PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Two: How He Got Started: 3

As shooting wasn’t scheduled to start until the next week, Gil took some time to relax. Idly he wondered what it would be like to have a girlfriend, since he had never had time for one. Ever since he got to Hollywood, over three years ago, his life had been one constant round of either looking for work or, more rarely, actually working. He had had no social life whatever since college, and even then his “social life” was mostly with the singers/actors on the productions he had filmed. The closest he’d been to having a relationship with a woman had been exchanging pleasantries with producers’ and studio heads’ secretaries, such as Miss Schoonover. He solemnly vowed to himself that if this was indeed his big break, all that would change in a hurry.

The following Monday morning he was up and dressed by seven o’clock and waiting for his ride to the set. DeVille had muttered something vague about “sending a car for him” since he had no wheels of his own. He paced nervously back and forth in front of the small window that faced the street from his garden-level room on Alvarado. As the time advanced toward seven-thirty he grew more nervous still. He was supposed to be there by eight, and it would send a terrible message to his crew if he were late on the first day. He realized in a panic that he hadn’t even bothered to find out where this “set” was and fervently hoped that DeVille hadn’t forgotten him.

But a few minutes later he was both relieved and surprised to see a shiny black 1974 Mercedes SL-450 luxury sedan pull up to the curb in front of his building. He was even more surprised to see a clean-cut young man of about Gil’s age or even younger step out of the car and begin to briskly stride up the walkway to the entrance of Gil’s apartment building. A few seconds later he heard the front door’s buzzer. Gil rushed out of his room, barely remembering to lock up, and ran breathlessly up the few stairs. He flung open the entrance door, nearly colliding with the young man, who he could now see was dressed in a neat, form-fitting black suit with matching tie and a saucer-shaped hat with a black vinyl bill. The young man showed no surprise but tipped his hat to Gil, saying, “Good morning, sir. You’re Mr. Hall?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Gil managed.

“I’m Harry, sir, your driver. I’ve been instructed by Mr. DeVille to pick you up each morning and drive you to the set, then after the day’s shooting drive you home again or anywhere else you want to go. During shooting hours I’ll be available to go and get you anything you might require—food, drink, anything you might want. I hope that will be satisfactory, sir?”

“Yes, of course.” Gil was overwhelmed but trying desperately not to show it. He knew he must be making a weird impression, but Harry pretended not to notice, so he pulled himself together as quickly as he could. “Uh, very glad to meet you, Harry. I, er, guess we should go now. I’ve got to be there by eight, you know.”

Harry tipped his hat again. “Very glad to meet you, Mr. Hall. I just know you’re going to make a great picture.” He turned and walked down the walkway, Gil following. As he opened the right rear door for Gil to enter, he said, “Oh, and don’t worry about the time. That’s just for the crew. They’ll wait until you get there.” He looked at his watch. “But it’s only about twenty minutes from here, so we should do all right, depending on the traffic.” He closed Gil’s door smoothly, opened the front door and slid behind the wheel. The engine purred to life at the touch of the starter and they were on their way.

As Gil’s place on Alvarado was already reasonably close to East LA, it didn’t take them long to arrive. After fifteen minutes or so, Harry maneuvered them into a parking lot that adjoined a grassy area called Lincoln Park on the outskirts of East LA. The park was small, and its dry brown grass and few scraggly trees were obviously losing their fight with the auto exhaust fumes from the nearby highway. As Harry pulled the Mercedes into one of the few empty parking spaces in the lot, Gil noticed that they must be one of the last ones to arrive. Already in the parking lot were a large craft services truck, a large van used for hauling equipment, and a panel truck with a large antenna set in its roof. It was the kind of truck that Gil remembered seeing on television when the mobile units of the TV news went out into the field. There were several other private cars parked in the lot, and as Harry got out of the Mercedes and went around to open the door for Gil, he saw that there was a group of people already assembled in the park. Several long folding tables had been placed end to end to form a continuous surface nearly thirty feet long. At the end closest to the parking lot a steam table was set up. At the opposite end was a table serving as a bar. On the tables between the steam table and the bar area were all manner of dishes, utensils, napkins, and various breakfast foodstuffs. It was a beautiful sunny morning as the rainy season had not yet begun and already pleasantly warm. In front of and around the tables were several men of varying ages seated in lawn or deck chairs under large umbrellas to shield them from the quickly rising sun. As Gil climbed out of the Mercedes he looked questioningly at Harry. Harry merely shrugged and pointed in the direction of the seated men.

