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Thursday, March 20, 2014

I Was A Teenage Production Assistant: Other Stuff Volume 1!



Extra Work on Matlock and Linda (A USA World Premiere Movie!)





Dotted in amongst my production work, I would still work as a background extra now and again for some extra cash in 1993. At some point in your climb up the film industry ladder you need to stop doing extra work (except under one circumstance, which I’ll get to in a bit.). The reason you need to stop doing it is – extras are not highly regarded by crew members. Some of this is for valid reasons – a person can be smart; people can be dumb. The larger the group, the more likely the IQ will be lowered. Crew members also are not fond of extras who work often and act like they are important because they walked down the street (with fifty other people) behind Tom Cruise in some movie (see how I keep themes going across these posts?) Consequently there are crew members who refer to extras as meat puppets (usually not in front of them, at least). So, whatever reputation you gain being a hard working crew member can be compromised if you keep popping up every other show as an extra. You simply lose ground for one, and for two the harsher crew members will wonder why you couldn’t get a crew job. But early on – when you’re still getting day work as a PA (when a show hires you to work only a day or two – big days with lots of extras, or something that is complicating the production process) and only occasionally getting the run of a show you can still get away with extra work.



The other circumstance where you can still do extra work as a seasoned film crew member and it doesn’t reflect badly on you? If you have family or friends visit from out of town and you are between jobs and want to show them what you do and the “glamor” of the biz. It helps to have a nice easy TV show like Matlock shooting in town for this, let me tell you – and I did this more than once.






Matlock was the second really suuccesful show for Andy Griffith. He played a good ol boy Georgia lawyer with more on the ball than he let on - and the show had been on NBC for six seasons. When the ratings dipped NBC decided to let the show go. ABC then decided to give the show a try to see how their ratings would be. With the move to a new network they also decided to bring the show to Wilmington NC as this was just a couple of hours' ride from Andy Griffith's home in the Outer Banks and made for less travel for him.






Matlock was very civilized because Andy Griffith was a TV Legend and carried a lot of power as the star and as a producer on the show. Consequently they catered to his wishes in a lot of things that lesser TV stars don’t get. He liked to work early quickly, and he never wanted to work past five. So, when there were days with pretty much only scenes with lots of Matlock (like the courtroom stuff, which always featured him) then you were in good shape because they always needed forty or fifty extras for those scenes (jury and observers) and you pretty much knew you were going to get off work around five o’clock.


Andy Griffith and Brynn Thayer.

Dan Roebuck and Andy.



It’s interesting when your star doesn’t want to work after dark – suddenly their character is featured in far fewer night scenes – and the few they are still needed for are usually faked and shot in the day time. For example, whenever Ben Matlock is out meeting people and investigating – it’s always day. Then, in one or two episodes a season, maybe the opposing counsel comes to see Matlock in the middle of the night – well, here would be Andy in his robe with his hair mussed and all out of sorts at being dragged out of bed – but that scene would be shot on his house set in the full bloom of day – entirely inside a soundstage – with the darkness of night faked through lighting tricks.







Of course, even a courtroom day could be thrown off by a clever director – who might do what’s called “shoot the star out” – film every shot involving Andy Griffith first, and leave every other shot that doesn’t feature AG to be shot after the star has wrapped and gone home. Then you could shoot until the cows came home. This actually didn’t happen much on the show – and the few times it did they still only went to 8 or 9 o’clock. (But you know – we would actually hear about this on other shows – the industry grapevine is huge and pervasive – as the crew – trained to the shorter days usually – would be unused to working a long day and they would be very vocal voicing their displeasure at it.)


Andy's home eating dinner and we're still shooting!


On good days Andy could be very pleasant – but there were a couple of times where he was in a cranky mood – and he was not the folksy good ol’ boy people remembered from Mayberry. He hated to be fussed over by makeup and hair – he would allow them 15-20 seconds – but if they went longer than that he might snap at them to let him be.





He also was not wardrobe’s best friend. Ben Matlock wore the same cheap suit all of the time – but as soon as the shot was cut and printed – meaning the crew would be moving on to a new shot – Andy wanted out of that suit jacket. He wanted the young lady attending wardrobe on set to be standing beside him seconds after the shot was printed. If she was there he would hand off the jacket and walk away. But, as I saw more than once - if anything delayed the wardrobe assistant from getting there – he would wait, holding the jacket for a few seconds – then he would simply drop the jacket on the floor and walk away. This would mean the wardrobe girl would have to run to grab it – then brush it off and shake it out before hanging it up. I understand you’re a big time TV star and wardrobe should be standing there to take the jacket – but things happen on set – people can’t always be everywhere at once. He could have stepped over to his cast chair and laid it neatly over the chair and let her retrieve it from there – but no, he would drop it on the floor. Weirdly, he didn’t care if the extras saw this happening – and there would always be a lot of negative buzz among them when he did it.



He could also get grabby with the girls of makeup hair and wardrobe – little pinches and such. And again, he would do this on the courtroom set with dozens of extras witnessing. Keep in mind this was him at his worst – and he was nowhere near the meanest or worst person I saw in my career. And there were times when he’d be as pleasant and charming as could be. But it was a little weird to see this icon known for playing one of the nicest guys on television showing his feet of clay.



