The 'real world' of Hollywood
The following are excerpts about Mark’s experiences working on the ‘Hollywood’ movies from his book TRULY INDEPENDENT FILMMAKING;
Several of my teachers at KU worked in the film industry in Los Angeles, and would tell us stories about how hard it was to break into the business. Upon graduation from KU in 1989, I was realizing that I could not stay in Kansas and hope to be a movie director. My parents thought that, somehow, if I got a job as a cameraman for a local TV news station I could eventually pursue a filmmaking career, but I couldn’t see the connection. I had this dream of making movies and there was only one place to be to succeed - Hollywood, California. This perceived junction between a geographic location and the center of an entertainment industry was the destination of anyone wanting to make a film, and have it seen by people outside of his own circle of family and friends. So I decided to pack up my Volkswagon Golf and go for it. I knew it was the only time in my life that I could go, with no financial or personal commitments holding me back. And besides, if I didn’t go, I would have to find a job, probably in retail or the ever-growing fast food industry.
But before I left for the land of swimming pools and movie stars, I had the chance to work on an NBC Miniseries shot in Northeastern Kansas called CROSS OF FIRE. It was based on a true story of the rise and fall of a leader of the KKK in Indiana, and the miniseries centered around his rape and murder trial. I was hired as a prop assistant for one day, when they were shooting two big scenes. I was on a list of potential local film crew with the Kansas Film Commission, and received the call to help in Lawrence, Kansas. This was my first experience on a real Hollywood movie shoot, and I looked forward to seeing how the magic really was created. I learned it was created with a lot of snack food, trucks pulling dressing rooms and guys wearing wireless headsets.
The big scene of the day was shot in a park with a bandstand near downtown Lawrence. The lead, John Heard, shows up to a 1920’s KKK rally in the park to sway people to join his crusade. Local extras were recruited to be the crowd at the rally, all in period costumes. My duties were to help set up and keep track of the table seen in the film where the crowd signs up for the KKK. The first thing filmed was John Heard’s big speech to the crowd. It was interesting to see the big camera crane coming gently down toward the star, and the crew having to literally push extras out of the way, like cattle, to make room for the camera to come through. By the end of the day, most of the extras had enough and left. Unfortunately, there was one more wide shot needed of the scene, and they had to hide the low number of people by staggering them across the park.
The most striking thing I saw that day, which I didn’t expect to see, was the hierarchy of the crew. This was a major Hollywood shoot for network television, with most of the crew Union members. I didn’t realize that there was a certain protocol on the set, where one set of crew cannot help another. Once the Director and the Director of Photography (DP) decide on the shot, the DP sets the wheels in motion. But the DP cannot physically help with the camera. The camera operator and his assistants cannot help the crew that sets up the dolly tracks. The camera operator is the only person who can operate the camera during a take. The grips setting up the dolly itself cannot help the gaffers set up the lights or visa versa. And everyone has to stand around and wait for something to be done by someone else. Now I began to understand why it can take so long to make a big Hollywood movie; in order to command the chaos and control the safety of everyone, each crew member is hired for a specific duty, and there are a lot of crew members on the set. Ironically, this was very different on the two low budget films I worked on once I traveled to Los Angeles.
I left for L.A. during the summer of 1989. It was a strange day to begin my journey to show business. My car broke down the first day, and I was barely able to get to Wichita. I spent most of my cash replacing a fuel pump, after completely unloading my over-loaded car in the garage to gain access to the curiously small and defective part. On the first night, in my motel room, I watched the live broadcasts of the Tienaman Square protests and eventual tragedy in China. I finally made it to L.A. and sat in a cheap motel room wondering what the Hell I was doing, and how I was going to go from a lost, broke nobody to a lost, broke nobody working on a movie set. I distinctly remember standing in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, looking through the want ads in the newspaper thinking to myself; “There is NO WAY that someone can get a job on a film production by standing in the middle of downtown Los Angeles looking through the want ads!” I found myself face-to-face with the harsh reality in the city that creates fantasy like Detroit creates automobiles. There was a friend of mine who graduated from KU at the same time and was an intern at ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, named Son (SK Nguyen). He was from Vietnam, originally, and no one could pronounce his name, so he told everyone to call him Son. (Son/SK is now a Producer/Coordinator for a vfx company in Los Angeles, working on such shows as BONES!) He gave me an idea about a place to live, and I was able to find some cheap student housing at USC. It was the summer break and I told them I was a visiting student from KU, since I still had my student ID, and I needed a room. I ended up in an apartment on Severance Street until the fall semester. I was amazed to find that my two roommates were USC film students. They took me on a tour of the USC film department, where I saw the George Lucas Instructional Building, the Marcia Lucas editing facility, the Steven Spielberg sound facility and the Johnny Carson production studios, all on the oasis of a campus in the middle of an endless urban expanse. It was incredible to see this center of student filmmaking, where careers are born and dreams come true. The best talent, the best equipment, the best of everything – and I was surprised to hear that my roommates complained about the fact that students had little hands-on opportunities to really use this stuff. It was the exact same complaint at KU, “Too many students and not enough equipment.” (Although we did not have this level of equipment, of course, at the University of Kansas.) But because of the demand and competition among students, not everyone had the chance to make the big student film that they hoped a studio executive would see. There are the stories of the students who did succeed - George Lucas, Robert Zemeckis, Kevin Reynolds and Phil Joanou, who made incredible student films that led them to fame and fortune. But they are the select few; a USC student was more likely to be a crewmember for someone else’s student film. This is a mirror of Hollywood itself, I’m sure one can argue. So, in fact, it’s a great place to learn about the business as well as the craft.
