MARK A. BAKER ... Part 2
As I waited for Michael Mann throughout most of that Saturday, I kept telling myself that this will all work out and everything would be fine. It is funny, but I was in the company of friends and on an adventure which I had waited all my life to do, yet the feelings of melancholy crept into what should have been the most positive of moments. I knew I was invited, I knew that Michael Mann was expecting me on the Monday following, yet as the hours ticked by and the afternoon sun began to set, I could not help but wonder if I was not walking a fool's trace. How I was treated in the production office didn't help. Not that anyone treated me rudely, I am not saying that at all. It's just that until Michael Mann returned from scouting locations, and not until he gave the word that I was aboard, I did not feel at home. But when he finally did arrive and gave directions to the production staff, my world of movie making changed in an instant. And it was a bit funny, too.
You have got to remember that this was my first movie gig, and I was basing my attitudes, social stance, actions, even my patterns of speech on what I thought to be true of the Hollywood circles. I had no prior first-hand experience on the protocol of show biz. I was feeling my way in the dark with the blindness of ignorance. And, I unknowingly was assuming professional relationships would be the same in the Production Office as it was for me in my circles of professional education. Those assumptions led me to both play the clown and play the fool. Let me explain.
While waiting around for Michael Mann to show up, I had spent some time looking at photo stills taken of the primary actors in their costumes. These photos, in black and white glossies, were 8" X 10" and just plain straight on shots--designed for final checks on "look" of the actors when in character. These photos happened to be thrown about on the desk of Mann's secretary. She was very nice and spoke with a distinct British accent and I could not help but ask her how long she had been working for Forward Pass Productions and Michael Mann. She answered simply, "Only a couple of months, since the production moved to North Carolina." I did not know at the time that even the office help were independent contractors of sorts--that is, they move from job to job, within the union system, just like prop or set designers.
When looking at the photos of Daniel Day-Lewis, it struck me immediately how much his costume looked like photos from my magazine articles. I do not want to sound vain or self-serving, but the photos had the ear-marks of my explanations of clothing and accoutrements as featured in Muzzleloader magazine. Either that, or Michael Mann's research department had done some thorough digging into primary documents not readily available. And since they had heard about me by calling Scurlock Publishing Company, I could not help but wonder if they had not found some inspiration in my articles. I was probably assuming too much then, but Hawkeye did have his sash tied in the back and middle, he did have his powder horn and shot bag up in the hollow of his ribs, and we was wearing a hunting shirt ripped down the middle and very over-sized with no fringe. Hmmm. . . . could it have been?
In reality, I was probably playing the fool then, by assuming "they must have read my articles." I should have inquired into where they got their ideas. But I didn't. I just paced around the halls, walked outside, back inside, outside again, repeating my circle like a great cat in a zoo pen, just waiting for more of the same.
However, while outside, in the late afternoon, I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Production Office and next to the Cafe on the Corner--a glassed eatery which looked very trendy and upscale. I was in shorts, athletic shirt, tennis shoes and long hair. I did not look like the clientele inside the restaurant. (In fact, after almost eight hours of waiting, I was beginning to feel a bit alienated. But I kept telling myself that this was nobody's fault except mine--because I did not have an agent to negotiate everything ahead of time. However I digress--back to the story). I had just finished glancing at the clientele inside the restaurant, wondering to myself if I should maybe take the chance and head for something to eat, when a blue Lincoln Continental pulled up to the "Reserved Parking" right in front of where I was standing on the cobblestone sidewalk.
A dark-complexioned man in a white polo shirt and casual slacks stepped out of the car. He appeared short to me and he displayed an air of importance as he held his briefcase in one hand and punched in his security code on the series of buttons located just below the door handle on the driver's side. As he turned and walked past me, I watched him walk up to the glass windows on the Cafe on the Corner and tap on the window and wave and say rather loudly (as if the folks inside could hear him), "You go ahead and finish eating, I will be upstairs watching the dailies . . . come on up when you are finished."
Without thinking about it, I walked toward the front doors and asked him rather simply, "Who are you?" Kind of silly I know, but with that confidence that only comes to the naive, with that fresh hope that only children possess, I boldly went where angels feared to tread.
"I'm Michael Mann," he answered as he kept walking toward the swinging doors.
"Hi! I'm Mark Baker" I returned as we shook hands.
That was it. He was very unassuming and very personable. And in a very genuine manner, Michael said, "I'm so glad you have come all this way to help us. Come up to my office with me." We both stepped in the elevator, he with his briefcase, me with my grin.
