Behind The Scenes

Behind The Scenes – A View From A Technician

Contained in this Behind The Scenes – A View From A Technician page, is a series of articles written by Elliott Cowan – Me –  who as you may or may not know, is also The Griper. The difference lies within the person. The Griper is a cynical ‘bastard’ who says whatever he likes which at times is what most are thinking. To myself, it is a persona, a character to portray which enables me to write freely, without care and to be quite honest – have a laugh; however, what I am going to share here is quite different.

I have spent 30 years working as a Technician in Television Production. A technician encompasses many positions that include every facet of the production process. I have fortunately had the opportunity to perform many of these duties throughout my career on numerous productions which include both the Corporate and Broadcast areas. I have also been an Instructor of Television Production in the Private College sector,

I am not going to profess to anyone who reads this that I have been or am a hugely successful immediately sought after freelancer. My career has been good, bad, frozen, good, great, bad, okay…..you get the picture. Like most freelancers know, things can change positively or negatively with just one phone call. You could be associated with great companies who suddenly close their doors and you instantly go from, all things are great, to, what I am going to do now. You work on a fantastic production one day and a boring mess the next. Regardless of what it is, it’s the work that matters and you do it to the best of your ability, no matter what it may be.

I have been hired to perform a task in a variety of categories:

  • Set building, dismantling
  • Load – un load – Cable instillation-Production set up tear down
  • All Support Positions
  • Audio – Video Assistant
  • Audio Recordest/Tape Operator
  • Audio person: single/multi camera
  • Boom Operator
  • Cable/Focus Puller
  • Dolly/Crane Operator
  • Switcher
  • Camera Operator: single/multi camera
  • Floor Director
  • ProductionCoordinator
  • Producer
  • Director

I have listed categories for several reasons. It is important to understand that there are many positions needed to create a Television Program, without these positions filled, the program would not exist. Because of this, I have always felt that there is no position not important and when hired to perform a specific task, I have always done so to the best of my ability. I also listed them so you will understand that the articles that I am going to write will be from productions which had me performing, at any given time, any one of these duties.

When asked about working in this business and the things I have worked on, I usually say this:

As my father once said,” you’re a video gypsy.” That at times, is what it really feels like, but the interesting part is; you see things you never would have imagined, travel to places you didn’t know existed, see things that amaze you and meet extremely interesting and bizarre people. I have worked with corporate leaders, animals, children, movie television Stars, music –concerts etc., sporting events, Prince’s, Prime Ministers and even the Pope.

What I am going to share here are experiences, A Behind The Scenes – View from a Technician perspective from productions I have been fortunate enough to have been part of over the years. No particular order or time-frame, just a collection of experiences along the way.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

‘Bell, Bell!!

BelljimWith the recent passing of veteran Game Show host Jim Perry, I am reminded of a time I worked with him on the Game Show, ‘Definition.’ I was working as an Audio Assist on the program. My job consisted of wiring the microphones and placing them in their proper place on the Set. I also had the duty, on this particular series of episodes to be the ‘Bell’ person. I was to ring the Bell at the moment the contestant ran out of time on their guess of a particular word. How was I to know when to ring the Bell? I was informed that the Director would cue me with an audible ‘BELL’ which I would hear through my headset at the appropriate second it was to occur. I was sitting at a table just off set and the Director was in the control room.

Things were working out fine. We taped several shows at a time so I was getting into the swing of things quite comfortably. The Director would say ‘Bell’ and I would ring it…until. Until the point during one show where my cue to ring the Bell did not happen. Now I had pretty much figured out the routine at this point however, when you are told you will be cued to do something, you do it then, not before or later…when you get your cue.

In the middle of this particular show, the contestant was asked to make her guess and her time started ticking….and then, no Bell. I was sitting there waiting for my cue but it never came. Now I knew it was to ring but I wasn’t given my cue so therefore, I didn’t hit the Bell. Perhaps there was something I didn’t know, maybe there was a twist of some sort unknown to me. The point is…no Bell. Well, just as the Director screamed, ‘BELL, BELL,’ Jim chimed in and said with a sly grin, “I guess there is a problem with our Bell, no problem, what would your guess be?” After the tapping of the program ended, everyone had a good laugh and although I was quite embarrassed for being the reason for their chuckles, the remaining shows were completed without anymore ‘Bell’ problems.

