Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Film Safety/ Learning from the worst

In light of recent discussion in class about the way old movies were shot with no doubles. How actors like Charley Chaplin and Buster Keaton would do their own stunts. Pointing this out, there are still some actors who dare do their own stunts. In the eye of a director this can be seen as a pending law suit or not having to pay an extra person on set.
Garrett Brown is the inventor o the steadicam, the olympic under water camera, and the football field/concert cam. He once gave a large lecture in Syracuse NY. I went with a small group from my old college, Cayuga Community College. We sat through his presentation at the end of a TV expo in the Crowne Plaza next to highway 81. He began a discussion about cinematography, and about how it can be dangerous.  This was the point behind his exploration of where we can put a camera and how we can get it there. He was also the cinematographer of The Shinning in 1980. He spoke briefly about his experiences on that film and several others. A very much more specific one for this topic was the film "Indiana Jones" in 1984. Here they had been setting up a shot where Harrison Ford runs across a rickety looking bridge. The above video is probably the scene he was referring to. Durring this scene, they wanted Harrison to runs across the bridge. Durring one of the rehearsals, of this shot either Harrison or one of the stunt doubles almost fell through the bridge on a rotten board. He of course was completely outraged at this happening and demanded that it be re-built, fixed etc. or he would quit. Garrett also went on to describe a scene he was asked to shoot at the top of (what I remember being) the San Francisco bridge. He was harnessed and all but probably afraid of heights. He was too afraid to get the shot that the director wanted and I think he never did the shot since it wasn't (in his mind) safe. As a human being you should know when and where to make that decision. Whether to move forward or step back. He stressed than no shot, and no film would ever be worth your life.

Another instance where danger was a very prominent issue in film was the making of "Noah's Ark" in 1928. Durring the climactic flood scene of the story of Noah's Ark, several extras were asked to swim around in a pool while they dumped water into it. I remember vaguely an interview with Delores Costello (on of the main actresses for the film). She stated that people would get up out of the water because they were drowning and the director told them to keep swimming, that the show must go on. Three people died durring that scene and countless others injured from props and set dressing falling on them and being pushed around by the water being dumped on them. She recalled an extra hanging on to the door of her wardrobe room. She could see that he was badly hurt and that he needed medical attention. She asked if he was alright, he said it was alright, but he thinks someone may have died.  The clip above is that very scene. It's awful to watch knowing that the director Michael Curtiz made the choice to keep those people in the water. This film and many other films that had unfortunate accidents encouraged the laws to be changed and other safety rules put into effect.

I watched a documentary on Netflix once about the making of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre film in 1974. The events of the film were much more horrifying than the story of the film itself. The film is available on Netflix still I believe. I would recommend watching it and absorbing it as a 'How not to make a film' film.  It's incredible that no one died durring the making of it. As an independent film they never had faith in it but eventually it made it very big and it became one of the biggest horror fliks ever.
If you have time I would consider watching it. I have actually found it on youtube. Although, I'm not sure it is the entire documentary.

As a director I always keep this in mind. I try to put myself in my actors shoes and wonder. How would I feel if a director asked me to do that. What am I putting my actors through, is there any other option we could do in order to get the same effect without putting anyone in danger.

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