As we approached the second floor, he reached up and punched a code into the buttons near the door and we opened up to a direct passage to his secretary's desk and those photo stills laying all about. Michael did not speak directly to me or his secretary for the next two minutes, but instead he gave a series of orders, of sorts, about this and that and my relationship to the project - and everyone seemed to be listening - and not knowing what else to do I was following him to this table, then into his office and back out to the secretary, and then to the coat rack and then back into his office, as he compressed an hour's worth of directions into two or three minutes. In a flash, he had left the floor and headed toward the dailies as I was stuck inside his office staring at the storyboard drawing tacked up on the wall. I stood mesmerized, studying the fort, the forest, the battles, just like a kid watching his first circus. I only realized I was left alone in his office when the secretary said in her particular British manner, "Michael Mann doesn't like it when people are in his office without him."
That woke me quickly out of my daze, for when I caught sight of those story boards my feet became planted in cement. I never moved. Without my realizing it, Michael kept walking out of his office, past the secretary, past the private elevator entrance and off into movie land, telling me to "see Ned Dowd about a salary, and check with the casting department about meeting Daniel on Monday and Tuesday." I heard those directions somewhere in the whirlwind tour of the upper room of the Production Office.
After getting over the mild scolding from the British lady, I was suddenly at ease, part of the family. As soon as Michael Mann publicly recognized me as one of the crew, people began talking to me, supplying me with the phone numbers I needed, the calendar of events, the routine of how things worked, etc. I no longer had those melancholy sensations brought on by the fatigue of a cross-country drive, the standing around in limbo all day long, as if stuck between heaven and hell and I was waiting for either Saint Peter or Satan to be the first one through the door.
Yes, in Hollywood, things can change 180 degrees with just one word spoken from the right person.
I went to the Casting Office (downstairs) as directed and explained the scene I had just witnessed and the cast laughed with me about being caught standing in Mann's office with my gazing eyes and eager grin. As if by magic, for I don't know how quickly things happened, but by the time I had walked down the three stories to the basement and entered the Casting Office, the gears were already turning. And I don't know how Michael Mann had time to give orders--but maybe he said something while passing on the way to the dailies. The Casting folks took my phone number, asked if the personal trainer of Daniel Day-Lewis might call me and let me know when I was to meet Hawkeye on Monday.
After I met Michael Mann on the sidewalk in front of the Cafe on the Corner and took the whirlwind five minute tour up the elevator, through the private entrance, into his office, to the producer's secretary, back to his office, I had sealed the deal. In just five minutes or less it all happened. Well kind of. Nothing was in writing yet, but I did have a verbal agreement. I know, I know, many of you out there are thinking that no one should work on a verbal agreement with Hollywood. But I can say, that throughout the whole Mohican experience, I was treated very fairly and honestly by all concerned--and all of the deals started with a verbal agreement. After all, it was my first Hollywood experience and in reality the producers didn't know me from Adam and I didn't expect to be treated like I was Daniel Day himself. I knew my place in the big scheme of things and I was perfectly happy to be contributing. But just as we have all seen in those old black and white movies about "the nobody" suddenly making it big in Hollywood or on Broadway, it happened in the same way to me. Just as soon as Michael Mann spoke "I want Mark Baker to meet with Daniel on Monday and Tuesday," as he whipped past his secretary and on to the screening room, my world changed. That quickly. As I was left standing in his office, looking at the story boards I faintly heard those directions and then I was awoken from my daze by the secretary warning me to exit Mann's personal office without him in there.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to take care of me, from the producers to the casting office to the cashiers, to the secretaries, to the armory and prop and design folks. On that one sentence, my status elevated upwards from one of many in a faceless crowd to that one person who is going to train Daniel how to shoot his rifle and reload on the run. Eventually, even one of the Vice Presidents of 20th Century Fox (who was visiting the set of the fort siege scenes) walked by me and said "Hello Mark, how are you?" That one greeting told me much and it sure was nice . And it's funny, but a kind word, from an unexpected direction can stick with you for a lifetime. (It's the small things that often keep us happy, isn't it?)
If I remember correctly, the meeting with Michael Mann was Saturday afternoon late, and I had to wait until Monday morning to get everything in writing. Ned Dowd, one of the producers, was out of his office ( I did not know it at the time, but it was Ned Dowd and Hunt Lowry whom Michael Mann had seen in the Cafe on the Corner and communicated to them through the glass) and he was the one I was supposed to see regarding "sealing the deal."
