Magazine article American Cinematographer

Finding "Eden" and Other Nostalgic Locations

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Finding "Eden" and Other Nostalgic Locations

Article excerpt

A treasure hunt for filming sites that would say "Steinbeck" and reflect genuinely the atmosphere of the period, while being logistically feasible

My involvement on EAST OF EDEN began in the Fall of 1979 when I was asked by Barney Rosenzweig to find the locations that would be suitable for the filming of John Steinbeck's classic novel. At the time, I was involved in preparing to produce several other feature films, but couldn't resist the invitation to come and help Barney, who was a long-time friend. It was exciting because of Steinbeck the man, the novel itself (one of my all-time literary favorites) and my love of "Steinbeck Country". Saunas, Monterey and Cannery Row, the areas that Steinbeck wrote about and where he lived, are so special that I really leaped at the opportunity to find a way of making the visuals as exciting as the words that flowed from Steinbeck's pen in his novel. He painted such a beautiful picture of the Salinas Valley, the Salinas River and the characters that lived there that the assignment became like a marvelous treasure hunt.

One of the reasons that I was asked to do this particular project was that the ABC network wanted a mini-series, but it was to be television at its best-in fact, filmmaking at its very best. The way I approach a project is on the assumption that it should be the pursuit of excellence, culminating in fine filmmaking. The fact that the finished product will ultimately appear on a television tube should not rigidly rule the attitude in the approach to excellence. So the challenge was to discover unique locations that would be visually correct, be exciting and say "Steinbeck". I sought locations that would permit the director to stage his action in a way that would dramatically integrate the characters with the land and, most importantly, would lead us to empathize with Adam Trask, the main character, when he comes across the top of the ridge and begins to look at that part of California for his Promised Land. I wanted to make sure that when he does indeed come upon "Eden" that it literally bursts upon our emotions, as well as our eyes, and says, "This is Eden. This is Paradise. Adam Trask has found his Promised Land!" And so we put that requirement prominently on the list.

Number Two, we had to find the areas that play later in the story, in addition to the ranch, and we had to find Monterey circa 1900. When Adam first comes to California he arrives in King City and his wife, Cathy, is pregnant. We needed to place her in a hotel in King City. Then Adam and Cathy go looking for their ranch, so we required different ranches for them to inspect. And, finally, we had to find "Eden".

We needed also the town of Saunas at the time when Adam moves from the ranch into town and we needed the interior and exterior of his house. So before traveling to this area I read everything that I could that Steinbeck had written about "East of Eden", including "Journal of a Novel", notes and letters that he wrote while working on the book. Another excellent resource was a marvelous book by Steve Crouch called "Steinbeck Country". Steve, one of the leading photographers in the Carmel-Monterey area, has photographed extensively areas that Steinbeck had written about in his different books: "East of Eden", "Pastures of Heaven", "Tortilla Flat", "Cannery Flow" and more. So there were some good hints.

It is a challenge sometimes, but it is imperative to find the right places that will go together. The important goal is not simply to locate just the locations that will work visually, but also those that will work logistically like the spokes of a wheel with a hub at the center where the crew and production headquarters are. You radiate out from that hub, hopefully keeping to a minimum your travel time to the locations. The process involves gathering all the bits and pieces, not necessarily in order, but pretty soon you begin to see all of the pieces of the puzzle fitting together and you put all of the spokes of the wheel in place. …

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