An Individual’s history goes beyond the years they have lived. Connections before our birth are woven into the timeline of our lives. The crossroads of past generations intersecting our life providing interesting synapses connecting seemingly unrelated parts of our lives.
I recently had one of those intersections. This MGM camera crane connects my first job in TV to a project I’m working on in retirement. This is indeed a reach to make the connections. But stay with me.
This story begins with childhood inspiration of film making. Specifically dance scenes in West Side Story. Visual storytelling is something I latched onto as a goal. I got a degree in Visual Communications from KSU. During my Sr. year I got a job at Cathedral Teleproductions, in Cuyahoga Falls. The technical, studio and editing facilities were far superior than any TV station outside of a major market. I was “the new college kid” and the people were great. My job was the library/shipping/receiving of dubs of the Rex Humbard show.
Any down time, I was in the edit suite or the huge studio. 25’ ceilings, 60 X 90 floor space, Mole lights and more grip equipment than I had any idea how to use. This was the real deal. Big time sound-stage. Years before I got there, the facility did commercial production and was the biggest sound-stage between Chicago and NY. In the back of the studio was a big crane but was never used. Curious about big blue I was told after it was delivered a copy of the script from Gone With the Wind was found in one of the compartments. The cynic in me recognized I was the new kid to tell stories to and took it with a grain of salt. But there were markings on it tying it to MGM. Maybe?
If you know anything about production you know this crane is an unbelievable custom piece of gear. Room on the tongue for 2. I balanced it and was amazed how smoothly I could make it move. The arm approached a ton but I moved it with 2 fingers. The electric motor was burned out and had to be moved by hand. This was my first “crush” on production equipment.
After about 6 months I became involved in studio and Sunday service productions. I had found my place and what became a career, on the production crew.
Shortly before I left that job, a new show open was scheduled to be shot in a park near the studios. The crane was pulled out of mothballs to be towed to the park. The two rear wheels were used to steer. Somebody had to ride in the driver’s seat and keep the wheels straight. The kid” got a chance to drive the crane. I knew this crane had done some big jobs. I was pretty pleased with myself. Not real resume material but a nice ego boost to begin a career. Being connected to the era of production I admired was an impetus to always look for connections you can reflect on.
Now a leap of decades. Before retirement I got back into still photography. A few components of this story are already connected but life goes on after retirement. Capturing moments and telling visual stories was the objective I wanted to pursue. The primary subjects I wanted to see in the viewfinder were sailboats & humans. Humans is subdivided into creative, artistic/athletic and just folks. Dance, both artistic and athletic, was in my mind’s eye for the challenge of capturing light, form and emotion. I looked for opportunities and found them.
A connection with Dancer/Choreographer Maria Caruso has provided wonderful opportunities. But our first meeting is the connection (unknown at that time) to the big blue crane. Ms Caruso told me her studio is the old studio of Gene Kelly…a kid from da ‘burgh. I always respecte the space of artists and her studio was no exception. I was in a space that was more than it seemed. I put that outta my mind, grabbed my 2 step ladder and started taking some pics during a rehearsal.
A recap. I was inspired by strong visuals including dance as a youngster. Wanted to work on production crews as a career. First job had big time gear including a big 40’ crane built for MGM. Had a career doing what I enjoyed, but no dance. Retired with a DSLR and found opportunities to capture some dance images.
Ok. I now have a connection to Singing in the Rain which arguably is the best musical/dance production ever made. West Side Story grabbed me, but as my appreciation for the genre evolved Gene Kelly and company set a standard that should always be part of any critique.
And now the connection back to that very first job.
Facebook has a group called Eyes of a Generation I follow. Many TV geeks are still telling stories and sharing pics of gear on this site. I posted the pic above. That connected me with a camera operator who had worked at Cathedral on commercial production in the early 70’s. He corrected the story I was told when I was “the new kid from college.” They didn’t find a script to Gone with the Wind. They found a work order in one of the tool storage compartments for Signing in the Rain.
Here’s the final weave of connections. I was inspired by dance scenes in West Side Story. MGM’s Singing in the Rain was a natural progression of appreciation of this genre. I drove this MGM crane on my first job. The pedigree of this classic camera crane is a work order for the film a kid from my hometown,who owned a studio in Pittsburgh, starred in and co-directed. I took pictures in Gene Kelly’s studio. It was the first time I ever took a 2 step ladder onto a shoot.
If you look, you can find connections in life that will give you a sense of place in history.