Needless to say, Sunday was a long day, but a fun one for my North Carolina hosts and I toured King's Mountain and had a grand time walking on the same ground where that glorious morning had evolved. I know this is off the movie topic itself, but a few things struck me as ironic while we made this trip south to the National Park and back. If I may wander off the trail for a moment, I would like to share one scene with you. We passed through many small towns and one in particular (I can't remember the name) had two Baptist churches of the same sect of the Baptist denomination. One was placed at the North end of town and one was situated at the southern end of town. This was my first summer spent in the South so I was up for new awakenings into how things work, and the churches were my first lesson. On the way down to King's Mountain, both buildings were crowded close with parked cars, but I could not see anyone walking about. On our way back from the King's Mountain site, we passed through this same town just as church was letting out. One church appeared to have an all white congregation and the other, on the southern end, had an all black membership. This was my first silent lesson in race relations in the South. I would eventually get another one--one much more vocal and intense in the weeks to follow.
Monday morning found me back at the Producer's Office waiting for Ned Dowd, but as things worked out, he was out in the field working on location. As I was to see in the weeks ahead, Ned was a very hard worker and he was not above taking his shirt off and digging holes to secure upright poles for a Lacrosse game or to haul firewood for the Cameron Cabin fire place. It is no wonder that he is, last time I heard, head of one of Disney's main film groups. Hard work does pay off.
Shirley Crumley, head of casting, made several phone calls and arranged for me to meet Ned at the Biltmore Estates that Monday evening so we could negotiate a figure. (As I am trying to remember this, my days must be off somewhere, for I know I worked with Daniel Day-Lewis two days in a row, and I thought it was a Monday and Tuesday, but in fact, it may have been that Tuesday and Wednesday. Yes, that must be it, for they never filmed major production scenes on a Sunday and when I went to the Biltmore Estates, a major production was under way. So, bear with me folks, for those who are trying to follow the days, I might have messed up a bit. Then again, I may have been to the Biltmore on a Friday evening--so much for oral history!)
I had most of Monday (or whatever day it was) to fill since I would not see Ned until that evening at the Biltmore mansion. Therefore, I spent the time with the military cadre folks in their office listening to stories about laying in the mud for full days while they died this way and that way. Tony even took me on a tour of Asheville and the condo which all of the cadre were staying. It kind of looked like a mix between an eighteenth-century barracks and a modern single guy's pad. Muskets and gear spread here and there, plus modern clothes and personal items hung where ever there was room. And boy was it crowded! But the cadre had it good compared to the military extras who camped at a campground and tried to sleep during the day in 80-plus degree weather while lounging underneath canvas tents. They had it rough. You always hear about how hard it was on the Indian extras, but I think the military extras had it the roughest for the Indians at least had a fixed shelter and a bed. The military had neither.
As I explained before, with a brief sentence uttered from Michael Mann, doors opened and just before I left to drive out to the Estates, Shirley Crumley phoned ahead and arranged with security to allow me on to the closed set. These little things were kind of fun, and I could not help but think of all those old movies I had seen about the Hollywood business--about barring someone from the set or the security guards allowing someone to pass after they had checked the guest list. And sure enough, it happened just as the movies explained, for when I arrived at the Biltmore Estates security station, the guard checked the list, found my name, gave me a pass to put in the car, and gave me directions on how to weave my way through the maze of manicured fields, country bungalows, and herds of sheep. Off I drove with a grin on my face and directions on how to find the film set in my head.
If I remember correctly, it was about a two-three mile drive back to the tents and the trailers and all the hubbub of prefilming production. As a new guy to a movie set, I was entranced by the myriad of visual intoxicants I soaked up as I sat in a chair and waited for my appointment. Scores of Indians were standing in front of make-up mirrors, in nothing but breech clouts and leggings. They remained perfectly still and gazed into the full-length mirrors as the make-up ladies rubbed skin tone pigment all over their bodies. Yes, even full-blooded Indians have tan lines and each day before filming those tan lines had to be erased with make-up. I can remember watching as the ladies, with soaked sponges in hand, rubbing along the shoulders to erase the athletic shirt tan lines and then around the buttocks and inner thighs to erase the shorts tan lines. By the smiles on their faces and the jokes whispered, I think both parties enjoyed the experience to some degree.
