Filming OIL (LA)

FILMED April-November 1980

I returned to Los Angeles over the weekend (I don’t remember whether I flew back Saturday evening after completing that day’s filming or on Sunday) and on Monday, April 28, we began our final twelve days of production with filming divided between the 20th Century Fox Studio and local locations in Los Angeles. After twelve successful days of shooting on the exciting Filoli estate, I should have been feeling exuberant, but I wasn’t. I was aware the Shapiro’s had learned of George Peppard’s telegram to the head of ABC programming, and that the relationship between executive producers and star had become even more inflammatory. But that was not something directly affecting me. I was unhappy over the previous Friday’s filming of the big scene between Blake (Peppard) and his son Steven (Al Corley). I considered it a brilliantly written scene by the Shapiro’s. Its place in the script was tantamount to a climactic Act II-ending scene in a three-act play, but I considered what I had in the can a dud. And now I faced a new challenge. Pamela Bellwood, one of the major characters in the series (Claudia Blaisdel, Matthew’s wife) had not yet worked. My only contact with Miss Bellwood had been a fleeting meeting at the cast reading three weeks before. The first scene we were to film was a very intense emotional scene involving three people in a crowded restaurant (Claudia, Matthew and their daughter, Lindsay). Actually that was also the first scene for Katy Kurtzman (who was playing Lindsay), but this was the third production in which I directed Katy, so I was comfortable with the idea of working with her, as I was with continuing to work with Bo Hopkins. Pamela was the unknown quantity.

Matthew and Lindsay had driven to the mental institution to visit Claudia (that scene had not yet been filmed) only to discover she had been released a month ago. They find her at the restaurant where she was now employed. My reservations about working with Pamela proved to be unfounded. Beyond her talent and her beauty, the ardent look on her face after each rehearsal, after each take as she eagerly conferred with me, seeking ways to further improve her performance truly affected me and helped dispel the gloom from the previous week’s encounter. I like to think that as a director, I am always available to help the actor when needed. This was truly a case of an actor helping a director.

The first two weeks of filming had been primarily involved with the rich Carrington’s. Now it was time for attention to be paid to the workers in the oil fields, to put the focus on wildcatter Matthew Blaisdel. At the opening of the film Matthew is flying back to the states, having been kicked out of the Middle East. He bumps into Steven Carrington, an old acquaintance, on the plane.

For that less than four-minute sequence, production provided TWO sets: the plane’s coach section and first-class lounge. Since it was filmed at the Laird International Studios, just down Washington Boulevard from the MGM Studio in Culver City, an interesting self-explanatory memo was distributed to cast and crew:

memo

I want to take a moment to make a comment about the restaurant scene, about the scene between Steven and Matthew on the plane, about the sequences filmed the previous week at Filoli, in fact about all the sequences filmed in this project. The Shapiro’s had written a script with scenes so rich that the pauses between speeches were sometimes as important as the speeches themselves – sometimes even more important. That was the way we played it, and I pay homage to Esther and Richard and to Aaron Spelling that the exemplary editing of John Woodcock, which recognized and so expertly preserved those rare acted moments was not tampered with in post-production.

I didn’t film often at LAX, the humongous Los Angeles airport. I most often ended up at the smaller Burbank airport in the valley. But LAX was closer to the 20th Century Fox lot, and we only had one shot inside the terminal (and that was close to the entrances), so it seemed expedient to film there. Of course the LAX baggage carousel and exterior entrances to the terminal were standing in for similar areas of the Denver, Colorado airport.

The airport sequence was less than 2½ pages and would require only five camera set-ups, hardly a full day’s work. A suitable restaurant was found in the area, and that’s where we spent the rest of the day filming the Blaisdel meeting viewed above.

There were some days when we spent most of our time moving from location to location. That was the case with the day that began by filming Matthew returning to his home. The exterior 4 set-ups of his arrival and opening the garage door were shot, the interior of the living room was filmed later on a set at the studio.

We then moved to downtown LA (subbing for downtown Denver) to a building we selected for Blake’s office building. First we filmed Matthew arriving for his meeting with Blake …

… then Krystle leaving after her first encounter with Matthew.

I always called sequences like that “bread and butter” scenes – no meat.

Rather than build a set for a gym where Matthew could take out his frustration on a punching bag after his meeting with Krystle on the mountain slope, the art director selected the rehearsal hall above Stages 3 and 4, dressed it with the needed equipment and that’s where Bo Hopkins and Dale Robertson, the crew and I spent an entire day.

At dailies the next day Esther Shapiro raved about the camera coverage of that scene.

Quinn Martin refused to have night sequences filmed day for night. When the sequences were on city streets with buildings, I agreed it was more effective visually to film at night. But when sequences occurred on open fields, at the beach or at an oil rig with its imposing structure, I thought day for night filming was more realistic, it was like bright moonlight, and it certainly made for more interesting photography.

Our oil rig was out in Newhall, where we had two sequences to film, that night sequence and a day sequence. Although the day sequence was only three pages, the action in those few pages was sufficient to require a full day’s work, so the location for another sequence was found in Newhall, and the day for night scene was tacked onto the end of that day. For the day sequence I filmed much of it with two cameras.

Camera operators had to be brave men. Our camera operator climbed to the top of the rig with the light handheld Arriflex camera to get three shots: one of a man working and two shots of men descending on the ropes after the accident.

