The Making Of Colours - Part 2
Spellbound - Vol II Iss III
To refresh your memories I am going to repeat the cast list below. This must be a good idea as they seem to do it for each part in all the mini-series I see on TV. Also, to further assist you in the game of putting actual names, addresses, and telephone numbers against each character (see, I knew some of you would insist on doing this even though I warned you there aren't any prizes up for grabs), I have put asterisks against those who have already appeared in Episode 1.
So here you are:
Filming - Day 1 Begins
Bright and early, with picnic basket primed with ingredients for coffee and a couple of good cut lunches, the Old Man and the Real Artist arrived at the filming set. Location 1 proved to be a large and rather old mansion set in spacious grounds rolling down to the edge of Sydney Harbour. Our aging couple made their way down the front path, nervously skirting the two Heavies valiantly applying their substantial bulk to the task of manhandling awkward pieces of machinery (these were ultimately seen to assemble into a mobile camera carriage and mounting) from street to house.
The Director was already installed in a central room on the ground floor busily fulfilling his role - directing people: the Heavies as to where and how they should assemble their bits of machinery, the Staging Person to set up the studio for filming, and sundry others to their various tasks. The Old Man was ushered into another room being set up as the dressing room and there, handed over to the tender mercies of the robing¹ trio: comprised of the Wardrobes Person, the Make-Up Person, and the Hairdresser.
The Wardrobes Person, already acquainted with the Old Man, lead the trio into the task of transforming him into the character he was to portray in the film. This process consisted of her producing a bulging black plastic bag from which, with a degree of panache equivalent to that of Cinderella's fairy godmother conjuring up her ball attire, she extracted sundry odd and ancient garments. The Old Man was immediately required to don these in place of his street clothes which, from the corner of his eye, he apprehensively watched disappear into the recesses of a corner wardrobe, even while he was still only half dressed in his new-found duds. Once newly arrayed and allowed to examine the result in the mirror, he tended to conclude that the exchange was not a particularly fair one, but passed this off with the thought that artists of any age, let alone elderly ones, had no great reputation for sartorial elegance anyway.
At this point in the morning's proceedings, the Musician made a brief appearance to check on progress. Being assured that the Old Man was not being forced into a baseball cap, he announced that he would return for his filming stint the next day when things might be a little more organised. In the meantime, he had to catch a plane for an open air performance at the showground at Yarrawonga, Victoria. Off he went leaving the robing trio mouthing sinister, sotto voce comments to one another on the arrogance of rock stars who pushed their family members into the limelight instead of good, experienced (and expensive) professionals who needed to make their living at this sort of thing.
Following this short interruption, the baton passed to the other two members of the robing trio to complete the task of turning the Old Man into the old artist. The Hairdresser set about attaching a matching false pony tail to the Old Man's thin grey locks, an exercise which soon emphasised the inadvisability of that short-back-and-sides haircut of a few days previously. An excruciating twenty minutes grabbing and pinning among the short and not-so-curlies at the back of the head enabled the Hairdresser to claim success in capturing an older version of the Musician's current hairstyle.
With some relief, the Old Man then accepted the somewhat gentler attentions of the Make-Up Person. Hers was the simpler, though challenge devoid, task of making an old man's face look like the face of an old man. She achieved this handsomely in a very short space of time and was, thus, soon able to return to the main occupation of all three members of the robing team, that of punching results out of their little pocket calculators and jotting them down in their individual little notebooks. It took some time for the Old Man and the Real Artist to realise that this major occupation was some sort of timekeeping function from which they were able to deduce how much they could expect to be paid for their hard labours on the film set.
All appropriately attired and made up, the Old Man felt ready to leave the trio to their engrossing calculations and face the camera. But not so soon - the Producer had arrived and with the most charming of manners lead him off to study and sign a contract. After a frantic search for and retrieval of his own spectacles which the Make-Up Person had replaced with an ancient steel-rimmed pair, excellent for portraying the role, but quite useless for reading any print, let alone the fine print of contracts, the Old Man ploughed through paragraphs permitting the free use of his "image" for all sorts of purposes and in all sorts of ways. He could see no real objection. No one had ever been vaguely interested in using his image before and he was more than a little gratified by the thought that here was someone now prepared, though rather reluctantly, to pay him a small fee for the privilege of doing so.
