Saturday, December 12, 2009

COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE - April 1963 (Naked City)

I returned to Los Angeles after completing filming NARCISSUS ON AN OLD RED FIRE ENGINE. After a couple of days of catching up I decided I would fly back to Iowa and spend Passover with my family. I made my air line reservations, packed my bags and off I flew. I wasn’t there two days when I received a telephone call from one of my agents.


“What are you doing there?” he asked.

“I’m going to spend Passover with my family. Why?”

“You’re supposed to be in New York. You’re booked to direct another NAKED CITY.”


It seems that when I was released from the commitment to direct the ROUTE 66 in Florida, I had been rebooked to do a NAKED CITY. But nobody had told me. So I repacked my recently unpacked bags and caught the first flight I could to New York. Getting in and out of Mason City, Iowa by air line was not an easy task. There was a shuttle flight to Minneapolis, and from there I went on to the Big Apple.


Guess what? I arrived in New York to find just a very few pages of a script by Alvin Sargent, COLOR SCHEMES LIKE NEVER BEFORE. A little deja vu? Marion Daugherty, that gem of a casting director for both Bert Leonard productions, had cast from the story synposis they must have sent her. The principle actors -- Johnny Seven, Lou Antonio, Carol Rossen, Eugene Roche -- were set so far. She would cast more people as script arrived.


Our principal location was going to be the exterior of a brownstone, and it had to be a building that we would be able to access; characters would be entering and exiting the building. We went scouting in Greenwich Village and found a cul-de-sac street of brownstones that would work perfectly, since we would be avoiding the traffic flow of a city throughway street. Although we didn’t have the script yet, we were told we would also need an apartment building across the street from our brownstone.


So let’s meet two of our principal characters.


video

In Hollywood the woman at the table with Charlie would have been cast with a member of the Screen Extras Guild, who would have earned a salary bump for extra business. In New York members of SAG, the Screen Actors Guild, willingly took 'extra' assignments like this. After all it was work and there was a pay check. And if you watch her closely, you will see she WAS AN ACTRESS.


Bert called me very soon after I arrived in New York with a request. He impressed on me the fact that this was a story about three ordinary guys. They were not professional criminals. They were just ordinary blokes, and that is the way they should be portrayed. I liked that.


video

NAKED CITY was my first excursion into police drama, and this was my third NAKED CITY. The crime side of the story was always more interesting and exciting than the police procedures. In the future I would direct another forty cop or detective shows. None of them wrote the side of the law as well as NAKED CITY.


The one fault I found with the New York crew was SOUND. On one pull back dolly two shot I first did my master shot. Then as we were preparing to repeat the scene, filming a close-up, I noticed the sound boom man was seated on the front of the dolly, reading a magazine, but not preparing to extend his microphone boom. When I questioned this, he replied he already got it in the master shot. He also ended up getting it in the two close-ups.


video

We had a scene between the two brothers at a construction site. We arrived at the location at the end of the afternoon when the construction crew was preparing to quit for the day. Johnny Seven, Carmine in our cast, knew some of the men on the crew. He made the arrangements that got me the opening shot of this sequence, but as we shot the following scene, I couldn’t shoot in that direction again. The crew had finished for the day and left.


video

Charlie's packing in the script was interrupted by a six page telephone sequence that concerned me. I worried about keeping that long a phone call interesting. And I was concerned that, should they want to shorten the sequence in the editing room, the coverage to do it should be there. I worried unnecessarily. Nothing was cut in the final version of this scene.


video

I have to take a moment here to rave about these two actors. I had seen Lou earlier in the year in a supporting role on Broadway in a lacklustre production of CAMILLE starring Susan Strasberg. Carol was from one of Hollywood’s royal families. Her father was the legendary Robert Rossen, with dozens of classic screenplays to his credit before he also began directing. His ten writer-director credits include ALL THE KING’S MEN and THE HUSTLER.