One important room they showed me had a book of job listings. These were usually entry-level positions, such as a production assistant, posted by USC graduates looking to give opportunities to current students. There was a listing by a producer, named James Holt, for a film starting soon, and I took a chance and called him. Actually, I was desperate; I hadn’t found anything yet. I had no leads and no idea of how to get a job on a film shoot. I went down for an interview with Holt and another producer, Philip J. Jones, and got the job. The catch was, I would work for free, I guess to prove myself in their eyes. Then they might pay me for the next film. Welcome to Hollywood, I guess.
It was a low budget film (about $200,000 budget, shot on 16mm film) for Vista Street Entertainment. At the time of the shoot, it was called ASSASSINS, but they eventually changed the name to PRINCESS WARRIOR. I started by helping Holt and the production designer, Greg Hildreth, build the sets for the first shoot. We traveled to Valencia, just north of L.A., to studios that were converted warehouses at an old glass factory.
We were redressing and repainting old set pieces, and, as a marvelous surprise, we were working next to the storage area of models, props and sets for STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER. For about five minutes we were allowed in to see what many Trekkers would die to see. The two full-sized Shuttlecrafts were the most impressive sight, sitting in the middle of the room. The Galileo had a fully decorated interior as well, complete with the broken window that occurred near the end of the film, when Kirk is left alone on the planet Sha-ka-re. (To any STAR TREK fan, they know that Kirk was on the Copernicus Shuttlecraft after Spock and McCoy beamed aboard the Enterprise, and not the Galileo. Which means that the filmmakers shot the interior of the Copernicus on the Galileo mock-up. A little bit of behind-the-scenes STAR TREK trivia for you.) I was amazed to see how fake the painted-on ‘maneuvering thrusters’ looked on the exterior of the shuttlecrafts, when inspected close-up. Along the wall, dismantled, were the Enterprise and Klingon Bird of Prey bridges. The enlarged Enterprise hanger-deck model and the interior of the Spacedock were at the other side of the room. I was in heaven; it was like a pilgrimage to see the real Apollo 11 spacecraft in the Smithsonian.
But I had to return to the reality of PRINCESS WARRIOR, a terrible film about two sisters on a planet ruled by women. Their mother, the Queen (Cheryl Janecky), is dying. Instead of giving the Ring of Power to the oldest evil daughter Curette (Dana Fredsti), the ring is given to the youngest, named Ovule (Sharon Lee Jones), who is good and pure. When Curette goes nuts and tries to kill her, Ovule escapes to Los Angeles on Earth, forced to participate in a wet T-shirt contest by two obnoxious bar owners (Lee N. Gerovitz and Stephen J. Cassarino), falls in love with a dance floor DJ (Mark Pacific), and is pursued by her sister and two police detectives (Tony Riccardi and Augie Blunt). I can be honest with you when I say this is a very bad movie. No, really, I mean it is a REALLY bad movie. Basically it’s a direct to video T & A movie; a reference to films made with lower budgets and mediocre scripts at best, whose sole marketing and revenue generating advantage was having half nude/topless women running around along with the obligatory sex scene (thus Tits & Ass, or T & A movie). I was amazed to find PRINCESS WARRIOR for sale, on DVD no less, at amazon.com.
"Almost everybody has the proverbial skeleton in their closet; some deep, dark secret that they'd prefer to keep hidden from the rest of the world, a mistake of youthful indiscretion that now haunts them. I've got one. One bad enough to make the embarrassment of having once been married to a man who now sports a fake Heidelburg dueling scar on one cheek and wears fangs -- in public -- look relatively innocuous. At least I can laugh that off, secure in the knowledge that nothing more incriminating than a wedding album connects me to this person. Not like my starring role in 'Princess Warrior'. I played Curette, princess on a planet in a galaxy far, far away...a planet where women reign supreme and men are subservient and wear blue lipstick. A planet where the good girls are blonde and the bad ones have big hair and tacky taste in clothing. I could tell that Princess Warrior wasn't going to get me nominated for any awards. But it was a lead part (and esteemed actor Michael Caine says to always take lead roles no matter what the film. Thanks a lot, Michael), my first, and I figured that the finished product would be released on video in countries far, far away, where the bad dialogue could be blamed on the dubbing or subtitles into Lativian, Chinese or whatever language was called for. This made the drawback of the fact that my part did call for some nudity seem less dire. There would even be an 'edited for television' version that I could show my parents. As a result of my naivete, I went into two weeks of production (six days a week, 12 hour days, $25 bucks a day) determined that A: I would keep a positive attitude; B: have fun; C: walk away with something I could use on a demo reel." - Dana Fedsti
"The costume the producer picked out for Curette (on the unnamed planet ruled by women) combined fishnet stockings awash with glittery stones with black faux leather encasing my torso, excepting cutouts for the breasts which got more mesh lined with a flesh colored fabric to give the illusion of naughty bits showing. The sleeves had black bat-like wings attached to the elbows that I kept forgetting were there and as a result, kept knocking things over whenever I moved my arms. The end result made me less a fashion victim than fashion terrorist." - Dana Fredsti
The first weekend we shot scenes that took place on the planet ruled by women. We built about five sets, creating a world of cheesy campy-ness that could have only been written by over-sexed men somewhere between the ages of 17 and 50. Since the warehouses weren’t fully converted into studio space yet, there were open windows on the roofs, and we had to shoot at night in order to keep the sunlight out. By the third and final night in the dark abyss called a studio/warehouse, things had deteriorated for the hopeful young cast & crew. The director, Lindsay Norgard, unable to get any sleep trying to plan the next day’s shoot, retreated into a semi-conscious state in his director’s chair, as the Director of Photography, Robert Duffin, took over directing duties just to get it done. A highlight for me was my cameo appearance in the film. They needed Concubines for the introduction of the evil sister in her bedchamber, and they grabbed me and another Production Assistant, Don Richie, to be the exhausted slaves unable to please her. All I wore was a small towel and white makeup with blue lipstick, and we took our places at about four in the morning on the cold concrete floor painted to look like exotic marble. The scene begins with a close up of me lying on the floor, and dollies out to the wide shot of us being kicked and reprimanded for disappointing her. A third concubine can be seen in a cage behind her, played by Michael Paul Girard. (He was the director of the next film I worked on in L.A.) We shot the scene two ways; the first with her robe open and breasts exposed, and the second with the robe closed for television broadcast. But for those of you who may have seen this ‘gem’ of a movie on late night cable, this scene is usually cut out completely from the film. But this film was my introduction to the true Hollywood experience of show business. But how can I tell people I was “Concubine #1”?
