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Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta-Poster Art

It was on a hot day in June in the very warm summer of 1977 when we started filming Grease at Venice High School on the Westside of Los Angeles. Venice High was to be the school that doubled for the fictional high school, Rydell High and most of the film was to be done there since much of the school was closed down for summer vacation. Other locations included the riverbed in East Los Angeles, Huntington Park High School, John Marshall High School, Burbank Drive In Theater, and several sound stages at Paramount Studios. From the first day of shooting until the final day of filming, 12 weeks later, we did nothing but laugh and enjoy our work. Every day was a fun, new adventure and we couldn’t wait to get to work to find out what we were doing next.

Cast of Grease less Frankie Avalon-Venice High School

On the second day of filming, the entire cast was called to our location to do a special cast photo that was to be our poster shot. The only one missing was Frankie Avalon who was on tour in Europe. Once the finished photo was seen, Paramount got very excited and they decided to use the image immediately for pre-release publicity and have me do the final poster art at a later date.

John Travolta

John Travolta & the Boys-Summer Nights

Our trouble began at Venice High School when we started filming, and rehearsing, “ Summer Nights “ in the bleachers of the football field and the outside eating area of the school cafeteria. Summer school was in session and once the music started, students and teachers left class to watch what was going on and to start dancing. The school principle had no sense of humor and felt he was losing control of the school. When Randal Kleiser, our director, told him that he was conducting a music appreciation class, that was the last straw and we were told to leave the location immediately.

Olivia Newton-John & the Girls-Summer Nights

Olivia Newton-John & The Girls-Summer Nights

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John-Malibu Sunset

We had a wonderful day of shooting at Leo Carrillo Beach in Malibu, California where we shot the opening of the film with John and Olivia enjoying the last days of summer before returning to school for their senior year. We lucked out that day and had a beautiful sunset for our two lovers running along the beach at sunset.

The televised dance off scene was based on the hugely popular “ Dick Clark’s American Bandstand “ and was filmed in the very hot, non-air conditioned gym of Huntington Park High School that was located next to a very smelly meat packing plant. In spite of these obvious distractions, we had a lot of fun and we all still have our photo badges of the three T-Bird guys mooning the TV Camera.

Frankie Avalon & Didi Conn-Beauty School Dropout

While working on the “ Beauty School Dropout “ number on Paramount sound stage, The three T-Bird guys were supposed to fly through the number dressed as angels. Well, as luck would have it, the ropes on their flying harnesses got stuck and it took some time to get them back down. We all had a big laugh while the effect crew worked to get them down. Also it is interesting to note that this song became Frankie Avalon’s biggest hit of all of his many Top 10 records.

Randal Kleiser gets a surprise from the T-Birds

When we filmed the final sequence, the graduation carnival at John Marshall High School in Glendale, California, it was extremely hot and we all had to watch out for each other because of the excessive heat. Because the carnival was such an high energy and busy scene, there was a lot going on with the cast, crew, dancers and extras. Many funny things happened off camera during this time, Randal getting hit in the face with a banana cream pie by the T-Birds, Olivia splitting her extremely tight black pants several times during the “ You Better Shape Up” number, and a cast and crew pie fight.

Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta-You’d Better Shape Up

Olivia Newton-John

We had so many great people working on that film. The cast, crew and dancers were among the best. John and Olivia were an absolute joy to work with and Olivia threw a wonderful wrap party at her ranch in Malibu for the cast and crew of the film. This pissed off many of the studio executives because they were not invited. If your name did not appear on the official cast and crew list, the security guards immediately turned you away regardless of who you were.

The only negative thing that happened to me on that film took place in the week following the completion of the shoot. If you will notice I am the only crew-member whose name has been omitted from the final film credits. This happened because I was called into the office of the PR and Marketing Director at Paramount Pictures and asked to make a choice that I was not about to make. Sometimes one has to make a choice in life and I made mine. It’s a credit that I obviously would have loved to have but everyone in Hollywood already knew that I had done the picture and my name credit appeared on every photo that appeared in print worldwide and still does 33 years later. That was enough satisfaction for me.

