Feeling the heat at MGM these days, we shift our attention to the Desilu backlot. This studio is so busy they can’t use dogs anymore… just older guys who sit in their vehicles, drinking something out of paper bags, for 12 hour shifts. Getting around these guys will be a piece of cake for my battle-tested hombres. It’s like a resort here.
And this resort has alcohol for all. Across from our fort at Andy Griffith’s house is the giant church you see in every episode. It’s a Saturday, so no work is taking place, but there’s still a security guard. He sits on the Fortune set, which grows exponentially every day, in every direction. It’s an entire town, with a mainstreet, gas stations and a southwest residential neighborhood. The guard on this set stays on this set. We own the rest of this place and take full advantage.
We have had our eyes out for another rolling phone, like we had at the saloon. Today, Jimmy and I rolled into one, inside the church. As I call my house to see if it works, we notice a refrigerator and some church pews, that serve as seating. A coffee pot sits on a table. It’s like we found someone else’s fort.
The phone works! I dial off lot, just as Jimmy opens the fridge… low and behold it is packed with soda and beer. This is no fort… it’s a make-shift production office.
Where is the guard… they must have one… Or, does the guy, 20 acres away, report here?
We can’t hook the phone up at Andy Griffith’s house, since the closest phone jack is inside this church. A shooting schedule is stapled to the wall. This is a Colt 45 commercial.
Set contruction is to begin Monday, with a shoot day of Thursday. We don’t want to start off on the wrong foot, knowing we our going to hang out here for this shoot. We leave everything in tact, minus two tall cans of Colt 45, ice cold.
We can see where this set will be, as bundles of wood are sitting in the middle of Mayberry at the Four Street intersection in the center of town. You can see we do good homework, knowing how to read the advances, so we, too, can plan and plot.
To kill the day, we build a fort at the ranch house used in Mayberry R.F.D. Ken Berry’s farm house. A simple build in a small upstairs room. The backside of this house is exposed, except for this room. A dirt road runs behind it. We use more explosive boxes from Hogans Heroes, that are stashed by the Fortune Set, for use as tables. We carry up some folding chairs, then christen it by downing the two Colt 45’s and smoking a big Doobie.
Above: The Mayberry R.F.D. House.
Escape here is simple, if need be… a roof jump and a empty pond lead you to a high, grassy hill side. This will become a popular fort in the months to come, when the Fortune starts filming. We will get our money’s worth out of this residence.
Below: This is the intersection where the set is being constructed. Each day this week, I pop in, to see the Colt 45 set getting built.
Day One… There is much to do in a very short time, and the shifts go past dark as worklights illuminate the street. Much work gets done rapidly. The interior and exterior are being built independently, but simultaneously. The two story building interior is already framed. The front-side, or exterior will be involved in a dangerous, special effects collapse. It needs to fall in exactly the right way, as it is key to the entire shot. The front side is built on rollers, so it can slide into place, seamlessly.
Day Two… Since school gets in the way of my life, but I still have to go, I am amazed how much gets done, in the form of set construction, in the hours I miss. Just today, for example, set decorations are loading in, the interior already has bedrooms, there are clocks, paintings, and fancy tables and chairs. Painters are touching up the walls, carpets are laid down, and everything is very fancy. The exterior set is just a collapsing front, built specifically to fall, without resistance, on a signal by special effects in coordination with Stunts Unlimited.
Lots of prep needs to take place, since this is a classic one take scene.
Day Three… As I arrive today, the exterior has been put in front of the interior. Stunt men and effects rehearse in cordination like a symphony. I can’t get enough of this, I want to be a stuntman!
I have a big concern… this commercial that I have been watching since its inception may shoot before I can get to it. I have to go to class for a test on Thursday, and I’m very anxious about missing the shoot. I put all this time into watching and learning how this movie stuff is done. This… is my school!
Yet… I may end up missing the money shot…
Day Four… Shoot day at the studio. Test day for me. After the test, I cut out at lunch and skip P.E. My mom will have to make up an excuse. Gerald and Danny and Jimmy will meet me after they finish school, but I’m in a hurry. Class dismissed!
As I arrive, I am immediatly caught up in all the activity and goings on. The finished product has brought this street to life. Transportation has parked trailers on the street below me. The typical equipment I see on all my sets. Make up and wardrobe, a High Noon honeywagon, and a Winnabago for the star, Mr. Foxx.
The set is complete. The front of the hotel has been put in place. There is an outdoor cafe in front of the entrance. It all looks very posh. There are tables with fancy table cloths, shiney goblets and elegant napkins. Waiter activity and dialouge are being filmed.
I watch from a second story window. I notice a big burly guard walking around with a lasso rope, practicing roping things around the set.
I think… thats an interesting method to catch someone… I wonder where his horse is… Choose your weapon, Cowboy!
I see the star sitting at a table, drinking Colt 45’s. It is Redd Foxx… My dad loves him, and I’m the one that gets to see him act. I realize the shots being filmed are the ones that need to be done first, before the front collapses. It buys us the time we need to deal with the problem of… school.
I see my friends starting to show up and so I sneak down to direct them to a perfect vantage point, while the director finishes up with the A Unit and the star. The B Unit—which is stunts and effects—takes over. It’s just stunts and effects now.
We pass around a fat doobie and wait for what’s next. Two black stuntmen now sit where Redd Foxx was just downing the syrup with his cohort. They look and dress the same as the stars.
There is a nervous tension and quietness on the set, as a final run through takes place. Finally, all the cameras are in place. Two are on the ground and unmanned by operators, with plexi-glass in front of the lenses, to prevent damage.
The countdown begins, as the stuntmen pick up where the actors left off. The director yells ACTION, and in a flash, all this work concludes in a calculated pile of rubble.
Slowly, as the dust clears… you see the two stuntmen/actor doubles sitting at the table drinking their Colt 45’s, like nothing happened. Redd Foxx is inserted back into his chair, at the table, like it was he who sat there the entire time. Close ups and final dialogue and a Colt 45 toast concludes the day.
Mr Foxx is then driven off in a Limo… what a day!
Bravo, Stunts Unlimited… Applause from the kids upstairs. This business is all about stunts and effects. When I get older, I know what I want to be… One of those guys who gets shot, does car chases, gets lit on fire, and can jump from horse to horse. Or… just sit and have cocktails while buildings collapse.
In the meantime, I will just have to light my plastic army men on fire, play with my gunpowder, crash my Hot Wheels, and run from police.
All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