The Crack of Dawn
The Crack of Dawn
Dawn has already just cracked.
I think I can tell this story now since it’s been 28 years. When I directed one of the pilot movies for the Hercules series, Hercules in the Maze of the Minotaur, I worked with Peter Jackson’s FX company, WETA, and got the top guy, Richard Taylor. Richard is extremely nice and severely talented. He has since won 5 Oscars for Lord of the Rings and King Kong. So Richard drew two designs for the ridiculously complicated minotaur head (that had 28 servo motors in it and took five people to run). He asked, “Which design do you like better?” I said the first one. Richard said, “I like the second one.” I said, “The second one is good too, but I like the first one.” A month later Richard, his crew, and minotaur head arrive, and goddamn if he didn’t use the second design. I said, “Richard, it looks great, but I chose the other design.” He looked utterly dumbfounded and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s right.” I asked, “Why didn’t you use it?” He just shook his head and said, “I don’t know. I guess because I liked this design better. Sorry. Obviously, it’s too late to change it.” I nodded, “Obviously.” It looked and worked great, but it wasn’t what I chose.
1st Assistant Director is a powerful position on a film crew. The 1st runs the set, makes sure every department is doing their jobs, then is in the unenviable spot of working with and helping the director, but being a rat for the producers. The 1st is constantly informing the production office if the director is meeting the schedule. The big-shot 1st AD of the 1970s was Jerry Zeismer, who is most famous for having one line in Apocalypse Now—“Terminate with extreme prejudice.” I met Jerry at a Director’s Guild meeting. I asked him what the production of Spielberg’s ill-fated, 1941, was like. His eyes widened and he said, “Oh my God, what a complete disaster.” Jerry also did Close Encounter, which must have been a 1st AD nightmare.
I went with my buddy Sheldon to the AFI, back when it was located in the Doheny mansion, to see an early screening of The Deer Hunter. I had actually already seen it in Detroit at its first test screening. When we arrived at the screening room I was informed that the screening was limited to AFI students. As he went in, Sheldon blithely said, “I’ll see you in three hours.” Not knowing what to do, I went out on the big balcony and lit a cigarette. The only other people on the balcony were a short, middle-aged man and beautiful, tall blonde gal sitting at a table. I asked, “Do you mind if I join you?” The man said certainly with a Hungarian accent. I said, “You’re Vilmos Zsigmond, aren’t you?” He was. Vilmos was the cinematographer on The Deer Hunter. He had recently won an Oscar for Close Encounter. Well, I grilled him for the next two-and-a-half hours. “How did you do the follow shots of the canoes in Deliverance?” He grinned, “Zooms.” I said, “They don’t look like zooms.” He nodded and grinned, “I know.” When the film ended, Vilmos and I (and the beautiful girl) went into the theater. He got up on stage for the Q&A and really had nothing left to say; I’d used him up.
The sun’s out.