There was one interior room in the Carrington mansion that could have been filmed at Filoli, but there wasn’t enough time. So in a set at the 20th Century Fox Studio we filmed a scene between Fallon and Cecil Colby that was taking place during the wedding reception. Lloyd Bochner, whom I had worked with twelve years before when he guest starred on an episode of THE NAME OF THE GAME, was cast as Colby, a rival oil baron of Blake’s. To fill you in on the backstory, both Carrington and Colby, want Fallon to marry Colby’s nephew, Jeff Colby, who is in love with Fallon. Both men’s major interest is with the possible powerful merger that could result from that union. I told Lloyd the major drive of the current scene was sex. He questioned it, there was so many issues being discussed. I agreed, so discuss the issues, but the drive is sex.

I never knew if the other members of the cast were aware of the situation between the Shapiro’s and George Peppard. I still had a lingering feeling of unrest. The producers’ response to the dailies was positive. They were pleased with the performances of Linda, Bo, Dale, the two Pamela’s, Al and Katy. Why did I have this feeling that I was winning the battles, but losing the war!

Day 21 of the schedule:

We were to film Matthew’s leaving the Middle East at the Palmdale airport.

Thirty-four years later and not much has changed.

I was told I could not move the plane. There was stock footage of a plane’s takeoff. So I moved the camera.

Late morning producer Phil Parslow came to me with a request. There was an additional short scene scheduled that day.

limo1

limo2

He asked that I film the limousine without the characters getting out of the car and also establish the plane, so that later I could film the dialogue with Blake and Krystle seated in the car. The Shapiro’s had had a meeting that morning with the executives at ABC. They said the current situation was untenable. That if George Peppard continued into the series playing Blake Carrington, they would no longer be associated with the project. There was no hesitation in the response from the executives. They wanted the Shapiro’s to remain. Phil asked that I not say anything of this to the cast or crew. Within 10 minutes the entire group on location knew. Phil had not realized when he spoke with Bo Hopkins that Bo was wired with a wireless mike for the filming. The sound mixer heard everything Phil said. The whole crew knew that this was the final day of production. George Peppard had been fired.

To be continued

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6 Responses to Filming OIL (LA)

  1. Tim Messenger says:

    Mr. Senensky ,
    I’m enjoying this story. It’s interesting to imagine Peppard as Blake. Is any of that footage still around ? Did John Forsythe ever see the dailies showing Peppards work as Blake ? Your site is very entertaining , I enjoy your writing.

    • Ralph says:

      The footage for the first shoot was assembled, and I’m sure survives in the vaults at 20th Century Fox. I don’t know if John Forsythe ever viewed that assemblage, but I would doubt it.

  2. Phil says:

    The film footage w/ George Peppard (including the infamous “presentation”) would have been a terrific DVD bonus feature. But, would the owners of ‘Dynasty’ owe the estate of G.P. money if that film were used commercially?

    If you go to gettyimages.com and query ‘Dynasty’ for the broadcast date of 01/12/1981, it will retrieve 156 images from “Oil”. Three of them show G.P. with Linda Evans.

    More stills of Linda & George are here (top of page):

    http://linda-evans.tumblr.com/archive/2013/10

    I found a 9/5/1985 interview of G.P. regarding ‘Dynasty’ in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by TV scribe Gary Deeb. George confirmed an exchange of telegrams with the ABC brass. But, with ‘The A-Team’ flying high in ’85, he was at peace with ‘Dynasty’, concluding, “My firing turned out to be the best thing for the program, for the network, for John Forsythe and for me.”

    BTW, regarding Lloyd Bochner, I assume you meant to say twelve years earlier on ‘TNOTG’, not two…and that show would be good project to write about one day!

    • Ralph says:

      When we reshot that first scene of Blake and Fallon (Forsythe and Pamela Sue) talking as they walked their horses, I asked if we could start the sequence with the very wide shot I had filmed with George and Pamela Sue. It was a beautiful shot and the figures were so far away I didn’t think George would be recognized, but because we were filming 7 months later, the foliage was no longer green and the shot couldn’t be made. I had remembered that when Elizabeth Taylor replaced Vivien Leigh in ELEPHANT WALK, they had used wide shots of Miss Leigh. I was told that using any footage of George would cost the company a lot of money. I wonder if the “presentation” shot even exists. We only did the first one. But I do agree, if at some future time the edited version of DYNASTY with George could be included in a DYNASTY release, it would be of historical value. And you are so correct about the Lloyd Bochner dates. It seems so easy for me now at the age of 91 to lose a decade along the line.

  3. Joe says:

    I’m watching the pilot of Dynasty (OIL) on Pop TV. It’s airing M-F at 9:00 am EST. The show was so grand and shot so beautifully. I was curious about the scene of Blake and Fallon horseback riding. Do you recall if this took a long time to shoot? The action with the horses swooping across the landscape is pretty impressive. Great stunt work with “Fallon” being thrown in the pond. Simply awesome. Also, Pamela Sue Martin was beautiful and hell on wheels as Fallon. It’s a shame she left. She was so original as was Al Coley. Their replacements never captured their innocence and rawness as Fallon & Steven.

    • Ralph says:

      As I remember, the horseback riding sequence was no problem at all. The riders were experienced stunt people and the camera for some of the traveling shots was mounted on a camera car. Your comments about Pamela Sue and Al are right on the mark.

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