Saturday, March 6, 2010

MY NAME IS MARTIN BURNHAM - Part Two

In 1979 a book was published in England about American Directors in Television.



In writing about me these authors across the pond said better than I can where I’ve always tried to go as a director.



Again the day down at the LAPD complex provided me with the guidance of how to stage the scenes in the room where prisoners conferred with their lawyers. In the following scene the meeting is with lawyers from the District Attorney’s office.


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When I was staging the scene producer Frank Rosenberg came on the set.


“Why are you doing that scene here?” he asked.


My answer was, “Because that’s where they would be meeting”


Frank just shook his head. “It doesn’t look real. All those people listening to what they’re saying.”


I asked him, “Well, where do you think it should be staged?”


“In Martin’s jail cell,” he responded.


“But this is the way it’s done,” I said. “Look, once they’re in position, the coverage will be in over the shoulders and closeups. I’ll be sure not to have anybody in the background of any of those shots.”


That seemed to satisfy Frank, and he didn’t make me change my staging. But the show that aired the week following MY NAME IS MARTIN BURNHAM, had a lawyer talking to the prisoner -- where else -- in the prisoner’s jail cell.


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If you’ve read my posting on the ROUTE 66 episode IN THE CLOSING OF A TRUNK, you know that Ruth Roman used a very unique technique to prepare for an emotional scene -- she snapped a smelling salts (ammonia) capsule in a handkerchief and then whiffed it a couple of times. Oh the stupidity of young directors. NIna Foch had a very emotional scene to do with Jimmy Whitmore. Trying-to-be-helpful-me (and probably wanting to show off my prowess as a director) I suggested to her that we could get some ammonia capsules to help her. It’s amazing she didn’t deck me. How dare I question her ability to generate the tears without any helpful suggestions from me! And just because I had thrown down that gauntlet, for a couple of takes, Nina COULDN'T produce the tears. But pro that she was, they did come. And boy did I learn a valuable lesson! Just keep your big mouth shut!


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The courtroom was a brand new set, designs based on the new courtrooms in downtown Los Angeles. And I was going to be the first one to film in it. What would be the normal protocol in filming such a set? Get a beautiful wide establishing shot from the rear of the courtroom facing the judge’s bench. So I requested that the rear wall be removed so that we could get my first shot. Normally that would be no problem. The walls of sets were always divided into sections and then attached to braces that permitted them to be rolled in and out with ease. BUT NOT THAT DAY! When that set was put together, someone must have thought it was going to be photographed like a live location. It had been nailed together so that nothing moved. It took an eternity before it could be unnailed, braced and moved.


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The year before I directed this production I had directed an Equity Library Theatre West production of Clifford Odets’ GOLDEN BOY. For the role of the Italian father I cast an actor fairly newly arrived from the east coast, Michael Constantine. I always liked working with actors I had worked with before. So now, for the role of a psychiatrist, I cast Michael. You may recognize him. Six years later he starred in the hit television series, ROOM 222. And as recently as 2002 he starred as the father in the humongous hit, MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING.


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Richard Eyer, the young Burnham son, Jerry, started acting when he was seven years old. When he was eleven he played Gary Cooper’s son in FRIENDLY PERSUASION. Remember him being chased by the duck? Or was it a goose? At the time of this production he was an old Hollywood pro of eighteen. I’ve checked the Internet Movie Data Base and discovered that he turned eighteen 25 days before this production began filming. That would mean this would have been the first production he was cast in that he didn’t have to go to school on the set, and that he didn’t have to have a parent accompany him to the set.

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Another check shows that at this time he had appeared in over ninety films or television shows. Only eighteen -- and he had far more film experience than I had!

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The clerk of the court who swears in Martin is Tom Palmer. Tom and his wife were two of my closest friends. Tom was Canadian and had made a success on Broadway as a member of the Alfred Lunt-Lynn Fontanne company. To them he was their ‘Tommy’. Tom later became a leading casting director in Hollywood. He was one of many actors who ended up casting. And they were the best. They loved actors; they knew actors; they could recognize talent. To name a few: Bert Remsen, John Conwell, Dodie McClean, Jim Merrick.


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After the filming was completed, I worked with the film editor to do my director’s cut. The show was then turned over to the producer. Once the film was completed there was an answer print screening which I attended. I left the screening room after the death of Latham sequence. I felt the scene had been very badly reedited. This was the climax of the arrest part of the story, and the main focus should have been on Burnham and Latham. It wasn’t! Oh how I wished it had been Bert Leonard overseeing the final editing. And how I regretted not having that crane.


ARREST AND TRIAL only lasted one season. Stephen Bowie, a New York based journalist on his sensational blog dealing with Classic Television, has written a detailed history of ARREST AND TRIAL from its inception as a pilot to its final demise. It’s worth a look at:


http://classictvhistory.com/EpisodeGuides/arrest_and_trial.html

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