“I remember Lindsey
asked me to come out to
"Only one male actor was actually hired for the planet scenes; the man playing Ovule and Curette's father, who wore a silver space-suit left over from Lost In Space. He was luckier than the three hapless crew members (remember the budget) playing the male concubines needed for my introductory scene. Their costumes consisted of loin clothes, blue lipstick and a cower as I chewed the minimal scenery proclaiming, 'I hope you're satisfied...because I'm not!' The implied orgy must've been pretty tame considering that their lipstick wasn't even smudged. Of course, neither was mine, a deep red that turned day-glo orange under the lighting used for the scenes. Lighting that made me look like Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. (That was my) least favorite scene...probably just having to have my robe open for those two takes. The rest of the scene was a hoot - I loved being an over the top, insatiable bitch! I remember you and Don in a very positive way - I loved most of the crew (what little we had), and thought you guys were tremendous good sports to put on that blue lipstick!" - Dana Fredsti
The most “famous” people involved in the production were Lee N. Gerovitz and Stephen J. Cassarino (the two obnoxious bar owners), two chefs/entertainers in the ‘real world’ of Hollywood who had appeared on the talk show circuit as well as in syndication as The Clever Cleaver Brothers (usually as part of a local newscast ‘health’ or ‘cooking’ segment). One day they were boasting about their recent appearance on LIVE WITH REGIS AND KATHIE LEE. Their cooking ‘act’ would include lots humor and ethnic costumes, according to the food they were preparing. Their characters in PRINCESS WARRIORS provided the usual comic relief, and maybe they should have been used more throughout the film.
Although Tony Riccardi (His real name is Mark Riccardi, actually) was not famous at the time, he has gone on to a certain level of notoriety. He is a stunt man by trade, and wanted to try his hand at acting in PRINCESS WARRIOR. (He also served as stunt coordinator, and was able to bring in some of his friends to perform the bigger stunts.) Like the Clever Cleaver brothers he brought some needed comic relief to the film, but since the script didn’t provide much for him to work with as an actor, Mark Riccardi wasn’t able to demonstrate the acting talents that I felt he was capable of showing to the audience. He went on to be John Travolta’s stunt double in such films as BROKEN ARROW, FACE OFF and THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER, among others.
"The futuristic weapons were suppose to be light sabers of sorts; clear Plexiglass tubes filled with colored liquid that would have computer generated effects added in Post. Okay, not a bad idea. But as I discovered while trying to choreograph a brief fight between myself and one of the good blondes, the damn things broke on contact. Even worse was the presence of a foreign stuntman -- a friend of our stunt coordinator, said coordinator also playing Johnny, the cop -- who claimed to be a sword expert. 'You always aim at eyes and knees when cutting,' he told us. Having ten years of theatrical combat training under my belt at that time, I knew that this was not only a crock of shit, but a dangerous crock of shit and made no bones about saying so. This did not endear me to our stunt coordinator, a man who sported a black leather vest and an air of machismo -- both on and off camera -- that made his much-vaunted heterosexuality extremely suspect. Having a bit of machismo myself (but no leather vest), I didn't care. The producer tried to keep both of us happy by letting me choreograph my own moves in this scene and Macho Man and his pal do the rest. I also extracted a promise from the producer that when it came time to film the climatic fight scene at the end of the movie, my boyfriend -- who also had a background in theatrical combat -- would do the choreography." - Dana Fredsti
"Lest you get the impression that I'd developed a diva complex after getting on a lead role, I got my own coffee, helped clear the craft service table when the poor Production Assistant in charge of just about everything since he was the only P.A. allowed in the budget, was overwhelmed. Stuntman aside, I got along with pretty much everyone on the film and never used the excuse that I had to 'stay in character' to excuse bitchy behavior. I tried my best to maintain my good attitude, no matter what the provocation. And there was provocation aplenty. Such as:
- The evening that I had a nasty migraine coming on and really needed to go to sleep that neither the director -- a pale, pudgy, ineffectual twit with a crush on Sharon, the actress playing Ovule -- nor the DP (Director of Photography) knew what scenes we were suppose to be shooting and weren't in any hurry to figure out. Three major sequences (including The Spoon scene) were directed by my boyfriend (there as weapons handler since guns were involved) while the director and DP sat in the backyard of our location house and ate M&Ms.
- The time that I nearly killed myself during a scene tripping over an ill-placed cable, the director solicitously asked Sharon if she was okay even though I'd been the one to trip.
- The scene where my three henchwomen, nicknamed 'the Dobermans', and I beat up the stuntmen for their bike shorts and the stunt coordinator showed me which way he wanted me to take a punch to the jaw by grabbing my head and twisting it to the side, necessitating lots of pain killers and a trip to the chiropractor the next day.
- When we filmed the glowing 'birthmark' sequence that the grip (lighting assistant) burned my leg with a light bulb, which also started melting my lycra shorts. (Okay, it was funny at the time too.)
