Filming OIL (Filoli)

FILMED April-November 1980

Filming began on Monday, April 14 in Woodside, California. I flew to northern California on Friday, April 11. As I remember we were billeted at an inn in San Mateo, and I had the weekend to settle in and continue preplanning my staging and camera coverage. The crew was scheduled to meet at the 20th Century Fox Studio at 5:30 am Monday morning, be bused to the airport, fly to San Francisco, and be bused to our first location for the day – the green hills not too far from the Filoli estate that would double for a mountain slope near Denver. I was not aware of when the actors involved in the first day’s filming traveled, but I’m sure they flew up sometime over the weekend.

OIL was conceived as an epic drama of that industry, focusing on two families: Blake Carrington’s and Matthew Blaisdel’s. Blake Carrington, a modern day oil baron, headed a major oil empire; Matthew Blaisdel was an adventurer, wildcatter. supervising in the field the procuring of that liquid gold. The connecting link between the two families was Krystle Jennings, Blake’s secretary, who is about to become his wife. As our story opens, Matthew has just returned from the Middle East and was brought directly to Blake’s office to report on the volatile turmoil that had driven him out the area. As he was leaving the office, he met Krystle, who was just arriving. He and Krystle had had an affair in the not too distant past. Our first scene to film was a meeting instigated by Krystle’s phone call to Matthew, when she asked, “Can we meet?”

People today seem to be impressed with the limited time it took to produce what is now considered Classic Television. What they don’t realize is that many times even more was filmed than what they had viewed, but it was left on the editing room floor because of the time strictures of television programming. Here is the script for the beginning of the sequence you’ve just viewed:

arrival

You will note that you did not see the action of scenes 122B and 122C. It took time to film the three setups in those scenes, plus the time it took for the company to move from the upper level by the road to the green slope.

First days on any pilot were difficult, but I realize now even more than I did at the time, the logistics of launching this pilot were daunting. The scope of the project was that of a feature film, but the budget was strictly television. Filming started on a distant location on a Monday, (remember the Spelling production office’s original edict was to shoot the entire project in the Los Angeles area.) so production equipment (furniture and furnishings to dress the many rooms in the mansion, camera, props, wardrobe, make-up et al) had to be trucked up to the area earlier. The crew that flew up early Monday morning was a new assemblage, all professionals but it took a few days working together to become a crew, and I would have preferred not to schedule such an emotionally charged scene as the confrontation between Krystle and Matthew on the first day. To start with I didn’t really know Linda and Bo. I had worked with Linda many years before on THE BIG VALLEY, but her role in that film had been peripheral. I think my only previous contact with Bo had been when I met him at the cast reading of OIL the previous week at the studio. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now if Linda and Bo had ever worked together before, or if they even knew each other. So as we wrapped that first location and moved to the Filoli estate, I was feeling pleased. Under the difficult circumstances we had gotten off to a very good start.

Our first sequence at the estate was a scene between Blake (George Peppard) and his daughter, Fallon (Pamela Sue Martin). It was an easier scene emotionally than the one we had just filmed. Blake and Fallon had just raced on horseback, and Fallon had been thrown from her horse into a pond. Now clad only in Blake’s suit jacket, she and her father were having a father and daughter-chat as they walked their horses on a scenically beautiful tree-lined dirt path. I had planned a long dolly shot, and over the weekend had paced out the distance the scene would take so that camera track could be pre-laid. I had shown it to the cameraman, Michel Hugo (we had worked together on some episodes of HART TO HART) and his gaffer and key grip. They incidentally had arrived at the location over the weekend, so they could familiarize themselves with what they were going to shoot. When we arrived to start rehearsing and filming, the track for the camera had been laid. The four-page scene would be filmed in one long dolly shot, with close-ups at a couple of places when the couple stopped walking. I had figured the sequence could be completed in two hours, but George had trouble with his lines, so it took all afternoon to complete, and as a result we didn’t do the third scheduled scene in an interior room on the estate. I might add that I was also disappointed in Pamela Sue Martin’s performance. At the reading the previous week, I thought she was perfect casting. Later I learned that during the morning while we were filming the Krystle-Matthew scene, George and Pamela Sue were rehearsing, and George was directing her performance.

