trades. We prep and rehearse under the tree as we are told… “Pizza guy on way.”
Hangman, Hangman, wait a little while, I think I see my friend coming, riding many miles… he didn’t bring no silver, or even gold… what did you bring me my brother, to keep me from the Gallows pole? (Pizza, hot and fresh, with a ice cold 6 pack of coke… that’s what!)
I call lunch, as I pay my Pal, Jesus, the delivery guy. He said he wasn’t sure which set called for free delivery… Yep, it’s nice when my movie is confused with a Warren Beatty feature. Their rolling phone must have Chris’s pizza stenciled on it, also.
I grab a hot slice and a cold can and head to my trailer, which has a hay bed. Okay… its a barn. “Trailer” just sounds better.
I lay staring at the barn ceiling above me, with sunlight shining inside, with various patterns. I go over our film in my mind, front and back… casting was harder than expected, females did not want to touch it… It smells like horses in here. I shut my eyes, I keep thinking of Maureen, and I don’t know why.
I have a film to direct, so no time for that.
Each crew member has crashed somewhere around this town, in chairs, in cots, on rugs, etc. They all look like the derelicts, as everyone slowly returns to the Hangman’s Knot.
“Sympathy for the Devil” can be heard playing loudly at the set being built just over yonder. We are all rolling stones around this lot.
“Pat… get up on that ladder!” (We found an old, wooden A-frame). “Look dead… You play it really swell, by the way,” I snicker. “Slowly turn your head, like you’re a corpse dangling in the wind, keep it downward.”
“Jerry, create more background dust,” I yell, at special effects…
“How does it look in the view finder, Barry?” “Looks great…” he nods approvingly.
CUT. Next set up…
It’s a shootout, at the saloon. Danny inside, looking out at the street. Pat approaches with a rifle. Not just any rifle… a DAISY.
Rapid fire, bolt action… shoots as fast as you can cock it. I pour a can of 3 in 1 oil down the barrel, that creates smoke when fired.
I will need to hold traffic for this violent scene. Jerry walks to the intersection between these two movie sets with his walkie…
Barry and his camera are outside, just behind Pat, as he walks the wood planks in front of this Happiness saloon…
Pat, make eye contact, as Danny flips him the bird from inside. Pat has had enough agony today and can now release all his tension…
As Danny stands with his finger extended upwards inside, Pat steps sideways on to the dirt street and opens fire, rapidly cocking and firing, just like Chuck Connors. There’s that name again… this shot is similar to the opening credits in the Rifleman. I saw him shooting at Charlton Heston most recently on the Soylent Green set. That man likes to shoot and I love him for it.
Glass is shattering as fast as Pat pulls the trigger. Danny ducks for cover… CUT.
We all applaud. Great shot, fellas, I’m thrilled with that scene. I can’t wait to see the daily’s.
B.B. guns and backlots work great together… this will become a frequent hobby on both backlots, very, very soon.
The Martini shot is all the filming we have left to do. We cut it close, but have 40 seconds, more or less, of film left in the view finder.
This is a one take money shot… scheduled at 1600 hundred hours, or when security sets itself up for the night.
We waste no-time preparing this one shot opportunity. The camera needs to see a wide angle, so I position Barry on a grassy knoll that oversees both movie sets. He will have a walkie with him and will just pan the camera, filming the chase sequence from up top the grassy knoll.
Being that we will all have to leave town immediately, I instruct Jerry to strike our set of props, safe up the saloon stairway by blocking the path upwards to the office. Most importantly, have the get away vehicles (bikes) ready to roll, and facing in the direction towards home.
Barry and I will need our bikes hidden in the big main drainage pipe that feeds the creek, which faces the Culver Fire training facility.
Neither of us should have to run, if all goes well. We can exit the studio calmly, like David O’ Selznick.
That leaves just Pat and Danny to act this scene out. Perfect, the’re both crazy.
I can look down from a higher vantage point and cordinate this Gone With the Wind type final scene. The running of Atlanta.
Exactly in the same area as that climactic scene was captured.
We are ready as the clock ticks… 4pm.
Workers, including Tom and Charlie Manson, pull away in their personal vehicles. The studio stake bed work truck sits, parked by the mill, where all the saws and wood are located. How does Charlie boy spends his nights, anyway?…
There is a tension, a nervousness, in the air. We can only hope this comes off as planned. Jerry has the other walkie. We need to know when we are set for escape. Barry will work from my visual commands. We only have a half minute of film, don’t forget…
I run down to my actors when I notice Danny has a rifle. “What if he pulls his weapon when he sees you with this rifle?” Then, I think for a minute and change my mind… “Actually, go with it Hancock, I love it!”
“He would probably shoot Pat, anyway.” Danny and I laugh, as Pat gives a sour glare. “That only happens at MGM,” he spits back.
I go back to camera and check with Jerry on Barry’s radio…”is the getaway ready?”
“All good here,” he responds, “and guess what?… The Cantina fort has a new ladder going up to the roof.”
Thanks Charlie and Tom, you can never have too many carpenters as friends around here, I think proudly… I didn’t even need a charge number.
“(A) Camera… be ready, start filming right as they shout their lines.” I run down to do last check with talent… “Be ready to deliver your lines when I twirl my right arm up. I have a visual on all this. Security is at the saw mill… start getting closer, so when I queue you, he sees you, and starts his pursuit.”
Places and… ACTION
“Hey stupid, we’re over here,” Danny and Pat yell that and even more choice adjectives.
Nice, the sheriff is pissed and in a full speed pursuit. I’m safely hidden. This chase is mine to enjoy. I tell myself… this is better than Deliverance and Billy Jack combined.
That’s a wrap!
As everyone disappears through different doorways to their waiting bicycles… The film is in the can.
That’s all Folks!
All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