Heavy Metal

Chris actually pitched this story very early in the season. It was shunted to the back burner once we got up and running and was almost forgotten. It took sort of an interesting tack on alternate history. It dealt with how the development of one invention, process or material, or lack thereof, would trickle down to have major repercussions on the development of a world that may have otherwise been completely identical to our own. Subtler concepts like these were a nice departure from the more broad stroke stories that were pitched to us this year (the South wins the Civil War, etc.). We always tried to avoid those if at all possible.

Often a subject of our lunchtime conversation (Bill, Chris, myself) were the domino effects of parallel universe generation and the idea that the simplest decision, in this case the two forks of a road, one discovery and the other non-discovery, can instantly split one reality into two nearly identical universes. The two realities then continue on as fork A and fork B. The historic paths the realities follow continue to widen and change as the effects of (or lack of) the decision continually alters the evolution in that space and time. In the case of Chris’ script, unlike our own Earth, the world in question never developed the lightweight metals used in aircraft manufacturing. This small non-event, as the years progress mushrooms, eventually resulting in a word that is still solely reliant on sea travel for commerce. The idea of continually splintering universes catalyzed through choices applies all the way down to the micro level as well. Theoretically, parallel universes are being generated all the time as a result of our personal choices and that they exist in infinite numbers.

And then sometimes we’d talk about Bill’s love life.

Another issue that Chris wanted to tackle was the evolution of piracy and how it exists today. Which, unknown to the masses at large, is still alive and well. Modern day pirates continue to sail the seas in search of loot and prey and it was Chris’ intent to do a serious piece on these contemporary scallywags.

The best laid plans of mice and TV writers.

Actually it was great fun. There was, however, a definite difference of opinion between the director’s vision and that of the writer where the pirates were concerned. Chris had written something with a more serious tone, preferring to avoid the 18th/19th century piratic motifs in favor of a look at more modern sea faring scoundrels. His vision was less Pirates of the Caribbean, more really bad guys with a really big boat. In execution the episode was actually the reverse, replete with bandana clad, scurvy-looking, cutlass toting ruffians. Although it worked in the long run, the final look of the show was more caricature than character.

One thing that did hit the marks as far as form and function was the ship that the pirates would raid. The availability of which was the deciding factor as to whether or not we actually could do the episode. The vessel we ended up commandeering was no stranger to film and television. Viewers may recognize it as the ship seen in The Thin Red Line. It was was called the Lane Victory. It’s a World War II “victory ship” — a merchant marine vessel used to transport troops and supplies during The Big One. It’s berthed down in San Pedro at the Port of L.A. near the docks where all the cruise ships come and go. It’s also open daily for tours as well as to rent for production… like practically anything else in Los Angeles. The problem is, we couldn’t afford to take it out to sea.

Normally this would not be a problem. Shooting a ship in its dock while creating the illusion of a sea journey is done all the time. All you need is the ship in the foreground, the ocean in the background and some creative shot composition. Our problem was that this ship was surrounded on all sides by other ships and structures. There was no way you could get a shot with the ocean and the horizon in the background. Other than that teeny tiny problem the vessel was perfect for our needs. Not ready to throw it in just yet director Guy Magar and director of photography Paul Maibaum devised a way to shoot toward the ship, placing the “water” “behind” the audience. When we did see the water, particularly for the walk-the-plank scene, it was shot from a high angle to crop out the docks and other structures. The final icing on the illusion was through the creation of motion. Dolly tracks were laid on the dock beside the ship. The camera was then rolled past it. So instead of moving the vessel we simply moved the camera and then intercut that motion with stock ship footage. The deception was complete and effective.

“Heavy Metal” had us back at Cabot Cove on the backlot for the second time this year. With a little bit of dressing this all too familiar set of buildings would become our pirate town. Once again the camera shot toward the village, placing the water “behind” the audience, just as they did for ten years when they used it on the series Murder, She Wrote. If the camera were to swing completely around the viewer would be privy to other backlot facades rather than an ocean view. If one looks closely they can see in a couple of shots that the tram bridge is briefly visible. This is part of the route the visitor trams follow on the Universal backlot tour. On this particular day passing tourists were treated to an extra added attraction — heavy gun play action a la Hollywood. A firsthand experience I’m sure few of them will forget and definitely a swashbuckling good time for all concerned.

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