The director of The Birds II:Land's End was Rick Rosenthal – who had directed Halloween II (1981) and Bad Boys (the 1982 prison movie; not the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence flick) He was a nice man, and as someone who really liked his Halloween II – I liked working with him – part of the reason why came later during the studio part of our shoot – with little direct interaction with him – Rick Rosenthal and I were walking out to our cars together after wrap. I said “Good night, Mr. Rosenthal.” not expecting anything, or expecting a generic “Good night.” at best. Instead, he popped up with a “Good night, Craig.” He knew my name! He was the first (and for a long time the only) director who ever learned my name. Consequently, I liked him a great deal.
But he didn’t get along with everyone on the set – and there’s quite a story in that. Apparently he and prop master Richard M had butted heads during pre-production, though I’m not sure over what or to what extent.
|An awesome piece of artwork that became the crew T-shirt.|
So we’re in production now, and Richard M and his assistant alternate covering the set and bringing needed props to set. We’re in the middle of the house exterior shoot – and we come to a morning scene that takes place after a late night bird attack on the house. The scene is of the family cleaning up – the house is damaged, and there are bird bodies all over where they slammed into the house and died. The girls are doing something minor and safe in the cleanup, monitored by mom, and dad is busy stacking up the bird corpses, then digging a big hole to bury them in. The bird attack had consisted of seagulls, ravens, and crows. So we come in the morning to shoot the scene, which is going to have Dad shoveling the bird bodies into an already-dug hole. The director asks for the dead birds to be brought in. (I’ll say right now that I’m not sure if there were actual dead birds involved here – but I think they were fakes – stuffed phonies.)
|Breaking up the words with Kim and Stephanie - but you can see|
a camera crane in use behind them, and they're sitting on an
equipment (not camera) dolly, used to transport heavy production
equipment around the set.
The prop department representative – the assistant – goes over and brings them in. Dozens of ravens, gulls, and crows, right? No. How about four dead pigeons? FOUR dead PIGEONS. The director went ballistic. He was livid – and he immediately called for the prop master to get his tushie to set. He went off on the prop guy, who didn’t seem concerned – which was weird. Then Rosenthal banned him from the set. That did make the prop guy mad – and the producers – who’d been on the sidelines up til then – got involved. The prop guy didn’t quit, and he wasn’t fired, but he was banned from the set – he had to stay on the prop truck, and his assistant was the only one allowed to come to set and work the props.
There was no time to try to get in the correct number or kind of birds, so the scene was then reworked - when the camera panned over to the girls they dump the "last of the bird bodies" into the hole – which had been artfully arranged to look like the hole was brimming with avian corpses. The finale of this was a wonderful moment. The director had T-shirts made – a stylized logo that read “4 Dead Birds” which he then had distributed to all of the crew while we were still shooting – except not to the producers or the prop department. We all wore them – rubbing the prop guy’s error in his face. The director was delighted.
|Here's a "break up the words" picture courtesy Kim Head Chapin.|
Here she is flanked by our gaffer Steve and the director of photography -
the late great Bruce Surtees. Note the shirt Bruce is wearing.
After the show wrapped, the director was NOT delighted. In the end, by the way, the producers re-edited the movie against Rosenthal’s wishes – adding the opening attack on the ranger in the boat among other things and “cheapening” the movie – and Rosenthal had his name removed, which meant the director credit defaulted back to the standard Alan Smithee credit.
|Frame grab - Pseudonym!|
In case you’re not familiar with that – the director’s guild wanted to prevent disgruntled directors and producers (depending on who was quitting or being fired) from choosing insulting pseudonyms when the director refused credit, or the producers stripped it from the director. So, they came up with a generic name – Alan Smithee – spelled many ways (Allen Smithee, Allan Smithee, Alan Smithy) but a generic name that would insult no one. By signing on to the show with the director’s guild everyone agreed this will be the name used if needed. So if you ever watch a movie and that name is listed as the director – there was definitely trouble in paradise during production. Some Alan Smithee movies include Shrimp on the Barbie (1990), Ghost Fever (1987) and the television cut of Dune (1984).
|All right, enough about the director - let's get back to me - namely, |
me hugging beautiful women. That's me and Kim. Can't you just
see the crush I had on her?