I watched what seemed liked thousands of folks moving here and there, picking up costumes, getting a quick bite to eat, checking out weapons and props. The business of being busy never ended. But more than the visual images, I think I remember most was the sounds of the walkie-talkies which the PA's (production assistants) carried everywhere with them. Since the devices were always on, the echoes of the communications would vibrate throughout the set as dozens of these walkie-talkies pronounced the latest commands and arrivals. I can remember hearing "Daniel has just arrived at the gate" echoing through the maze. Then "Daniel is pulling up to the trailer." And finally, "Okay, get him over to hair and make-up as soon as possible." The sites and sounds were just plain thrilling to me as I watched and listened. By watching and listening and trying to ask a few discreet questions, I found out where Daniel's trailer was and I kept watching it, trying to match the echoes of the walkie-talkies with the action around the trailer. Somehow, I got distracted (probably the rubbing of the make-up) and before I knew it, I saw the door of his trailer open up and there Daniel stood, bare-chested, in Levi's and boots, with his hair down on his shoulders. His charisma reminded me of Errol Flynn. At least in my mind. I enjoyed just watching, and for about 30 seconds I saw my first glimpse of a genuine movie star. Tall, sinewy, slender waist and a just plain "tall drink of water." Over the next seven weeks, I was to learn much more about the sincerity and professionalism of this hard working and intense actor.
Looking back on that first day spent on a large movie set, watching the pre-filming chaos bubbling and boiling all around me, I began to relax and to enjoy my pilgrimage to "get into the movies." Sometime before dark, I had moved from the makeup tents to the chairs and tables that were under large marquees--like small circus tents--that shelters the eating and waiting area for cast and crew. I don't remember exactly how it happened, but sometime before dark, I was approached by Ned Dowd, one of the two producers working directly with Michael Mann. As most know, producers are the folks watching the bottom-line, they are responsible for keeping everything under budget--or at least trying to. Ned sat down and talked with me about what Michael Mann wanted me to do and what he saw my role for the summer consisting of. First, I was to work the next two filming days with Daniel Day-Lewis on running and reloading and marksmanship and generally handling the rifle, powder horn and shot pouch like a woodsman of the eighteenth century. Also, he asked if I would be willing to hang around the set and answer questions if the need should arise. By the tone and substance of his conversation, I began to realize for the first time that there were two distinct divisions of this movie making project: there were the principal actors and crew; and there were the featured extras and the myriad of "extras." I realized then that I was being hired by both sections, with two different contracts: one for being some sort of trainer and consultant, and one contract as a featured extra. I was learning my first big lesson in getting the deal done. I sat and listened to Ned talk and said, full of na�vet�, "Okay," to everything. I ended up with a pretty good deal, having two contracts and getting paid for doing one job twice--in a sense. Any time I was in costume, I was being paid as a featured extra and as a consultant. When in street clothes, I was paid as just the consultant. But like any gambling stake made at a casino, and in one in which you win, I could not help but wonder many times if I should not have said, "Well, how about this amount?" I should have bargained and compromised, but then again, I had heard so many stories about folks who did name a price and never got called back. I was just glad to be there. And to receive in one week more money than I had paid in Federal Income Tax for the whole year as a teacher was a pretty good summer job to me. But I will know better next time.
In short, the deal was made to work with Daniel Day-Lewis in about five minutes. I had the job firmed up verbally and would need to visit the payroll office on the next working day.
Again, before I go any farther, I must say that because it was my first movie job, I did not know what to ask for or even demand when talking salary--things like lodging, transportation, per diem, etc. I was only saved from all that by two good friends of mine, Tom and Becky Phillips, who several months ahead of time had offered not only a spare bedroom but also the use of their spare car while I was to live at their house and work on the movie. Frankly, I could not have sent all that money home to my good wife and three children without their generosity. I am indebted to them and so thankful. They gave me a chance to succeed in a world that I had yet to understand.
And as I was to find out, I would learn many lessons about the movie business in the weeks to come.
Not knowing any better, I left the Biltmore Estates soon after I had secured the deal verbally with Ned Dowd. Of course, I was feeling pretty good about things. Remember, I had traveled from the Rocky Mountains to North Carolina on a verbal invitation. I had fought the warnings and folklore spread about the Hollywood crowd and I traveled that distance on hunch that I would be treated fairly and that I would have a paying job once I hit North Carolina's border. And as I drove away from Biltmore Estates that evening, I could not help but say a quiet prayer of thanks to the good Lord for working all of the details out. I was feeling pretty good, knowing that I was not only beginning an adventure, but I was also going to be able to send a lot of money back home to my family. Since we were all pulling together while I was attending graduate school, and we were all making sacrifices for me to fulfill that dream, I was anxious to give my three children and my most faithful wife all the rewards I could possibly share in this dream of being in the movies.
