In the late 70’s & early 80’s I was lucky enough to participate briefly on a few motion picture productions working either for I.A.T.S.E. (Theater and Stage Employees Union) or a variety of TV stations and networks.
1976 brought Barbara Striesand and Krys Kristofferson to Arizona making the film A Star Is Born. On March 20th the filming took over Sun Devil Stadium at Arizona State University as 70,000 people enjoyed concerts by Peter Frampton, Santana and others with time now and then for movie making and performances by Stiesand and Kristofferson. Working for I.A.T.S.E I had the privilege of spending that long day and night under an orange tent, which you can see in the middle of a sea of people in the following video, with the movie sound crew to capture all the concert sound for the movie. As low man on the totem pole my specific job was capturing crowd reactions.
In 1977 I was working for the NBC affiliate in Phoenix and was planning on taking my family to an airshow to see the US Navy Blue Angels. I mentioned this at work one day and a news guy asked if I thought I could put together a piece on the airshow. I’d never done this, and they only had an old 16mm film news camera I could use, but I said I’d give it a try. When I arrived at the airshow with my family, who you see in the story, it turned out they were shooting the motion picture Cloud Dancer starring David Carradine and Jennifer O’Neill. I got lucky with the camera and shot my first and only film piece (which I transferred to video to edit) and here’s the result.
In 1978 production for motion picture The Villain was underway in the Arizona desert east of Rio Rico near the Mexican border. The star list was unbelievable, including Kirk Douglas, Ann Margret, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Tillis, Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, and Paul Lynde. The movie was Directed by Hal Needham, who later also directed the Cannonball Run series with his friend Burt Reynolds. Although not in this movie Reynolds was on location supporting Needham and CBS sent me to record a series of promotional pieces with the two when I could pull them away from shooting the movie. Ended up shooting the promo with both of them on horses….which seemed appropriate since they were both horses asses. To me, the real story here is not those two, it’s Kirk Douglas. Although I had no official interaction with Mr. Douglas it turns out that I did get to talk to him. I had a lot of sitting around time on this job and watched while Douglas and a stunt horse were shooting a scene near a cliff where the story had them making camp for the night. They shot the scene and, as it was late in the day, the crew started doing a turnaround setting up for the night shots of this camp. The wardrobe department had clothes for Douglas to change in to for these night scenes but couldn’t get the wardrobe trailer anywhere near the cliff. I was sitting on a rather large rock about 150 feet away and I saw Douglas and the wardrobe people headed my way. Didn’t think anything of it….until Mr. Douglas walked up to me and asked if he could “share my rock?” He needed to sit down to change clothes and I had the only place nearby that wasn’t in the way of the crew setting up, so, while sharing a rock with me, Kirk Douglas changed wardrobe for the next scene. When finished he stood up, said “thanks for the use of your rock”, and headed back to work. Genuinely nice guy.
By 1983 I had started Key Productions and, as a mixed blessing, I was hired to work on the movie Cannonball Run 2, Directed by Hal Needham and starring Burt Reynolds, the two horses asses I’d worked with on The Villain. A scene to be shot at a small used car lot on the corner of Speedway & Alvernon called for a “news crew” to cover an event related to the race. I was hired to provide the camera and equipment for the actor playing the news guy and teach him how to use it without looking completely stupid. He ended up only looking slightly stupid. I managed to stay away from Needham and Reynolds and the day went well.
There was a lot being shot in Arizona back then. Some of it can be seen in the following piece from the Arizona Film Commission.
Most of this was back in the day. Not very much going on these days however as, while suggesting that Arizona is “America’s Backlot”, little is being done to promote productions coming to the state and the State Legislature has stopped the incentives, which are offered by most other states, to bring production dollars into our community.
One result is a significant decline in trained crews available to those networks and national Producers that do decide to shoot here.
This is GOOD NEWS for me however as more than half of my work now comes from these national productions, as you can see on our COMPLETED page.