These two actors came to the set more than totally prepared. I think I remember that they had even rehearsed together before reporting for filming. I would work with Lou again just a few months later when I brought him out to Hollywood for THE BULL ROARER, of which I have already written. I would work with Carol three years later on an episode of THE FBI.


I liked to film with two cameras whenever possible. The west coast directors of photography preferred, when using two cameras, to aim both cameras in the same direction. Jack Priestley surprised me when we did the following restaurant scene by shooting in both directions. We shot both over shoulder shots of Lou and Carol at the same time. And we filmed both their close-ups at the same time. I thought it was great for the later editing process. And in a restaurant eating scene it certainly minimized the chances of mismatched activity.


video


The studio where we shot the interiors for NAKED CITY wasn’t really a studio -- at least not like I had worked in on the west coast. I remember it as being a three or four story building on 3rd street in lower Manhattan. There was a large hall-like room, maybe two, in which the interior sets would be erected. The one standing set used for all the episodes was the police station.


video

Meanwhile two of the three ordinary guys were getting nervous.


video

video

Carmine wouldn’t go to the police. The police now came to Charlie.


video

I don’t remember how we ended up at these later locations in our story. Usually locations are scouted before filming begins. But obviously we couldn’t do that since we didn’t have the script.


video

I need to remind you that this show, like NARCISSUS ON AN OLD RED FIRE ENGINE, did not have a completed script. New pages were arriving daily. A little advantage this provided was that we shot much of the show in sequence. We had to. We shot the pages as they arrived.


But there was a major disadvantage. When we originally booked the brownstone, there was a time limit on when it would be available. After the first three or four days there was some reason we would no longer be able to go into the building. Well the new pages that were arriving kept including sequences to be filmed at the brownstone. Not only entrances and exits but some shots of Charlie in the window. Our production department was able to make the necessary arrangements so that we could continue to use the building.


TIME! That was another problem caused by the lack of a completed script. It is the normal practice for a company, when it goes to a location, to film everything at that location before moving on. To load the equipment into the trucks, move to a new location and unload took at least an hour. We returned to the brownstone house street twice as I recall. Time spent moving is time lost to filming.


video

There wasn’t pressure to speed up as there would have been at Universal. But since the studio knew the show was not being renewed for the next season, they did keep asking when our production office thought they would be wrapping. Their response was they would know better when they saw the rest of the script. Word came the final pages were on the way. They arrived, and I hate to admit I had to laugh. To begin with it was another return to the brownstone house street. The sheer size of the amount of work in those few pages did not foresee an optimistic quick finishing. Before I show you the rest of the show, let me show you pages from my director's script. (The pages would have been too small to read if I positioned them the way they were in my script: Camera directions to the left; script to the right. So it will be camera directions followed by the script page to which it pertains.)




And now for some action.

video

This show was the final catalyst that really sent me into a working career. I never saw Bert Leonard again. I met Alvin Sargent the following summer when I was working at Desilu on BREAKING POINT. Alvin was there doing a polish on one of their scripts. We spoke only briefly about COLOR SCHEMES. Alvin just shook his head, smiling. My impression was that he was saying ‘Where did that love story come from? It started out to be story about three guys involved in a crime.’ Well it came off of the pages of a very fine script.

3 comments:

  1. Mr. Senensky,

    Thanks so much for writing all of this - it's a fascinating and informative read! Just a quick question for you: Is there a "code" to your script notation? That is, do the vertical lines that you've drawn down the pages indicate close-ups, two-shots, etc.?

    Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

    David

    ReplyDelete
  2. David: Each vertical line is a shot. When there is a letter in a circle (A,,B,C, etc) that indicates a change in the shot. usually a camera move. And thank you for your interest.

    Ralph

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is the best post I've read on Ralph's Trek so far (of course all of them are simply great) and the best drama I've seen here so far! The episode is just as great as the account of the behind the scenes events. Filming on location in the Big Apple must've been a great chance and also a great challenge. Lou Antonio was great in this segment (funny that he has become a television director later on).

    Thanks and regards, Mr. Senensky.
    Daniel

    ReplyDelete