“That’s your crew,” he said simply. “As long as you don’t need me for anything, I’ll just wait in the car.” And with that, he proceeded to sprawl himself over the front seat of the Mercedes, taking off his cap, loosening his tie and pulling out from under the seat a newspaper. Taking no further notice of Gil, he opened it and began to study it intently.

Having no other choice, Gil rather hesitantly approached the men in the park. As they saw him approach, the men stood up from their chairs in unison and began clapping their hands heartily. One of the men walked over to Gil, pumped his hand vigorously, and said in a hearty voice, “You must be Mr. Hall, our director.”

Gil admitted that he was.

“I’m Phil, your sound man. Glad to meet you, Mr. Hall,” he said, still pumping Gil’s hand. He then led Gil over to a spot in the center of the gathering, where a yellow folding canvas chair was placed under its own large umbrella. As Gil approached the chair, he could see that on its back was stenciled in black letters, “Gil Hall—Director”.

A nice touch, he thought, sitting down in his chair, as Phil reseated himself.

Immediately two nearly identical-looking men dressed in blue workmen’s overalls approached him. One took his right hand, the other his left, and they began shaking them simultaneously.

“I’m your cameraman, Sam,” said the one on the right.

“And I’m your cameraman, Dave,” said the other one.

Gil politely waited for the shaking to stop while he mumbled, “Glad to meet you guys.” Their mission accomplished, they went back to their chairs.

Next in line was a small bald middle-aged gentleman obviously of Hispanic origin. He seemed more dignified than the rest as he merely said to Gil, “My name is Miguel. I am going to be your translator. But you can call me Mike. Everybody here calls me Mike.” This got a small chuckle from Sam, Dave, and Phil.

This time it was Gil who proffered a hand. “I’m very glad to meet you Mike, but what do I need a translator for?”

“It’s simple,” replied Mike. “We’re going to the barrio, right? You’re supposed to interview recently-arrived Mexicans, many of whom are probably illegal at that. You can’t expect them to respond to you in perfect English. Hence, you need a translator. I’m completely bilingual and very fluent in both colloquial English and colloquial Spanish. No matter what kind of language or accent they use, I can tell you immediately what they’re saying. You don’t have to ask them formal questions. Use any kind of language you want, and I will translate it into the Mexican Spanish that they will understand.”

Gil mumbled his gratitude, realizing that he hadn’t really thought his assignment through. He had been more intent first on getting the job and then on getting to the right location. He remembered vaguely Mr. DeVille telling him something about interviews. But he hadn’t really thought about it since. His thoughts were interrupted by Phil, who turned to Mike and said, “Fill him in later, Mike. It’s about goddamn time we got something to eat around here. I’m starving.”

Sam looked at Gil and said, “Yeah, we’ve been waiting for you. Mr. DeVille said we couldn’t start without you.”

“Oh, who cares what the old devil says,” responded Dave. He turned to Gil. “It’s a good thing you didn’t keep us waiting very long. Phil here would have devoured everything in sight. I don’t know how he packs it all into that bottomless pit he calls a stomach.”

This got another laugh from the assembled group. Phil didn’t seem offended, but immediately made a beeline for the steam table. And by the time Gil could belatedly say, Go ahead and eat, fellas, Phil was already heaping copious amounts of scrambled eggs and sausage onto a large paper plate. As the rest of the group went over to the breakfast buffet, Gil looked at Dave with a puzzled expression.

“Uh, pardon me, Dave,” he began, “I don’t think I heard you right. What was that you said about a devil?”

“Oh,” responded Dave, “that’s right, you’re new. That’s the nickname we have around here for Mr. DeVille. DeVille—devil. Get it?”

Gil gave him the obligatory chuckle. “But why do you call him that, aside from the obvious name similarity?”

“He’s a bastard,” replied Dave with feeling. “And a cheap one at that. He works us more and pays less for it than anyone I know. If we could get hired at any other studio we’d take it in a minute, no matter what the job.”

“Well, why don’t you?” responded Gil.

“You see,” Dave replied, dropping his voice a little, “none of us are union. We’re all good at what we do. Some of us are excellent. But for one reason or another, we either never joined or got turned down. The old devil collects guys like us and calls us up when he needs us.”

“I see,” said Gil, wondering what kind of a project he’d gotten himself into.

“Go on, go on, get some food,” said Dave as they approached the tables, and he began to follow Phil’s example. Gil had already breakfasted on his usual toast and black coffee before leaving his apartment. But free food was free food, he reasoned. And he hadn’t been eating that well lately. So, lining up behind the other men, he proceeded to help himself to a couple of cinnamon raisin bagels to which he added lox and a shmear.