John Travolta-Greased Lightnin’

Jeff Conaway

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John-Dance Off

Randal Kleiser & Olivia Newton-John

Frankie Avalon-Teen Angel appears-Beauty School Dropout

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John-We’ll Always Be Together

Stallone in Thailand

When filming began on the third segment of the Rambo adventure in mid-1987, I was called to work on the film. I was told we would be working in Thailand, Israel, and in Yuma, Arizona.

As it turned out, I did the locations in Thailand and Yuma. I did not go to Israel due to work immigration problems but as it turned out, most of what was shot, or never shot, in Israel was re-shot in Yuma due to terrible production problems and the continuing threat of war breaking out at any moment.

The Stick Fight (Bangkok, Thailand)

When we filmed the stick fight in Bangkok it was very hot and the warehouse that we used was crammed with people. It was brutally hot and smelly in there during our filming, and it was not a fun place to be. We also worked in Chiang Mai, which is located in the mountainous part of Thailand and is much cooler. That’s where we filmed all of the temple scenes.

Stallone playing the rough game of Buzcari

When we were finished in Thailand, I returned home to work on the Robert De Niro film, Midnight Run and some of the cast and crew of Rambo III traveled to Israel. During the very difficult shoot in the Israeli desert, I got several phone calls asking me to please come. I could not go because I was on location in freezing, at that time, Chicago. The problem was that they had to hire an Israeli still photographer as part of the production deal to film there, and he knew absolutely nothing about working on a film set or under filming conditions. As it turned out, I had to recreate 95% of what he did when we were in Yuma. This caused some very difficult problems for myself and the second unit still photographer that I brought down there to help me.

Incredible battle scene between Russian Army & Afghan cavalry

Richard Crenna & Stallone on the attack

When we got to Yuma, The crew was split into two different units, with the first unit shooting what was scheduled to be done in Yuma and the second unit re-shooting most of what had been shot in Israel. This was very difficult on the cast members because they were running back and forth between two different locations and trying to remember what they were supposed to be doing on each one. It was professionalism at its highest level.

Richard Crenna

People always ask me why I carry so much spare equipment when I go on location shoots. On this location we were dealing with very hot days with no shelter and lots of fine sand that was always blowing around us. Everyone had huge problems with sand getting into places where it was not welcome, and I was no exception. When I returned home to LA and took my eight camera bodies in for cleaning, the man at Nikon Professional Services just laughed at me and had me deposit them in the trash bin next to him. He did offer me $50 each for the bodies in case they could salvage some parts to service other cameras in the future. Once Nikon stops making a certain camera, they stop making spare parts for it too. It is then that these old parts come in handy for repairs.

Charge of the Afghan Cavalry (no CGI)

One of the best scenes that I photographed on this location was the big battle that took place at the film’s end. We used marines stationed in Yuma as the Russian soldiers and 700 mounted Civil War re-enactors as the Afghan horsemen. Everything was real and there was no stupid CGI (computer generated imagery) to make it look like a laughable cartoon. Those were the days of real filming and when you saw it on the screen, you could certainly see it.

Sylvester Stallone

Working on the Rambo films was a great adventure. We worked with great people and we had a lot of fun. We worked hard but the end product was certainly worth it.

Sylvester Stallone with his best Rambo look in the pouring rain (Rambo II, 1984)

In the fall of 1984, I got a call from Sylvester Stallone’s PR man, Paul Block, asking if I would be interested in working on Rambo II film in Mexico. I’d known and worked with Paul numerous times before and really liked working with him, so I said yes.

When we all arrived in Acapulco, where we were housed in a lovely hotel on the beach, we didn’t know that the biggest typhoon in years was headed our way. Our first day of shooting was in the jungle behind Acapulco and it would be pissing down rain. When we arrived it was doing just that and we started our day’s work anyway. I got some of my favorite Rambo II shots that day and it was like working in a warm shower. After a couple of hours, we were told to leave because the only road home was about to collapse. It did collapse, but only after we just left.

