Sunday, March 28, 2010

THE RAID - October 1966 (The FBI)

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THE RAID was not one of my favorite productions. As I think I’ve made conclusively evident, I liked scripts that generated their emotional heat from the relationships of the characters involved. In the case of scripts for THE FBI that meant focusing on the criminals. In THE RAID those characters were strictly cardboard; this was a production where the main focus was on the actions of the institution of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


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Our first and most important task was to find the location where we could stage the raid. Our needs were very complex. We had to have a building for the Lodge with a real estate office across the street. The Lodge had to have a courtyard and a rooftop where scenes in the script took place. To further complicate the situation we were going to need a rooftop close by for scenes that involved the roof top at the Lodge. Plus a site nearby where the killing you just witnessed could be committed. Now Los Angeles is a very large city -- that shouldn’t have been difficult to find. Wrong! After days of location scouting we finally found a large apartment building that would serve as our Lodge and there was a small office building across the street (it wasn’t real estate, but signs could fix that). The Victory Drive-in Theatre nearby completed our triangle and I was going to be able to visually tie the three sites together. An added advantage: the Lodge and office building were on a cul-de-sac that avoided the problem of automobile traffic.


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You’ve already met one of the members of the gang -- Ralph, the Iceman. It was so nice to have a character named Ralph who wasn’t the nerd of the plot. Now let’s meet Scott Martin and Linda. Martin was Ralph Meeker, in our third and final outing together. Unfortunately the two follow-up roles came nowhere near the caliber of our first collaboration, THE BULL ROARER on BREAKING POINT. Linda was Nita Talbot, an actress I had long admired since she appeared in the production I co-directed with John Houseman of Eugene O’Neill’s THE ICEMAN COMETH.

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When the characters on the page are cardboard, it sure helps to have strong, talented personalities like Meeker and Nita to portray them.


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George was portrayed by Rudy Solari, an actor I had met nine years before when I was preparing and casting a production of THE IMMORALIST at the Horseshoe Stage in Hollywood (the production where I also met Rachel Ames.) I was having trouble finding an actor to play Bachir, the young Arab boy James Dean had portrayed in the Broadway production. Then Rudy came in. He solved my problem and, as it turned out, I solved his. At the time he had been working as a UPS driver, but had decided it was time to pull up stakes and leave Hollywood. THE IMMORALIST kept him in town, and once it opened to very good reviews I cast him (at the same theatre) in their next production of Robert Anderson’s ALL SUMMER LONG in the role John Kerr had played on Broadway. Rudy never left Hollywood. He had a fine career in both film and stage.


What I see now but I don’t think I saw then is that this was basically a caper film. The usual caper film followed with meticulous detail the execution of a crime. This caper film focused its attention on the side of the law, the FBI, as it pursued the task of apprehending the criminals. Caper films are not too involved with emotional relationships, which was where I tended to concentrate. And with that in mind, a lot of this script was not as deficient as I thought.

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Most of the scenes you’ve seen so far (excluding the opening killing sequence) were filmed during the final four days on sets back at Warner Bros. studio: the interior of Martin’s suite at the Lodge, the interior of the real estate office, the interiors for the FBI offices. Our first three days were at the Lodge/Real Estate Office/Drive-in Theatre location. The length of the script had been pared to fifty-one pages, a low page count by usual standards. The page count for the location days was eighteen and two eighths pages, a normal expectation for a normal location filming day. But let’s look at the shooting schedule for day three.






As you can see there is only one scene in front of the real estate office of any length, and it was only six eighths of a page of dialog. Every time the scene is a different location, that means moving camera, lights, shiny boards, sound --the whole kit and caboodle. I’ll talk more about this third day a bit later. For now, let’s look at some of that location film.

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Our original intention was to find a roof for the roof to roof action. The Victory Drive-in was an inspired replacement. And it also provided a more interesting place to stage the killing in the prolog.


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William Kline was now the director of photography for THE FBI. Billy Spencer left the show to photograph Quinn’s first (and onlyI) foray into feature film production, THE MEPHISTO WALTZ. This was my second show with Kline and I really liked him. I had directed one production after Spencer’s departure with their first replacement and that one I didn’t like. ( I would give him a setup of an over the shoulder shot and return to find he had moved the actors into an easier to light fifty-fifty two shot.) This was my second show with Kline. It was to be my last. I never knew why, but he was replaced before my next assignment.


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I had known DIck Gallegley, our production manager, from the time he was a second assistant director. In a relatively short time he had worked his way through being a first assistant director, a location manager, and now a production manager. He was a first class act. We squeaked through our first two days at the location and managed to stay on schedule. The third day was ominous. Dick was out at the location early that Friday morning, assessing the situation. The page count for the day was heavier than either of the first two days, and the action was spread over more areas of the location than on those days. Dick suggested we bring in a second camera and he further suggested I pick out those setups that did not require sound and treat them as second unit. I had scenes to shoot in front of the Lodge and at the real estate office. There was also a sequence down the street. Then there was the inner court with the wounded Shooter. That was where we decided to use the second camera. I would stage a shot with Shooter; Bill Kline, the cameraman, would light it and when it was ready, he and I would leave while Dick oversaw filming it. We would return to the front of the Lodge where we did the same thing with the sequences requiring sound, but those shots I stayed to oversee the filming. We bounced back and forth that way the entire day. I was directing two units at once, the cameraman was lighting two units. At the end of the day we moved over to the Victory Drive-in to film the sequence with Jim Rhodes behind the Victory sign. We were losing the light but that sequence could be lit, and as I remember, Kline also gave instructions to force the film in the developing. At the end of the third day we had completed everything and were right on schedule. That was when DIck Gallegley thanked me and told me that Howard Alston, the executive production manager for QM Productions, had told him that if he couldn’t bring this show in on schedule, he would no longer be a production manager. Dick had not told me that earlier in the day. He had not come to me that morning and said, “You’ve got to do this or I will lose my job.” He had not put the pressure he was under onto me. As I said earlier, DIck Gallegley was a real class act.


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The scene with Rhodes and Jobie on the roof -- I’m sure that was a scene added in postproduction because it looks like a studio shot, and that scene is not in my archival script. I don’t remember directing it, but I could have because I was still with the company for another month filming another episode.


As I stated at the beginning of the posting, this was not one of my favored episodes. But I realize now, that was what made it so exciting to be a part of television at this time. I couldn’t just do those scripts that were comfortable for me. I was challenged to stretch. And THE RAID was sort of preparation for an assignment four months later -- THE TRAIN on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, which won an Emmy.

For you Trekkies and anyone else interested, another segment of my interview for the Star Trek History website has been posted at: http://www.startrekhistory.com/interviews.html#SENENSKY




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