Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Production of "Catch the Black Sunshine"

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The Production of "Catch the Black Sunshine"

Article excerpt

A Hollywood actor returns to the remote wilds of his native Florida to make his first feature as writer, producer, director and star

I was born in Florida, and it was such a "small" state at the time-nothing but wilderness and beauty. I wanted to get out of there and, when I was fourteen, I got out. When I was seven years old I'd had a taste of California and Hollywood and the movies and, at seven years old, I felt somehow that that was where I wanted to be, strange as it may seem.

Every kid I knew when I was a teenager wanted to get out of Florida, because there was nothing there but natural beauty, but after you've been away eight or ten years and get a little smog and a little pollution and a little of the hustle-bustle of cities, you go back to Florida and begin to appreciate what is there, the very things you couldn't tolerate before because you wanted the "Big Life".

I spent a lot of years in Hollywood as an actor and I still love California, but four years ago I moved back to Florida. I had been under contract to Universal and had worked on the "TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH" TV series, but now I felt that I wanted to make pictures in Florida.

I did quite a few features in Florida, several of them for Ivan Tors and produced and directed six productions for the wealthiest playhouse in Southern Florida. Then I began to get interested in the technical end of filmmaking and bought a 16mm Beaulieu camera with a 12-120mm Angenieux lens, a fantastic camera.

I had previously taken a vacation in the Bahamas and made a little documentary short using a $250. 16mm Bell & Howell electric-eye camera. I literally kept the instruction manual in my hand all the time I was shooting. I didn't even know how to read an exposure meter. I just depended on the electric eye and my single 25mm lens. Surprisingly, every foot of film came out just fine.

Then, after I'd bought the Beaulieu, my press agent said, "Hey, do you want to shoot some footage for the Jonathon Winters Show? If they like it, they'll use it."

I decided to try it. They liked it and used it and I did another thing for them a month later. I did it all myself. I shot every piece of film and cut the thing myself, with a little bit of help from somebody in California. I mean, I was learning.

Now I had credits, two short documentaries that had actually been used in the Jonathon Winters Show. Deep down I wanted to do a feature, but I had no right to ask people to give me the money for a feature when I'd had so little experience in directing. But I just kept on shooting documentaries and preparing myself to direct a feature.

All the while I kept my eye out for a script that would really fit Florida. Most stories can be adapted to be shot almost anywhere, but I love Florida and I had to get a script that really fit the locale, something that would be exciting and still have artistic quality. I never was able to find such a script, so I decided to write one myself. It took a while to get it all together but, to make a long story short, that script became the basis for the picture we have just completed, the current title of which is "CATCH THE BLACK SUNSHINE".

"CATCH THE BLACK SUNSHINE" is my first feature as a director. I'd been putting the film together over a two-year period, commencing when I developed the story ideas into a script. Pre-production included months of location scouting by airboat, airplane, auto, train and, finally, on foot, wearing Vietnam boots, through areas that not only had not been photographed before, but where man had never set foot. (I can't, of course, speak for the primitive Calusa Indians, who may have explored the region 500 years prior to this writing.)

My desire to shoot the picture in the swamp areas called for in the script presented great difficulties for my ctnematographer. I also wanted to film totally with available and natural light-and when you have night sequences inside an ethnic 1859 saloon, lit entirely by candles and coal oil lamps, you can imagine how difficult the situation can get. …

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