Yeah, forget all that post production stuff - for this post we’re still shooting! We wrapped the Kure Beach portion of the shoot. The fake house was dismantled and taken elsewhere – more on that in a bit. We moved to downtown Wilmington to use the interior of a real bar (the same one used in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet) for the scenes where Ted tries to convince the mayor (playing billiards in the bar) that there’s a danger to the town. That took a day, I believe. Next up was Southport for the exterior town scenes – which was cool, because we started off with the quiet stuff of the family coming to the island on the ferry, and the early calm parts of the movie, but after that it was bird attack time!
After we shot the ferry stuff and the calm opening town scenes, the town was set up for the bird attack sequence. I don’t remember if we went off and shot something else for a day or so to allow the art department time to set this up or if they managed it in the hours between wrap and the next day’s set call. In any case, they prepped the set. They took plastic birds and set them on the buildings, two or three per roof. Then, the morning of the shoot they tied birds off on the roof so they could move and extend their wings (all of this animal action was monitored by the Humane Society and approved, by the way.) At the end of the shoot the prop department gave me one of the plastic birds - he's on top of a shelf in my office to this day.
|He came down off his high shelf for this photo op - and he definitely wanted to keep his beads on!|
The way they got the birds to fly through the shots – they would set up handlers directly opposite each other off camera somewhere. Both sets of handlers had banks of cages. Both sides had a few birds in them. On action, one handler on either side would begin to release birds, and a handler on the other side would wave a red ping pong paddle and whistle “toot toot toot” very quickly. This would bring the birds on the other side flying toward them. You do this on both sides and you have two sets of birds crossing camera in opposite directions. Once they landed on the other side – they would be reset and then fly back moments later, all to the direction of the handler with the ping pong paddle whistling. They would combine this with the real and fake birds on the buildings, and then “chumming” some wild birds into the background – and you have a frame full of moving bird action.
|Here's a frame grab that shows the tied off birds, the plastic birds, and |
some of the free "thrown popcorn" birds in the far background. My buddy
Mr. Bird is on the roof a little above dead center.
They set up a couple of the bird crosses at different angles, crossing each other – and birds are so singleminded they would only go straight across and not get confused by the other handlers whistling with paddles at their left or right. This really had a lot of birds flying around. I have to give top marks to our animal trainer Gary Gero and his crew – they were really good – and the best scenes in the movie are the bird attacks with all the real birds, as opposed to the usual CGI junk you get now.
We pulled off a lot of mayhem with the bird attacks, and used a camera crane to swoop the camera at people in a birds eye view as they fly at people. We had stunts – people falling in the water; running; jumping. We blew up a shed right in downtown Southport. It was pretty cool – my first movie explosion! We had our basecamp (actor trailers, hair and makeup trailer, wardrobe truck) about 2 ½ blocks away; when the shed blew up I had walked the ½ block – to be in direct line to see it – and from 2 blocks away I FELT THE HEAT from the explosion. Absolutely amazing.
|A frame grab of part of the explosion.|
Somewhere along the way it was decided that there was need for more “birds swooping at people” crane shots for the town attack – but we’d long since moved on from Southport. So they put together a second unit and set up on the backlot at the studio.