When my cue comes, call me, and I will answer²
The filming area was at the back of the house on the ground floor. Here, what appeared to be a long glassed-in back verandah had been transformed by the Staging Person to resemble a rather sleazy and untidy artist's studio. An easel had been set up at one end and, throughout the length of the room, all sorts of open paintboxes, brushes, palette knives, charcoal sketches, jars and bottles, etc., had been freely scattered over floor and furniture. The windows, where not draped with yellowing lace curtains, had been dirtied by coating with glass cleaning powder which had been strategically wiped off in a few places to give clear shapes with the appearance of large jagged holes in the panes of glass. This clever device created the illusion of broken windows very effectively until later in the day, when a rain shower spattered the outside of the glass with raindrops which stayed suspended, apparently in mid air, in the holes.
The Heavies, under the Director's direction, had set up the camera at the opposite end of the room from the easel. Actually, it was mounted on a trolley affair which ran on a set of railway tracks which, in turn, ran up the middle of the room for about half its length. The trolley was equipped with a tractor-type seat on which the Director perched, operating the camera for a trial run, swivelling here and there, peering through all the sighting gadgetry and muttering instructions to assistants. A series of wheels controlled the mechanism for raising, lowering, tilting, and turning the mounting. This filming apparatus was all very sophisticated-looking and awe-inspiring and, of course, the whole business was powered by an even more sophisticated system - the two Heavies.
Onto this set strode the Old Man, reasonably confidently considering that it was his first experience of performing in movies. But then, of course, the Old Man was no newcomer to the acting world. He had, in fact, trod the boards of amateur theatre countless times since his debut at the Dapto Town Hall at the age of three. On that memorable occasion he had been charged with reciting an epic work entitled "The Browny Hen," a task which was quite well discharged with but one error. This occurred half way through the second verse, when our budding Olivier suddenly realised he was reciting the verses out of order. What he was saying at this moment belonged to the third verse, not the second. With a little more experience he would doubtless have carried on unabashed, finished the verse, then recited the second verse and made no great audience impact at all. But no! what should he do but pause in mid-declamation and, with trembling lips, deliver the punch line, "Oo! I went wrong," thereby creating the first (and last) occasion when he could truthfully have claimed to have nearly brought the house down.
One rather positive outcome of this early experience was that, in later years, the Old Man acquired an enviable reputation for never fluffing one of his lines and, indeed, he had remained very close to word perfect in this regard. This admirable skill he carried with him to the "Man Of Colours" filming set, where, of course, no one could find any use for it whatsoever. There were no lines for him to quote. No one wanted to hear him speak at all. All that was required of him was a few actions, and they all sounded as if they were going to be rather bland. Not much scope for scene stealing here.
Lights, Music, Action!!
The Director issued his first directions. "Stand up in front of that easel with the picture on it and act as if you're painting." The Old Man briskly armed himself with a palette, already daubed with bright colours, in his left hand, selected a brush from a jar full of them with his right hand and shaped up for the task. No problem here, he hadn't been watching the Real Artist at work for years for nothing.
But, all too soon, instead of a camera zooming up to him he suddenly found himself confronted by the Light Measurer in the form of a short, very buxom young woman waving a light meter in his face and shouting readings to anyone prepared to listen. It was learnt much later, when the credits for the finally edited video clip were viewed, that the appropriate name for this young woman's endeavours was "Cinematography." The Old Man had often wondered what cinematography was: to him the word conjured up memories of the little magic lantern his older brother had owned and operated when they were boys. Perhaps you have also wondered the same thing, so now you and he will both know that cinematography is mainly about measuring light intensities.
A shout of "Lights" from the Director brought a muffled response from someone beyond the windows, promptly followed by the roar of a generator motor starting up, then a flood of bright light through the windows. The Old Man peered around the painting and through one of the "holes" in the window pane to find a large bank of lights set up in the backyard and being manned by the Staging Person. He was abruptly brought back to his position before the easel by a repeat performance from the Light Measurer. After a few more minutes of shouting back and forth, light meter waving and adjustments to lights and camera, all seemed ready for filming to commence.
The Old Man launched into his painting routine once more. A shout of "Music" from the Director brought the opening strains of "Man Of Colours" pouring out of a ghetto blaster somewhere up near the camera; and then came the real trigger "Action!" To the Old Man this was quite superfluous as he had already been fully in action many seconds before the Director's yell, but it did seem to get things going up at the camera end of the room. He was vaguely aware of the whole camera apparatus starting to move down the railway tracks towards him like a Sherman tank. Closer and closer came the pointing lens, until just as he was reaching the conclusion that the Heavies had lost control of it and he was forced to the choice of fleeing or being run down, the Director bellowed "Cut" from a distance of about two inches from the Old Man's right ear.
