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SECRETS OF THE SCREEN TRADE - Things You Were Not Supposed To Know 

‘Secrets of the Screen Trade’ is Alan Wardrope’s reflection on his thirty-five year career in the movie business. He was a pioneer of Australian film and played a crucial role in pushing our industry on to the International market.
His memoir strips the industry of its illusory lights and make up, and presents it for what it is: political, manipulative and cutthroat. Wardrope weaves detailed information on the workings of the screen biz with amusing anecdotes involving classic and contemporary stars. A furious Roman Polanski chased him around a manor, and he was almost sued for putting Elvis on television.
Wardrope puts the industry on the table to study. A familiar cast including greats such as Cecil B. DeMille, Steve McQueen, Clark Gable and Steven Spielberg walk through the pages giving the study lively, humorous examples.

A compelling story of one man’s journey down Hollywood’s Walk of Fame
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In Store Price: $AU26.95 
Online Price:   $AU25.95

ISBN: 1-9210-0578-5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 310
Genre: Non Fiction

Buy as an Ebook version - $AUD9.00 pdf upload.

 

 


Author: Alan Wardrope
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2005
Language: English

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Alan Wardrope started out as a writer; publishing short stories by the time he was 17. He later became a journalist, writing features and covering everything from crime to politics (which he would say shared something in common) for newspapers and magazines. 

After a stint in advertising he joined Paramount Pictures in the early 1960s as director of advertising and publicity. 

His campaign for The Carpetbaggers caught the attention of producer Joseph E. Levine who invited him to New York, thus opening the door to a subsequent career in the international side of the screen trade. 

Besides Paramount, Alan Wardrope has worked with CBS theatrical films (then Cinema Center Films with studios in North Hollywood); Cinema International Corp. The international operation of Paramount and Universal, and later MGM; a number of independent producers; the Australian Film Commission, where he was that operation’s first director of marketing, responsible for show­casing films internationally during the 1970s, the Renaissance period for Australian films; his own California Connection corporation, a production and international marketing group.

He has written scripts, produced and directed for television. In the early 80s he was guest lecturer at the Australian Film and Television School where he addressed graduating classes. 

Alan Wardrope has worked in New York, London, Los Angeles, Australia and various locations throughout South East Asia. He now lives by a lake 50 miles north of Sydney where he is still involved in writing and editing screen material.

FOREWORD

 

I never intended to write this material. However, friends, colleagues and others who over the years learned of the films, people and other things in which I was involved, or to which I was privy, had other ideas. They insisted that I should put it in writing before it was too late; a euphemism for I’m getting on and time’s running out! Anyway, their will eventually prevailed. 

The toughest part, as it turned out, was what to call the work. After some head scratching on my part, others did that for me. 

On learning I had spent some 35 years in the movie business, I was struck by how many would exclaim: “You must have some behind-the-scenes tales to tell.” 

As a result of this, I have recounted, for want of a better label, the headlines of my experiences, with priority to the things that have remained in the shadows and generally unknown to the wider audience at large. Also included are small­er events that people seemed to have enjoyed hearing, again with some revelationary elements. 

I would employ some of the anecdotal material given herein as an audience warm-up device when addressing graduating classes at the Australian Film and Television School in the 1980s. The students seemed to get a kick out of learning about actors and films and things that happened behind the scenes and often away from the studio set. 

Harking back to my days in journalism, I have attempted to provide not only a personal perspective on the films, stars, producers and others who parade through these pages, but to also reveal things that are not necessarily given in books about movies and those responsible for their creation. 

In any event, if the various characters and what went on at times when the cameras were not rolling provide interest and entertainment on the wonderful, bitchy, frustrating, heartbreaking, though exhilaratingly addictive world of motion picture business, then I’ll gladly settle for that. 

Alan Wardrope

Tuggerah Lake, 2004

STEVE MCQUEEN (sample)

Car Chases

Conflict

    Conrods

     And the demise of a Studio  

‘Pull that one again and I'll take my hat off!’                                                                      

Yul Brynner   

The two face masks of drama that represent the theatrical world are also most apt for the motion picture business with its fulsome share of laughter and sad­ness, highs and lows, kindness and tantrums, loyalty and treachery. 

In earlier years, as a journalist, I learned that despite the oft-expressed desire for more good news stories, and fewer of the bad, it was the calamities, cruel­ty, horror and tragedy that actually sold the newspapers, with just a few excep­tions to that rule. Today it's the shock reports and revelations that lift the 6 pm news ratings and the later current affairs programs. 

A corollary for this aspect of the human condition is that we mostly get to hear and learn more about the more notorious side of the film business as against the decency; the divorces instead of the relationships of longevity, the megalo­mania and not the more rational folk who go to make up its ranks; on camera and off, behind the scenes, in a myriad of roles, big and small. 

However, having noted this, when we are confronted by examples of the extremely outrageous, the extravagant, the ostentatious, and things bordering upon decadence, the screen trade can be hard to beat. With ratings in view, let's start with an example, which has its share of the bizarre that is so typical of Hollywood.                                

 I first met Steve McQueen in 1971 at Studio City, on Ventura Boulevard in north Hollywood. He struck me as a well-built, confident, crinkly-faced actor, who looked much younger than his 41 years, his enthusiasm about his screen career spilling over to his passion for cars and motorcycles. 

McQueen would drive around Los Angeles in a striking looking 1934 Packard roadster, the top down, his large dog perched in the rumble seat. His favourite spot to hang out was a place called Sneaky Pete's on Hollywood Boulevard. Steve McQueen was energetic, restless and lived life to the full. The last time I saw that lovely old Packard was in a museum in San Diego and sometimes wonder if it's still there. 

