PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Two: How He Got Started: 4

Without further comment they moved out of the park to their respective vehicles. Within a short time their little caravan had turned off of Valley Road onto Eastern Parkway, finally ending up at a large shopping center at the intersection of Brooklyn Avenue on the edge of a neighborhood called Maravilla, which Gil later found out was one of the poorest and most heavily Mexican neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The parking lot was large but sparsely attended, it being only about nine-thirty on a Monday morning.

They pulled into the lot, having no trouble finding three adjoining spaces near the rear of the lot away from the stores. As Gil emerged from the Mercedes, he was surprised to see that in one of the far corners of the parking lot a large crowd had gathered, most of them women with children. But before he could do any more than register surprise Mike walked over to him and said reassuringly, “Don’t worry Gil, we’ve got permission to work and shoot here.” He pointed to the equipment truck where Sam and Dave were already lugging cameras, tripods, lights on trees, and related objects. “They’re good at this,” said Mike, “so just let them do their thing. They’ll be set up in about fifteen or twenty minutes, and by ten-thirty they’ll have taken the establishing shots. We’ll be ready for you then.”

Gil was a little astonished but grateful to Mike for taking charge. “But what about those people?” he asked, indicating the crowd that had gathered. “What are they all doing here? It doesn’t look like they’re shopping.”

In reply Mike gave a little chuckle. “Well,” he admitted, “when DeVille first gave me this assignment, I naturally came down here to scout locations. So while I was here I put the word out to the community. Those people over there all want to be in our movie.”

“Wow, that’s great!” said Gil with enthusiasm. “I was wondering how we were gonna find people to interview.” Just then he noticed Dave taping two X’s with gaffer’s tape on the surface of the parking lot not far from where they were standing.

Dave, sweating and panting a little, finished his task and walked up to Gil. “That’s your interview area, Mr. Hall,” he said by way of explanation. “We’ll have the cameras set up so that you can stand there and do your interviews and we won’t have to waste time repositioning the cameras. You take the left mark, the one nearest to the truck. Mike will steer the interviewee to the other mark beside you. As soon as the person arrives, we’ll give you a sign that we’re ready for you to start the interview. That suit you, Mr. Hall?”

“Sure,” said Gil, “that sounds fine.”

And so by ten-thirty as promised Gil heard Dave speak the words that told him he was now a real director at last: “Ready on the set, Mr. Hall!” And as he did so Gil walked over to his mark with as much authority as he could manage. As he arrived, Sam handed him a hand microphone that was attached to a long cord that led into the sound truck where Phil was already at his mixing board.  Then Mike came over to him and handed him what looked like a telephone operator’s headset, complete with swivel mouthpiece.

“That’s for the translations,” Mike explained as Gil dutifully adjusted the headset. “Many of these people don’t speak really good English yet, so what we’re gonna do is this. When you interview somebody, I’m gonna give ’em a headset just like this. That way you can ask your questions in English. My voice will go into the headset of the interviewee, translating the question into Spanish. If the person replies in Spanish, I’ll repeat it into your headset in English. Is that clear?”

“I think so,” replied Gil.

“Well, don’t worry,” said Mike patting his shoulder. “We’ll do a few dry runs before we start filming anyway, just to make sure there aren’t any technical problems.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Gil, now starting to relax a little upon finding himself in Mike’s seemingly capable hands.

“All right then,” said Mike, and without further ado he walked over toward the crowd and began to address them in what Gil assumed was rapid-fire Spanish. The speech went on for about a minute or two, after which a number of the members of the mostly female crowd began waving their arms vigorously in the air. Mike pointed to one of them with his left hand and simultaneously held up his right to quiet the crowd again. Then he led the woman he had chosen over to where Gil was standing. As she reached Gil she gave him a short little bow and said simply, “Buenos dias, Señor Hall.”

Gil looked at Mike questioningly as Mike handed her the headset. “She knows my name?” he asked.

“Sure,” replied Mike, waving his hand toward the still-assembled crowd which, if anything, had grown in numbers during the last half hour. “Everybody knows your name! You’re a big star! At least,” he said with a wink, “that’s what I told them.” His lowered his voice to a whisper. “Don’t worry. She speaks hardly any English. She doesn’t know what we’re saying.”  Then he said to Gil in a louder, slower voice, “Señor Hall, permítame presentarle Juanita Morales.” He dropped his voice again. “Say hello to Juanita, Gil.”