- 8 hours were allotted to film the wet T-shirt contest sequence (since noted as the longest -- and dullest -- wet T-shirt contest scene in film history), but the climatic fight scene between myself and Ovule only got three hours, including time to choreograph it. Keep in mind that Sharon had no previous fight experience.
- On one of the hottest days of the year, the producer failed to notify me that the same day we were filming the climatic fight scene, call time had been pushed back because shooting had run over the night before. This resulted in my dragging myself out of bed without enough sleep and then waiting in a hot warehouse in Saugus for two hours wondering where the Hell everyone else was." - Dana Fredsti
To be honest, I learned more about commercial filmmaking on this first film than in any video production classes at KU. Nothing against The University of Kansas (I’ll always be proud to be a Jayhawk, and I did learn the history and basics about movies) but nothing can beat this kind of hands-on experience. Unlike the NBC Miniseries that I worked on before, there was no union involved in this low budget film. The actors, who were all SAG members, used a fake name, which was a common practice for those unknowns who needed to keep working while waiting for their ‘big break’. Therefore I was able to do more, from building sets to helping set lights. I was a script supervisor, camera assistant, extra actor, gaffer, grip, props, and assistant director. I also saw first hand what it takes to make a movie, in the context of little time or money. I saw how to do it the right way, and how to do it the wrong way.
A rift happened on the set between the DP and the director. It was a battle of egos and a conflict of goals. Robert Duffin’s background was commercials, but he wanted to break into the feature film market. He knew this would be a bad film, but he could at least make it look good and thus use this as part of a sample reel to get work on bigger and better productions. The problem began when Duffin took more time to set up the lights, and on a low budget film with little time or money, it caused a lot of problems. Tempers flared when we were to shoot a scene involving a police car arriving to see Bob (Mark Pacific) assaulted by two alien women named Bulemia and Ricketsia (Christina Peralta and Lauri Warren). We needed to shoot for one more day at the Valencia Studios, but we couldn’t afford it. So we just drove in (waving to the security guard at the front gate like we belonged there…and it worked!), and having several exterior scenes to shoot, hoped we could get most of them done before the owners showed up to kick us out. We arrived at daybreak to shoot the first scene - the police car finding the alien women. Duffin took all morning to set up the shot, trying to light the shadows on the side of a building with large lighting equipment on top of a grip truck so it wouldn’t look completely dark. When it was lunchtime and we still hadn’t shot any film that day, the director and producers had some “discussions” with the DP. For the rest of the shoot, they didn’t talk to each other very much, only using assistant directors to convey messages. By the end of the day we were scrambling to shoot scenes as the sun was getting low. Since we weren’t kicked off the premises, we stayed and shot some night scenes until the next morning - that was a long day.
"I knew that Duffen had limited tolerance for Lindsey (one of the reasons he and I got along, I think) and that Phil spent a lot of time trying to smooth ruffled feathers, but since Lindsey never directed me anyway, it never really affected my performance. He was scared of me." - Dana Fredsti
One other odd incident occurred between the director and another member of the crew. The director, Lindsay Norgard, found out that one of the DP’s grips, Ellis Michael James, had wrestling experience. Lindsay would boast about his high school wrestling experiences, and would challenge Ellis to a match. At first we thought the director was just kidding, but he kept pushing and making fun of Ellis until we realized Lindsay seriously wanted to have a wrestling match. Most of us didn’t understand why he wanted to do this; Ellis was in much better physical shape than him. Lindsay must have thought he had an advantage with being slightly taller than the Key Grip. So after spending all night filming at an electronics store parking lot in Valencia, the cast and crew walked over to a nearby park and watched Lindsay wrestle Ellis. I took photos of the less than spectacular match, with Ellis Michael James winning in the end, of course. After I developed the photos and showed them to some of the cast and crew a few days later, Lindsay was furious and wanted the negatives. I convinced him that I would not show the photos anymore, and he stopped trying to confiscate the ‘evidence’. I was surprised that he was so embarrassed by the photos – granted, he did look like an idiot.
As for the rest of the cast and crew, we got along great, enjoying the camaraderie to keep our sanity during the long waiting periods on the set. We tried not to take sides with either the director or DP, but the crew did rebel with Duffin on one occasion. This was a very important lesson for me about the one thing the producers cannot cut back when considering the cast and crew. We didn’t have dressing rooms, but we managed. We did not have chairs to sit on, but we didn’t complain. But the one necessity that was missing led to bitter feelings, raw nerves and a mutiny: Good Food.
We were so low budget that we didn’t have catering. I saw what catering was really like on the CROSS OF FIRE set. A catering company is actually hired to follow the film crew, set up tables and chairs (and even a tent if necessary) and cook a good meal that’s ready to be served to a hungry group at a moments notice and at odd times. The producers of PRINCESS WARRIOR couldn’t afford catering but did have to supply meals from a near-by diner each full shooting day to the cast and crew.
Sometimes we would actually take a break and the entire cast & crew would go to a nearby restaurant. The crew was starting to get a little tired of this, and it finally came to a head one night when we were shooting with a burrito vendor. It was a father and son with a burrito vending truck, and we were just using them as a backdrop…or so we thought. Then the producers announced that, as part of the package deal with the vendors, they were also supplying our dinners for that night. The DP was the first to express his disapproval, and led the cast and crew to a near by diner in a mutinous mass exit. I actually stayed on the set and had a burrito, because I felt sorry for the producers (who were my employers and I wanted to be paid for my next job) and the vendors who seemed to take it personally. The burrito wasn’t wonderful, but not terrible. One of the actors said they couldn’t believe I ate it - these vendors were notorious for their lack of cleanliness in the cooking area. But I could see that food was the one thing a filmmaker could not skimp on: a fed crew is a happy crew. They never taught us that at KU!