By the way, the Director did apologize for her miss-cue and Jim Perry showed what a professional and CLASSY guy he was.

Written by Elliott Cowan

Andy Kaufman Or Should I Call You Tony

andy 1Andy Kaufman was born on January 17,1949 and died on May 16, 1984 so the story goes however, there are new rumours that Andy is still alive. He was someone who always had said he would stage his own death and disappear and recently there have been reports he did in fact stage his death, found love and has been raising a daughter for the past 20+ years. Is this true…unlikely, but that story in itself is true Andy Kaufman. Andy Kaufman was a comedic genius who’s characters have stood the test of time, be them, Latka from Taxi or Tony Clifton.

Tony Clifton, the loud mouth Vegas lounge singer is who I would like to talk a bit about in this article. Back in the 1980’s there was a Miss Piggy Special produced with guest stars, John Ritter, George Hamilton and Tony Clifton. I was hired as an Audio Assist where my job was to set up microphones as well as drive the boom around to the various set positions in the studio. I was quite excited to work on this production not only for the experience of working with Jim Henson and the Muppets, but Andy Kaufman…Tony Clifton as well. Most on the production weren’t really aware of Andy Kaufman other than his role as Latka on Taxi however, I was fully aware of all his work, from his stand-up, SNL, Fridays and Taxi.

Andy Kaufman never would acknowledge that he WAS Tony Clifton, in fact he would go so far as to have his friend/business partner Bob Zmuda dress up as Tony just to fool people into believing he was not him. While we were shooting this special, Andy’s arrival was spoken about by Jim Henson to the entire crew. He gathered us all to inform us that Andy/Tony was running late. He informed us that Andy would not appear as himself, only Tony. He also shared with us that Andy made him purchase 2 plane tickets, one for Andy and one for Tony. Most thought this was crazy, I thought it was great…true showbiz.

Well, Tony arrived or shall I say entered. He walked into the studio with his loud bombastic voice, cracking jokes and he also had this thing where he would go to shake someone’s hand and pull away at the last second and give a ‘ha ha ha.’ Needless to say, I was loving it. Tony was to do a song and dance number on the show and when he arrived we all thought endless rehearsal was to take place….we were wrong. Jim Henson discussed what he was to do and where and then Tony basically said, ‘Hit It!’ Jim Henson although somewhat surprised went with it and rolled tape and cued the music. Tony Clifton did this number in 2 takes. The 1st was great but I guess Jim Henson wanted not only to be sure, but get his moneys worth so we did it again. Tony hit his last note and walked out of the studio never to be seen again. Well, almost never. Once it was established we were done with this number, a break was called. I couldn’t help myself, I went looking for Tony. I wanted to meet him and really get a look to see if it was in fact Andy or not, the make-up was incredible. I walked through the corridors and….there he was. I slowly approached so I could get a good look and sure enough, it was Andy, the eyes gave it away. There was no doubt Tony Clifton was Andy Kaufman. I walked up to him, said I was a great admirer of his work and reached out my hand. As Tony extended his I pulled mine back and said, ‘ha ha ha.’ Tony looked at me and said, ‘good one kid’ and walked away.

If anyone could stage his own death and disappear, it’s Andy Kaufman. Perhaps he and Elvis are bagging groceries somewhere in middle America…who knows.