Stallone, Andy Wood, Julie Nickson, Harry Mok (Rambo II, 1984)

Most of our work took place in the jungle behind Acapulco and it was very hot, smelly, humid and rainy. We also shot on a river and at a waterfall only reachable by helicopter, and at a Mexican air base. We dealt with lots of small, biting insects, large nasty spiders, and really nasty biting snakes that were called ten steppers because, if one bit you, you walked ten steps before you dropped dead. In spite of all of these diversions, we managed to have many good laughs and enjoy our shoot.

Stallone and Richard Crenna

Many funny things happened on this location. Sly getting pantsed by Richard Crenna during a interview with Maria Shriver for national morning TV and then Sly hitting Crenna in the face with a cream pie during his interview; mud fights while working in the jungle; our Thanksgiving dinner with smuggled turkeys; and  the crew being so covered in soot from the burning tires at the POW camp set that our hotel security wouldn’t let us in because we were all unrecognizable.

Kay Cole, Stallone, Pamela Westmore

Stallone gets advice from legendary British Cameraman Jack Cardiff ASC, BSC

We worked with many wonderful people there and had many great times. I remember working with our wonderful Italian camera crew, grip crew, and electric crew, the legendary British cameraman, Jack Cardiff ASC BSC, our great British production crew led by the outstanding assistant director David Tomlin. I will never forget the wonderful lobster dinners with Richard Crenna and his wife at his beautiful beachside hotel.

When we got bored on our Sunday’s off, we made up our own Trivial Pursuit games about the names of movie cowboys horses and we quickly learned that if we ate a lot of garlic with our pasta, that the small, biting bugs with big teeth would stay away.

Max Sano & Dave Friedman (Rambo II, 1984)

Stallone at the waterfall

We did have a very sad moment, when our lead special effects man was killed at the waterfall after slipping on a moss covered rock. We are always reminded that filmmaking is a very dangerous business and that accident certainly drove the point across to us that day.

More photos from Rambo II:

Sylvester Stallone, doing what he does best: killing bad guys (Rambo II, 1984)

Stallone and Julie Nickson (Rambo II, 1984)

Stallone in the rain (Rambo II, 1984)

Sylvester Stallone, Poster Art (Rambo II, 1984)

 

Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee

I first met Bruce Lee when we both worked on the Green Hornet TV series in the summer of 1966. Bruce was an unknown actor playing Kato alongside of Van Williams who was in the title role. I was the First Assistant Cameraman assigned to the camera crew and I had no idea of Bruce’s legendary skills when we began the show. Although the show was short-lived, it made Bruce a household name. When the show was cancelled, Bruce found it hard to get a good acting job and returned to Hong Kong to work there for Raymond Chow and his Golden Harvest Studios.

 

Bruce Lee, Raymond Chow, Dave Friedman, and Andre Morgan

While working on the Green Hornet, Bruce and I became friends and after he went to Hong Kong, we stayed in touch and I visited him several times during my many trips there. He asked me to come and work on his films there but I was always too busy with my work here to do that. During the period from 1967 to 1973, Bruce became Asia’s biggest and most famous movie star.

"Enter the Dragon" - overview of Martial Arts Tournament

In late 1972, Mort Lichter, head of the Warner Bros Still Department, contacted me about working on their upcoming film Enter The Dragon that was to be shot in Hong Kong. Mort knew that I had spent a lot of time in Hong Kong and he also knew that I had known and had worked with Bruce. It took me about three seconds to say yes to that job.

When I arrived in Hong Kong in early 1973, I learned that I was one of a very small group of American crewmembers that would be working on the film. Director Robert Clouse, Director of Photography Gil Hubbs, Producer Fred Weintraub, and Associate Producer Andre Morgan, an American living in Hong Kong and working for Raymond Chow. We were the ones who were on the set every day.

Bruce Lee, The Absolute Master

The film itself was an absolute joy to work on and Bruce was a real professional to work with. He knew everyone’s lines, knew what everyone was supposed to do and choreographed all of the fight scenes. Bruce was the real deal and could do more than what he showed in the film. He had the best control of his body of anyone that I have ever known. Bruce once told that he could kill a person ten different ways before he hit the ground and I sure as hell believed him.

