Monday, January 22, 2007

Memorials: Gary Graver and Ron Carey

A couple of people I know have passed away, Gary Graver and Ron Carey.

On Sunday there was a tribute to Gary Graver, who shot my INVISIBLE MOM movie and some other things I did some writing on, at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. He died at the end of last year of cancer (1938-2006). We had the same birthday.

Gary shot *hundreds* of movies. He's probably best known for his work with Orson Welles. Welles was kind of a washed up has-been, and Gary cold called him and offered to shoot his next film... then hung around Welles until there *was* a next film. For the next 15 or so years of Welles' life, Gary shot *everything* he did. Movies, TV shows, Japanese booze commercials... you name it, Gary shot it. Welles did this interesting documentary called F IS FOR FAKE (critereon, I think) about forgery - from a world famous art forger to Clifford Irving's fake biography of Howard Hughes (in fact, there's a new Richard Gere movie coming out about that). What was interesting about F is that Irving is their art forgery expert... as the fake bio story was breaking! So Irving becomes the subject of the movie - and I'm sure the Gere movie used F as ref (where else can you get Irving himself on film talking about it?). And the unused trailer for F... starred Gary!

Would Welles have made another film without Gary? Probably not. Gary was a bundle of energy, and Welles' #1 fan. He also worked for *free* for Welles. Anytime Welles wanted to shoot anything, he could just call up Gary and he'd show up with his equipment and a pick-up crew. People were telling stories about Gary calling them to crew at the last minute... for Orson Welles. Gary shot Welles' last film, starring John Huston, which he was editing and shooting pick ups for at the time of his death (Gary's - his devotion to Welles continued after Welles' death).

Gary also did 2nd unit on Cassavettes' A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE... and Speilberg's little film RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Gary shot GRAND THEFT AUTO for Ron Howard. Gary was cinematographer on over 200 movies, and directed over 100 himself. He did second unit or additional photog on zillions of movies - he worked on THE COLOR PURPLE! Name the movie - I'll bet Gary worked on it. Someone told a funny story on Sunday about getting a phone call from Gary asking if they could help with some insert shots - and it ended up being all of Gary's friends holding weapons for close ups in some movie that Gary got called to do inserts on. Who knows what movie that was?

I wasn't really a friend of Gary's - he just shot some stuff I wrote. But I'd bump into him at screenings sometimes and we'd talk for a while. He might mention something he shot from the past in passing - but mostly he talked about what he was doing now or what film he'd seen that he liked. Normal conversation with someone who you have *film* in common with. Sometimes I'd sit with him if I wasn't with friends. I remember bumping into him at some cinema, and he introduced me to his friend Curtis... and it took me a while to realize it was *Curtis Harrington* - director of one of my favorite movies GAMES. Gary knew everyone... and all kinds of people. He was always full of energy and excited about whatever he was working on. Someone on Sunday described him as a golden retriever - and that fits perfectly: he seemed to always be full of energy (and had this golden hair - natural - until the day he died). Running around the set doing last minute tweaks. Gary was also a loyal friend - we heard that from everyone who spoke. I didn't know he'd been ill, saw him a couple of years ago, and he'd slowed down. As if age had finally caught up with him... but he had some potential project and was looking for a script... and practically dragged me over to the producer. The excitment was still there - he wanted to make a movie! Nothing was going to stop him.

At the tribute they showed slides from Gary's films - so many films! So many different kinds of films - from art house to grind house to blockbuster. I looked at all of those films and felt that I am misusing my time - and that Gary was *constantly* doing the thing he loved. You'd see over a dozen films made the same year and wonder how he could work that fast, that good, on so many movies *in the same year*. And the variety - he would be shooting some T&A flick and follow that with something for Welles then some Spielberg pick up shots! He'd do some Gary Coleman family TV movie, some low budget horror flicks, then some art house movie!

And Gary would just help people make their movies. Sure, anyone might help Orson Welles, but Gary helped all kinds of people... and was still helping Welles after Welles had passed away. He shot a film in France for a first time director last year. And there were *two* well-known cinematographers at the tribute - and Gary gave both their start. He'd be offered two jobs at the same time, and give one to his assistant - instantly promoting him to DP. If someone needed something, he just gave it to them. That made me feel like a selfish slacker...

And made me want to do more to help everyone around me. To stop taking people for granted - they may not be here tomorrow. To be passionate about everything I do.

Gary was (and is) inspiring. He will be missed - but like Mad Max, he's going to live on forever in my memory.