Gil looked into her expectant face with some embarrassment, trying his best to remember the Spanish greeting she had used. Finally it came back to him. “Buenas dias, Juanita,” he stammered in a very bad accent.

Juanita did not seem at all put off by Gil’s lack of proficiency, but came back with a rapid stream of several words in Spanish.

Mike put on his headset and moved a lever attached to it. Immediately Gil heard Mike’s voice coming over his headset, saying, “She says she’s ready to begin. So go ahead, ask her anything and I’ll translate into Spanish. Whatever she says back I’ll translate for you. And don’t worry, she knows what we want.” And then he said something that Gil didn’t quite catch, something like, “Muy doloroso.”

So Gil began the interview process, asking at first simple general questions, but then to his astonishment, getting quite caught up in it as he listened to her tale of one heartbreaking hardship after another. So wrapped up in it was he, that he didn’t notice Sam giving him the signal that the cameras had started rolling. After about ten minutes Mike’s voice in his headset pulled him back to reality. “We better cut this short,” he interrupted, “and move on to the next one. We’ve got about twenty juicy stories to get through today.”

Reluctantly, Gil removed his headset. “Gracias, Juanita,” he said, that being all he could think of to say in Spanish.

“De nada, Señor Hall,” said Juanita, as Mike patted her on the shoulder, took back the headset, and slipped something Gil couldn’t identify into the woman’s hand. The woman hurried back toward the crowd, babbling to them excitedly in Spanish as they gave her a lusty cheer.

Mike followed her over to the crowd and, using the same procedure as before, selected another arm-waver, a young man this time, who he brought over to Gil.

And so it went for the rest of the morning. By one 0’clock two things of note had happened: The first was that Gil, so engrossed was he in the interviewing process, had completely lost track of the time. The second was that Phil, for the first time since they had arrived, left his sound truck to walk over to Gil and complain about the condition of his stomach. “I’m starving. It’s high time we had lunch, Mr. Hall, or don’t you believe in such things?” he finished, a bit reprovingly.

“Gosh, I’m sorry,” responded Gil apologetically. Then he turned and called over to the cameramen, “Sam! Dave! Wanna break for lunch?”

They all agreed that that would be a fine idea. Then the four of them, Mike included, matched coins to see who would go for sandwiches, burgers, or whatever was locally available. Dave turned out to be the loser, and so he was elected. “I noticed a burger joint on the way in,” he proposed. “It’s within walking distance so I’ll go get some. That okay with you guys?”

They all agreed that it was, and within half an hour Dave was back with several large sacks of hamburgers, cheeseburgers, double burgers, French fries, and half a dozen large sodas. This repast they quickly and heartily consumed and soon it was time to get it back to it.

But as they were finishing their burgers, Gil had a sudden thought. “Give me a few minutes, fellas. I’ll be back shortly.”

There was a mumbled assent as Gil walked back over to the Mercedes where he found Harry in a state of partial undress and snoozing away under a racing form.

Gil gently and apologetically tapped him on the shoulder and immediately Harry literally sprang to attention, stowing his racing form, replacing his hat, knotting his tie and buttoning his jacket, all in about ten seconds. Then, with a professional attitude, he turned to Gil and said, “What can I do for you, Mr. Hall?”

Gil hesitated before speaking. “Harry,” he began, “I just remembered this expense check that’s burning a hole in my pocket. By the time we leave here the banks will be closed. Do you have any suggestions about how I can get it cashed?”

“No problem, Mr. Hall,” Harry replied quickly. “Just sign it over to me and I’ll go cash it for you. They know me at several banks in East Hollywood, so if you don’t need me for an hour or so, I’ll just drive over there and bring you back the cash. It’s midday, traffic shouldn’t be a problem. Like I said, I should be back in an hour or less. That sound good to you, Mr. Hall?”