For all his charm, Steve could also be difficult, and playfully infuriating. One of his specialities was to get up to little tricks on camera, designed to monopolize - read steal - a scene that was supposed to favour another actor. 

When shooting the Magnificent Seven he so infuriated Yul Brynner with his encroaching into scenes, that the bald actor turned on McQueen and said, "Pull that one again and I'll take my hat off!" 

Now Brynner always wore a black hat, which would remain on his chrome dome from beginning to end. To take it off on camera would have been a scene-stealer in its own right. 

McQueen grinned and inclined his head in a disarming gesture of "Who me . . .?" But nonetheless he got the message and thereafter left Brynner alone. 

However, back to Studio City, where a cloud hung over a film Steve had just completed for CBS' theatrical film division, then known as Cinema Center Films (CCF). And part of the problem was linked to the actor's passion for automobiles. 

The property in question was a picture then titled 24 Hours of Le Mans, to be soon after known as simply Le Mans. No Brownie points for guessing what this movie was about! 

Because of Steve's involvement with cars, racing, and motorcycles, he saw himself as being more than simply the star; he moved in as technical consult­ant, script adviser, 'shadow' director, editor, a sort of Charlie Chaplin on wheels. The label summed it all: Creative Input. And that should have been enough to set the alarm bells ringing. 

When bestowed upon, or seized upon by an actor, creative control or exces­sive input can mean trouble with a capital T, and the CCF Studio should have been warned by the plentiful lessons of cinematic history. 

However, there were other issues forming over what was then both a modest and fledgling film operation, and no doubt these came into play at the time. Formed and bankrolled by CBS, Cinema Center Films had been established as the theatrical films arm of the network, as against the group's television product. 

And while the sadly short-lived CCF became responsible for the production of films such as Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman A Man Called Horse, the Richard Harris effort, and Blue Water White Death, the overall product output had been both modest and a touch like the Curate's Egg: some good and those which were not so good. Those in the executive eagles 'lair in CBS's 'Black Rock' * HQ in New York were becoming restless. They had never really understood, or had been adequately briefed, on the time lag between putting a motion picture together, marketing it and organising national and international distribution, and the final returns from the box office. Now a common yardstick in the fiscal sense was that you needed four times the budget from your share of the end box office before you broke even, or could be considered to have a modest success. 

This situation contrasted starkly with the usually quick turnaround offered by television, where budgets were much lower, production values not nearly so demanding, and the relatively swift return on investment. Those at Black Rock were trying to come to terms with the near bottomless pit of motion picture production, distribution and the long haul to realise a return for all the time, problems and money. It was an experience which was causing them to have sec­ond thoughts. 

Therefore, the pressure was always on the studio to produce successful films, more so than with the larger and established operations which were owned and run by feature film people, who lived with the long hauls, knowing that when you eventually had a hit it was bonanza time! A common experience with major production entities was just one Godfather, Love Story, The Sting, Titanic or Harry Potter each year could make up for a series of ‘also rans’ at the box office. 

* So called because of the colour of CBS' tower building and also with the film Bad Day At Black Rock in mind.  

With its modest product inventory, CCF's David among the Goliaths placed it constantly between a rock and a hard place. In fact it was doomed from the start. 

During the making of Le Mans McQueen was such a stickler for the minutiae of motor racing director John Sturges walked out of the project in sheer exaspera­tion. McQueen’s never ending demands and requirements made it all not worth the candle, so far as Sturges was concerned. This left Steve and screenwriter Lee Katzin to take the helm. 

The already flimsy plot of Le Mans lost even more weight, with the budget in turn putting on the calories, the last thing CCF could afford. For example, more than $1 million was spent on race cars alone, which included three Porsche 917s at $70,000 apiece and four Ferraris at $55,000 each. 

To its credit, Le Mans is regarded to this day as one of the most realistic car racing films ever shot. However, while the cars were doing their thing out on the track, this alone was not sufficient to sustain the interest of general audiences. 

Its star not uttering one word of dialogue with­in the first 40 minutes on the screen did not help the situation! The foreboding many of us shared at CCF was becoming only too true. 

Now in the driver's seat, in more ways than one, McQueen kept calling the shots. The end result was that Steve's directing resulted in a picture that poten­tially had no fewer than three endings. It was even suggested that four endings were possible! 

Of this editing Troika, the studio opted for one ending, McQueen for another, with the third option hovering over the debate as a reluctant compromise. It was almost an example of film making by committee. 

However, there was more drama to come. Again, it had to do with Steve's obsession with automobiles. 

Aware that the film needed all the marketing support that could be mustered if it was to have an even chance at the box office, CCF's promotional people stitched together a campaign keyed to product placement, well before that phrase became commonplace within the industry. 

A keystone of the sell was to involve national exposure via a major oil compa­ny whose association with the production would be exploited. 

When confronted with the campaign McQueen wanted to know what was in it for him. He was not prepared to go along with the promotion just for the good of the film. After all, his likeness would be utilised by the oil company. 

Finally, it was agreed that in return for the actor's co-operation, he would receive a lifetime's supply of oil and gasoline for his collection of exotic cars and high-powered motorcycles. 

My fellow executives heaved a collective sigh of relief and pushed forward on the overall campaign and distribution strategy for Le Mans, ticking one more problem off their list. Wrong! There were more surprises to come! Steve McQueen was now holed up in Palm Springs while the centerpiece of the oil company tie-up, some artwork on which posters and brochures would be based was set in development. 

The completed artwork was checked out by a group of us, which included the studio's president, and vice president. An executive jet was on standby at Van Nuys airport in the Valley to fly the material out to McQueen's desert lair. It seemed quite straightforward.

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