Magazine article American Cinematographer

Behind the Scenes of "The Wild Party"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Behind the Scenes of "The Wild Party"

Article excerpt

A famous and wonderfully grotesque Southern California hostelry provides a stunning variety of far-out sets for a film about wild, wild Hollywood in its golden heyday

The Mission Inn at Riverside, California is a freaky structure even for this architecturally far-out part of the U.S.A. A hotel, built in 1875, it is a concrete castle, incredibly ornate, complete with gargoyles, a pot-pourri of rococo architectural styles, inner passages, secret doors, hidden treasures (they say), cloisters, chapels, corridors, galleries, gardens, a four-story rotunda, bell towers, flying towers and buttresses, iron grilles, stone steps and a dungeon. It's like an entire backlot of wild movie sets scrunched up into one bizarre complex.

Yet the place has an elegant, if somewhat mysterious past. Royalty slept here, as did American Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. It's the place where Pat and Richard Nixon were married, where Charles, Lindbergh relaxed, where Will Rogers held court and where Humphrey Bogart played.

Recently the grotesquely fascinating structure was saved from the wrecker's ball with a $3-million facelift, just in time for a movie company to move in and take it over for several weeks as an entire location site for the shooting of a feature film called "THE WILD PARTY". Starring Raquel Welch and James Coco, it is being produced by lsmail Merchant and directed by James Ivory.

A story of Hollywood in the 1930's, "THE WILD PARTY" captures the atmosphere of the film capital in its heyday.

The Director of Photography on the film is the distinguished European cinematographer Walter Lassally, who merited world-wide acclaim for his work on "TOM JONES" and an Academy Award for his photography of "ZORBATHEGREEK".

During a lunch break while shooting "THE WILD PARTY", Lassally takes time off to chat with an old friend, the Editor of American Cinematographer, who is visiting the set. The following is the essence of their conversation:

QUESTION: Do you note any substantial differences In the ways that British and American film crews operate?

LASSALLY: Yes, there are certain differences in practice. It's not that one is better than the other; they're just different. For instance, in America the gaffer is obviously used to doing quite a bit more work for the cameraman than in England. In England the gaffer works strictly to instructions; he would not think of placing any light without specific instructions from the cameraman concerning where and how to place that particular light, whereas here he's obviously used to roughing in the lighting and once he knows how you are working he will actually place lights for you which you will then adjust, perhaps. That can be quite a help. I imagine it must be especially helpful in circumstances where the gaffer and cameraman can work together on a number of films over a period of time. Once he knows how you work, this method can really save a lot of time.

QUESTION: In America it's quite common for a cameraman and gaffer to work together as a team often over a period of many years. The gaffer understands the cameraman's methods so well that the need for specific instructions Is cut to a minimum and much time Is saved. Doesn't a similar system prevail In England?

LASSALLY: No, I'm not used to getting that kind of help. I'm used to having to do it all myself - even physically shifting the lamps myself, putting them in position and adjusting the barndoors. Also the grip system here is different. In England the key grip - we don't even use that term - but the main grip is the camera grip, strictly. Here the grips work much more closely with the electricians. In England they're really rather separate; the electricians are one group and the grips are another group, and the camera grip is strictly confined to working with the camera. The main personnel differences lie in those two departments. …

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