Field Notes from the Filming Front

By Mayer, Tony | American Cinematographer, June 1977 | Go to article overview

Field Notes from the Filming Front

Mayer, Tony, American Cinematographer

An overview of the logistical, physical and emotional challenges of fielding four full-scale filming units in widely scattered locales


The moment when you are in the midst of a complex film production is the least favorable time to try to analyse it, or even to attempt to record the facts about it. Actually, although we are well over halfway through filming at this writing, it is still a less than ideal time for an overview. However, since American Cinematographer is locked into its press date, and I have a break day before shooting in the bazaar tomorrow, I shall attempt to report what has happened thus far.

The production of "CROSSROADS OF CIVILISATION" began in January, 1976. Of course, David Frost and I and our Iranian collaborators - led by Dr. Mehrdad Azarmi of the Ministry of Culture and Arts - had been discussing and preparing the operation for some time before that, but we began serious preparation in January.

I was fortunate in having in my wife, Sarah Hobson, something of an expert on Iran and the history of that part of the world. With her help, as head of our research operation, we located the finest experts on each of the eight onehour films we had planned, wherever they might be. We commissioned fortythousand-word essays from, among others, Professor Richard Frye of Harvard, Dr. David Stronach of the British Institute of Persian Studies, Professor Peter Brown of London University, Dr. Robert Hillenbrand of Edinburgh University, Dr. John Gurney and Robin Lane-Fox of Oxford. We enlisted detailed help from Dr. Shapur Shahbazi, the Director of Persepolis, from Professor Seyyed Hussein Nasr, the Iranian authority on Islam, Professor Dr. Walter Hinz of Gottingen, Professor Jerry Clinton of Princeton, and Professor Oleg Grabar. In due time we turned over these essays, each with a mass of background data and a specialised researcher, to a team of writers of apt academic qualification. With Martin Hall as the script coordinator, Simon Raven, Colin Morris, Robert Wales, Michael Hastings, John Prebble, Don Shaw and Margaret Laing produced scripts of the highest calibre.

To develop the scripts from this stage with the help of historians, a team consisting of Martin Hall, Sarah Hobson and Rob Carter (who was now signed up as Supervising Editor), supported by Clive Irving (our Chief Writer, who had originally prepared the series outline), David Frost and myself, now produced six more drafts leading up to the shooting scripts.

The stories that finally emerged, combined entertainment and honest, probing history. Basically the stories covered first, the Medes and the Persians - and how Cyrus the Great moulded them into one of the first world empires. second, the story of Alexander the Great, and the Parthians who followed him onto the Iranian plateau. Third the Sassanians - a remarkable Iranian dynasty who developed a style in kingship and rule that much influenced later European patterns. The fourth programme covered Islam and the coming of the Arabs; the fifth, the Mongols Genghis Kahn and Tamerlane; the sixth, Shah Abbas who built this city called Isfahan and made it "half the world." The seventh covered the story of constitutionalism, of the confrontation between the people and their rulers. It is also the story of the discovery of oil, of its development and exploitation by the colonial powers.

The eighth and last programme is to be an extended interview with his Imperial Majesty, the Shah of Iran. It is rare that such a Head of State increasingly influencing world affairs can be viewed within the framework of his national history. To date, His Majesty has responded most frankly to Frost's diligent questions, and with an intriguing honesty. By seeing him in the context of this long history we think the last programme will have unusual depth, and will give some unique perceptions to a western audience.

Kevan Barker, the Production Supervisor, assisted by Roger Connally, prepared schedules and budgets and by June the first crew was ready to start filming David Frost's material and his interviews with our experts throughout the major locations. …

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