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Behind the Scenes in Hollywood
By Erin Bishop
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Erin Bishop
All right reserved.
Chapter OneNO ONE WOULD EVER KNOW
Movie audiences would never know that things were not going well in fantasy land. No one would ever know that one of Hollywood's most famous actors was in a very bad mood or that the sound stage was very hot, the wrecked plane was cardboard, and the drifts of snow were fake.
One quick glance around and I knew no one in theaters would ever know that the snow machine on the sound stage of the movie, Frozen North, was throwing globs of snow instead of gently sprinkling flakes. Fans would never know that everyone from cameramen to crew members on this sound stage looked frantic because so many things were going wrong. What Ace and I were witnessing was just a small glimpse of normal behind-the-scenes activity that went on when all movies were made.
I'm Lance Randall, and I had just arrived with Ace, our kennel's largest black dog, who was playing a wolf who was supposed to threaten the movie's hero. It wasn't the first time I'd handled a dog in the movies, but it was the first time Ace had ever had a part as a wolf. My younger brother was acting in a sit-com today, and my mom was handling another dog in a really big movie.
My parents established Virtual Canine Kennels when my brother and I were little. Dogs from our kennel protected policemen, palaces, mansions and acted in movies. After my dad was shot while on a police training mission, my mom had to put the dogs and my brother and me to work to help earn enough to pay the bills and buy dog food.
So today, Ace and I were here to threaten the famous actor, Carlton Ford while he acted the part of a pilot trapped inside the wreckage of this cardboard plane that was surrounded by mounds of plastic snow. I was supposed to command our lovable family dog to look like he was going to eat the pilot and maybe the plane too. Ace would have no trouble scaring the pilot, I knew.
But I also knew from Mr. Ford's expression it was obvious he was in no mood to be bothered by the arrival of another actor, even if it was a dog. I knew Ace and I had to handle this situation carefully and quietly. We moved quietly toward Mike James, the director.
While several make-up people wiped fake blood off the movie's main star, the snow machine continued its berserk behavior. Snow was being splattered all over the set.
I had read the script. This scene was supposed to be shot in lightly falling snow after the plane had crashed. The snow machine was supposed to be gently aiming snow flakes at the actor and the cardboard wreckage. Instead, the arm that dispersed snow was ratcheting around in all directions. Snow lumps were stuck in every stagehand's hair, on every crew member's clothes and on every camera. The director, two makeup artists and several grips were irritably whisking damp snow off themselves while making sure every camera lens was clear for the next take. Someone turned snow machine off. The crew cheered.
"It's the seventh take," one of the grips whispered to me. "Better be quiet. He's not happy."
No one around us even said 'hello.' I knew that would change when the take was successfully finished. Then everyone would be happy. I understood their irritation. Getting hit by clumps of damp plastic snowflakes would make me mad too.
This wasn't only Mr. Ford's seventh try. Everyone on the sound stage had to repeat everything they were assigned to do too. Makeup artists had to keep him looking handsome. Lighting had to be redone. Cameras were repositioned. And the director, who was in charge of getting everything to come together right on cue, would have to do it all over again. For the seventh time. No one would appreciate the slightest interruption. It would definitely be better if Ace and I were as quiet as we could be while all this was going on.
Carlton Ford actually likes dogs. He always pets ours when they're on the set. He also likes kids. My brother Jake and I are two of the youngest dog handlers in Hollywood, and he always says "Hi," and chats with us. He even likes to talk about training dogs. He just got a Labrador retriever puppy for his two kids. He was always asking for tips on obedience and handling. At the moment, however, Mr. Ford was not interested in visiting. He was having fake blood packets and capsules repositioned for the seventh time.
In Ace's scene, Mr. Ford had to chase off a killer wolf just by yelling at it. He is bleeding and completely trapped in a plane that has just crashed. He has no weapons. Fat chance in reality, but Hollywood is not big on reality. It would be possible for Carlton Ford, because our dog, Ace, would make it appear believable.
"Cue snow machine, again!" director Mike James called out. The makeup artists scampered away from Mr. Ford so the camera would have a clear shot.
"Are we ready this time people? Action!"
Carton Ford summoned an agonized expression as he endeavored to extract himself from the wreckage of the small plane while snowflakes sprinkled over the set. He was a very convincing actor.
Blood poured from a blood capsule he had just bitten in his mouth. It looked like he was really bleeding from a cut lip. He bumped his head against the broken glass of the plane's window, and as if he'd really been cut, blood flowed from a blood packet under his cap. I knew these blood baggies were very thin and designed to split under the least pressure. But it sure did look like the shattered glass had cut him badly.