The pictures included in this article were taken during the shooting of the Special. On a side-note, the picture of the Muppets as well as the one with me and the ‘hippie’ was a major no-no, but I just couldn’t resist.

clifMuppet6Muppet4Muppet12

Muppet16

MUPPET3

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

My Day With Mick Jagger

Mick JaggerI received a call asking me if I was available to work for a day on a ‘Press Junket’ and that it was to involve some very important people. Of course I said yes and of course I asked who the important people were. The gentleman on the other end of the phone said, it involves a Band who are doing a world wide ’press junket’ for their upcoming tour and the bands name is ‘The Rolling Stones’

Needless to say when I showed up for work that day I was excited knowing I was going to meet some very iconic individuals, the question I had was who was I going to spend that time with. These kind of junkets involve many members of the Press and with Movie Press Junkets, the ‘stars’ are in individual rooms for one on one interviews. I was wondering how this was going to play out involving a group.

When we, the Technicians arrived, we were summoned into a room for a meeting. Leading this meeting was a very jittery Production Manager who seemed obviously nervous as to what was going to transpire this day. I didn’t know him prior to this encounter so therefore I had no idea of his background and or experience with working with or being around ‘Stars.’

The first thing he said was, ‘you all are here because you have experience working not only ‘press junkets’ but with very important people and as you can imagine, these people are very important.’ Because of this, he went on to say, we were all hired for our professionalism and that we had to follow certain rules or there would be repercussions. One repercussion would be non payment if we crossed any lines. Those lines included, asking for autographs, taking pictures or acting in an obvious unprofessional manner.

One thing he had right, we had all worked with very famous people and on very ‘big’ productions so just because they were the Stones, wasn’t going to affect our ability to do our jobs. But…..they were the Stones!

After our meeting with Mr Nervous we had a meeting with the Producer and Director to determine who was going to work with whom. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts were all going to be in individual rooms so the decision as to where we were going to be was discussed.

Now personally, I thought spending the day with Keith would be the most interesting based on his personality and life experience, not to mention the stories which might be told. Mick would also be an obvious choice and then Ron and Charlie would follow. It was decided that ‘pulling straws’ was going to be the way in which the decision was to be made. I got Mick Jagger.

I was hired as the sound person and unlike other interviews where a lavaliere microphone can be used, on this occasion, the microphone of choice was a Boom mic. Because of this I didn’t have to bother the subject, in this case Mick, by wiring him with a mic, it was there fixed over his head as was the one for the Interviewer.

Well, Mick Jagger entered the room and what I was struck first by was his size. He was not very tall and he was quite thin. He also looked quite weathered but extremely fit at the same. We were all introduced and I have to say, shaking his hand was a thrill. All I could think about at that moment was, I am shaking the hand of Mick Jagger which means in a sense, I am shaking the hand with people I have admired all my life….Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, David Bowie, Buddy Guy….on and on. That moment was definitely a highlight and yet another reason why I love working in this business.

Throughout the day I had an opportunity to not only listen to what he had to say about his life and thoughts pertaining to the Tour but about the man himself. Mick Jagger is a professional, an artist, musician and most importantly just a human being…a guy from Britain who made it big.

He talked about preparing for the tour. Training in the gym for the toll the performances and long tour would have on his aging body. How important it was to him to be in shape which would enable him to ‘give’ all he could every show and that he wanted the last show to be as good as the first. How important that was to him….his incredible professionalism and sincere desire to give his best every night for those who were to come out to see them. What a lesson for the new crop of artists who by their actions and lack luster, auto tuned performances care more about the money and their ‘rider’ contracts then those who enable them to be so selfish.

There was one thing about Mick Jagger that has stayed with me..Mick Jagger is just a regular guy who happens to be famous, rich and loved by millions.

During one particular break, I asked him myself what he does on tour. I said, you’ve been everywhere, done everything, how do you handle the daily grind and endless travel. What he said surprised me to a degree. He said the shows are at night for a few hours, we have all day for other things. I said, what other things. He said, I have friends all over the world I get to catch up with, I like going to art galleries but most importantly…I get to spend time with my kids and grandkids. ‘Spend time with my kids and grandkids,’ Mick Jagger, the Rock & Roll icon, the man who parades across a stage like no other likes to tour so he can spend time with his kids and grandkids. To some that may destroy the image…to me, it only enhances it.