Digression – the backlot was built to be New York City’s Chinatown for the Michael Cimino movie Year of the Dragon in the mid 80’s. They left it standing, and it had been redressed many times over the years, and was utilized for several productions from the mid 80’s to the mid 90’s. (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; The Crow; No Mercy; and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles among many others) In the mid 90's it was badly damaged by a hurricane. It sat in decrepit condition until it was torn down for the Martin Lawrence movie Black Knight – so that the massive castle set could be built in the same space. They left the castle up for a couple of years – we used it for a small production I’ll write up one of these days – then when the returns had come in from Black Knight and there was no chance of a sequel – they tore it down. Since then a tenth soundstage was added at the studio in the same general area.
|Let's break up the words with Kim and the girls again.|
They took several extras out, threw “bird wound” makeup on some of them, and proceeded to swoop the camera at them. My buddy Joanne was out there as one of the extras. Late in the day we got word (wherever we were) that an accident had occurred – someone lost control of the camera crane, or something on the crane broke – either way – the end result was that the camera came swooping down towards the person below – and just kept coming – slamming into them and knocking them to the ground with a brief loss of consciousness. Want to guess who got hit? Yep, it was my buddy Joanne! She had a real cut on her forehead on a goose egg and she was wonky for the rest of the day. I’m not sure what all the production did to make it up to her – but I know they did something – (money, gift certificates – something) and I’m sure they got her to sign a release so she couldn’t sue them later. I think she was fine (we’ve since lost touch and I hope she’s not had recurrent issues all these years later.)
After our location shoots in Kure Beach, Southport, and downtown Wilmington we moved back to the movie studio to finish the movie. Soundstage 5 had been used to rebuild the house, this time with an interior. The setup also included the front porch, and tons of sand representing the front yard. Even the swing set was in there.
|The two Craigs - that's my fellow PA Craig R - and we're playing on |
the swingset inside the soundstage, which is not lit up for shooting at
Then, they had taken a very high quality picture of the view from the front porch and made a giant photographic cyclotron which stretched across the entire front wall of the soundstage – actually about ten feet in from the wall to allow the massive lights that were used to illuminate the picture – making it look VERY good when spied in the background of a shot looking out the front door or windows of the house set. So, it looked great on film – but I gotta tell you – WOW those lights turned the soundstage into an oven. There actually is air conditioning in those stages – HUGE units that CAN cool off a stage – but you have to plan ahead and turn it on early, and even then across a shooting day with all the lights you will see the temperature steadily climb – the a/c does nothing at that point. It also has to be off for sound takes as they are too noisy for the sensitive ears of the sound mixer.
|Our set medic - Dione - was another|
cutie and a half. I of course chased her
around like Harpo Marx.
Digression – so, one of the jobs a production assistant at the studio in those days would be to man the bell box. It’s a very low tech (solid state) electrical box with switches. It controls the air conditioning – on/off; and there’s a bell, and a button that controls exterior red lights mounted outside the soundstage. When the first AD is ready to roll cameras for the director on stage, he (I'm using he for the simplicity of two letters - let it be known I worked with scads of female ADs over the years too!) would say "AC off." Flip that switch, shutting down the massive units that the sound department hates. "Bell." BRRRRIIINNNNG! "Roll it!"
Or "Let's go on a bell." AC goes off by unspoken command. BRRRIIINNNNG! "Okay, we're on a bell...and roll it..." The loud bell could be heard everywhere on stage - so no one had any excuse not to be quiet. As soon as rolling was called, the bell box PA would also turn on those exterior red lights - so everyone outside the soundstage would know to stay outside and not try to enter the soundstage. At cut a double bell would be sounded to indicate the take was cut.
|Kim and the grips. And a bird.|
One funny thing about the house on stage – the shrubbery and underbrush that was brought in to fill in the front yard area – well, some crickets rode those branches in to the stage – then set about their normal chirping at any given moment. So what should be a completely controlled environment now has the exact same issue that you run into on location – the sound department going nuts because they can hear crickets chirping through the sound equipment. And let me tell you – they TRIED to find those crickets – but they were nearly invisible in all this greenery – so we PA’s and the utility sound guy would spread out - each getting near the sound of one chirping, and as they rolled camera and sound we would bang wood blocks together, which would scare the crickets into silence – and you would hope they’d stay quiet through the end of the take. Can you imagine? All this money and technology being thwarted by some insects just doing what comes naturally.
