Quick disclaimer - I wanted to have my stories of working in and around the film and television industry under a blanket title - this is the one I came up with. However, this story is from before I became a production assistant - really, this one qualifies more as a Set Invasion...
The very first production I was ever around was an episode of Superboy in 1988. My parents, in the throes of some middle age crazy, decided to try for a fresh start in Florida that year. I initially went back to college for what was to be my senior year, but the idea of flying alone with the parents 1000+ miles away for the entire school year scared this sheltered bird, and I chickened out of school, withdrawing entirely from the program. I decided to go with my parents and finish college in Orlando, as they were building up their film schools due to the production that had sprung up there a few years previously. So, in the fall of 1988 we were staying with one of my father’s old friends and his wife in Auburndale Florida - Don and Evelyn Powell. The mostly retired Don worked part time at a lesser known theme park in Disney’s shadow called Boardwalk and Baseball. He told me shortly after we’d settled in with them that this new TV show Superboy was going to be shooting an episode at Boardwalk and Baseball, and if I wanted to go he could get me in free. Well, that was all I needed to hear, and I gladly said yes. The park was going to remain open throughout the shoot; with posted signs advising the park’s guests that the shoot was happening; that certain sections of the park might be temporarily closed for the crew to film on; and that if you wandered near you might end up in the far background of a shot, and by moving in to those areas you were in agreement to let your image be captured with no recompense.
So, a day in a theme park for free, and a TV show shooting to boot? I was all over that!
|The show's logo - from the opening credits|
I arrived at the park right when it opened – not a hard thing to do when you’re staying with folks who lived twenty minutes away from the place. I wandered quickly around the park, skipping the rides and games for the most part because I wanted to see the TV shoot. I eventually found them – never a hard thing to do with all the crew and equipment – as they were setting up to film a sequence involving a carnival game. Now, at this point Superboy had not yet premiered, and there had been almost no pre-launch publicity, so I did not know who the actors were. But when you’re talking about the Superman mythos, it’s usually not hard to figure out either. So, I saw three actors in the scene – two young men and a very attractive redhead female, all in their 20’s. The hair on one guy that was a shade of black that does not occur in nature, along with the nerd glasses pegged him as Clark Kent. The young lady must be Lana Lang if they were following the established story; and the other guy? No idea who he could be, unless he was Pete Ross, Clark’s best friend when he was a teen in the comics.
|John Haymes Newton in full Clark Kent mode between setups - going low carb with hot dog minus bun.|
I had plenty of time to speculate about this, by the way, because as I discovered within a couple of hours of showing up – production work can be stultifying in its slowness. I watched the actors rehearse a scene involving the throwing of rubber frogs onto a floating lily pad; then while the actors disappeared somewhere I hung around and watched the crew light the scene, which was interesting for a while. Eventually they finished lighting and the actors came back and they filmed a few takes. I was far enough away that I couldn’t hear one word of dialogue. They got the scene on film, and moved on to a new angle of the same scene, which involved moving the camera and the lights. This time, while this was going on, I found someone from the crew standing near the outskirts and not actively working on moving any equipment. I had no idea who I was speaking to, other than it wasn’t the director, as I’d seen him up close to camera calling “Cut!” I know now that I was talking to one of the production assistants, posted on the outskirts of the shoot to prevent any non-combatants from moving in too close, and to call out Rolling and Cut as needed while the actual filming was occurring. I struck up a casual conversation, and thankfully the PA was amenable to chatting. From him I discovered this was the sixth episode to shoot; the young actress – named Stacy - was playing Lana Lang; and that the other young man was a newcomer playing T.J. White, Perry White’s nephew. I also discovered that the bad guy for this episode was being played by fading teen idol Leif Garrett, who hadn’t been around for the morning’s shoot but was expected later.
Armed with this info I thanked my new pal and wandered off to a different vantage point to continue watching. The rest of the morning was taken up by the frog game sequence – with the pattern continuing each time: rehearsal, lighting, filming. Repeat until scene covered from several angles. After the crew finally finished all the shots involving the actors, they were sent away and the crew did some closeup shots of the frogs landing on the lily pads. This took another 15-20 minutes of shooting after the lights were tweaked for it. I wandered around the park some more, hitting a couple of rides and such; and then went back to see if they’d returned to filming. They had, and as I approached I saw Stacy Haiduk approaching at a run. She was heading for the restroom. I of course snapped a picture. The funny thing is, she totally saw me taking the picture, and it is plain to see she is having a slightly bemused reaction to being paparazzi-ed.
|You can also see film equipment - big bounce boards on stands - in the background.|
I stayed in this area for a bit, but I was too nervous to try to get closer. But eventually they broke everybody for lunch, and I got a couple pics of the cast walking by...
|John Haymes Newton and Stacy Haiduk|
|Leif Garrett (in blue) and Jim Calvert (in green)|
While they were at lunch, I wandered around again, then headed back to see what I could see for the afternoon part of the shoot.
This time, as I was wandering around looking for the crew – who do I see playing a carnival game but Leif Garrett? I approached him and introduced myself as a fan (I wasn’t really, as I wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to his teenybopper girl magnet music as a teenager – but he was the first actor I ever spoke directly to – and I wanted to get on his good side.) He thanked me, and I got him to autograph a sheet of paper that they’d passed out that basically said the same thing as the posted signs – filming; areas closed off throughout the day; might end up in the background. He was a nice enough guy, and I remember asking him who he was playing. He said the bad guy for the episode. I then asked if he was a supervillain with a costume - thinking I might know the bad guy from the comics. He said no, he was playing a troubled rock star – said with no irony, I might add – and that he was glad he didn’t have to wear the “little red booties or anything like that.” I thanked him for his time, and went off to find the crew.
I had some trouble finding them, and got enticed into riding a couple of rides. Finally, I did catch back up to the production - as they were wrapping a shot - but who did I see off to one side, prepping himself to step on set? Yep, John Haymes Newton, in full Superboy costume. As he passed close by, he gave me a little wave, as I guessed he could see the fanboy glint in my eyes at seeing the tights. I couldn't see much of anything that was being shot from where I was, but I stayed there as I reasoned that since he'd passed that way on the way to set, Newton would also be passing back the same way from set. Sure enough, about twenty minutes later he walked back by, this time with a plain blue robe over the Superboy costume. I had half hoped to get a picture with him in the gear, but it wasn't in the cards.
After that I saw my crew buddy again, who told me they were moving over to a section of the park that I wouldn't be able to get close to for some interiors in an office or something - and they would be finishing the day there. I thanked him for the heads up and took off to enjoy the park for the rest of my time there.
It was a pretty cool first look at how TV shows and movies were made - I even thought maybe I might work on the show one day - but that's not how things ended up happening - my parents gave up on Florida after two months, we returned to Illinois, I took the remainder of that year off and worked, then went back and finished school the next fall at the same University I'd left. Eventually I did make it onto another production -
- and that is a story for the next installment in this new series! And they do get better! I promise!
Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!