The one shoot that the executive producers showed up to watch was the infamous “Wet T-Shirt Contest” scene that was shot in a local bar in Valencia. In the final film, this sequence is noticeably long in running time, with endless shots of the bar owner spraying three girls with a water bottle. I make another cameo appearance in this scene, although I’m harder to pick out. A reverse angle of the patrons of the bar enjoying the show was needed, but they waited until the end of the day after the girls were no longer putting on their show, and most of the patrons had left. So the crew stepped in as the crowd and you can see me in the back row. After that I think they must not have told the executive producers when they were shooting the ‘sex scene’ so there wouldn’t be quite the cheering section as in the bar. In fact it was a very surreal setting when we shot the ‘sex scene’, it was the last night of shooting and everyone was a little tired and numb by that point. We were outside, even though the scene took place indoors. A black screen was put up behind the detective’s car that was used in the film. Then a mattress with a black sheet was placed on its roof and Mark Pacific and Sharon Lee Jones were set on top, back lit with fans and a fog machine. They still had underwear on (so they weren’t actually having sex – this wasn’t a porno film, remember?), but Sharon was topless and the scene was shot with two cameras, one static and one moving side-to-side on a dolly. It looks very artistic and erotic, without becoming pornographic, even watching it live on the set. I wish I had taken a picture of just the whole set up, showing them on top of the car like that in a humorous yet bizarre situation. But the actress was very self-conscious and didn’t want any one on the set who wasn’t part of the crew, or any stills taken.
"Several of us realized we were making camp, not art, and approached our characters with that in mind. I think if all of the actors had used the same approach, the film would've had a different quality when all was said and done. Oh, it would've still been bad, but more in a Cannibal Women in the Amazon Jungle of Death type of way as opposed to a 'what were they thinking' awful. Again, none of this would've mattered if things had gone according to the law of averages and Princess Warrior had vanished into the mists of foreign distribution. But like a bolt of lightning, the producer called me out of the blue to tell me that Princess Warrior was picked up by USA Network to join its late night line up of bad movies on 'Up All Night' alternately hosted by Rhonda Shearer or Gilbert Gottfried. Mixed feelings do not begin to describe my reaction to his news. On one hand, I was going to be on TV, something of a lifelong ambition. On the other hand, I was going to be on TV in Princess Warrior. Okay, I thought. Late night USA network? Who's gonna see it? I'd be safe. Then in another of those mixed blessing moments, my name was one of three in the TV Guide listing for the movie. And with a last name like Fredsti (oh, why hadn't I used a pseudonym), it stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. In truly morbidly curious fashion, I watched the USA television premiere of Princess Warrior. The days that followed were interspersed with phone calls starting with 'So Dana, I saw your name in the TV Guide' or 'carrying any white hot spoons?' or just wordless laughter. (Someone) loved Princess Warrior, comparing it to a low budget Showgirls. It doesn't get much campier than that, folks, and if he got half the giggles watching me cavort around with my blue-lipped concubines as I did watching Elizabeth Berkeley take on Vegas in Showgirls...then I'd done my job and would henceforth be proud to be the only villainess in movie history whose weapon of choice was a white-hot soup spoon." - Dana Fredsti
Dana Fredsti has written her first MURDER FOR HIRE mystery
novel, THE PERUVIAN PIGEON, which is now for sale “through all fine bookstores
in the US
For more information visit Dana’s great website at:
The producer, Philip J. Jones, liked me so well he hired me for the next film as the Boom Operator and Still Photographer. It was originally called WISH ME LUCK, but when it was released they changed it to GETTING LUCKY. This time I was paid the industry standard of $50 a day at that time, and ironically this had a smaller budget ($20,000 on 16mm film) and basic crew; Michael Paul Girard was the director, producer Philip Jones, director of photography Gerald Williams, audio engineer Jon Philon (who was boom operator on PRINCESS WARRIOR), me, script supervisor Melisa Sanchez (also from PRINCESS WARRIOR) and the DP’s one and only grip/gaffer/camera assistant, Brian Moehl. We were the core film crew, although others would help at various times. The story involved a high school nerd named Bill (Steven Cooke) who finds a banished leprechaun named Lepkey (Garry Kluger) in a beer bottle. Lepkey must help Bill win the heart of a cheerleader, Krissi (Lezlie Z. McCraw) at his school but she’s in love with the popular jock named Tony (Rick McDowell). Even though this story might not inspire confidence in the final product, the director was very good and it turned out pretty well for a straight-to-video T & A movie. There was enough humor and charm that made it enjoyable to watch despite its obvious low budget, typical ‘dumb-but-horny-jock-after-dumb-but-likable-cheerleader-loved-by-dumb-but-sincere-nerd’, and occasional bad acting by some of the actors with smaller parts. Overall it is still a bad movie, but it is easier to watch than PRINCESS WARRIOR.
“I met Jerry Feifer
in November of 1989 when I was shopping ‘Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars’ and
“On ‘Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars’ I literally did everything except for act (except playing Lipschitz the lawyer when one of my actors dropped out.) And I could shoot whenever I wanted or whenever I could get the actors together. On ‘Getting Lucky’ the first film that I actually had a crew, I did not know how the division of labor worked, so it was an on-the-job training experience for me.” – Michael Paul Girard
It was a challenge to be both boom operator AND still photographer at the same time, which is why I took the photos during rehearsals or a break from shooting. I was now even closer and more involved in the actual production than before, and learned a great deal about filmmaking on such a low budget. Jon, Melissa and I were already friends from PRINCESS WARRIOR, so we had a lot of fun working together and getting to know the other actors. It was a lot more relaxed atmosphere, but with fewer crewmembers, it was both an advantage and disadvantage. There wasn’t as much chaos in trying to organize everyone, but there also weren’t as many people to help set up or tear down. I had even more hands-on experience with grip and gaffing duties, including working with the lights and as a focus puller.