He went over to the steam table and filled the rest of his plate with bacon and sausage. Then, grabbing a cup of coffee and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice, he placed these items on a tray and carried them over to his personal director’s chair. As he began to chew and savor his unaccustomed breakfast he thought to himself, This might not be such a bad job after all.

In a few minutes they were all back in their chairs again, enjoying their food, Phil most of all. As they began laughing and telling each other jokes, Gil felt at ease enough to join them in their bantering. A few minutes later, after Gil had just told the group what he hoped would be a particularly funny joke, Mike turned to him and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Mr. Hall, may I call you Gil?” Gil nodded his head. Mike went on. “It’s really so wonderful to meet a director who isn’t a stuffed shirt for a change. These autocratic directors who think they’re God really piss me off. After all,” he looked over at the others, “we’re all in this together, aren’t we? We’re all working for the old devil.”

  Just then in the distance they heard three sharp blasts of an automobile horn. Sam turned to Gil and winked. “Speak of the devil,” he said with a low chuckle.

Before Gil could ask him what he meant by that, he heard the sound of a powerful automobile engine approaching and then the sound of tires crunching the gravel in the parking lot. As if by command, they all stood up and looked in that direction. A moment later, they could clearly see a huge metallic gold-colored Cadillac, a 1958 Coupe de Ville (what else?) convertible pull into the parking lot.

As the top was down, Gil could clearly see that in the driver’s seat was a young man dressed identically to Harry and looking very nearly like his twin brother. Oscar DeVille was in the back seat and, before his driver could even turn off the engine, he had popped open the right rear door and jumped out. Pretty agile, thought Gil, for a man of his age and girth.

Then Gil’s jaw dropped in amazement as he saw clearly for the first time DeVille’s costume. Instead of the gangster suit he had worn at their last meeting, he was now attired from head to toe in Hollywood’s version of the safari outfit—khaki short-sleeved shirt above a pair of matching khaki shorts that extended only to mid-thigh. Below the shorts were a pair of white knee socks, and a pair of sturdy brown brogues covered his feet. Completing the outfit were a bright red bandana around his neck and perched atop his head a genuine Aussie bush hat with the right brim turned up and a long pheasant feather in the hat band.

As he quickly advanced toward them, DeVille apparently noticed Gil’s obvious surprise and offered by way of explanation, “Goin’ up to Pebble. Gonna play a little golf with Bing. Gotta few irons in the fire up there.” Then, turning to Phil, he said, “For God’s sake get me a drink.”

Phil, who apparently knew the drill, went over to the beverage table and poured a large plastic cup half full of the fresh orange juice. This he went over and handed to DeVille without words or ceremony.

DeVille snatched it up quickly and made a motion to his driver who was still sitting behind the wheel of the Caddy, his face expressionless. Upon seeing the gesture from DeVille, however, he quickly reached over to the passenger side, popped open the glove compartment, and brought out a pint bottle of vodka. Closing the glove compartment again, he got out of the car and hurried over to DeVille. DeVille snatched the bottle from him, popped the cap, and poured about half the contents of the bottle into the orange juice. Then, without comment, he replaced the cap and handed the bottle back to his driver, who returned it to the Caddy’s glove compartment, and then settled himself down behind the wheel again.

DeVille hurriedly raised the cup to his mouth and took three quick gulps which emptied over half the cup. “Ahhh,” he exclaimed with satisfaction, wiping his lips with his hairy knuckles. “That’s better.” Then he looked around him as if noticing his surroundings for the first time as his eyes came to focus on the four men waiting expectantly for some sort of signal or command.

Responding to this, DeVille gave a slight nod and acknowledged their presence. “Phil, Sam, Dave, Mike. Good to see you guys again. We’re gonna get out of here and get to work in just a few minutes. But first, I wanna have a couple of words with my director here.” He clapped Gil on the shoulder. “Hall, let’s go over to the sound truck so I can fill you in on what’s gonna happen.”

They walked over to the truck and DeVille opened its rear door, motioning for Gil to step inside, which he did, DeVille following and shutting the door securely again. Once inside the rear of the truck, they found a couple of metal folding chairs and sat down.

“Okay, Hall,” DeVille began without ceremony. “This is what’s gonna happen. Mike’s been scouting all the locations, so he’s gonna be in the lead in the equipment truck with Sam and Dave. Phil’s gonna follow in this truck and you and Harry are gonna follow this truck. When you get there, Sam and Dave and Phil will set up all the equipment and start the generator. When everything’s ready, get Dave to do some establishing shots of the area. He’s good at that and knows what to look for. So unless you got a really good idea, let him do his thing. Got that, Hall?”

