PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 17

On the appointed day Gil drove to the Malibu location arriving around midday. He had decided not to call the actors for a couple of days, as the interior set-in would be taking place and there would be little or nothing for them to do. They agreed and said they would spend the time rehearsing in their own, at least to Gil, unfathomable way.

He did however need the presence of Ellsworth and the technical crew. They had decided after the meeting at Gorman’s office that they would spend the first few days shooting establishing scenes, scenery, and that sort of thing. And sure enough Gil had only been on the beach looking around for a scant fifteen minutes when he was joined by Ellsworth and the camera and lighting crew.

They spent the rest of the afternoon shooting scenic views of the ocean, the outside of the beach house, and various other local attractions. At one point Gil saw a group of surfers up the beach from them about a hundred yards or so. He pointed this out to Ellsworth who said, “That gives me a great idea.”

  The two of them hurried up the beach to where a group of about a dozen or so surfers were alternately surfing and sprawled on beach blankets, mostly sharing cans of beer and a few joints before going out again with their boards.

As the two men approached, one of the guys who had been smoking a joint hurriedly ground it out into the sand, turned to the others and said, “Watch it, dudes. We got company.”

Fortunately it only took a few minutes for Gil and Ellsworth to explain that no, they weren’t narcs, that they were movie people. This seemed to impress the guys no end.

So Gil finally said, “How would you guys like to be in a movie?”

There was a general murmur of approval and one of the guys went to the edge of the shore and waved in his surfing comrades. Then they all gathered round Gil and Ellsworth expectantly.

“So here’s what we’ll do,” Ellsworth told them. “We’ll bring the camera crew up here and you guys can start surfing. Just do what you do naturally. We can’t pay you, but if you leave us your names we’ll give you credits at the end of the movie.”

There was a hurried but brief general discussion among the surfer dudes. Then the biggest one, blond and bronzed, obviously the big kahuna, said, “That sounds righteous to me. We’ll do it.” There was a supporting chorus of far-out, awesome, and cool, and they all began to ready their boards in earnest.

Soon Gil and Ellsworth were spending a pleasant couple of hours filming all sorts of really neat surfing tricks and had collected all of their names for the movie credits. However it took another forty-five minutes for them to be able to tear themselves away and go back to the main location, as they were assaulted with offers of beer, joints, and even half a leftover pepperoni pizza that someone had rescued from an obviously lengthy period of neglect. The two moviemakers however accepted all this genially, for they knew that good will was a major part of assuring no outside interruptions or disruptions while they were shooting serious exterior scenes.

The next day they concluded their establishing shots and so forth well before sunset, but stuck around because Ellsworth wanted to shoot some night scenes before the actors showed up. They had been able to get to know one another surprisingly well in the last few days, and Gil found Ellsworth to be both sympathetic and intuitive when it came to choosing what to shoot and how to position it. They had by then agreed that because of the experimental nature of the acting and the dialogue, that Gil would have his hands full just directing the actors—their dialogue, body language, and blocking, since there were no scripted indications to guide the actors. So they had agreed that Ellsworth would be in charge of lighting, camera positioning, camera angles, et cetera, leaving Gil free to work with the actors.

The next day, Wednesday, everyone was on the set and filming began in earnest. Gil and Ellsworth had already checked out the beach house the previous evening after the set-in and found that they would really only need the large main rooms on the first floor and a bedroom just off the main area. This would cut down, Ellsworth told Gil, on costly delays in set-ups, not having to use the stairs or the second floor. They would use the main room for group party scenes and the bedroom for any indicated or improvised interior sex scenes.

After conferring with the actors, they had also decided that the best way to proceed was to film the scenes in order, letting the actors’ improvisation build naturally on what had come before, so that character development would be one of the major themes of the film. This presented a few problems for both Gil and Ellsworth and his lighting crew, as they would often have to shoot a night exterior after a day interior.

As a result filming took roughly anywhere from about noon to about midnight most days. Gil for his part marveled at the actors’ abilities to quickly improvise and then in subsequent takes of the same scene build on and perfect what they had roughed out in the first take.

By the end of the first week Gil found himself running the gamut among terrified, excited, and emotionally and physically fatigued. Many times he slept over at the beach house, not going home sometimes for several days and then only for a change of clothes.

