Monday, October 12, 2009


When I was first offered this picture I was, actually, less than thrilled. I mean I'd read the what. I mean, another kids picture. Why couldn't I be offered something meaty again, like Red Dawn? Or Uncommon Valor? A man's picture. Action. You know, all the stuff about being a cinematographer that's really fun. Little did I know then that Footloose would become a cult favorite. Actually the one redeeming thing about Footloose was that I would first have an opportunity to work with Herbert Ross, arguably one of the best directors around and one of only two who knew how to photograph the 'dance' - which I desparately wanted to learn. About ten minutes after I'd accepted the job over the phone from Herbert - I'd had the interview, read the script and all that, I got a call from Walter Hill. He was going to do a picture called: 'Streets of Fire". Hell, just in time only too late. A man's picture with Walter again. Reluctantly I told him I had just accepted a picture with Herbert Ross. He understood and wished me well. What a great guy! So...A story about Herbert. He is one of the most...severe, intimidating men I have ever met. He is well over six feet tall, gaunt would be a generous way of putting it. A very, very serious face and rarely least not in interviews. So, we're on a location scout trip to Provo, Utah and we're having breakfast the first day. Now I barely knew my director so with someone like Herbert (He as always Herbert, never Herb!) you tread softly and carry a big...I'm not sure what. So, as I said we're having breakfast and during the course of the conversation I said to Herbert..."You know Herbert, I like a light set." I look at that inscrutible face and...nothing. No expression, nothing. I thought oh dear, what have I signed up for. This man has no sense of humor what so ever. He looks at me and says; "What do you mean, Ric?" I swallowed rather hard, did my best to look pleasant and said; "Well, you know, I mean, it's hard work, long hours, the crew works pretty hard. We're all intent upon what we're doing, making the picture...hopefully making your life easier..."
"Yes, he says. Still his face a mask of blank. So I continue; "Well, I mean I like to tease my people, you know, joke around a lot. I mean I love my crew, most of them have been with me for a long we know each other pretty well. That sort of thing." Herbert just looks at me like I've maybe lost my mind or perhaps just arrived from another planet. I mean, I am thunderstruck. I thought, wow, this is going to be the longest fourteen weeks of my life. Will I ever survive it? I doubt it. Okay, fade out. It's a couple weeks later. We're rehearsing a scene between Kevin Bacon and the actress who plays his mother. We're in the living room of a house in Provo that we had rented for the movie. Everyone is sitting around, absolutely quiet. And I mean QUIET! No one, no one moves, talks and, hopefully, even breathes when Herbert is rehearsing. Well, Harold Rabus who is my key grip and who's been with me for probably six years comes into the living room. He's tiptoeing and for Harold, who's probably six feet four and well north of two hundred pounds, tip toeing is a pretty amusing thing to watch. So he comes into the room and ever so gently begins to seat himself on an apple box. Only half down to his destination a huge pair of pliers falls out of his pocket and lands on the hardwood floor. Everyone, and I mean everyone's head swiveled around to see who the dunce was making all the noise. Herbert spun around so fast I thought he'd be dizzy and glared at Harold, who is now looking very sheepish. Herbert says, in a very loud and angry voice; "YOU, get out of here...pack your things and leave this set. Forever!" Well, needless to say Harold was mortified. I was too only for what Herbert had just pronounced. Harold was a very good key grip, well liked by everyone and he ran a very tight ship. I loved the guy. Not only did I not know who I could replace him with, I really didn't want to. I was hoping I might be able to dissuade Herbert after we'd finished the scene. So it's now, maybe half an hour later, we've finished rehearsing and the electric crew is starting to place the lights I'd called for. I wander out to the grip truck to console Harold. I no sooner arrive at the truck when Herbert arrives right on my heels. He marches right up to Harold, who is almost in tears at this point, puts his arm around Harolds shoulder and says: "I was just kidding Harold. Don't take me seriously. I love to tease." And with that Herbert turned to me with the biggest smile I've ever seen. No sense of humor? Huh! And the humor continued for the rest of the picture. A wonderful man, he is dearly missed. He passed away several years ago. I went to his funeral with Goldie Hawn who had also recently worked with him. We all spoke, well some of us. Nicolas Meyer said some very nice things, (Nicolas was the director of 'Volunteers' which I shot.) And I repeated the story I've just written here. Herbert was a very dear man, a very talented director. He is missed by all that knew him.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NO WAY OUT aka Finished with Engines

As promised in the top blog, I have another story to tell about..."telling the truth". I received a call from my agent telling me of an interview with Roger Donaldson over at MGM. I arrived punctually...with a name like Waite I hate to be tardy! As always, we went through the usual opening pleasantries and then got down to specifics. I had read the script - they almost always send you the script first to see if you're interested in shooting it - and Roger, seated comfortable behind a desk roughly the size of a Buick asked: "Ric, how do you see this picture?" Well...I knew it was Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman (whom I'd just finished working with) and it was placed in Washington, DC - a political thriller. So I rather grandly stated I thought it should be very stately. Very square...pristine. Since it was a political story, Gene was a Senator and Costner a naval officer...that seemed like a good idea. Well-----Wrong! Roger confessed he wanted a grainy documentary look. Needless to say, I didn't get the picture. I was very disappointed since when I saw the film and saw th scene in the back of the limo where Kevin and Sean Young really get it on...I was doubly disappointed. Ah well, so you see, sometimes telling the truth doesn't work out the way you'd like. The production manager whom I'd also just worked with on "Uncommon Valor" - Mel Deller and who was responsible for getting me on the short list for interviews walked me out to the elevator and expressed his regrets. A very nice man! As it turned out, when I saw the picture in the theater some months later - no surprise - it wasn't at all grainy - or documentary looking. It was, indeed, a very stately, pristine and square looking film. Go figure.