Actor Muse Watson played a gun toting townsman who goes after the birds during the big town attack. Somehow, his name was left out of the film’s credits – this actually got him a second paycheck when the Screen Actors Guild fined the production on his behalf.
|Frame grab - Muse Watson, four years before he started|
remembering what someone did the previous summer.
Dick Olsen played the town doctor and mayor - an unusually villainous role for him, and one he relished. It was the first time we worked together, but certainly not the last, as he turned up in almost every show I worked on - including Stephen King's The Night Flier and Dawson's Creek.
|Frame grab - Dick Olsen - playing a jackwagon in a bowtie.|
Brad Johnson was cast very close to the first day of shooting. It seemed there weren’t a lot of actors in Hollywood right then who wanted to play the part (or so set rumor had it). Johnson showed up on time and did his work – but he didn’t give a rat’s tushie about the movie or his role. He was delighted to have a paying job and for the days off so he could tool around in his rental car and golf. His IMDB page speaks of his passion for acting and filmmaking – and he may have seasoned over the years and developed that – but when he was on this movie he was just there to fill a space on set and say words. That lackadaisical attitude may be why he went from “The Next Big Thing” in Spielberg’s Always to movies like Supergator fifteen years later. It’s funny that his IMDB page also notes his physical resemblance to Tom Berenger – because Tom Berenger is another actor who shows up to do the work but brings no passion to it. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, as I hadn’t yet met Tom Berenger at this point. Brad was fine – my thoughts on him are not meant to be negative or uncomplimentary – just my observations that while pleasant and cordial – he was not someone who spent a lot of time preparing to do the work.
|Brad Johnson and Kim Head Chapin.|
Chelsea Field had been knocking around since the mid 80’s – I knew her because she’d been on the TV nurse drama Nightingales in the late 80’s which I’d been glued to for all 13 episodes due to Kristy Swanson (Deadly Friend; the original Buffy from the movie) being in the cast – Chelsea came to us riding a little high on having been in the action flicks Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and The Last Boy Scout in the early 90’s. She was a little brittle, and little bit of a diva, but not terrible. (I was bringing her a tray of food with a drink, and tripped coming up the makeup trailer steps. I managed to not spill a drop of anything – but she still chewed me out a bit because I COULD have spilled the drink on her – nothing came out of her mouth about concern for me, glad I wasn’t hurt, etc. And I’ll say it again – I did NOT spill anything on her – but she still saw the need to chastise me for the possibility.) That was probably her worst moment to me in the shoot. She has since married Scott Bakula and seems to work on average once a year doing guest spots on TV – probably more keeping up her SAG insurance than anything else.
|I didn't get a photo with her - but she did sign an 8X10 for me.|
I’ll also say that Johnson and Field got into a few actor spats over the course of the show – one showing up a little late or taking a long time to come to set and pissing the other one off – so they weren’t the best of friends throughout – however, as their characters were facing a crisis point over their marriage, this may have actually helped a bit.
Stephanie Milford did this one movie and no others. She was a sweetheart.
|Stephanie and Megan.|
Megan Gallacher was another sweetheart – she and Stephanie bonded and spent all of their time together on and off set. This was Megan’s first job, and I actually worked with her on her next two as well (the NBC TV movie Justice in a Small Town and as a guest star on the TV series American Gothic) For a while there she must have thought you couldn’t make a movie or TV show without me! I hope her fourth show and all the subsequent ones were okay. She took time off for school but seems to be getting back in to acting in the last few years. She also grew up to be a beautiful woman.
|Megan Gallacher today.|
James Naughton was the cast member I was most familiar with – because he’d been in so much from my youth – starting with the Planet of the Apes TV series in 1974. He was a VERY pleasant and professional guy – always personable and not demanding in any way. At his request on several occasions I ran lines with him – and he would actually ask my opinion on his performance – and seemed to take my suggestions under real advisement. So if you see the movie and like his performance – I might be a little bit of the reason why! (I’m sure Rick Rosenthal would be delighted to hear me say that! Not!)