“Yes, Mister DeVille, I think so,” said Gil nervously.

“Okay then, while you’re doin’ that, Sam’s gonna set up a stationary while Mike gets you some people to interview. You’ll stand facing the camera with the person you’re interviewing. You know, just like they do it on TV news. Mike is gonna stand off-camera and translate for you two. And don’t worry, we’ll edit out any unnecessary stuff in post-production. Think you can handle that?”

Gil looked unsure. “But what do I say to them? What do I ask them? I don’t have a script or anything.”

DeVille waved his hand as if to brush away Gil’s objections. “Don’t worry,” he assured Gil. “It’ll come to ya. Just do what ya did in that college protest thing. It’ll be great, and we can always get rid of the stuff that don’t work.” His face became serious. “Now here’s what I want.” He got up from his chair and gazed at the ceiling while continuing to speak conspiratorily. “Remember, this is s’posed to be ‘the shame of the barrio’. We want poverty. We want misery. We want abuse and degradation. We want heartrending stories about women and children crawling under barbed wire fences. The more pitiful the stories, the better the audience is gonna like it.” He turned back to Gil. “Ya got that?”

Gil was having trouble keeping a straight face but hoped it wasn’t too obvious. “Yes sir, Mister DeVille,” he said as seriously as he could manage. “Misery and degradation.”

DeVille reached out and clapped Gil on the shoulder again. “That’s the spirit, Hall!” he said. “You’re gonna make a great film.” Then his tone changed, and he pulled a small piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and handed it to Gil. “Oh, I almost forgot,” he said, “here’s a check for your first week’s expenses. Lemme know if it’s not enough.”

Gil looked at the check and gasped. It was for two hundred dollars and someone, probably Miss Schoonover, had had the foresight to make it out to Gilbert Hallenbeck. The reason for Gil’s gasp was that, for just about as long as he could remember, he’d been living on half that amount per week. “Thank you, Mr. DeVille,” he said, trying to sound as casual as possible while he quickly pocketed the check. I’m worth it, he told himself, and DeVille can afford it, so what’s the problem? “Anything else, Mr. DeVille?”

DeVille had turned to open the rear door of the truck again, but at Gil’s question he looked back over his shoulder, saying, “Yeah, just one more thing, Hall. You’re in charge here, you’re calling the shots. The guys know you’re in charge, but since they all know their jobs, my advice to you is just let ’em do it. You can make shooting schedules and Mike’ll give you locations. I don’t care when you work, I don’t care how long you work, but I want a progress report by the end of the week. It’s Monday morning. Friday afternoon when you finish shooting give the footage to Harry. He’ll turn it in to my production office and they’ll process it. Then you come to my office Saturday about four in the afternoon. There’s a screening room next door to my office. So we’ll go in there and see what we’ve got so far. I’d like to get this thing wrapped up in about four weeks tops. What I need from you, in addition to Dave’s establishing shots, is at least ninety minutes of good solid interview material. I think we can both tell by that time if you’ve made enough progress during the week. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Mr. DeVille, I think I can handle it. Four o’clock Saturday then, I’ll be there at your office.”

“Good boy!” exclaimed DeVille, and strode out the door, saying, “See you Saturday, Hall. If you need me before then, the boys’ve got my office number.”

Gil followed him out of the truck and as he closed the door again, DeVille was already striding briskly towards the Caddy, a dismissive wave of the hand his only farewell as he got into the back seat. Immediately his driver started the car, backed out of the parking lot, and after a few seconds they had disappeared from view.

Gil watched the Caddy leave, and as it disappeared from view he let his gaze linger on the empty street for a few moments before turning and heading back to rejoin his crew. Gulping a little and trying to pull himself together he thought, Well Gil, it’s now or never. Time to start acting like a director.

Upon reaching his crew, he found them all in various states of repose. They were finishing their meal, but upon his arrival, they stood up and looked at him expectantly.

“Well,” Gil addressed them, “you all know what to do. Mike, you know where we’re going, right?”

“Yes Gil,” he replied, “I’ve got it all mapped out. Me and Sam and Dave will be in the equipment truck. We’ll be in the lead.”

“Right,” Gil said. “Phil, you follow them in the sound truck. I’ll be right behind you in the car.” Then he grinned a little in spite of himself. “You guys ready to hit the road?”

There were general murmurs of assent.

“Okay then,” said Gil and, turning to the craft services people who had been serving breakfast, he said, “I guess you all can pack it up now.”

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