***

RON CAREY - a comic actor best known as Leavitt on the BARNEY MILLER show died a couple of days ago. I've mentioned this a few times - back when I was a kid, my friend Van Tassell and I used to crash film sets. Any film shooting in the San Francisco Bay Area - we were there trying to act like we belonged. The very first film set I crashed was Mel Brooks' HIGH ANXIETY. I was a kid. I decided to dress like an adult - in a suit - so that I would fit in. Instead, I stood out like a nun in a whorehouse. Mel Brooks came up to me and asked if I was from the studio... I gave a non-answer. Brooks told me to tell them that he was on time and on budget. And with that, I was *not* kicked off the set for the 9 days they shot in the Bay Area. So, I'm on set, pretending to belong, and I bump into Ron Carey near the coffee urn. Hey, it's the guy from BARNEY MILLER! Of course, I don't say that outloud. Instead I make a joke about the paper cup in his hand. And he makes a paper cup joke... and it became Deuling Paper Cup Jokes. Each trying to out-do the other. Back then, I hadn't killed all those brain cells and we kept it going forever!

Ron asked me what I was really doing on the set, and I admitted I was a writer-director just trying to see how real movies were made. He said he was always looking for a comedy script that he could star in, and gave me his address and phone number. I actually had a comedy-action script I was working on called HEAD IN THE CLOUDS about a Janitor who pretends to be a spy to pick up girls, but when Terrorists overhear him - they think he's a real spy onto their big mission and try to kill him. Anyway, sent it to Ron who read it and said it wasn't exactly what he was looking for (I was, like, 18 years old - that script SUCKED). But to send him anything else that might work and call him if I was ever in town.

For years I would get a Christmas card made out to "Too Tall Martell" and eventually I drove down to LA and called him. He told me to come by the house. I drive over, met his wife (a nurse - I think her name was Nancy or Linda) and had some iced tea or lemonade. A couple hours later, I left to bother someone else... and continued to get Christams Cards for a few years until I moved or they moved. Never talked to him again... but without his kindness, I would never have done many of the things I have done. He was the first famous person I knew - and he treated me as an equal. That was one of those things that made my mind click from "film is something that people like me can never do" to "hey, maybe I can do this!"

What both of these guys had in common is a willingness to help complete strangers and a passion about their work.

This isn't a competition where screwing over the other guy puts you ahead. We're all in this together. We're here because we love movies and want to be a part of them... so let's work together instead of against each other.

- Bill

9 comments:

Brett said...

Dammit, I hate when a post is snark-proof like this, as I'm then forced to look like a moron fumbling for sincerity.

Both of the guys sound like the kids of folks you always hope and dream you'll meet on the way up, and the kind of folks you want to be thought of once you get there there. To be honest and passionate and unafraid to be generous... these seem like pretty damned honorable and worthwhile goals to chase.

Nice post, Too Tall.
.
.
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B

Matt Hader said...

Beautiful post, Bill.

jimhenshaw said...

Thanks for this, Bill. Your closing paragraph says it all.

Aric Blue said...

I would respond, but I'd be afraid you'd use it to help you get a leg up on me.

:)

Nice post--they sound like good guys. Now tell us some stories about the sonovabitches you've dealt with--those are fun too.

wcmartell said...

I spend most of my time bitching about somebody (usually the clueless who fall into a vat of money by accident)- but I'll keep doing it if it makes you guys happy.

- Bill

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jgaspard@earthlink.net said...

I had the pleasure of working with Ron Carey on the Lucky Luke TV show and he was AMAZING. A very talented and funny guy who was never too busy to talk to a neophyte writer and compliment him on his script.

When my co-writer and I first met Ron, we drove up to the Lucky Luke set (near Snata Fe) just as they were stopping shooting because of rain. For some reason, Ron ducked into our car to get out of the rain, wanted to know who we were, and then went on a 20 minute rant about how great our script was and what a pleasure it was to be part of it. How often does THAT happen? Hardly ever.

He will be missed.

Giles Bowkett said...

I actually had a comedy-action script I was working on called HEAD IN THE CLOUDS about a Janitor who pretends to be a spy to pick up girls, but when Terrorists overhear him - they think he's a real spy onto their big mission and try to kill him.

That sounds really funny. Maybe a little TRUE LIES, but really funny.

Stephany said...

Wow. I was browsing "Gary Graver" on google as I do often, then I came across your blog. What you said is all so true and VERY sweet of you to post that for him. He had an amazing mind, a crazy sense of humor, and a true love for his work. From the time I was a little girl he could always make my mind go crazy thinking on his words. He is my grandfather, and seeing people like you say these lovely things about him really touches my heart!

Take care!
Stephany.

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