He pushed back from the broken window, grimaced and said his line. Then a huge glop of snow splatted him full in the face.
The next line Carlton Ford said was not in the script.
Mike James wasn't any happier. He yelled at the crew, "Replace the snow machine NOW!"
Just then Mike saw me with Ace, and he smiled. I could tell Mike had a new plan forming in his head: a plan that would keep his human star happy and keep production moving. He was like that. Some of his spur of the moment decisions resulted in his best movies.
All Mike James did were animal movies. I'd worked with him before in scenes where our other canine star, Rowdy, herded hundreds of sheep in New Zealand. (Really we were in Oregon.) He always called Rowdy his miracle dog, because he could ask Rowdy to do anything and he would. But Ace got this part because of his immense size, black color, and his ice-blue white eyes. It was a plus that Ace enjoyed the fuss of having makeup put on. His coat would be silver tipped and his muzzle would be made to look even more wolf like.
"Hey everybody, take a break!" Mike yelled and gave me a thumbs up sign. "Our other star is here." Mike James' "breaks" were when everybody went to work. Crew members started to scurry.
"Make-up! Clean up Mr. Ford! Great job, Carlton. We'll get that snow machine fixed. For now, everyone, get ready to make a few changes in the script. We will do the wolf scene next and at night. Script changes!"
A girl taking notes on the clip board nodded and moved closer to Mike James.
"I want the lighting to reflect that our hero's struggle lasted until dark, and then the wolf shows up," Mike yelled. The script girl scribbled furiously.
"Actually, it's even scarier that way. Lighting, are you on it?"
"What about snow?" someone yelled.
"The storm stopped by nightfall. Believe it?"
They did. No one on the set ever argued with Mike James.
"Now Lance," Mike said to me, "why don't you walk Ace around the plane wreckage to get him used to it. I'll be back to you in a second."
"What this really meant was for me and Ace to get ready while he continued yelling orders at everyone. He walked toward the snack tables and brushed snow off the boxes and bags. Mike was a health-minded snack food junkie. When he wasn't directing, he was eating trail mix, veggie chips and tofutti dip.
While Ace sniffed the cardboard airplane fuselage, the fake Christmas trees and the drifts of powdery snow, Mike continued yelling orders and everyone on the sound stage really hustled.
Two people approached Ace. He wiggled and wagged as one combed washable silver tipping on to his coat to make him more wolf-like. The one from the SPCA just watched to make sure it was all done humanely. To lighten areas around his eyes and on his muzzle smaller brushes were used. I already knew the SPCA didn't want hair spray in his eyes so none was used. Ace just wagged his tail while an animal makeup specialist followed us and began to put his snowflakes on. As she sprinkled a few tiny snowflakes at a time, Ace began to look like a snowed-on black wolf.
You could feel the tension building as Carlton Ford was helped back into position inside his wrecked, cardboard Piper Cub plane. The wind machine began to whirl, gently shifting the dry plastic flakes that were already in snow drifts. No new ones were being added.
Mike motioned to me to put Ace into position about ten feet from the plane and back in the trees.
I stepped out of camera where I could give hand signals to Ace.
I signaled "stay."
The room got very quiet. I thought I was out of camera, but two more handheld cameramen moved in. I had to stay where I was able to have a direct visual line to Ace, so he could see the secret signals.
One cameraman focused on Ace. The other moved in to hold on Carlton Ford close up. The overhead camera took in the whole scene. Later, in editing, they would blend the best shots. All of this would become just a few minutes in another of Mike James' award winning movies. It would also add about three hundred dollars to our income this month.
I struggled to find a narrow view of Ace between all this activity. Everything depended on Ace being able to see my signals. Fortunately, he was watching me very closely.
Again, Carlton Ford's face reflected extreme pain, as he turned toward a movement in the trees. Snow fell off the branches when a special effects person tugged gently on a clear line tied to a branch. That was my signal. I cued Ace to come with my right hand to my chest. Simultaneously, my left hand beckoned by curling my fingers toward my palm. Ace had been trained to move only as fast as my fingers moved. In other words, the two hand signals told him to "Come slowly."
He crept slowly out of the trees toward the wrecked plane. Then, at Mike's nod, I stopped him with a right hand "halt" signal. Mom had had taught him to make this a complete freeze. Even his tail didn't move. He just watched me, with those white eyes. Ace's appearance was terrifying if you didn't know him.
Mike signaled me to move toward the cardboard plane. Leaving Ace on halt, I stepped sideways toward Carlton Ford, who was continuing to show the agony of his injuries. He was, as always, a really great actor.
Ace was watching me intently. It appeared, as Ace moved his head to follow me moving sideways, that the sounds the fallen actor was making were what captured the wolf's attention. In reality, his eyes were locked on me.
