From Show Biz to Sunday School

THE BACK LOT (part three)

Another part of Hollywood that this little trek revealed, and that has always intrigued me are the sets one finds on most of the shows that I have worked on. It is fascinating to see how so little can look like a lot. By that I mean that what you see, is not always what it is. For example a simple thing like flocked wallpaper is not that at all, but rather a stenciling of a rubbery substance blown on with the spray gun or applied with a roller. The first time I touched this very elegant looking paper, I had such a surprise, for it was a prickly substance, and not paper at all, but rather a painted on surface.
Another real shock was how cheap looking and phony where the sets that represented what was supposed to be a very impressive looking high-tech interior of say a spaceship or huge complex of technological equipment, i.e. computers and machinery that are of space age design. When I first saw these plywood and cardboard creations, I was floored. What is filmed as a shiny highly polished chrome or silver console is nothing more than a can of silver spray paint, and not overly shiny at that…naturally, too shinny and it would glare back to the camera, and reflect all the lights that had illuminated it to look like a million-dollar device. Nothing too shiny is ever use just that way, they have to dull down any gleaming object, so that the reflection of the camera and all the equipment and crew do not appear on the screen showing up like sore thumbs right on the glistening article. It was for that very reason that every time my car was used in a film, they sprayed this dulling coat on anything that showed up too brilliantly. Fortunately, it was not too difficult to remove.
When I mentioned that not everything is what it seems, is true in some cases, but when it comes to furniture and fixtures, appointments and accessories, some are of the most beautiful objects I have ever seen. In fact, the studio would rent exceptional pieces for some shows, renting from private individuals, mostly. I found it rather disconcerting for these beautiful museum quality creations in the midst of a busy set full of people milling about carrying objects that could do such damage, without the slightest regard for them being in harms way. People would set things on them, and of course, rest and lean on them. Usually the set director or property master would finally catch a glimpse of the carelessness and do something about it.

Our friendship had formed and an era began in the lives of two young extras. We didn’t always work together, but were tremendously elated when we did. I recall one of our first times together, after our initial meeting, was on the set of the Virginian. We were to be saloon girls. Most of the other cast members were stunt people. That meant that there was going to be a donnybrook of a barroom brawl. Counting the noses of those who did not find gainful employment by slugging it out and mock battles, showed me that Linda and I were completely outnumbered, for even the other women on the set were members of the stunt guild. The breakaway furniture and candy-glass bottles that lined the bar were also a sure sign that this day’s job would prove very interesting to Linda and Sharon.
We were dressed in exquisite costumes that had been used as principled wardrobe somewhere in the past. We both felt simply grand in these beautiful dresses. The stuntmen were beginning to put on their protective elbows and knee pads, and the stunt coordinator was starting to gaff (choreograph) the action. The actors’ stunt doubles were going over the moves with the principles. Guns were being loaded with quarter shot blanks, (that’s all the noise needed for indoor shooting). The wagon wheel chandelier was being reinforced for someone to swing across the room on. Some tables were getting their legs cut almost through, so that the stuntmen would make the table break down. (continued next month)

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