We enjoyed many special moments on that film but what I most remember are the wonderful lunches that the American crew had with Bruce at the beautiful, old Repulse Bay Hotel. Sitting on their veranda and enjoying a wonderful buffet lunch while overlooking the South China Sea is something I will never forget. Bruce and I had several dinners together in Hong Kong but he didn’t like to go out very much because people who didn’t believe that he could actually do what he did in the movies would often challenge him. Bruce never accepted these challenges but one time, when challenged on the set by a very stupid extra, he did accept and the fight was over with one fast kick to that idiot’s teeth.

Bob Wall, Linda Lee, and Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee and Raymond Chow

Bruce Lee: this fight was for real

Peter Archer, Bruce Lee, and Jim Kelly

Bruce Lee and Bob Wall

Bruce Lee and Bob Wall. Bruce’s hand is cut.

Filming of the big fight scene on the grass tennis court did have one very anxious moment when Bruce’s hand was badly cut by the glass bottle held by Bob Wall who played the villainous Oharra. Seems the Chinese film industry at that time had never heard of the artificial candy glass bottles used regularly for such things in American films and they used a real glass bottle instead. Bruce needed to go to the hospital for stitches but being the professional that he was, he returned to the set later in the day.

Bruce Lee, Bolo Yeung, and Jackie Chan

A couple of interesting notes from this film are: Bolo Yeung, the muscular villain, was known as The Beast of The East and The Chinese Hercules. He was a champion weight lifter and was famous for crushing an unknown extra named Jackie Chan to death during the fight.  He did not speak English at that time but was a delightful man to work with.

Kien Shih

Kien-Shih, who played the evil Han, had been in the film industry since 1939, when he started as a makeup man. He became famous for playing movie villains and had a very long career. Although he did not speak English, he seemed to understand what we asked him to do. He was very professional on the set and a very nice man.

When we finished this film, I went to Europe to cover the Motorcycle Grand Prix circuit. While I was at Monza, Italy for the Italian Grand Prix in July 1973, a fellow photographer, who knew that I was a good friend of Bruce approached me and told that he had heard that Bruce had died. I was in complete shock since I knew that Bruce was my age and in great shape. Needless to say, later in the day this was confirmed to me and I was deeply saddened. Bruce had asked me to work on his next film but obviously that would never happen.

When I attended a private showing of the film at Warner Bros, there was a great sadness, knowing that Bruce would never see the completed film or attend the premiere of the film.

Bruce was a great guy, and I loved him and still do.

Steve McQueen - The Hunter (1979)

I first met Steve McQueen at Riverside Raceway, in the early 1960s, when he was racing a Porsche 1600 in the SCCA sports car races here in Southern California. The thing that most impressed me about Steve, at that time, was that he was a regular guy and he did not put on the so called movie star persona that was starting to overtake Hollywood at that time. Having had both parents involved in the industry for many years, and having been raised around many of MGM’s biggest stars, I appreciated how down to earth Steve was.

Steve McQueen as Tom Horn-1979

Our paths crossed many times before I actually first worked with him as the Still Photographer on Tom Horn in 1979. I remember that film very well because of the difficult locations during a very cold Arizona winter. In spite of the long hours and hard work, we all managed to have a hell of a good time. I’ll never forget the RC car races around the hotel swimming pool in which many of the cars went for a career-ending swim in that pool. I also remember the time that Steve rented out a go kart track and we all went there and totally destroyed the place by the end of the night. I guess there were too few go karts and much to much beer to suit the track owner’s fancy. It was on this shoot that I met a beautiful young lady named Barbara Minty who was to eventually become Steve’s wife. It wasn’t long before we discovered several common interests, mostly photography, and we became immediate friends. When Tom Horn was about to wrap, Steve asked me to be involved on his next project, which at that time, was to be the large scale epic film of James Clavell’s best selling novel Tai Pan. Unfortunately that project never came to be due to serious production and financial problems.