The following day when the Shapiro’s viewed the dailies in Los Angeles, they were not happy with George’s performance. His interpretation of Blake Carrington was not the Blake Carrington they had envisioned. The Shapiro’s called George, not to criticize his performance, but to explain their view of the role. I learned of this phone call from producer Phil Parslow. More of this – MUCH MORE – later!

When I scouted Filoli on that first trip, I had been very impressed, not only with the mansion but with the expansive grounds lining the road leading to the main house. But I wanted to be sure viewers realized all of that land was part of the Carrington estate, so I requested a gate. Like MGM, when 20th Century Fox did a set, they did it magnificently, so that although there is no more to the structure than what you see, the impression is that the entire estate is surrounded by a fortress-like wall. And like the Kane estate gate in you-know-what movie, Blake’s BC initials sat atop the Carrington estate gate as it swung open.

Two years earlier when I was directing THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI, I had a comedy sequence in a large hotel kitchen involving a temperamental head chef and falling soufflés. But I wanted to add someone reacting to the falling souffes to punch up the joke. I knew it would require more than an extra doing special business. It was going to require a very good actor, but there were no lines to the role. I presented my problem to casting director, Jimmy Merrick. He found me rubber-faced Vernon Weddle.

Vernon was the actor I wanted for the role of Afferton, the wedding consultant for our Blake-Krystle wedding. Vernon was the actor I got.

After only a couple of days filming, they threw me a curve. The network (ABC) requested that we move the script’s most dramatic scenes at the mansion to the forefront of the schedule and film some spots of George Peppard introducing those scenes. In other words, in addition to filming the pilot, we were now asked also to produce a presentation. I was unhappy about the work added to an already overloaded schedule. I was unhappy about having to film important scenes earlier. I was assured the filming of the Peppard spots would not take an excessive amount of time. When we finished a sequence in one of the rooms, we were to put George in the center of the already-lit set and photograph him speaking the material that Richard Shapiro would write. The script for the first spot arrived, and after the scheduled scene had been filmed, George took his position, camera rolled and I called action. But George didn’t say the words Richard Shapiro had written. George had rewritten the presentation. He raved about his role in this production, how pleased he was to be starring and he praised his supporting cast. Obviously he had forgotten the enthusiasm for doing an ensemble piece he had expressed the day he came to the studio to meet the Shapiro’s. The next day I learned of the Shapiro’s reaction to this from producer Phil Parslow. They were outraged. This on top of their disappointment in and disagreement with George’s acting of the role of Blake! I was not aware of the details of the continuing communications between the Shapiro’s and George Peppard. I don’t know if that was shrewdness on their part or just dumb luck in making the right decision, but it was important, no imperative that I continue to have a working relationship with George on the set. That would have been difficult, perhaps impossible if I had been connected to their disapproval of the first day’s dailies. But there was one bit of local information I learned. As the Shapiro-Peppard contretemps heated up, Phil Parslow told me the driver of Peppard’s motor home (his dressing room) had told him that “George may have sworn off alcohol, but there was enough drugs involved to fry the brain.”

When I left Los Angeles the role of Michael, the chauffeur, still had not been cast. On the second or third day while filming in the courtyard of the main entrance to the mansion, I saw a stranger standing on the sidelines with the crew. And I mean strange. He had a very large wide brimmed sombrero hat atop his head, and all I could think of was that he looked like a silly cartoon of a funny little Mexican man. I asked the assistant director who the stranger was. He told me he was the latest addition to the cast. He was going to play Michael, the chauffeur. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, which only proves you have to be careful of first impressions. Meet Wayne Northrop, without the sombrero.