Again Gil hesitated. Harry noticed the wary look that had suddenly come into Gil’s eyes. He decided to make light of it. “Don’t worry, Mr. Hall,” he said teasingly, “I’m not going to abscond with your two hundred dollars. Think about it. All I’d have would be two hundred dollars, plus I’d be out of a good job as well, because if I didn’t come back, all you’d have to do would be to call DeVille, tell him what happened, get me fired, and get your check replaced. So, like I say, don’t worry. This job is worth more than two hundred dollars to me.”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” he apologized, “I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on your character. It’s just that—well, I mean, I’m a little nervous. This is the most money I’ve seen in months, particularly because if I don’t do a good job Mr. DeVille might fire me, and this will be all the money I’ll see until I can get another job. As you might guess,” he repeated, “I’m kinda new at this.”

“That’s okay, Mr. Hall,” said Harry soothingly, “no offense taken. Just write your name on the back of the check and I’ll be back with your money before you know it.”

Much relieved, Gil did so, and walked back to the set, where he conducted several more in a seemingly endless stream of interviews. Before he knew it he felt someone tapping him on the shoulder. Harry had come up behind him and as Gil turned around Harry placed two hundred dollars in tens and twenties in his hand. Then without another word he ambled back to the car.

By about four o’clock that afternoon Gil had what he thought was more than a dozen good interviews already in the can and, to the delight of his crew, decided to call it a day. As Sam and Dave started packing up the equipment, Mike went over to the still-numerous crowd of interviewee wannabes and made a short speech in Spanish. Evidently he was telling them that that was it for today, for there was a chorus of disappointed groans and then the people began to slowly walk away.

Mike came back to Gil and relieved him of microphone and headphone, then said, “Good job for the first day, don’t you think?”

  Gil agreed. “But how,” he asked in wonderment, “did you get so many people out here, and all of them with the most tragic stories imaginable? It was all I could do to keep from sobbing every once in awhile. Where do you find these people?”

“Well, ” said Mike with a crafty smile, “it’s a lot easier when you pay them.” He pulled a thick sheaf of ten-dollar bills from his inside jacket pocket. “This not only,” he continued, “makes them more willing to tell their stories, but ensures that they will meet, let us say, our specifications.”

Gil looked at him in horror. “But,” he stammered, “isn’t that—dishonest?”

“Not in the least,” Mike assured him. “Look at it this way. DeVille can afford it. So just think of it as spreading goodwill in the neighborhood. As for their stories, well, let me ask you a question. Which would you rather do, stand out here in the hot sun all day and maybe only get a couple of decent stories, or have them all ready and lined up for you like today?”

Gil considered this for a moment. “Well,” he said, bending a little, “I guess it does make our job easier. But how can you be sure these people are telling the truth?”
Mike looked at him squarely in the eye. “You’ve got a lot to learn about making documentaries, Mr. Hall. If the people don’t say what we want them to say, we have only two choices. The first is cancel the project, and you know how DeVille would feel about that.”

Gil shuddered knowingly.

“And second, what difference does it make whose story it is? Most of these people have friends, relatives, families that these events actually happened to. So, what difference does it make who tells the story? I mean, no one’s going to be around fact checking. They won’t know who these people are, where they live, or even where they come from. All we need is their consent form,” he patted the pocket on the other side of his jacket, “which I have, and most importantly, the goodwill of the community, which is what this is for,” and he patted the other side of his jacket. “All clear on that, Mr. Hall?”

Once again, Gil took a few seconds to consider this. “Okay, Mike,” he finally agreed. “I guess I’m just new at this. I mean, mostly I’ve been working with animals and you don’t have to worry whether or not the animals are telling the truth. And,” he added, “you don’t need consent forms either. But do me one favor.”

“Sure,” said Mike. “What’s that?”

“Just let me pretend that everything’s kosher, okay? I’m sure it’ll help me do a better job.”

“Sure,” said Mike again. “By the way, I thought you were terrific today. Boy, talk about sympathy to the max! You got it, my friend.”

“That’s really great to hear,” said Gil, now seeming a bit more at ease with the situation. “I was a little nervous at first, but then I guess I really must have gotten into it.”

“I’ll say you did,” agreed Mike. “There were times when I didn’t know which of you had the tragic story, you looked so miserable. Anyway,” he said more briskly, holding out a hand, “have we got a deal?”

Gil took his hand and shook it. “Deal,” he murmured simply.

By that time Sam and Dave were walking over towards them and informed Gil that they were all packed and ready to go. “So Mr. Hall,” said Sam, “what’s the schedule?”