“I remember you working the boom. Like I said, it was the first time I'd ever worked with any crew at all. I probably wasn't very social at all during the shoot as I had to remain intensely focused. I thought it was great working with a small crew like that. I much prefer going out to restaurants rather than having catering on the set, which is how it was on my later productions.” – Michael Paul Girard
I had another cameo appearance as well, in the scene where the jock had to be taken out on a stretcher after ramming a tennis racquet up his rear-end. (You’ll have to see the movie to understand why that would happen.) The DP and I played the paramedics, and we got to choose our own names for the crude nametags on our costumes. Gerald played Paramedic Lucas and I played Paramedic Spielberg.
“I was homeless
while shooting getting lucky. But I was sitting houses. I met Jerry Williams
that first day of the shoot after he drove up in rush hour from
And yes, there was more nudity in this film, mainly a scene where Bill appears in the girls shower, after being shrunk down by the leprechaun and trapped in Krissi’s underwear (again you’ll have to see the film to understand how this transpired). Although I will say it was surreal to film on the large “pubic hair & crotch” set, where Bill tries to claw his way out of his predicament, and the underwear. This leads to one of the more memorable scenes of the film, where the climax (pun intended) occurs with Krissi having an orgasm in the middle of a class, while a history teacher dramatically describes 18th century explorers penetrating the American wilderness.
“A studio looking at
the script and seeing the whole "
A scene shot in Philip Jones’ parent’s home was the drive-in movie. Krissi goes out on a date with Bill to the drive-in, only to sneak away to Tony’s car. (The movie they are watching is PRINCESS WARRIOR, by the way.) There the jock tries in vain to coordinate Krissi, a condom and the quickly disappearing ‘romantic mood’ in his back seat, until Bill finally stumbles upon them and ends the scene. We used their garage to park a car in a completely dark environment, to simulate night. It worked very well, and looked very convincing in the film. Of course we didn’t have the budget to go shoot at a drive-in at night, with large lights needed to illuminate a big area. So they had to shoot a couple of wide shots at a real drive-in during the day, using a special filter for the camera lens for the day-for-night effect, to be able to see anything. In the end it looked fake in that respect (I can usually spot that effect in films), and it was a big contrast with the dialogue footage shot in the garage. I’ve always tried to avoid shooting day-for-night, because of the inherent unrealistic look and how movie audiences today are more likely to spot such a false effect.
“I don't remember the particular scene, but a low point for me during the shoot was when one of the actors (whom I won't name) thought that Jerry Feifer had promised them more money (than the $50 a day they were being paid) and was threatening not to work that day until the matter was resolved. If you remember the shooting schedule we had, there was no margin for delays of any kind and there was a moment where I didn't know whether we'd be able to finish the movie or not.” – Michael Paul Girard
“To be honest, I can't remember (my favorite scene to shoot), because it was all such a blur and didn't end when the shoot was over as I went right into 3 or 4 months of post-production.” – Michael Paul Girard
I also learned to stretch the truth when it comes to low budget filmmaking. We were going to shoot in a park where LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE was filmed, but we needed a permit from the Parks Department. Philip sent me there to pick up the permit with no special instructions, and as the ‘official-parks-permit-issuing-person’ was filling it out he just casually asked if there were any professional crewmembers on this shoot, and I said yes. He started to hesitate and said it was his understanding that this was a student film, and that’s why we weren’t charged a fee. I realized that I really screwed things up and quickly explained that this was a student film. I assured him the professionals are donating their free time to help with the shoot. He seemed to accept this and gave me the permit, so I was rather proud of myself for the quick save. I’m not sure what I would have done if he started asking about the school, the class or the teacher who was in charge of us.
The shoot at the park was one of the last days of production, involving cars, horses, barbarians and a sword fight using kabob sticks. We had one day to shoot all of this mayhem, starting with Tony (an escaped prisoner at this point) kidnapping Krissi, after she and Bill are married and traveling to their honeymoon. We had to mount the camera on the hood of Bill’s car, which was the same car used by the detectives in PRINCESS WARRIOR, by the way. (It had originally cost the producers $500, so I guess it was a good investment.) The sound engineer, Jon, had to sit in the closed trunk recording the audio as the actors drove the car and said their lines. The director, Michael Paul Girard, used to work for a traveling circus as a musician, and became friends with the horse trainer. For a bizarre sequence, the trainer brought two horses and rode them down a hill, standing with a foot on each back, dressed up as a barbarian. Bill asks to borrow one of them to save Krissi, but is given a third horse to pursue Tony. (There was some joke about the fact that the barbarian needs two horses to travel, because he didn’t know how to ride just one.) Bill confronts Tony next to a couple of campers barbecuing, and they grab the kabobs for a sword fight. To spice up the fight scene, the trainer put two male horses in a field and got them to start fighting as well. We were able to get a few shots with the actors fighting in the foreground, and the horses fighting behind them. But the horses were hard to control, and at one point they charged toward us. Of course we turned and ran, leaving the camera equipment in their path of destruction. Luckily, the horses didn’t trample anything or anyone. But we were racing to finish shooting as the sun was setting, and in the end the fight looked very dramatic using the golden light and long shadows.