I did learn, either from Phil Parslow or possibly a phone call from Esther, that they were very pleased with the dailies. I think it was Esther who told me that Richard did not like to view the dailies of things he had written, but that he was really enjoying what he was seeing. She also said she felt Al Corley’s lurking presence in the mansion was like Hamlet’s in his castle. I hadn’t had that imagery when planning the staging, but I appreciated and liked what she said.

The script had a charming one-page description of preparations for the wedding. A team of bakers and chefs was hired, I had a ball filming it, and the crew had a ball consuming the artistry after it had been filmed.

The second floor of the mansion had a wide hallway (which we never filmed) and very large bedrooms. The rooms, as were all of the rooms we selected, had no furnishings. The set dresser for the show trucked everything up from southern California and dressed two bedrooms on the second floor and on the main floor, the entrance area, the hallways, the library, the dining room, the music room, and the ballroom.

The script for that scene ended with a bit of business I didn’t like.

exit1

exit2

I thought Fallon’s biting off the heads of the wedding couple funny, but that it shouldn’t be done in front of Krystle. Later I filmed Fallon doing it (and more effectively) BEFORE she entered the room.

When I first read the second Fallon-Michael confrontation scene, I was dismayed. She finds him in the bathtub in her bathroom and holds a hair dryer, plugged into an outlet in the wall and turned on, over him, threatening to drop it into the water. A rewritten scene arrived before I made any comments. That one I liked, and that’s the one I filmed.

They must have liked that scene. Years later, after Emma Samms had replaced Pamela Sue Martin as Fallon, they filmed it again. That version can be seen on YouTube.

My favorite scene in the film is a confrontation between Blake and Steven. It is a long powerful scene (over five and a half pages) and was the scene used in the four screen tests when casting Steven. We filmed it on the eleventh day. I had planned the staging and camera coverage meticulously, but George arrived on the set, the magnificent library in the mansion, and announced that he was going to start the scene at his desk and would be smoking a cigar. By this time it was my understanding the Shapiro’s were no longer speaking to George. Even producer Phil Parslow’s relationship with him had cooled and was distant. I still had a professional working relationship with him. I had to. It was my responsibility to return to Los Angeles with every scheduled scene filmed. If the scenes were filmed, but not the way I had envisioned them, that was preferable to their not having been filmed. I adjusted my camera coverage to George’s new staging, and I talked privately with Al Corley. I told him, “You know this scene. You know how Steven acts in this scene. You remember how we did it in the test. No matter what George does, you play Steven the way Steven should be played.” Al understood the situation and as always was just great. We got our masters. We got George’s coverage. Then we started filming Al’s close-ups. I was standing next to George beside the camera as we filmed Al’s first close-up. I heard George say, “If I had known he was going to play it like that, I would have played it differently.” No comment from me.

I think it was the night before that I received a phone call in my room. It was George. He told me he wanted to read me the telegram he had just sent to the head of ABC programming. The entire message was about how insulting it had been for his performance in the first day’s dailies to be criticized by the Shapiro’s. He was giggling as he read the message, and I knew he was high.

As we finished our location work, we had filmed everything that had been scheduled and would be heading south. Twelve days of film in the can, twelve days to go!

To be continued

 

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2 Responses to Filming OIL (Filoli)

  1. Garrett says:

    This sadly seems pretty consistent with everything I’ve ever heard about George Peppard’s off camera behavior. It was so legendary re: his conflicts with Mr. T on The A-Team (Peppard was convinced he was the star, but the entire reason for the show’s existence was Mr. T and that black van) that one of things you could expect to see in those silly old “Mr. T vs.” websites was Mr. T insulting or otherwise belittling Peppard or his A-Team character. It’s a bit of a shame, because as you put it in the first part, Peppard was a pretty decent actor.

  2. Jim says:

    Great post Ralph. I think you could write an entire book on all the trials and tribulations that went on during this episode. It was also nice to see one of my favorite actors – Peter Mark Richman. Another one of those unheralded actors who graced almost every TV show from the 50s to the early 2000s – always fascinating to watch and always gave a great performance.

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