My Hollywood Experience: Day 1
I was in a movie once. Well, sorta, kinda, not really. Oh, okay, it was a demo movie. The way it was explained to me was that a small studio, calling itself Saracen Productions, had gotten some money from a major studio to shoot a 15-20 minute demo to show the studio what their project was. If the studio liked it they would finance the movie. The movie’s working title was Deus Vult and was to be about some part of the crusades and Templars.
My buddy Etien had called me and asked if I would be interested in coming to L.A., meeting my old buddy Baltazar’s Hollywood friends, and teaching her to fight with a sword. The first sounded interesting, but the latter was definitely out of the question. You don’t just pick up a sword and start fighting with it, just like you don’t enter any martial arts competition after watching a Jackie Chan flick. It seems that Saracen Productions had sent out e-mails looking for people with “medieval combat experience”, and Etien was looking to break into the business and thought this might help.
She showed up in Tehachapi and dragged me off kicking and screaming with help from my wife, kids, and my other buddy Carl, who all insisted that I should go since I was already being Joe Grumpy Stick-In-The-Mud.
So Saracen Productions was looking people with “medieval combat experience”, now considering that every single person who really fits that description has been dead for several hundred years what they needed were people who fought in the various medieval recreation groups that are in Southern California. There are several and I’m sure if they had better timing and knew whom to call they could have gotten several hundred people who knew how to swing a sword. As it was, when Etien and I arrived there was only a small group with several live steel group members and one SCA heavy weapons fighter. Me.
Etien and I showed up at Griffith Park (I think that’s right, the place with the Batcave) and got to meet the fight coordinator and a couple of the stuntmen, some of the PAs, extras, and others. They reminded everyone to be sure to get their names and information to the people keeping the call-back lists, in case the project got the go-ahead. They got us into a group and separated the experienced sword-slingers from everyone else and asked us what groups we belonged to and how much experience we had with them.
There has historically been some rivalry between the different recreation groups. Some give a hard emphasis on accuracy, others like warm showers, and yet others are quite accepting of elf-ears and vampire fangs. I belong to one around the middle; we don’t want elf-ears, we want warm showers, and duct tape is a holy relic. There has also been some rivalry between the live steel groups and the rattan groups. I’ve heard stories about it, but I have never experienced anything impolite or untoward in that respect. Most of the fighters there were live steel groups and I was expecting a bitter treatment that never came.
When Padraig (the head stunt guy) heard I was SCA he smiled and said, “Well, this is going to be very different for you.” He explained that movie fighting was absolutely nothing like SCA fighting. In the SCA the fighting is usually quick, furious, and the styles designed to win. In movie fighting you are performing for the camera. The camera sees broad strokes best. The very cuts and strokes we avoid as being too flowery and easily blocked or even dodged. So as it turns out I wasn’t what they were looking for, but I learned quickly and was gifted with my very own extra. A nice guy whose name I’ve long since forgotten but who was eager and, unfortunately, wanted to stand out some.
In a minute I developed a broad five blow combo that we worked on, my extra wanted to add more, and add flourishes. I was more interested that neither of us be hurt. His sword was nice and blunt, but I had brought my own weapon and a sharp claymore is not a boffer or a pugil stick. I browbeat the poor kid with my size, imposing glare and menacing grin and we worked on the combo I came up with. We practiced it until we could do it at full speed safely. At that point he saw what I had been trying to tell him (at the expense of a small tree nearby).
That was Friday afternoon. Friday evening would be my opportunity to meet Balti’s other circle of friends. The ones who weren’t like me. I had no idea what they would be like, and it turned out that any expectations I had were wildly wrong.