“The horses in the later scenes were not in the original script, but I did a favor for James Zoppe by playing music for one of his riding troupe's performances, and did not charge him any money. He said "I owe you for this, I'll work for you for a day." So that's when I wrote in the horses into the kidnapping and rescue scene. That whole day was crazy because there was so much to shoot and dealing with cars and horses and actors. I had to prioritize and make sure we got what was essential for the story to work while we were chasing daylight.” – Michael Paul Girard
In the end the experience of making GETTING LUCKY was even more positive than PRINCESS WARRIOR. There was still no catering, but with a smaller crew we could go and eat more quickly. We didn’t have the personality conflicts that occurred on the first film, but we didn’t have the equipment or resources either. Where we used a real camera dolly earlier, for GETTING LUCKY we had to improvise using a wheel chair. But it was this sense of creative problem solving that showed me a better film can be made with a lower budget, less people and more creativity. (Again, both were ultimately bad films.) The director, Michael Paul Girard, had made one previous film at the time. One day, while waiting for people and equipment to show up at a house, he let us watch a little of his previous project that was shot entirely on Super 8 film. OVER-SEXED RUGSUCKERS FROM MARS was about horny little aliens (originally shown as animated clay figures) who come to earth and possess a vacuum cleaner, in order to start having sex with women. We were speechless watching the movie, both dazed and amazed. It was crude (in both the technical sense and in the story), dark, funny, bad, good, strange, bizarre, ghastly, intriguing, unbearable, unbelievable, and indescribable. This was Michael’s first attempt at making a film, done completely on his own, and it showed. There were some sparks of creative filmmaking in there, but we were all a bit uneasy during the scene where the vacuum cleaner is basically raping a woman. But it was done with such exaggeration and satire that we knew it was not a serious ‘rape scene’, but it was so crudely done (again, on several levels) that it was hard to take. I could see how his filmmaking skills had greatly improved from this first film to GETTING LUCKY, and it would be interesting to see if he were to make another bizarre, satirical comedy now. He has gone on to make several films, most notably DIFFERENT STROKES, the low-budget feature starring the late Dana Plato, one of the three famous troubled child stars from the original DIFF’RENT STROKES television series. But the film had nothing to do with the series, as the tag line demonstrates; ‘A story of Jack and Jill…and Jill.’ I was amazed to discover that someone had actually remade GETTING LUCKY in 1995 under its original title of WISH ME LUCK. Philip J. Jones, the producer I worked for on the two films in 1989, directed the remake about a female genie (instead of a male leprechaun), with the ‘original’ name of Jenie, sent to help a nerd at a junior college (instead of a nerd in high school). I’ve never seen this remake, although I am curious to see how Philip turned out as a director. It was shot on 35mm film (instead of our 16mm film) with Gerald Williams as cinematographer, in an amazing twist of…something. This version wasn’t produced by Vista Street Entertainment, so they enjoyed a larger budget and most importantly…they had a caterer!
“I liked the film (Getting Lucky) when it was done. Although I was involved in the editing and music and even post-sound and fx and on-line. The ‘bees’ that chase after Tony were done during the on-line: that was me pouring cake speckles on a screen and vibrating it and inverting the image from white to black. The film did very well in home video. It played on
Troma Entertainment now has GETTING LUCKY for sale on DVD! It includes feature-length commentary by the Director, Michael Paul Girard, and a special feature "Remembering Getting Lucky". This is a video I made and gave them of the still photos I took while working on GETTING LUCKY, as well as my audio commentary. Many of the photos that I don't have posted here on my website are on this video/DVD.
GETTING LUCKY is now on sale for $14.95! To order from Troma Entertainment go to:
One sad note: On the imdb.com web site listing for Philip J. Jones, they say he died of cancer on March 9, 2003 in Los Angeles. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it certainly comes as a shock and surprise.
One person who had a big impact on me in Los Angeles was one of my roommates, Steve Quale. A USC film student, he spent part of the summer as an intern at Industrial Light and Magic: George Lucas’ special effects company. At one point, one of his friends and I were going to drive to San Francisco for a tour of I.L.M., but someone had accidentally interrupted Linda Rondstat during a recording session, and they said no more personal tours. But Steve did leave an impression on me, with his stories of his filmmaking experience and his approach and view of Hollywood.
When we met, he had just finished working in South Carolina on one of the most grueling film shoots in history; James Cameron’s THE ABYSS. I was already a fan of James Cameron, since THE TERMINATOR and ALIENS, and I was eager to hear his stories about the incredible shoot in an uncompleted nuclear reactor. He had a stack of photos that he took of the preparations with the sets and the filming process. He showed me the shooting script, and I felt like I was one of the few people, outside of the studio and crew at the time, who knew about the now famous tidal wave sequence. He also had many artifacts from the shoot, including props and crew jackets, and some of the models built for the planning and shooting of the film. He was hired as an assistant with the special effects department, helping with the models. He had a tape of outtakes and a unique, behind-the-scenes look at the film made for the crew, still never seen by the public. Steve would tell me his experiences in a way that showed he truly enjoyed the job, and never acted like he was trying to impress me with the big names he worked with or the big bucks spent on the production. When THE ABYSS was released, I went with him to see it twice, as he explained why it was important to see it from a 70mm print in a theater with THX sound. He was a true artisan who loved making movies for the audience to experience, and not worried about how will this do in the box office or will this make him famous. This was refreshing in the strange world that I had entered - a world of image and money, the deal and the glamour, the publicity and the box office receipts. I had the sense that most people of the over-saturated movie industry in Los Angeles were there to make it big, to become famous, and to be the biggest name in Hollywood. I found a kindred spirit in Steve, someone who just loved to make films in a creative environment. He took me to USC and showed me the original student films of George Lucas (including his first short version of THX-1138), Robert Zemeckis, Kevin Reynolds and Phil Joanou. This was like finding early original works of art by Rembrandt or Picasso never seen by the public. I was in awe of their student films, and of Steve’s interest in sharing these hidden treasures. He restored my faith in my belief that there still are people in Hollywood who just want to make the best film they can, who follow their vision and don’t worry about what formula will guarantee the biggest profits. I knew he was going to do well in his career, and in fact he has done amazing things. His partnership with James Cameron continued, and I kept seeing his names in the credits for TERMINATOR 2 and TRUE LIES as Special Projects Coordinator. He was the editor of THE ABYSS: THE SPECIAL EDITION. Steve Quale helped James Cameron explore the wreck of the Titanic, and even ran a camera during the sinking sequences of one of the largest sets ever built, for the Oscar winning film TITANIC. I heard Steve’s name mentioned during the acceptance speech for Best Picture at the 1998 Oscars by the film’s producer and director. Steve was also 2nd Unit Director for AVATAR, beating TITANIC as the most successful film of all time. In some small way I felt a unique connection to such an historic film, and I knew James Cameron was smart to keep such dedicated filmmakers close to him to keep the quality of his vision high, and from falling into the abyss of mediocrity, superficiality and stagnation.