Gil thought for a moment. “I think we got a lot accomplished today. I see no reason why we can’t continue the same schedule for the rest of the week. So tomorrow, Lincoln Park, 8AM.” He looked over at Mike. “Back here to the parking lot and set up by ten?” Mike nodded. “And, if we do well, wrap it up by four. Oh, and tell Phil, will you, he’s still in the truck.”

“Sure thing, Mr. Hall,” said Dave, “and thanks. Glad you’re not gonna turn out to be a slave driver like the last guy we had.”

Sam nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “That guy was all over the place. We never knew from one day to the next. He’d call us on the phone at eight in the morning and tell us to be somewhere twenty miles away in half an hour. You can’t work like that, can you, Mr. Hall?”

Gil agreed. “No, don’t worry,” he said, “I’m a regular guy. I think we’re gonna get along fine. And maybe have some fun, okay guys?”

The three of them heartily agreed.

“So,” continued Gil, “you guys are officially off the clock.” And with that, he turned and walked back to the Mercedes where faithful Harry was waiting, drinking a cup of coffee, smoking a cigar and, once again, reading his racing form.

When he saw Gil walking towards the car, Harry once again quickly stowed the racing form under the seat and straightened his uniform. Putting out his cigar in the car’s ashtray and gulping down the remaining contents of his paper coffee cup, he looked up and said, “Hello, Mr. Hall. All done for the day already?”

“Right you are, Harry,” said Gil proudly. “I think we’ve done a good day’s work.”

“That’s good to hear, Mr. Hall,” said Harry, starting the car’s engine as Gil climbed into the back seat. “Where to now, back to your place?”

Gil considered this for a moment. His place was small, cramped, lonely, dark, and ultimately depressing. Leaning over towards Harry he said, “You know, what I really feel like doing is celebrating. I mean, this is the first decent job I’ve had in years. And,” he said, patting his pocket, “I’ve finally got enough money to do it without worrying about next week.” Then hesitantly, almost bashfully, he inquired, “What about you, Harry? What’s your schedule like?”

“My schedule?” said Harry with a laugh. “My schedule is your schedule. I told you, I’m yours for the duration. DeVille told me to take you anywhere you wanted to go after shooting and then take you back home again. Just think of me as your PA.”

“My what?” said Gil.

“Your production assistant,” said Harry. “Think of me as more than just a driver. When you’re on the set, you want something to drink, I’ll get it for you. You want something to eat, no problem. Break your sunglasses? I’ll run into Long’s Drugs and get you another pair. So, the only question is, what do you wanna do? If you feel like goin’ wild I can always take you to the Strip. It’s Monday night, shouldn’t be any problem gettin’ into the Whiskey.”

“No, no,” said Gil, “nothing like that. The fact is, well, I’ve been sort of what you might call between engagements lately. I’ve been eating mostly canned beans and cheap hotdogs and tacos. What I’d really like is to go someplace nice for dinner. You know, where a fella can go in, sit at a table, and get something decent to eat on a plate for a change.”

Harry considered the matter. “Sure, Mr. Hall,” he said, “I can take you anywhere you wanna go, wait for you in the car, then drive you home. Just name the place.”

“No, no, Harry,” said Gil again. “I guess what I’m really asking is, well, I don’t really know hardly anybody in LA. So I was kind of hoping that maybe you’d have dinner with me?”

“Why, Mr. Hall,” replied Harry with surprise, “that’s real nice of you. So, uh,” he approached the matter delicately, “how much, um, do you want to spend?”

“I don’t know,” said Gil, “more than a little and not as much as a lot. Does that make any sense?”

Harry removed his hat and scratched his head thoughtfully for several seconds. Then his face brightened. “I think I’ve got just the thing for you, Mr. Hall. It’s a nice place, a big place, real casual. They’ve got great burgers and other stuff, a good jukebox, and sports on TV. And, if you’re in the mood, you can get not only dinner but a couple of beers as well for maybe around ten to fifteen bucks, depending on what you want to eat. How’s that sound?”

“That sounds great,” said Gil with enthusiasm. “Where is this place?”

“It’s not really that far,” said Harry. “If you’re hungry now, even though it’s coming up on rush hour, we can take the Hollywood Freeway and be there in probably half and hour. The place is called Hollywood Billiards. It’s on Hollywood Boulevard between Western and Vine, just off the Freeway.”

“Great,” said Gil. “Let’s go.”

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