I did meet the rest of the Band that day and it was just as thrilling to shake their hands as it was Mick’s, but if I were to be asked what Mick Jagger was really like, I would simply say. Mick Jagger is one hell of a ‘cool dude’ but more importantly when you take all the ‘ flash’ away, he is just a charming, aging British gentleman who loves his family and friends who just happens to be the lead singer of what many describe as the ‘Greatest Rock & Roll Band’ of all time.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

Being Booed By 5000 People At The Ontario Place Forum

There was once an open air concert venue called The Forum which many amazing musicians used to play in my home town. This beautiful venue which had a revolving stage to allow all those sitting in the round to see wonderfully unfortunately no longer exists however the memories are just a thought away and also remembered through a program entitled ‘Live at The Forum.’

I worked as a camera assist as well as an audio assist on many concerts in this great place and on one such occasion I was booed by 5000 strong.

Prior to a show by the late-great Peter Tosh, the Head audio engineer needed a sound check done on the microphone set-up on the piano. He asked any and all if there was anyone who played piano and to his amazement, no one said yes. He reiterated how he needed someone to play ‘something’ or ‘anything’ just so he could determine whether his issues were serious or not…still no one stepped up. After several more inquiries I could see his frustration building so I stepped forward and said, ‘I took piano lessons for a year, I guess I can go.’

I proceeded to head down to the stage for my solo debut where I had to enter through a tunnel. As I was about to hit the stage I could hear rumblings from the crowd that they felt the show was about to begin. I came through the darkened tunnel to the welcoming sounds of groans from the disappointed fans however, that did not stop me. I figured the audience deserved my best so therefore I approached the piano, pulled out the bench, moved away my imaginary ‘tails,’ sat down and proceeded to play my best rendition of the grade one opus, ‘Swans in the lake.’ Needless to say the reggae starved, buzzed out crowd were not impressed with my flawless  version of this timeless classic and decided a full fledged chorus of boo’s was the proper response. Although disappointed that my Forum debut was received in this manner I still kept my composure and bowed gracefully and left the stage. My fellow technicians had a good laugh and so did the Head of audio who, once stopped laughing, thanked me for my assistance.

Getting booed by 5000 wasn’t so bad….at least they didn’t throw anything.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

The Who ‘Final’ Concert: Maple Leaf Gardens–Toronto Ontario Canada, December 17, 1982

Although The Who has continued as a group throughout the years, there was a time when the end was announced. After the death of Keith Moon the group continued with former Faces drummer Kenney Jones however, Pete Townshend ultimately said, enough.

In 1982 they decided that a final hurrah was needed with Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto being the last stop on their “Magic Bus.” This concert was going to be broadcast live on television around the world and because of various reasons, one of which wasToronto’s broadcasting capabilities, this location was chosen.

As a freelance technician wanting to be hired for such an event, is exactly why you got into this business in the first place. The chance to work on the good stuff is always preferable. Unlike today, being a Union member was the only way you could work on such a program, so as a NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) member, I had a shot. Glen Warren Productions was the company producing the program and knowing how often I worked for them, I knew it was just a phone call away and sure enough, it came.

I was hired as a “Cable Puller.” This position consisted of all set-up, tear-down and working with the Hand-Held Camera Operator during the show. Back in 1982 before digital, RF etc. everything was tethered to the control room or in this case, the Truck. Cable was hundreds of feet in length and the Hand-Held Camera’s length was quite long to enable the operator to move freely anywhere they wanted to go on stage. The Cable Puller’s job was to make sure the operator could do just that without missing a shot due to cable issues. Although it may sound pretty straight forward, doing this job well was paramount to you working on concert programs which were many in the 1980’s not to mention sports broadcasts as well.

The Who were doing 2 shows in Toronto with the final show being broadcast “Live” around the world. The 2nd last show was being videotaped to be used in an emergency had anything happened during the “Live” broadcast. The set up went well as usual, running cable throughout the hallow halls of the Gardens. That alone was exciting. Being in a building with such history is always enjoyable. Despite the fact the Gardens was a bit of a hole, you could still almost hear the cheering for the Leafs or the screams for the Beatles bouncing off the walls.