When GETTING LUCKY was wrapped, I had no job lined up. Vista Street Entertainment was shooting three films that summer - PRINCESS WARRIOR, GETTING LUCKY and WITCHCRAFT II. Of course I worked on the two smaller budgeted pictures, and they were finishing the third. They’ve gone on to make more WITCHCRAFT sequels, including several directed by Michael Paul Girard. But I was becoming worried because I was running out of money and about to lose my apartment, since I wasn’t an enrolled student at USC. Then I received a phone call from Kansas City. The Merchant/Ivory production of MR. & MRS. BRIDGE was shooting in my hometown and they needed a production assistant. I jumped at the opportunity and left Los Angeles for home. I was becoming concerned that I would find myself stuck in the world of low-budget T & A movies. It wasn’t porn or even soft porn, but the filmmakers involved in these creations dreamed of moving up to the next level and making a film for Roger Corman, the king of the B-movies. That’s like a baseball player dreaming of moving up to play for the minor league (if the minor league required you to have a little sex and violence during the game to make it more marketable, as well as making the story a pale imitation of a hugely successful Major League game to cash in on it’s popularity. But believe it or not, I am a fan of Roger Corman. No, really! I am!). I knew I wouldn’t have any chances for a while to direct a film, which is really what I wanted to do. I could have gotten work as a grip or gaffer, because the two DOPs, Robert Duffin and Gerald Williams, offered me a job with them. But I was afraid people in Hollywood would only want to hire me as a grip and a gaffer, and I perceived that wasn’t steady enough work. I really didn’t want to live in poverty in Los Angeles unless I was making the films I wanted to make, but that was not going to happen for at least 10 years. I thought about graduate school at USC, since Steve Quale was able to get connections with James Cameron and I.L.M. But I couldn’t afford it and I thought I might not get in right away, and I didn’t have any other options. A chance to work on MR. & MRS. BRIDGE seemed like the best course of action, so I packed up my Volkswagon and drove back to Kansas City.
Unfortunately, by the time I went back to K.C. they had already started shooting and they didn’t need a full time PA. But they had some days where they needed additional help, and I was able to find myself on the set standing next to Paul Newman. I never said anything to him; he was a very private man. But I was introduced to Joanne Woodward and she was very nice and personable. I almost got stuck taking care of her dog during the shoot, but I was luckily called away to another duty. The most memorable shoot I was involved in was the scene at the country club, which included the tornado hitting at night. For the first time I looked through the eyepiece of a Panavision camera. (I did it while everyone was gone to lunch.) It was an interesting look at the making of a major motion picture done on a lower budget. Only the director and actors belonged to a union, but there was still a sense of hierarchy on the set. Being a PA, I was the lowest on the totem pole and could never do anything beyond the things the assistant director told me. I helped herd the extras, I ran to get the stars’ water bottles or coats, I even threw leaves into the huge fans brought in to simulate the high winds of a tornado. But I could never help set up or tear down the lights, dolly tracks or sets like I did on the lower budget films in L.A. If someone had seen me looking trough the eyepiece of the camera, I probably would have been reprimanded, if not thrown off the set. The crew didn’t really interact very much beyond their duties, which made it a very professional working environment, but not as relaxed or open. I had a perception that no one was there because of a mutual love of filmmaking (at least below the director/producer/actor/DP level), but it was a job and they wanted to get it done. On the other hand, every person was very good and experienced at what they did, and there were no problems with the DP taking too long to set up a shot after the crew illegally sneaked into a studio. From the director to the actors, everyone knew what they were doing and how to do it in the most efficient way and with the highest quality. Plus they didn’t skimp on such things as trailers/dressing rooms, production equipment or most importantly: food. Some people in the entertainment industry may complain about catered food, but try the ultra-low-budget approach of fast food and burrito venders…and catered food is a welcomed feast. Since we worked late into the night shooting the tornado sequence, we never had time to break for dinner, and the caterers only provided one meal a day and we already had lunch. So Paul Newman had pizza delivered for the cast & crew. I can honestly say that Paul Newman bought me a pizza! Although he came out of his dressing room/trailer to get some pizza, and he went right back in to eat it. I never got the sense that he was looking down on anyone, as much as he needed to concentrate on his lines and prepare for the next shot. That and he values his privacy, and since he had arrived in Kansas City everyone was going crazy with their ‘Paul-Newman-Sightings’. It was a wonderful experience and very impressive on a resume. But I still learned more about filmmaking on two bad films with topless women and bad acting that no one will ever see, than on a well written, well acted major motion picture with international acclaim and a place in history.
The world lost a living legend and an actor of unequal talent when Paul Newman passed away on September 26, 2008. I had the rare privilege to have worked on one of his films, even for a short moment, and watched him work and create magic in front of a camera. And again, I can smile with the memory of Paul Newman buying me a pizza.