A Mel Brooks Film Chapter 43

I have spent the last three weeks observing, as these sets get fancied up. I have never seen the German Village look so debonair… all the bullet holes and craters have been patched or built over. A train station exists now next to Boystown, where horse stables are located. A sign greets you now… Transylvania Station.


Before Transylvania station was built on this site, stables and kennels existed. The stables are the doors behind the cage. Lassie Come Home with Liz Taylor is shown here… that show used two sets – now being used by Mel Brooks…   


A cemetery set, has been put together, in all places, below my Boystown fort. As I watch these sets get final dressing, I envision how I will position myself to view all the backlot scenes!… Like a stuntman familiarizing himself with his surroundings… before action is commanded.

This cemetery is especially enticing. I realize that the Boystown fort sits directly above these grave stones and plots. What an oppotunity! Hopefully, special effects or set lighting won’t need to be inside my fort. Special effects will have a rain scene directly above this cemetery, and just below my fort.


A grave yard robbery will be filmed on this set, above… Below, the same exact area in the 1930’s


Below, A gallows, complete with a hangman’s knotted rope, sits where the 1960 award winning movie, The Time Machine, once sat… A hanging will be happening soon 



Below, a production still shot on the set of the Time Machine (1960). Mushroom cloud shelters have been replaced by a prison with a gallows pole…


An actual Time Machine. Operated by… Yours Truly!


The modern train station is also receiving an extreme make over. Fresh coats of green paint have been added to all the trains. Pennsylvania Central is stenciled on the side of these vintage Pullman passenger cars. We climb in right behind this set, usually… but if we get rerouted, so be it. I’m just happy to see this set made over so elegantly!

MGM security has a night set watch on these hot sets, but in the daytime, they are non- existent. It is crew only… besides me.

The countdown begins its final sprint, and all these sets are near ready. A circus sized film company arrives with all the usual stuff, star trailers, make up-wardrobe, craft service, a camera truck, stand by vans, and shuttles, etc.

They park in the open field between Boystown and German village, the most centralized and accessible spot to all locations being used. Tents sprout up like giant mushrooms, everywhere.

Two problems potentially exist for me. They always do…

One… Security is now present at all times.

Two… This film is nights only at MGM. Once again, school gets in the way of my life.

This means I can only stay until around midnight, which is when Catering serves second meal. But Friday, I’m good for an all-nighter. I already cleared it with my parents. They root for me. My mom offers her usual support, “Just be careful- Donnie!”…as she clutches her rosary beads tightly.

The show has finished all its preparation. A Base Camp now exists. Set lighting does a pre-light prior to first unit arrivals. The lot looks magical as lights are positioned in certain windows. German village has transformed itself into Transylvania.



Above: This same village in 1948… this picture is the making of The Three Musketeers… Set lighting is struggling over uneven cobblestone paving with arc lights that weigh more than they do… This same incline will have a coffin containing the Frankenstein body slip off a cart in one of the scenes that is to be shot here… The Constable will offer his hand in assistance…


Lassie Come Home… A matte painting of a factory on a hill frames this iconic village as it appeared in 1943… Lassie was produced at the height of WW2. Ironically, WW2 did not hit this village until 1962 when Combat began a war that lasted 6 years with battles easily heard from my home… 


Prelight begins… Arc lights are strategically placed. Smoke churns out from the vents on top of these 10 Kilowatt set lights. Lamp operators stand atop ladders and continue to feed this monster its diet of carbon rods. These rods react to electrical voltage and generate a blinding illumination. New rods swiftly replace used rods. Lighting technicians open and shut these lamps like a revolving door.

These men use pliers while wearing thick gloves to exhume the used rods while feeding new ones inside the cowling. The result is light as bright as sunlight. This prelight will keep unwanted surprises to a bare minimum for this production company. These arc lights are smoking monsters themselves…

Below, over two decades earlier, is the arch that greets you as you pass into this village… Frankenstein will be seduced by a violin under this exact arch…


Like the set lighting crew, I too have prepared as much as possible… going over different scenarios I may run into. I also dislike unwanted surprises… Mel Brooks and I share that common thread on this set.

Tommorow… 5 pm shooting call times… stay tuned!

All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ

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