Bad actors, acting!
“Okay, Joey we’re doing a panning shot of you and Jo Anne walking into the barn while she struggles,” said Pete. “Then you’re going to tie her up and sing ‘Tip Toe Through the Tulips,’ to her. She’ll look frightened as you’re trying to calm her down with the song. Ya got that?”
“Yup,” I said. “Will she be struggling?” I asked. “Because I just kidnapped her?”
“No, she’ll be looking at you sweetly so maybe you won’t hurt her. Remember, you just kidnapped her while she was picking flowers and you’re looking to get a ransom. You’re the bad guy. I’ll shoot a close-up of you. Sing the whole song. Then, I’ll shoot up-shots and close-up shots of Jo Anne’s reaction after I shoot you singing. I’ll edit her reactions, later.” (I had no idea what the hell he was talking about.)
“Okay, Pete, I think that I got it,” I said. “But why did I tie her to the railroad tracks? I thought the train was supposed to run her over,” I asked. “We shot that scene yesterday. I’m confused.”
“Um, movies necessarily aren’t shot in the script’s sequence,” said Pete, “Joey, just act and I’ll explain later. Let’s just shoot the scene. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
“Okay, everybody ready? Action!”
In 1966 I worked at Aunt Carrie’s Restaurant in Point Judith with a bunch of kids from South Kingstown. We were all high school kids and there were a bunch of characters that worked there. One of the guys was a guy named Pete Smith, and I think he was an aspiring film maker. He shot home movies and surfing movies and he had some pretty good equipment as I remember. He shot cool stuff. Most important, he understood how to shoot scenes for a movie and then splice them together with music so there was continuity in the narrative—we actors didn’t know any of this stuff. He knew how to cut a film with an editing rig he bought. This guy had some cool intel and was an enigma because he knew so much about the filming process. Plus, he was sharp. That summer he talked me and the late Phil Colston and a girl named Jo Anne into acting in a little short he was shooting as a practice gig. Phil, Jo Anne and I all surfed and worked together and got along well so we all agreed to do the gig. The learning curve was vertical.
Here is the main story arc. I’m a bad guy who kidnaps a farm girl picking flowers and leaves a ransom note. I accost her in her garden, leave the note on a bush and then put her on the handlebars of my beater bicycle. I take her to an old abandoned farm that Pete found to shoot our interior scenes in after he filmed long-panning, and close-up shots and drive-by shots of us before bringing my captive to the barn. Then, the good guy, Phil, comes looking for me with the ransom. But, he’s not paying any ransom he’s pretending to carry in a sack. He’s going to save the damsel in distress and try to shut me down. Before the good guy gets to the barn,
I’ve already tied said damsel to the train tracks. (Jo Anne and I really sold it, I must say.) And, the train was coming! The good guy rides up on a horse with an Indian guide on a
horse also, and then we have a major shuffle. Whew! Pass the popcorn!! The story ends where the good guy wins the game and gets the girl. A standard story arc.
So, that was the beat sheet on paper, but now we had to make this thing work. It would be a silent film with subtitles and some ahem, over, ahem, acting as we were all beginners. Pete shot the kidnap scene, then he shot the bad-guy-in-the-barn singing scene. The day before we were at a train trestle for the old Pier Railroad out by South Road. We ditched Pete’s truck in the woods and then had to hump our costumes and camera gear to the trestle. This trestle would play into the climax in a big way. Moreover, these are the train tracks that I tied the damsel onto and Jo Anne got back in the granny dress she wore the day before – continuity - and I put back on my old beat up fedora, while sporting a heavy woolen vest and baggy pants with a white shirt. I looked like a sheep farmer. Phil wore a cowboy hat, naturally, along with a six-gun on his hip.
“Okay, Joey and Phil, I need you guys to beat the hell out of each other. I’ll shoot a panning shot where I’ll see Jo Anne tied to the tracks. She’ll be hysterical as the train is coming at her. I’ll shoot tight upshots of both of you guys, then I’ll pull back and shoot a long shot of you guys fighting. Make it look real because I’m setting up a long shot.
Then, Phil, you’re going to fight Joey to the edge of the trestle and then Joey will be windmilling his arms, because he’s going to fall backwards and land near the creek. Make it look good.” Pete had decided he wanted to re-shoot Jo Anne’s railroad track scenes before Pete and I did our fight scenes. He figured it would play better than what we shot the day before. We blocked out the scene. “Action!” said Pete.
When Phil and I started to tussle after our close-up shots we agreed to really make it look good.
“Joey, charge at me and we’ll wrestle to the ground and roll to the edge of the trestle, let’s throw some glancing punches and make it look good,” said Phil.
“Okay, I’ll grab you after we each take a few hits, and then we’ll wrestle to the edge before you roll really close to the edge and then step back to fall backwards.” Phil would grab me when Pete yelled “Cut,” so I wouldn’t really fall off the trestle.
We did what we planned but Phil and I got kind of carried away and went big; we were actually beating the hell out of each other. It was an intense testosterone-driven fight scene. Later, Pete filmed me windmilling my arms and falling backwards. He yelled cut, and then I ran down below the trestle. Pete set up the tripod for a down shot where the
bad guy lay all twisted up and looked kind of dead. But, I wasn’t, and after I was resurrected Pete shot me crawling up the trestle bank to continue a futile pursuit. After the fight scene Pete filmed Phil untying the damsel in distress and then they kissed. Pete shot the final horse scenes with Phil and Jo Anne the next day as they rode off into the sunset. Moreover, he had a train set in his basement and edited the locomotive into the film in the climactic scenes. Clever production stuff. It was hilarious.
At the end of the summer the Aunt Carrie’s crew went to Jo Anne’s basement and we had a pizza party and watched a pretty good little movie for a bunch of bad actors and a cub director. Doing this little gig was part of me wanting to study acting in high school and college and I learned much about how a narrative doesn’t need to be shot in a straight sequence. Finally, this was a fun gig for a bunch of kids and more fun than playing a video game. Just sayin’.