Due to Union “politics” which is a whole other story, we had the Film Union, IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) working with us, which for some positions had 2 people doing the job of 1, and cable pulling fell into this category. Fortunately for me, the individual I was working with was old school, didn’t really like my presence and wanted to show me, who was the boss. I say fortunate because this guy wanted to do all the work. Now I had worked on many concerts and I was quite capable not only of doing this job, but doing it well, but if this guy wanted to “show me” how it’s done….go right ahead. You see, I am on the same stage as The Who!!! I’ll be very happy to help this guy as needed, but if I can stand there and watch history in the making…thank you very much.

We are all set, the roadies have set-up the musical equipment and now we wait for the boys for a sound check so we can also rehearse our part for this extravaganza. They arrive, Kenney, John, Roger and Pete hit the stage, 10 feet from where I am standing, The Gardens probably has 150 people in it give or take, and the Band starts their sound check. They begin with, “Eminence Front.” Now those of you who are not familiar with this song, I suggest you find it and listen. To hear this song in a virtually empty arena is something I will never forget. The organ sound bouncing off the walls engulfs you, your skin tingles and then Pete starts singing….man, at times like these, you love your job. To be quite honest, I don’t remember what other songs they did during that sound check because to this day when I think of that show or frankly any time I am in the Gardens, all I hear in my head is “Eminence Front,” it was that powerful.

The concerts went amazingly well, my IATSE counterpart worked up quite a sweat and I backed him up like the professional I am. The Producers, Band, and Production Company were all very happy with the outcome and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing one of the greatest bands in the world from stage right, 10 feet away from the great John Entwistle.

I didn’t have a chance to have any lengthy conversation with any of the Band. The most I got was “hello, how you doing,” however, something special did happen. About a week later I picked up (to this day) remember it being a People Magazine. On the 2nd page was a picture of the concert taken from stage left. In that picture you could clearly see, Pete Townshend, Kenney Jones, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and the 5th member of ‘The Who’, Elliott Cowan. Do I have that picture…NO, have I looked for it endlessly…Yes. Why I didn’t buy the magazine at the time, I will never know. I guess I can just chalk it up to youthful arrogance of some kind. Trust me, those who are reading this and saying to themselves, “what an idiot”….you are right, however, the memory of being there is embedded in my mind, but yes, I wish I had that picture.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

My Day With Halle Berry

I had the opportunity to spend the day with Halle Berry while she was doing Press for one of her movies. This entailed her answering questions from reporters from newspapers, magazines and TV Shows all day long. Each reporter would have 5 minutes to come in, ask their questions and leave.

I was hired as the Audio person for this press junket. Normally this shoot would take place in a Hotel room where we would transform the suite into a mini studio, black drapes would be installed, the Movie’s poster would be mounted and placed behind where the actor would sit, a full technical set-up would take place. Usually there would be 2 camera’s interview style, where the reporter would be filmed as well as the actor. Each camera was recording so the reporter could then take the tapes with them and edit as they wish.

As the sound person, I had the pleasure of having to put a microphone on Halle and therefore have an opportunity to actually meet her and engage in small talk throughout the day. Just to get it out of the way….yes, she is just as pretty in person as she is on screen or in print and very nice as well.

These press junkets are extremely boring and at times difficult for the Actors. Try to imagine being asked the same questions by 100 people over a 6-8 hour period. “How did you get the part….Did you enjoy the location….Did you get along with your co-star….Was the role difficult to maintain throughout…..Was the Director the reason you took the role…..Did you keep any wardrobe.”….on and on.

Now some people may read this and say, big deal, for 10 mil I’ll answer anything by anybody and quite frankly, I’d agree with you. In further articles I will write about how others dealt with this, however, with Halle Berry, she had an interesting way to cope.

With all Actors there are usually several people accompanying them. Stylists, Publicists, Wardrobe, Make-up, Hair etc., Halle was no different.

