Movie Magic

Retired conductor and composer Artie Kane, right, sitting next to film editor Tony Fulgham Monday night, talks about how the music featured in movies is sliced, diced and, often, ruined by directors. - Matt Johnson
Retired conductor and composer Artie Kane, right, sitting next to film editor Tony Fulgham Monday night, talks about how the music featured in movies is sliced, diced and, often, ruined by directors.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

To hear them talk about it, six Hollywood insiders speaking about film making this week sounded like anyone who worked in any office for any business anywhere in the country.

Though the end products of their work have glamorously entertained moviegoers for decades, this group of people have seen the same unglamorous problems as every other working person: The hours were too long, they generally hated their bosses and some of their co-workers, and found that quality in the workplace was rarely appreciated.

But, because everyone at their offices is famous, the stories were always — and still are — more interesting.

During Monday night’s “Hollywood Behind the Scenes” engagement at The Clyde Theatre, actors Steffi Sidney-Splaver and Richard Evans, composer Artie Kane, screenwriter Bill Kerby, film editor Tony Fulgham, soundman Kirk Francis and casting agent Jo Evans — moderated by Clyde owner Lynn Willeford — told those stories and pulled aside the curtain of glitz surrounding how Hollywood movies are made. Other than Fulgham, everyone in the group lives on Whidbey Island and most have or still do commute to America’s movie town to do their work.

Like a character in one of those few movies that play the final scene as the opening, Richard Evans — who acted in a number of films as well as TV shows “Peyton Place,” “Gunsmoke” and “Star Trek” — summed up the evening at the outset by seemingly contradicting himself.

“Sure I love it,” he said of his 36-year acting career. “It’s a murderous business.”

Now retired from acting and working part time as a film maker and playwright, Evans — like other members of the Hollywood panel — told the 200 people gathered at the Clyde for the event that the best and worst memories from his career centered on personalities. George C. Scott, with whom he worked on the movie “Island in the Stream,” was the most gifted of his co-stars. Evans said Scott would get up early in the morning, then start the day by drinking hard liquor, completing the London Times and New York Times crossword puzzles, and playing chess on the set. All the while, he was focused on his performance.

On the other hand, Evans’ “Dirty Little Billy” co-star, Michael J. Pollard, was “ruinous” and “evil,” a description several other members of the panel agreed with by nodding their heads.

As for Evans and his co-stars produced over the years, the retired star was ambivalent.

“Most of it’s crap,” he said.

That most consumers of television and movies don’t realize this has a lot to do with Hollywood magic. Though a movie on the screen may look finished when released, it often takes a good number of tricks to make it seem that way. Fulgham, who does much of his editing work on special sequences for films, has often found himself trying to tell a story on screen during the opening credits the rest of the movie can’t in two hours.

Bill Kerby, a screenwriter who worked on movies including “Last American Hero,” gave an explanation as to how this can happen. Many directors use dozens of writers on a single film to build a screenplay, which can make one writer’s original work seem unrecognizable by the time a film is finished.

“It takes one writer to make a movie, but they always use more,” he said.

The true art of movie making, in the estimation of many of the panel members, comes after the film is shot and the actors have gone home. The addition of music, sound, overdubbed dialogue and other technical touches go have as much to do with an actors performance in making a film believable.

These aspects can also drive a post-production crew insane.

“People don’t realize movies are made in the lab,” said Artie Kane, who composed and conducted studio orchestras for numerous movies and television shows until retiring in 1999.

The music in a film, Kane said, lacks the purity of true art. Timed to the action on screen and inserted beneath dialogue, the music is tightly regimented in its use. It is also susceptible to the whims of directors and stars who have no musical training. Recalling the score he wrote for the 1976 release “The Eyes of Laura Mars,” Kane said his favorite piece in the entire film was destroyed by the film’s star, Faye Dunaway. In the piece, Kane used a distant Barbara Streisand voice track to add mood to a love scene. Dunaway had the director remove the track because, as Kane tells it, she didn’t want to be on screen at the same time as another star — Streisand’s voice.

Other bits of movie-business bashing came from soundman Kirk Francis, who asserted that soundtracks to many modern American movies are cacophonies when compared older or European films. Those soundtracks were better, he said, because there was less money and technology with which to make bigger and more complicated noise.

Francis also expressed what was less than admiration for most Hollywood stars.

“They’re professional liars,” he said.

For fond memories of Hollywood, those attending the event had to turn to Jo Evans and Steffi Sidney-Splaver. Sidney-Splaver, an actress who most notably appeared in “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean, recounted the story of how her father, Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, named the Academy Award statuette “Oscar.” Evans, a casting agent spoke about how a young Robin Williams had her speechless with laughter at a casting call for a telephone commercial in the mid-1970s.

“I knew he was going to be big,” he said.

It was Kane who closed the evening, telling a joke that cast a director as a lost balloonist and a conductor as a well-grounded walker. In dealing with that much hot air for more than 30 years in Hollywood, Kane said his fondness for the movie business comes down to one thing.

“The check,” he said to a round of laughter.

Monday’s event was the second “Hooray for Hollywood” forum put on by the medical-aid support fund, Friends of Friends. The event was a fundraiser for the organization.

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