Steve McQueen shouts directions to the cast, Tom Horn - 1979

After the completion of Tom Horn, Steve and Barbara invited me to Santa Paula to visit the hanger and their home. During that visit, after viewing Steve’s incredible motorcycle collection, I came up with the idea of doing a large coffee table photographic book about the collection. Several weeks later, I approached Steve with the idea of the photographic book. My idea was to photograph all of the bikes, using many of the wonderful Victorian period homes in the Santa Paula area as set pieces and background. We would also feature models dressed in the period in which the motorcycles were built. Needless to say, Steve loved the idea and told me to find a publisher and that we would do it when we finished the Hunter, which was to start production in September 1979. I told Steve that I had already taken the liberty of talking to a publisher of high quality art books who was based in Lausanne, Switzerland. I explained that I had already worked this publisher on a previous project and the minute that I had mentioned my idea to the owner, he immediately green lighted it and couldn’t wait for me to do it. Steve looked at me for a minute and then we both broke into a good laugh. Sadly the book would never happen.

Steve McQueen, winter of 1979

We started The Hunter, which sadly would be Steve’s last film, in Chicago just after Labor Day in the early fall of 1979. Once again, it was a difficult shoot and we were rushing to complete our work in the Midwest before the cold weather settled in. Although most of us didn’t know it at the time, Steve was terminally ill. Being a real man’s man and a true professional, Steve never complained and was always the first one on the set every day. One of the things that I will always remember most about Steve happened one day when we were working in an area of Chicago that could only be described as a white trash section of town. We were filming a scene where Steve was chasing the bad guy through a dilapidated old house and one of the extras on the staircase of that house was a very poor young teenage girl named Karen. What we didn’t know at that time was that Karen’s mother was in the hospital, dying of cancer and Karen was living on her own with almost no family to support her. I remember the first thing Steve did when he found out about the girl’s situation was to have her taken on a shopping spree so she could get some badly needed clothing and other personal things. We also used her for several weeks as a Production Assistant after we completed filming in her neighborhood. After her mom died, Steve and Barbara took Karen back to Southern California and enrolled her in an excellent private school in Ojai and gave her a life that she could have never imagined months earlier.

When Steve passed away in the fall of 1980, I was working at Culver City Studios on a film called Lookin’ To Get Out. One of the stars was Ann Margaret who had worked with Steve on The Cincinnati Kid and when I got the call that he had passed away, I told her. We both left the stage, hand in hand, and once outside in private, we both hugged and cried.

Steve was the very best. He was honest and a true friend who would go to bat for anyone who was on his crew, or was his friend and he would defend that person to the maximum. Like some of us in the business then, he understood the difference between the reel world and the real world. He was one of a kind and those of us who worked with him and knew him will miss and love him forever.

1923 Bell & Howell 2709B

Hello! You look at me as if to say, “Who are you and what are you?”. Well let me answer some of your questions:

I am a Bell & Howell 2709B, serial number # 653, and I was built in mid-1923. We were the standard of the industry during the most creative time of the silent film era from 1920 to 1929 and there were 1225 of us built between 1912 and 1961.

Our cameras had many great innovations:

  • We were the first motion picture camera system to be built with a body machined from cast aluminum.
  • We were the first to have a rack over system that allowed for precise viewing and for critical focus.
  • We were the first with a four lens turret and we were the first to have register pins that held the film completely steady and in a precise position.
  • Our design was so good that we remained in production, almost unchanged, from 1912 to 1961.  I was sold to the Metro Company in mid-1923 and was used on several of the company’s biggest films that starred Ramon Narravo, Rudolph Valentino, Aileen Pringle, and Blanche Sweet before the organization was merged with the Goldwyn Company and the Mayer Company to become MGM in April 1924. While at MGM I worked on two of the greatest, most famous, and most successful of all of the silent films, Ben Hur and The Big Parade in 1925.

    Ben Hur (1925) - Chariot race

    Myself, and the tripod I stand on, were used for the filming of the legendary chariot race that was staged in an arena built in Culver City at the corner of what is now Venice and La Cienega Boulevard and in front of a huge crowd of 125,000 spectators. This became one of the most dangerous and exciting sequences ever put on film and still holds up today some 85 years after it was filmed with 43 cameras, the most cameras ever used on any sequence in the long history of the film industry.