She had 2 people with her, a publicist and a friend. What I noticed was before each interview, her friend; a male in his late 40’s would have what looked like a secretive conversation with her. After about an hour of this I couldn’t help myself and considering he sat beside me during the interview to watch the monitors of each camera I had set-up, I had to ask: “What do you say to each other before the interviews, it just seems odd, is everything alright? He laughed and said something to the fact that it was funny I noticed. He then proceeded to tell me how Halle gets real bored during these types of interviews and needs something to keep her mind going so he whispers a word to her prior to each interview which she tries to use in an answer that she gives to the reporter. Whether what she says is true or not is irrelevant, figuring out a way to get the word in, is the key to the game. He then asks me for a word. I thought for a second and said, ‘highway.’ Well at that point he left me and went to Halle, had his secretive conversation, gave me a look and we proceeded with the next interview.

Well, the reporter asked a couple of questions and then it happened. Halle started talking about how she enjoyed the City and especially how she liked the skyline which she was able to see while driving to the location on the “highway.”  Well, I have to say, once I heard the word I started to silently laugh knowing that A: what she said was probably a lie and B: it was my word.

When this particular interview was over, because she used my word and I was brought into this particular round of the game, I decided I should go over to her and use the excuse her battery in her microphone needed changing and thank her. So this is what I did, I went to her and I said thanks, you used my word and she smiled and said “highway was yours” and I said yes and she replied, “no problem, my pleasure, it keeps me from daydreaming.”

This back and forth went on all day, I only contributed once but just remember the next time you see an interview with Halle Berry, what she says and what actually happened may be just a game between her and her friend.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

‘‘The ‘Police’ Are Given A Music Award

Several years ago I was hired to do Audio on a shoot where the group ‘The Police’ were being given an award by a Rock & Roll Music Magazine. The cameraman and I were to drive to Buffalo and meet up with the Presenter/Interviewer at the venue and conduct the Interview in the bands dressing room prior to their show.

It’s always cool to meet famous people, it’s part of the perks relating to working in this field and it’s also an opportunity to perhaps see what they are really like.

We got to the venue, rendezvoused with the magazine people, grabbed the gear and proceeded to set up in their dressing room and got ready for the interview.

Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland arrived and we all got introduced and settled into position. Because I had lavaliere (tie clip) microphones for this job, I had to mic the host and the three band members separately which gave me the opportunity to engage in small talk. Usual stuff, nice to meet you, how’s the tour going, that sort of thing. We did all the preliminary things, closed doors, checked lighting, sound checks and then we started.

I had the Interviewer and the three band members on their own channels on my Mixer so I was basically riding levels as each of them spoke. I left all open to a degree so nothing would be lost however I was riding the level of the person who was actually talking. Sting seemed to be the one who led the conversation so I primarily concerned myself with his microphone.

We reached the point in the Interview where they were being presented with their award. I had no idea what it was but I assumed it was probably a plaque or something. The Interviewer grabbed a wooden box and presented it to Sting who proceeded to open and reveal a Gold Sennheiser hand-held Microphone.

Well it was a beautiful microphone and after the 3 of them had a good look at it, Sting asked, “does it work?” He looked at me as if I would know and I just gave him the..I have no idea look. What does he do..he reached down to where his lavaliere microphone connected to the cable which led to my mixer and unplugged his mic and plugged in the new hand-held Sennheiser. I had no idea what would happen and quite frankly I was now concerned at the fact Sting was now un-mic’d. As Sting plugged in this new mic, I was on his pot on my mixer nervously hoping that a: the thing would work and b: there wasn’t static or a huge amount of distortion creating a situation where we would have to stop.

As Sting plugged in the Microphone he looked over at me and said, “well, does it work?” To my amazement, not only did it work but the sound quality was fantastic and I gave him the..thumbs up. We continued at this point with the Interview with Sting using this new Microphone without an interruption and all was good.

