Saturday, December 19, 2009

A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS - Part Two

(If you have not read Part One of A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS, I suggest you go to the December archives to the right of this column and read A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS - October-November 1973 before you continue here.)


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Not all of our location work was situated in southwest Los Angeles. To meet the man who was going to tear down the church to build his shopping center Will went to Bunker Hill in down town Los Angeles.


The secretary in the developer’s office was Amentha Dymally, the mother of the beautiful little boy I had cast in NEVER TROUBLE TROUBLE TILL TROUBLE TROUBLES YOU on BREAKING POINT.


I’m very proud of the scene Max wrote between Will and Briggs. It was written thirty-six years ago, and it was quite bold writing at that time.

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Los Angeles as late as the early fifties still had the Red Car, a trolley running all the way from Pasadena to Long Beach and all stops in between. When I was a student at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1947-48, I remember riding the red car from Pasadena to Santa Monica. By the time I returned to Los Angeles in 1954, the Red Car had been replaced by buses.


The production staff of our show told me that there was a company that had restored the Red Cars, mounted them on tires, and these cars were for rent. All I would have to do when filming them was prevent the tires from showing.


In our story Sarah and Grandma, against Will’s wishes and with Cousin Clara’s help, secure employment doing domestic house cleaning.


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Mr. Briggs is a dead end, Will’s sold the family car, and his wife and mother have hired out as domestic help. This was the scene we used when we did the two tests for the network. Of course, at that time our sets weren’t constructed yet, so the sets for the test were improvised.


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The juveniles in our cast all had to attend school for three hours each day. If their filming schedule permitted, the three hours could be in one straight period. Many times if they had a heavy filming schedule, they might go to school in increments as short as ten or fifteen minutes.


In this next scene Emmarine’s break down in the living room was filmed on the thirteenth day of our schedule. The scene in her bedroom was filmed on the sixteenth day. That day she was also in three other scenes; but she only had to cry in one of them.


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When the meeting with Mr. Briggs doesn’t proavide any positive results, Will takes to the streets. And I learned a very valuable lesson. In the last scene in this section our little baby was a happy baby who just didn’t want to cry. We tried everything short of child abuse. The social worker assigned to our set took me aside and taught me how one can make a baby cry. Just make soft crying sounds, and the baby will respond. I did find out it only worked (at least for me) if the crying sounds were made by a woman.


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Wiill and Joey scavengered around and created a basketball court next to the church to attract the youths of the community.


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This sequence offers proof of why a director needs to be involved in the editiing of his picture. In the editor’s first assemblage, he had not cut back and forth between grandma’s collapse and the basketball game. The camera moving into Grandma as she lay on the floor was one long continuous shot. And it worked, it was still effective. But I had envisioned it the way you just saw it. I thought this way worked even better.


When I was directing a production starring Lloyd Bridges (a fine actor and a true gentleman) he always took the time on the first day a new actor joined the company to bring the actor over and introduce me to him. As they moved away, I would hear Lloyd quietly say, “He likes actors.” And I confess I do. I am awesomely impressed with their ability to lose themselves so completely in the scenes they are performing. And this awe is amplified when the performers are fifteen and six respectively.


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Grandma doesn't die. And finally -- the big day!


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The filming schedule was completed, but there was one final scene in our script that hadn’t been scheduled to be filmed. I suspected that Neil Maffeo, the executive production manager, had visions of it’s not being filmed, of saving the expense the sequence would cost.


There was a screening of the assembled footage. It of course at this point had not been scored musically. But I remember that evening very well. Lee Rich, the co-founder of Lorimar Productions and the Executive Producer for this production was there. After the screening he enthusiastically declared, "This a brilliant film." (You see why I remember the evening so well) And HE WAS THE ONE WHO ORDERED THE FINAL SHOT BE MADE.


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I was in the helicopter when that shot was filmed. We did five or six takes. There was a telephone line that the pilot had to avoid.


The dreams of the Sweet Clover family all came true. The dreams of the producers of this production did not. A DREAM FOR CHRISTMAS did not become a series.


It originally aired on Christmas Eve, 1973. As we approach Christmas Eve, 2009, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and I hope all of your dreams may come true!

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