The only saving grace was the fact that since the movie was all about hippies, there seemed no need to shoot morning scenes. This gave Gil a chance to catch up on his sleep somewhat, but he was usually up and around by ten or so anyway. Since there was no catering service, and the young actors who numbered better than a dozen all told were continually starving and thirsty, for the weather was unrelentingly sunny, hot, and dry, they quickly organized food and beer runs. Every other morning or so Gil would drive into Glendale and pick up boxes and boxes of deli sandwiches, salads, chips, and what-not from the obliging Mr. Goldblatt. Gil had felt a fierce loyalty towards the old man and his independent deli since the housewarming party, now a long month in the past. Supplying the beer and soda was agreed to by a young actor named Andy Climax who knew somebody who knew somebody at a discount liquor store where they could get an even deeper quantity discount, so every couple of days he would make the trek all the way to Silver Lake, returning with a trunkful of cases of supermarket beer and cheap brands of canned soda. These provisions were occasionally augmented by Penny Arcane, who had an on-again off-again boyfriend who managed a pizzeria in West Hollywood. She was able to inveigle him into supplying her surprisingly often with a dozen extra large kitchen sink pizzas which she gleefully distributed to the slavering troops.

All in all they ate pretty well, even though their hunger and thirst was often increased by the baggies of top-grade Acapulco Gold furnished by the big guy, Trigger Mortis. His only comment, given to them in his deep but soft rumble was, “Smoke all you want. But don’t nobody dare ask me where I got this stuff.” They very quickly agreed not to.

But the biggest revelation to Gil even beyond the improvisational skills of the actors and the intuitive professionalism of the crew was his AD/PA, Holly Stigmata. She seemed to be everywhere at once—rounding up actors, conferring with Gil on the set (he had told her to freely voice anything that might come to mind about a scene), and her observations and suggestions were invariably valuable. She moved both quickly and deliberately at the same time and seemed to make everything she did uniformly effortless.

But her biggest contribution and one which no one in the company, cast, or crew could do without was the coffee. She brought in bags of whole bean double espresso every few days from a little post-beatnik coffee house in Venice. She had with her a little coffee grinder which somewhat resembled a miniature blender, and every morning she would grind several pounds of coffee beans before the others either arrived or awoke, and brewed them in a large Mr. Coffee machine that could accommodate four large Pyrex coffeepots at once. Then before filming began, usually in the early afternoon, she would hand around large mugs of the steaming brew which were gratefully accepted by one and all. Gil thought it was the most delicious coffee he had ever tasted—really powerful and yet smooth and mellow enough that he could drink it black.

And so the filming continued. By the second week Gil was feeling a lot more sure of himself, and his initial terror had mostly become exhilaration. He realized that even though there was no formal script, something was being created here that had depth, meaning, and real entertainment value, and that he, the former country boy Gilbert Hallenbeck, had a lot to do with this creation. He had never before felt so much in his element, so much that be belonged, and he looked back on the minor documentaries, commercials, and short films that he had been associated with much as a college graduate student looks back at his elementary school education.

He had worked out a system in which every few days he would take home to his apartment reels of recently-shot footage which Natalie would then convey to Gorman’s office the following morning. Then Gorman would look them over and send Natalie back with opinions and occasionally instructions. His opinions, which gratified Gil no end, were always positive and sometimes even praise for the way the production was proceeding.

And so it was that by the middle of the fourth week Gil and company were shooting the final climactic group orgy scene on the beach late at night. They wrapped at around two in the morning and, amid high-fives and whoops, all eagerly hurried back to the beach house to engage in a good old-fashioned all-nighter of food, sex, drugs, drink, and rock and roll, not necessarily in that order of importance.

By around seven the next morning, a Tuesday, a somewhat dazed and emotionally exhausted Gil climbed into his Honda and raced back to his West Hollywood apartment. He wanted to catch Natalie before she left for work and arrived just as she was putting the finishing touches on her work clothes and brushing her hair prior to departing.

As Gil entered she turned around in surprise and almost didn’t recognize him. There was a faraway look in his bloodshot eyes, his hair was longer than she had ever seen it, and strands of it were sticking out in every conceivable direction. He had a three-day growth of a sandy, stubbly material that covered half his cheeks and most of his upper lip and chin. Under his arm were the last several film canisters and he was dressed in a sandy seawater-stained Grateful Dead skull-and-roses T-shirt, grimy cutoff jeans, and tennis shoes with several holes in their fabric. Nonetheless Natalie was able to restrain both her laughter and shock at his appearance as she rushed into his arms.

Solemnly Gil handed her the film canisters. “That’s a wrap,” he told her. And she clapped her hands in girlish glee.

Without another word he began stripping off his few items of clothing. Natalie was half-afraid that he wanted to jump her bones right there and then, but he walked past her and straight towards the bathroom. “Shower,” he said, “then sleep. Then see you when you get home from work.” He turned back towards her, completely naked now, and with what faintly resembled his old boyish grin said, “Let’s go celebrate tonight, Nat. I want as big a steak as we can find.”

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