Captured Memories

by John Waco May. 07, 2017 256 views

I've wanted to work in the film industry ever since I was a young boy. I was still in high school i live about an hour and a half from Hollywood. I'd love to work for Warner Bros. especially. The studio in Burbank where my uncial worked   as a production manager and since you lived relatively close to Burbank), one morning I show up at the studio and look for work every day at the crack of dawn.  PA gigs are a dime-a-dozen. Sometimes they just need extras or somebody to help out.  Depends entirely on the current schedule. But you essentially have to do to this every day.

By starting as a PA or any other bottom-feeding position, you can work your way up over time and branch out into other areas. The obstacle you are most likely to face is the whole union thing. Unions run the sets. But you need to start somewhere and with enough experience and enough people liking you, they can vouch for you and get you more work and on bigger, better gigs. Lots of footwork and hustling is needed to get into the production side without any prior experience, but it can lead to a lot of work for those willing to put in the hours (and chance not finding work that day despite showing up and waiting all day since 4AM).

I was looking get into the position in the film crew I would learn all I could about it and practice! For instance let's say you want to be a Gaffer, well go to hardware store and get you a few rolls of tape, not the good stuff though this is only for practice... now take it home and practice taping , tape everything in sight! Practice different arrangements and patterns, zing sags, T junctions, crises crosses ...just keep going and going never stop taping until your work is noticed by the appropriate parties. Now your foot in the door ask them for a job on set.

Most of the people that work in the film industry, know someone in the industry.  It’s only about 2% of people that get into the industry that don’t have anyone who works in the moves in Los Angeles. I got my first ever camera, I tuck shorts in the backlot. Edit shorts. Interview people, edit it. Write it, then shoot it, then edit it. And then try and get locations and more people and costumes. Then, decide which you liked best and never stop doing it until you can show someone something they will like so much they will pay you for it. After I graduated from high school, I was lucky to get a part time job working as a darkroom accent for, Consolidated Film Industries in Hollywood, I worked for four years.

I first made the acquaintance of Ann Blyth on the film set of the filming of Mildred Pierce, (1945). Warner Bros had borrowed Ann for this film. It was Anton Grot’s that called Ann over and introduce me to her we became good friends. It was five days after wrapping this major film that Ann Blyth experienced a horrific even. Her mother took Ann and some friends up to the Snow Valley 14 miles from Lake Arrowhead area in the San Bernardino Mountains to have a few days’ holiday in the snow in April 1945.  Ann was injured in a toboggan accident.  “She was sailing down the hard-packed icy hillside like snow birds, then there was a crash and I fell on my back with a sickening thud.” She was 16 years old.  She had fractured her spine. After seven months, she was freed from the body cast, put into a steel back brace from her neck to her lower back, and allowed to take a few steps.  She spent several months in and out of her wheelchair, in therapy (which included swimming in Joan Crawford’s pool) and she finally did graduate with her studio school class in her wheelchair.  There was a bright, shining moment during her convalescence when she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mildred Pierce. Four months after the Oscars, over a month after Ann was finally allowed to remove the back brace for good, only a few weeks after her returning to work on a new movie, Mrs Blyth died of cancer in July 1946.  Ann was 17 years old, less than a month shy of her 18th birthday.  Her birthday was on the 16 August 1928 and mine was on the 8 August 1928.

Ann Blyth

After graduating as an electrical engineer from California Institute of Technology   I was hired by Byron Haskin, ASC, and head of the Warner Bros. Special Effects Department on Stage 5 in Burbank. Since this was the largest such department in the movie business, I was able to work with some of the top cinematographers in the effects field, such as ASC fellows Edwin DuPar, Hans Koenekamp and Warren Lynch. My first film at the Warner Brothers special effects, Stage 5 was Mildred Pierce (1945)  The Warner effects facility was a proud one, though it's not a facility that is ever really discussed or given a 'pat on the back'.  Matte artist Paul Detlefsen painted the glass shots on this picture - and a large number of them there were at that.  A few of them are shown here though the film has many more.  Detlefsen was a highly productive matte artist, and from my count of his partial filmography he painted on no less than fourteen shows at Warners in 1945 alone - and some of these were big effects shows, such as MILDRED PIERCE. Again Detlefsen credits his cameraman John Crouse for such shots "John was the great unsung hero of our department who loved every challenge and never failed to find a way of doing the impossible...a flawless technician and inventor, loved by all who knew him".

Warner Bros
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