As I cruised down the twisted country lane of the Biltmore acreage, I could see the elevated "moonlight" hanging high above the old growth forest which crowded and covered the right side of the road. I did not know it at the time, but they were preparing to film the burial ground scene that night and I would have enjoyed the opportunity of standing in the background and watching the whole process. But, it was only my first day on the set, and I did not know my freedoms and my restrictions yet. The moonlight was simulated very believably with a bank of spotlights, kind of like a section of baseball field lights, all held high above the woods by a huge crane. A lighting technician sat in a protective cage up with the lights--perhaps ten stories high--and took directions from Michael Waxman (the first assistant director) concerning the up or down of the brightness or the direction of the lights. This setup was used in all of the night scenes and how the crew managed the crane in all of the forest scenes must have been an adventure in and by itself--especially at the Cameron Cabin scene, for the dirt road up to the small field of the cabin was a tight switchback and very steep. Like all parts of the support crew (the food services, the makeup, the prop department), the lighting crew had to move everything to the new location between the "It's a wrap" and the next day's filming. Entire villages of tents, trailers and assorted vehicles would be moved miles and reassembled in sometime less than 12 hours. Actors and extras had the easy job on any movie set--especially when you realize that Assistant Producers (AP's) would sometimes work 24 hours straight and the food services (Craft?) people would do their own shopping, food preparation and clean up, working solid around the clock. Then they would move to the next location and buy more food along the way. The support folks were much more tired than any of the actors or extras. Honest.
I returned to the Phillip's house and spent the weekend mowing their yard, picking apples, doing things outside for them. I enjoyed it and when I think back on it I imagine I looked rather silly at times for I rode a riding lawnmower in breechclout, leggings and moccasins to keep the tan I had been working on all spring (so as to look weathered and acclimated and not like a graduate student who has spent hours in the dark dungeons of a microfilm room reading obscure letters from English traders and market hunter ledgers). I even did my running in my eighteenth-century clothing, it just seemed right in my head at the time. But I did avoid the public streets when doing so. Sometime between the yard work and the running, I received a phone call from Daniel Day-Lewis' personal trainer--an Englishman--who apparently not only trained Daniel in weight training but also managed his personal time off the set. He wanted me to meet him at 9:30 Monday morning (if I have the day correctly) after the July 4th holiday at the Production Office in downtown Asheville. He explained that I should "bring my kit," which to him meant my eighteenth-century woodsman clothing, shot bag, powder horn and of course, Moriah--my Jud Brennan rifle.
I arrived at the Production Office a bit early and signed all the necessary papers to get me on the payroll as both a featured extra and a trainer-and-hang-around-the-set-and-answer-questions type of person. Sure enough, at 9:30 sharp, the trainer pulled up to the curb and we transferred my "kit" to the Lincoln Continental which he drove as part of his working arrangement. As we rode to the health spa and fitness center where Forward Pass Productions had worked up a deal for the actors to train there on a regular basis, I enjoyed the conversation and the light talk helped me to feel at ease. The trainer explained to me how the day's schedule would work out and how I would fit into the picture. I had arrived in shorts and an athletic cut shirt for a workout--and boy did we get one in an hour and a half.
As we approached the health spa (which sat up on a hill above the roadway), the trainer nonchalantly pointed to his left and said "There's Daniel now . . . good . . . we are right on time." I looked across the traffic going the other way and spotted him immediately. Daniel was dressed in a blue athletic cut shirt and an odd-colored pair of spandex, full-length running tights. The color wasn't purple, but they weren't red either. But his long hair was bouncing and flowing in the wind as he kept up a good pace down the side walk and toward the fitness center. Upon spotting his hair and seeing the pace he kept up, I couldn't help but think that he was the perfect adaptation of the Romantic frontier hero. Tall, slender, sinewy, good-looking and athletic. But, upon seeing the bold clash of colors between the shirt and the tights (and his shoes had lime-green stripes), I thought to myself--styles must be different in Europe.
By the time we parked the Lincoln and both got out of the car, we saw Daniel running up the hillside, along the driveway, still continuing the same fast pace which I had earlier seen him running down the roadway. Yet when he stopped, he was barely out of breath. I noticed that right off, and I also noticed that his chauffeur, who was at the spa waiting for him, had a liter size bottle of spring water waiting in hand--plus a towel. The water was cold, too. The trainer introduced me to Daniel and he immediately talked to me as if we were friends, mates, equals for all these years. He did much to put me at ease and only verified what the trainer had told me about Daniel as we had ridden on over to the fitness center.
RETURN TO PART ONE OF ON THE TRAIL WITH ... MARK A. BAKER.