I worked on probably a dozen or so Matlocks over the three years it was shooting here in Wilmington. Half of those were one day in-and-out extra jobs by myself that have not stuck in my memory in any way. The other five or six have stuck in my memory – either because I was there with guests or because of the guest stars in that particular episode.





The very first Matlock I did was an episode called The Class which sticks in my mind because at one point the camera pans across a table of people, and I’m sitting with my back to camera – and it was the very first indication I had of how thin my hair was getting on the crown of my head. Actually really bothered me back then. There was also a pleasant afternoon during the shoot listening to Andy Griffith play guitar and sing – something he LOVED to do – and something he would do between setups sometimes – it was really very cool.






The Defendant  In this episode I was chosen to be a press photographer in a charity ball sequence. The director of this episode was Leo Penn (Father of Sean and Chris). He actually directed me (usually extras are directed by the assistant directors – this is actually part of a SAG rule that says if the production’s director is the one directing someone that someone can become eligible for SAG and might need to be paid SAG wages for their work – MUCH more money. I don’t know if they thought we wouldn’t know about that stuff way over on the East Coast – or just didn’t want to intrude on 70-something Penn’s process – but some of my actions fed off of and led to some of the actors’ movements and dialogue – so Leo directed me.) It was very cool. The guest star that week was Richard Gilliland – who was on TV constantly in the 80’s and 90’s. He was very pleasant and we had a nice conversation about a sitcom he’d done with actor TC Carter - Just Our Luck, which was one I really enjoyed for its brief 13 episode run. He seemed impressed that I was reeling off episode details – proving I really was a fan. The nicest thing about this episode was that my parents and grandmas got to actually see me onscreen for a few seconds – as up to this point all of my work was behind the scenes and I hadn’t even been screen credited on anything but The Birds II: Land's End – which only my parents watched.





The Fatal Seduction was a two parter - and I was in a beach scene and a courtroom scene on this one - the beach scene sticks out in my mind as it featured Jeri (7 of 9) Ryan in a bikini. It was also cool to meet Rob Stone - who'd played eldest brother Kevin on one of my favorite 80's sitcoms - Mr. Belvedere.




Yeah, it was a tough day at work.




The Last Laugh was an amazing episode - I got to work with Milton Berle! The man was 80-something and sharp as a tack - trading barbs with the cast and crew between setups - he was utterly fantastic. I am particularly spottable in this episode too - near the end of the episode when a triumphant Uncle Milty returns to the stage - I am front and center in the reaction crowd shots - laughing like there's no tomorrow.


Uncle Milty, meet Sheriff Taylor.



The other really cool aspect of Matlock being here - I became friends with third lead Daniel Roebuck. I met him during one of the episodes I was an extra on. Months later, I came back for some more extra work, and he remembered me - by name! That's rare. Dan also took the time to introduce himself to my parents when they did extra work on the show.  I ended up interviewing Dan three different times in the time he was here - twice for the local entertainment guide I worked for and once for Psychotronic Video magazine. During this time I discovered that he too was a Monster Kid - a few years older than me, but with the same experiences watching the Universal Studios Monsters on local TV stations growing up. Consequently we started to hang out some - I first saw the original Old Dark House on VHS at his house - and we once had an awesome night with a group over at Dan's watching several Super 8mm condensed edits of some of the Universal classics. Great guy, with a wonderful wife - Kelly- and kids - Buster and Grace.






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Linda was a USA World Premiere movie that shot here in 1993. It was based on a book by John D. McDonald, and had been filmed previously in 1973 as another TV movie with Stella Stevens in the title role. This time it was Virginia Madsen, and she was supported by Richard Thomas, Ted McGinley, and Laura Harrington.





I was needing some work - and money - so I signed on for a single day of extra work playing a news photographer (again - my degree in cinema and photography must show on my face!). A small group of photographers watches as the police investigate a dead body on the beach.






This is a cool little flick, and I'm not going to spoil any of the rest of the plot - in case you do get a chance to see it. If you do - you can definitely spot me snapping away in the scene I describe above. It was a very pleasant shoot - nice day, beach, and four amiable actors who stayed around chatting between shots.






I had a good time - I know it was just the one day - but it was a good one - and I'm very spottable in the movie - so it rates a mention here.







Next up for this department will be another pair of quickies - a feature film that shows you can be too young to direct; and another TV miniseries.




Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!

6 comments:

  1. Fascinating stuff Craig. Thanks for posting.

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    1. Thanks AB! Good to meet you this past weekend!

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  2. I love these behind the scenes stories Craig. Griffith sounds like a typical old man, so you're right we'll cut him some slack.

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    1. Thanks, Maurice. Yeah, I guess some old man crankiness does get blown up a bit when the old man in question is a TV Legend.

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  3. Fascinating, fascinating, fascinating. This is the Craig-stuff I love so much. Interesting behind-the-camera stories I've never heard before. You know, we're still waiting for your very first book whch will be a bestseller, Im sure =)

    I remember seeing "Linda" in the local rental store (titled: "Das Geheimnis um Linda" = The Secret about Linda), but I've never actually seen the movie. Tried to find it online, but failed :/

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    1. Thanks Maynard! I think you would enjoy Linda if you got the chance to see it.

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