    As the silent era passed into history, I was sold to Malcolm Film Laboratories in New York City. There I was used for making title cards and dialogue cards in English that were used for foreign movies being released and shown here in the US and that is where I ended my career. Even after 87 years I am still fully operational as long as you use the crank. My very rare 87 year-old Bell & Howell motor (on the rear of the camera) has not been used in many years and is still wired in the 1920’s technology and therefore I would never allow it to be plugged in. The lenses are of the same era and have not been used in years and therefore I suspect they are no longer reliable.

    Bell & Howell 2709B with original hand crank

    Some of my accessories (side finder and matte box) say Mitchell on them. The reason for this is that when the Mitchell Standard Camera came on line in 1920 many of its accessories were better then the ones produced by Bell & Howell. Since the accessories were interchangeable, many cameramen updated their cameras with these parts. My very rare Akeley Tripod and gyro head were state of the art during the 1920’s and were in huge demand by most of the cameramen of that era.

    It is possible that some of us may still be in use today in animation studios around the world since we were used very successfully in much of that process for many years. A camera like this is extremely rare now since most of us have been cut up or converted to other uses.

    My owner has been told that there maybe no more then 100-150 of us left in original condition in the world. Several well known experts have also said that I maybe the only B&H camera left in the world today with the original Bell & Howell motor attached.

    Please look at me but do not touch me since I am now 87 years old. I am a wonderful piece of the incredible history of the motion picture industry and I have worked with legends so please respect that.

    My owner, Dave Friedman, will be happy to answer any of your questions.

    I’ve often been asked what a still photographer does on the set. The answer is that we are hired to document the filming of a production from start to finish. Of course, this includes recording what is going on in front of the camera but also what goes on behind it.

    As part of our job, we also do set, stills, and makeup stills that are very important to the continuity of the film. Our work is used for all of the film’s marketing and advertising campaigns that will include posters, magazines, newspapers, billboards, books, and merchandise.

    Rambo II

    Rambo II

    For me, the best thing about the job was that you are “a committee of one”, and very few people know what you are really doing there. Much of the cooperation and friendship that I have gotten over the years comes from the acting talent that has received the 11×14 prints that I give them early on in the production. You would be amazed at how much that helps.

    Day of the Locust

    Day of the Locust

    For the most part, I always felt I had the best job on the set specially when I worked with Steve McQueen and Sylvester Stallone where I had full control over what I did and who saw it. It was a great job as long as you were completely prepared and paid attention to what was going on around you.

    Being a still photographer was one of the most challenging of my many life experiences, as I never knew what tomorrow would bring.

    Dave Friedman

    For me the greatest challenge about photography is getting the shot that no one else can, or will, get. Whether it is motor racing, motion picture still photography, or shooting classical ballet performances, the challenge has always there for me. During the 1960’s and early 1970’s most of us had the freedom to roam at will around the inside or the outside of a racing circuit and capture the action close up. We were also able to roam through the pit and paddock area and we were able to visit with the different teams and drivers. We knew everyone on a first name basis and, more importantly, they all knew us.

    1969 - Parnelli Jones (15) and Mark Donohue (6)

    Racing cars, 1969

    Sadly, those days are gone forever. I loved to capture the action on the track but I knew that much of what went on behind the scenes, and in the pits, was very important also. So much of the drama of motor racing was played out in the pits, particularly at night. I loved shooting at night because it was a tremendous challenge to capture the mood of the pit action with the film and equipment that we had available to us at that time. Everything had to be shot with available, or sometimes unavailable, light since flash photography was absolutely prohibited in the night pits during that period.

    Spartacus

    Spartacus, 2005

    The photographing of classical ballet performances has become my newest and biggest challenge. Since I am working on performances where the theatrical lighting is completely beyond my control, I have a different type of challenge. How do I stop the dancers when they are in the air and there is almost no light with which to photograph them? The answer is that, as we say in the film business, you “push the envelope”. You throw away the book and you improvise on every aspect of your knowledge to get the shot, because getting the shot is what you are there to do. The results are often spectacular and the incredible dancers, costumes, sets, and moods are captured forever.

    I have often been asked when I will retire. The answer to that question is: NEVER. There are far too many wonderful challenges out there for me to conquer and I will never be able to stop shooting until the art of photography challenges me no more.

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