I froze. Ace froze. It looked as though Ace was saying, "Lunch. Eat the pilot." I knew what Ace was really thinking: If I do all this right, I'll get to play Frisbee.
Mike moved his hands closer together to signal me to have Ace move in a bit more. Then, the wounded pilot realizes he is being watched by a wolf, and a scary looking one at that. He struggled to raise up on his elbow.
"Come on you monster!" Carlton Ford yelled at Ace. "Do you like the smell of blood? Bring it on! I plan on walking out of here," he screamed, shaking his fist.
With the first secret signal, I cued Ace to growl.
I could feel everyone, even the cameramen, reacting to how outrageously violent he looked. I heard feet began to shuffle backwards to get away from him. I cued him to move forward, still snarling and growling. Taking very small steps, Ace crept closer to the struggling pilot, growling and showing more teeth just as he was commanded.
"Come here monster. Dance with this!" Ford jerked the ripcord on a blue package as he threw it out the window. "I have a surprise for you!"
"Ssssssssssssss!" The package began to hiss as a small flotation device began to inflate. Carlton Ford jabbed his fist at the wolf, and the script called for the wolf to leave.
I gave the hand-held cameramen a few moments to get the shots of Carlton's face and Ace's super snarl. I was amazed at how perfectly Ace held the 'freeze' position, even though the hissing as the raft inflated would have scared a non-movie dog away.
I cued him with the second secret signal and the growling intensified. Then I gave the "go" signal Mom taught to send all the dogs out to retrieve.
Swoosh! Ace spun around through the fake Christmas trees, knocking plastic snow off their branches as he ran. He was gone in an instant, leaving nothing but a ripple in the snow-covered trees.
After all, Hollywood can't have its top earning movie stars getting eaten by wolves can it?
"Cut! Excellent everybody! Absolutely excellent. Lance, I'll have someone call you to schedule Ace's later scenes. Tell your mom Ace was absolutely awesome!"
Chapter TwoHOW COME YOUR DOG IS GREEN?
Once Ace and I left the Frozen North sound stage, I stuffed the leash in my pocket and pulled the Frisbee out of my back pack and threw it down the alley way between sound stages. Ace exploded after it. He nearly always caught it in mid-air, ground down on it with the jaws of a hundred and fifty pound dog. He usually ruined a couple of Frisbees a week. We played hard for five minutes, and then he got some serious petting and scratching. For Ace, this was what being a canine actor was all about: the fun.
The alley between sound stages was perfect for quick playtimes. We always gave our dogs a play reward as soon as they got off the set. Playing after acting always left them with positive memories. That way they always wanted to play "actor" again.
"Okay Ace! Bring the Frisbee back! The van is right here waiting for you. Hurry up! Mom and Jake will be back any moment. It's a typical day, isn't it boy?"
Actually, it was better than a typical day. Usually only one of us would have a job. Today all three of us had work. Working was something that mattered a lot to all of us.
While still at this studio we would go to the closely guarded set of Andromeda Five. Security guards only allowed the director, crew and the actors needed for each day's work to enter the sound stage of this famous series. This was so secretive that even the actors didn't know enough of the full story to leak any secrets to the press. Anyone who did have inside knowledge signed contracts vowing silence. Visitors were strictly forbidden. After four very successful movies in the in the Andromeda series, photographers and reporters on the outside were working full time to come up with sneaky ways to find out exactly what would be in the fifth one.
Some people would even try to sneak in along with the dog handlers, makeup artists, carpenters, or anyone else who might be allowed in. Trade magazines would pay well for the smallest scrap of information. They would pay a bundle for pictures snapped on a closed set like this. The studio and producers of course wanted the studio to be in control. Secrecy translated into big money at the box office. Fans don't pay to see movies if they already know everything about them. In Hollywood, all that secrecy translated into one word: Paparazzi. These people were obsessive fans and businessmen with cameras who were trying to make a buck. They were everywhere.
"Hi Matt." I said to the guard the studio had assigned to us. He waved and turned his eyes back to scanning the area. Matt was one of the best. Matt knew about how valuable dogs become once they were signed for a movie. Ones like Rowdy couldn't be replaced. It wasn't like in the old days when many German Shepherds played the part of Rin Tin Tin. There was only one Australian Shepherd marked like Rowdy and only one huge black dog with white eyes like Ace. Having canine movie stars like ours stolen meant re-filming every scene that they had performed in. By the time all the actors, technicians, and other people were paid for filming each scene over, the total cost to the picture would be astronomical.
Excerpted from Behind the Scenes in Hollywood by Erin Bishop Copyright © 2011 by Erin Bishop. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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