Once the Interview was over and I approached Sting to remove his microphone which I put on him at the start, I said, “thanks a lot, you almost gave me a heart attack.” We had a good laugh about it but that’s part of the fun of this business. You never know who’ll you’ll meet or what’s going to happen. Once we had torn down everything and put the gear away, we came back and watched the show from the wings. Not bad…meet ‘The Police’ and watch the concert from backstage for free.

On this occasion all things worked out just fine but it doesn’t always work out that way. I’ll leave those occasions for another time.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

‘The Littlest Hobo’ With Al Waxman

If you are not familiar, ‘The Littlest Hobo’ was a long running TV program about a dog named ‘London’ who got into various situations while roaming the world where he always seemed to save the day.

During one episode which I was hired as a Boom Operator, I and we the crew, had the ‘fun’ of working with a guest Director. This guest Director’s name was Al Waxman. Al Waxman was a very well known Actor who starred in the long running series “King of Kennsington, and he was also quite well known for his work on ‘Cagney and Lacey’ as well.

This episode was shot on location on a farm in the country side. Most of the episode was shot outside, so most scenes had a lot of set-up time needed. This program had the appropriate budget, meaning there was a full technical crew, top to bottom…..and good ‘craft services’ (food)

I’d just like to say, I had never met Al Waxman before and I had no ‘real’ idea what he was like. When he arrived on the first day, what struck me instantly was how un-kept he looked. He had not shaved and his clothes were….well, lets just say, he had no wardrobe department at his beck and call. He also made it quite clear from the get-go, he was not there to make friends let alone, have a good time. He right away started barking orders which on one hand, who cares, on the other, it doesn’t exactly endear you to anyone.

Having said all that, I unfortunately was someone for some strange reason he seemed to dislike from the start. Why that was, I don’t know. One theory I had relates to perhaps he and my father didn’t like each other. My father was a broadcaster and when Al’s name was mentioned, my father…well, never really said anything positive and maybe
Al asked or saw on a call sheet what my name was and decided to give me a hard time, who knows.

Now the point of this article has to do with a scene we were shooting out in a field where the Dog approached two people sitting having a picnic. The Shot started ‘Wide’ and then zoomed into a medium shot of the dog and the two people. Because of the fact I was ‘Booming’ this, I had to have my boom high to avoid the ‘Wide’ shot and lower as the camera zoomed in. Without going into details as to how this is done, lets just say, rehearsal is needed to be aware of the frame at all times to avoid getting the boom microphone in the shot.

After rehearsal we rolled and did two takes which Al didn’t like so we set-up for a third. Well, wouldn’t you know it, I got the boom in the shot which rendered the take useless. Once I realized what happened I instantly said something like, “oh, sorry guys,’ but that just wasn’t good enough for Mr. Waxman, he FREAKED. He started yelling, ‘what the fuck, damn…..!!! He then walked over to me and continued his tirade, as if I did it on purpose. At this point I was both embarrassed and MAD. My madness was more intense than my embarrassment. Now I was no rookie, this happens all the time and you just move on, but not in this case. At this point I was literally holding my left arm pressed against my body because all I wanted to do at that point was hall off and punch him. Yes I know that would obviously be not only unprofessional but….wrong, but man….

Well, it didn’t end there, Al stormed off and left us all standing there with me the focus. Most everyone there knew me and knew I didn’t do it on purpose and heard my..”sorry guys.” They also were jut as upset at his unprofessionalism as I was and were completely sympathetic as to how I must be feeling. Al returned and walked back up to me and said, “you could have at least said you were fucking sorry!” I stood there almost nose to nose with him and said,” I did, you just obviously didn’t hear me, I also said it again but you stormed off.” He didn’t say anything back, just walked over to his chair and said, something like, let set up and go again.

We did the next take and of course he didn’t like it but thankfully it wasn’t my fault. We did another and all was good.