Tippi Hedren – they got Tippi to appear with a big paycheck for her Big Cat Preserve. She only worked a few days playing a shopkeeper named Helen. Her scenes were shot in downtown Wilmington and she also joined us in Southport for the big bird attack.
|Publicity shot. Can you tell how much fun|
Ms. Hedren is having?
We used a flower shop called Roudabush’s (coincidentally the same building the Mario Bros had their apartment in) and turned it into a general store.
|Tippi Hedren as Helen.|
The leads interact with Helen and talk about the bird attacks, and it is she who talks about a similar event happening in California thirty years previously – an oblique reference to the events in the first movie. That’s as much a connection as they could get in. We also shot a piece outside Roudabush’s with Helen reacting to the attack on the town – which was dropped into the attack stuff shot in Southport. They mocked up a little set piece that looked like the set decoration in Southport. It works on film.
|Tippi Hedren and I.|
During this shoot downtown James Naughton had a friend drop by – it was Rene Auberjonois, a couple of years before he started playing Odo on Star Trek: DS9 – they were old pals and after Naughton had wrapped they were off to play golf. I had brought my camera to get a picture with Tippi Hedren – so I put it to use again.
|Rene Auberjonois, me, and James Naughton right before they left to tee off. Naughton is going to be playing |
the President in the CBS series Hostages with Toni Collette this fall.
Jan Rubes - I was familiar with Jan Rubes from some films he’d done like Dead of Winter. A nice guy – quiet, but pleasant.
|Jan Rubes and Brad Johnson realize there is no Hitchcock here.|
There’s a lighthouse that figures in to the movie in a big way – Jan Rubes’ character lives in it and runs it – and of course it eventually gets attacked by the birds. Here’s an interesting factoid – there is no real lighthouse in the movie. There isn’t one at the beaches where we were shooting. There is one on Bald Head Island, but that’s a tough place to shoot because the island allows no motor vehicles – only golf carts – and film crews bring truckloads of equipment. Plus, Bald Head lighthouse is very recognizable, and I’m not sure they would want to be involved in a movie like this – considering the attack on the lighthouse. The next nearest is Cape Hatteras – but it’s 2-3 hours up the coast and the same issues – very recognizable and probably unwilling to have their structure used in the movie.
So, instead, the entire thing was faked – which is one of the things I most love about the film industry. There was a miniature lighthouse built – it was 4-5 feet tall and extremely detailed. And the wildest part about it - there may have been a couple shots where the lighthouse was “matted” or optically printed in to the shot – but the bulk of the time the lighthouse is on camera it’s being shot “live.” They had a lens that squeezed the picture a certain way – and they would set the lighthouse miniature out in the shot – and it would be on wooden scaffolding – up about three to four feet off the ground – and looking ridiculously obvious due to the unpainted wood structure that it's sitting on right out in the middle of the shot. But when you looked through the camera and this special lens – the scaffolding was somehow not seen, and the lighthouse would appear to be in the shot in the deep background while the actors did their thing closer to camera. It was MIND BOGGLING. (And one of the few times I looked through the actual camera in my entire career, by the way – the camera guys are usually not much on every Tom Dick and Harry on set playing with their equipment.)
|Frame grab - that's a miniature lighthouse live in the the shot. When Brad Johnson walks|
into frame a few seconds later his shoulder crosses the miniature and it looks completely
normal - no matte lines or optical fudgery. Amazing.
So we shot some exteriors in Kure Beach a couple of miles from where the house façade had been built – and it was the exteriors that involved this miniature lighthouse. The one kind of funny part was when director Rosenthal wanted Johnson and Rubes to have a conversation with the lighthouse looming behind them. They put the lighthouse in and used the special lens to get it looming, then the men had to kneel on the ground (on padding) between the miniature and the camera – through the lens you only saw them from the midriff up – so it looked like they were standing – and there’s the lighthouse filling the lens behind them. In reality it's just four or five feet behind them! This is literally one of the major reasons I wanted to work in the film industry – shots and days like this one.