Then followed one of those legendary actor-director exchanges that one reads about in movie magazine articles as being a necessary feature of any worthwhile film production. The problem from the Director's viewpoint was that, in the close-up shots at the end of his run down the tracks, he could not keep both the artist's face and the picture he was painting within the frame. His solution was to instruct the artist to move in closer to the painting.
Now, the Old Man had taken up his position standing well back from the easel, palette held comfortably in front of him and brush grasped firmly well towards the end of its quite long handle. From this stance he could freely move the bristles from the paint daubs on the palette to the surface of the canvas with sweeping movements of his extended right arm. This was the way he had seen it done so many times by many artists and he was really quite proud of how well he was simulating the technique of the masters. He felt compelled to point out how difficult it would be for him to move closer to the canvas and still make the actions of painting.
"Hold the brush as you would hold a pencil, down near the point," ordered the Director, thereby evoking a protest, strongly supported by the professional opinions of the Real Artist being thrown in from the sidelines, as to what an unauthentic representation of an artist at work this would create.
A few more moments of tense discussion established that the Director rated the production of a well-framed shot far above avoiding any display of ignorance as to how a painter painted: so, disciplined performer as he was, the Old Man waved his protest support to silence, and commenced to attack the surface of the canvas with a series of short sharp jabs with the point of the brush. He hadn't counted on his rare foray into the art world placing him into the ranks of the Pointillists, but his revised method of operation seemed to settle the argument and even please the Director.
The remainder of the morning and all the afternoon of Day 1 was devoted to filming the Old Man portraying the old artist. With just a few variations such as a shuffling walk in his "worn out shoes," a little hobbling across to the window on a walking stick, and producing brightly coloured swirling effects by washing paint soaked brushes in a jar of water, the whole of his time before the camera was spent in front of the painting on the easel. There he stood for hours working away at that head study, but, for the most part, having no affect whatsoever on the Real Artist's original work.
One has to use the qualification "for the most part" as there was one exceptional incident which produced some unfortunate results. This arose from a further direction to "put some of that bright orange paint on your brush." With the insistent assistance of the Staging Person, the Old Man complied and found himself having to follow his daubing routine with a brightly loaded brush. With the camera closely leering at him, he had little option but to bring the brush too close to the surface on a number of occasions and the Director compounded the problem by making this the longest take to which the Old Man was subjected in the whole of the filming. Acrylic paint dries very quickly and the rogue daubs were well on the way to being set by the time the welcome call of "Cut" came. They, thus, defied to efforts of the Real Artist and the Staging Person to remove them during the break and the head study had suffered the first of the transformations which made it the worst casualty of the "Man Of Colours" filming.
There were, of course, breaks in the filming process, for reasons organisational, natural, and even just plain fatigue, whether under some more obtuse guise or not. About midday, a violent thunderstorm clouded out the skies and forced the switching off of the lights outside the windows. This seemed like a good time to call a lunch break and the breaking out of the picnic baskets. This was done and, by the time all the coffee and goodies had been disposed of, the sun had re-emerged and was bathing the back verandah-studio in a generous distribution of natural light. This seemed to be confirmed by the Light Measurer on the resumption of filming and, for the remainder of the afternoon, the bank of lights in the backyard were dispensed with and spirited away to a new location.
The afternoon progressed with endless filming of the Old Man, in profile, daubing away at the picture in front of him, punctuated with incessant light intensity readings by the Light Measurer and accompanied throughout by the interminable sound of "Man Of Colours" emanating from the ghetto blaster.³
The filming process was constantly interrupted by frequent camera shifts involving considerable re-laying of railway tracks and by innumerable conferences between Director and Producer. The latter's main contribution to these seemed to be a gasping "We've blown the budget, then!" - a statement which always prompted the emergence of the robing trio's calculators and notebooks.
As the afternoon sunlight faded in the studio, a decision was made to cease filming there, immediately followed by the announcement that filming would resume in two hours time in a warehouse at an inner city address. This again motivated the calculators to working overtime calculating overtime, followed by a flurry of disrobing, props dismantling and packing, and worried budget forecasts from the Producer.
The Old Man consulted with the Real Artist. They were both of the opinion that enough film had already been shot for a feature film on the life of Renoir (and he went on daubing at canvasses until well into his eighties). However, as they had no other plans for their Saturday night, they made their plans to proceed home for a quick bite of tea and then make their way to filming Location 2.
To be continued - again...
¹ Yes, there was meant to be only one "b" in that
word, notwithstanding any comments that may be later forthcoming.