We then broke for lunch and because we were on location outside we had an eating area set up so that’s where we all congregated. During lunch a car pulled up and two ‘suits’ emerged and right away approached someone and started a conversation. All of a sudden the person they were speaking with pointed in our direction. The two gentleman walked right up to me an asked if  I was Elliott Cowan and if we could have a word. I was part laughing and part worried. They proceeded to tell me they received a call and were told there was an issue with me and If I could tell them what happened. I am thinking in my head…what the hell is going on here. I looked at the two and simply said this, “Al Waxman is an asshole, I got the boom in the shot of the third take and he freaked out – that’s what happened.” They said, ‘Okay’ and walked back to their car and drove off and I never heard from them again.

Fun Wow – Showbiz, its all glamour.

The rest of the shoot went okay, Al was an arrogant ass to everyone and made no friends on this show and thankfully never really went at me again and I certainly kept my distance from him.

The best part of this story however is what happened between Al and the owner of the Dogs. On a program like this with an animal, sometimes there is more than one used. In this case there were three ‘London’s’ and Mr. Waxman  lost his patience on more than one occasion with them. Well, the owner didn’t like this very much and on the last day of shooting he decided his Dogs were not going to come out of their trailer. Not as it turned out until Al came to the trailer and personally apologized to the Dogs. That’s right….he had to say I am sorry to the Dogs or the owner would not bring them out.

How Sweet Was That? VERY.

I never saw Al Waxman after that shoot, although I wished I had because I was going to let him know exactly what I thought of him. It was not to be, he has since passed away.  I also never heard anything from the ‘Suits’ or the Production Company after that and thankfully the experience didn’t hurt me professionally however, it does make a good story.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

TIFF –Toronto International Film Festival – 911 – Remembered

As this is the 11 anniversary of the horrific events of 911, I find it hard not to remember that morning for 2 main reasons: one devastating and one joyous.

I had been hired as I had for several years as an audio person to participate in Interviews for ‘press’ junkets involving Actors and Directors for various movies being showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival. I always liked this gig because you were surrounded by the movers and shakers…high rollers…the famous…and always good food. Now the work was the same as anything else but the surrounding players is what made this more enjoyable. I have worked the Festival for many years and stories relating to it I have and will continue to include in these articles however, September 11, 2001 was obviously different.

Usually the job I was hired to do would be for maybe 2-3+ days. Interviews all day which started at around 9:00am so therefore we would all need to be on site at around 7:00am. This day was no different. I arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel which was our location, entered the Suite we had converted to a mini studio and checked all my equipment which had been set-up by others (another nice perk of this particular job) and really just talked to my colleagues and waited for the day to begin.

As I and my colleagues were waiting for the Industry personnel to arrive in our room, you couldn’t help but hear commotion out in the hall. The sound of people rushing about which just didn’t sound right. We kind of looked at each other with a collective, what’s going on out there expression on our faces. I opened the door and saw people frantically passing around looking somewhat dazed, being out in the hall now, I could hear crying as well. I immediately went into the suite which was our control room and saw for myself on the television set the reason for this odd behavior, the 1st Tower was burning. The room filled as we all listened to what was going on and BOOM, the second plane hit the 2nd Tower. As you could imagine everyone was stunned, scared and in complete disbelief as to what we just witnessed. Being the Film Festival, there were many Americans involved and they instantly got on their phones and called friends, colleagues and loved ones in New York to see if they were alright. Shock and disbelief was the obvious reaction by all.

Despite the horrific events that were happening ‘live’ in front of or eyes, we had a job to do here, as superficial as it was, there were many Interviews scheduled. The question my bosses kept saying to each other was, “what do we do now?”

The organizers of the Festival felt, and rightly so, everything should come to a halt and these ‘junket’ Interviews would be cancelled. Once the word filtered to us, we began the process of tearing down and packing all the gear…my 2001 TIFF experience was now over before it really began.

At around 11:00 am when we were finished packing up still dazed and really feeling quite sad and mad over the events of the morning my telephone rang. It was my sister calling to inform me that my Niece Carly had just delivered a beautiful little baby girl. My Sister just became a Grandmother and I a Great Uncle.

Devastation and Joy

Let us remember those who lost their lives that day and happy birthday Taylor.

Written by Elliott Cowan

 

 

 

 

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