The other lighthouse scenes had to do with the attacks on the light room at the top. For these night attack scenes they built the top of the lighthouse as a set on Stage 6 – next door to the house stage. The entire top of the lighthouse was in there – with a real interior and revolving light. We really had the birds flying around the setpiece with Rubes inside - then his stunt double takes over – pretty cool stuff.
The finale of the film has the family trying to escape the island in a tiny rowboat. The birds attack and the only thing the parents can do out on the water is to flip the rowboat over – then hide in the air bubble underneath it. They did the main part of the boat flip in the waters around Southport, with stunt people doubling the actors and birds swarming the boat and the whole nine yards. But then they needed to show the family under the boat, and the birds attacking from inside. So, the last thing WE shot (there were those later reshoots in Los Angeles.) was this boat sequence. Our gaffer (head of the electrical department) was named Steve, and he lived in a house on the side of a startlingly clear lake. They cleared a deal with Steve and we spent a couple of days at his house (talk about an easy call time for Steve – get up and walk outside – BAM! You’re at work!)
|The crew setting up for the final shoot at the lake. All of these photos |
are courtesy Kim Head Chapin.
|Makeup and hair's little village.|
They built some scaffolding structure and took two identical boats – they cut one in half lengthwise, and the other widthwise. They could mount these boat pieces, then the actors would simply go into the water, duck under and pop up under the boat piece, then the camera could shoot them “huddling” underneath. For the bird attack – the art department had created these hammers that had metal “bird beaks” welded on the striker. The prop boys could then take the hammer and lightly hit the boat over and over, and the metal bird beak would eventually punch a hole in the boat – allowing a quick glimpse of the “bird beak” that did the damage.
|Kim Head Chapin provided all of these pics of our last day shooting - |
so I must thank her, even though she tried to drown Bruce Surtees.
This sequence was actually a very quiet and civilized way to finish a movie – in a very small, condensed location with four actors who were either in their chairs or in the water keeping cool – and very little variation of shot or lighting needed. It was kind of genteel.
The actual movie ends - spoiler alert – with the birds breaking off the attack and flying away – no explanations, just hope that they’ve stopped. The family swims to shore and safety. Roll credits. Now, I’ve seen Birdemic: Shock and Terror – and I would bet the farm ol’ James Ng saw this movie – because his flick doesn’t end like The Birds – with the humans creeping through millions of birds – but like this movie - with his feathered CGI friends breaking off the attack and flying away.
|I don't even remember shooting at this house, but Kim sent me|
the picture, so I guess we must have!
We shot the movie as a theatrical release – but after the editing brouhaha and Rick Rosenthal opting for the Smithee credit Universal lost faith in the film as a theatrical release and sold the movie to Showtime as a “World Premiere Showtime Event.” I think I added Showtime the month it premiered. I taped the movie on VHS that night, and probably cancelled Showtime the next day.
But before that - I did get to see this - and it was the very first time I got to see it!
|You can also see the credit for Kim Head (now Kim Head Chapin) right|
below mine. I have to thank her again for letting me use her pix in this post.
The movie was okay at best – some fair moments but a lot of junky stuff too. It was really neat to see all the various locations and pieces put together though.
Here's a Showtime trailer for the movie - gives you glimpses of some of what I've been talking about here:
But I'll tell you the best after-the-fact story I ever got for one of these things - about 5700 words ago I mentioned the first AD was Michael Kelly - well, that full name was important - because Michael was the nephew of a big time Hollywood star - and he liked me and my work - so a couple of months after wrap a package showed up in my mailbox - look what I got!
Next up for this department will be my days as a background player on a TV lawyer show with a TV legend - plus another short show story as a bonus...
|Mr. Bird and I hope you'll come back for that post!|
And until the actual next post - Saturday Night at the Movies - you Can Poke Me With A Bird Beak Hammer, Cause I Am Outta Here!