Tag Archives: making history

Interview with the ILL Director of Photography

30 Mar

Cinematographer Karl Freund did an interview with Art Photography Magazine in 1953 (Vol. 4 No. 6-54) talking about working on ILL. I don’t think my paraphrasing would do him any justice so I thought I’d just post the whole thing for some fun behind the scenes info. You can read it below: 

Image result for KARL FREUND

Today, many of the initial difficulties we’ve experienced have, to some extent, been solved, but we still remain in the infancy of a fascinating new entertainment medium. There are formidable problems ahead, all of which will be conquered in due time. As for myself, I have enormously enjoyed being a part of the team which has already overcome some of the preliminary hurdles.

The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz show was a challenge from the start. It was decided that, for the first time, TV cameras would be replaced with three motion picture cameras to allow more flexibility in editing and to improve the photographic quality over kinescope recording.

This, I felt, was a legitimate approach to the situation. I expected very little variation from the ritual of photographing regular motion pictures — but I had not taken into consideration the unique problems involved. I was soon to be faced with them.

First of all, a live show requires an audience. This necessitated a regular studio sound stage equipped with bleachers to hold some 300 people. Above the stage a series of directional microphones and loud speakers had to be installed.

To give the audience a clear view of the program, and to allow the cameras total mobility without interference from floor cables, the lights for the sets had to be placed above the stage.

It became obvious almost at once that the overhead light placement was hardly flattering to the photographing of the performers. While the print value seemed up to par when projected in a studio projection room, they showed too much contrast when viewed over a closed TV circuit. Thus, we were faced with the fact that the greatest difference between standard motion pictures technique and TV films is the subject lighting contrast, which is required.

The immediate question was what method we should use to obtain the desired compression in the positive print. The solution was fairly simple.

After careful survey, we selected a method that would involve no departure from standard practice in processing laboratory operations. That is, in exposing the original negative, use a subject lighting contrast considerable lower than that normally used for conventional black and white motion picture photography and process both the negative and print in the normal way.

It requires four days to line up each weekly show of “I Love Lucy” and “Our Miss Brooks.” Two of these days are for rehearsals. At the end of the second day the cameraman sees a run-through during which he can make notes and sketches of positions to be covered by the cameras and instructs the electrical crew as to where lights are to be placed. The last two days are occupied by rehearsals with cameras.

Since a show with audience participation must go on at a specified time, this schedule must be religiously adhered to by everyone concerned, including the cast. An hour and a half is the actual shooting time.

To film each show we use three BNC Mitchell cameras with T-stop calibrated lenses on dollies. The middle camera usually covers the long shot using 28mm. to 50mm. lenses. The two close-up cameras, 75 to 90 degrees apart from the center camera, are equipped with 3″ to 4″ lenses, depending on the requirements for coverage.

The only floor lights used are mounted on the bottom of each camera dolly and above each lens. They are controlled by dimmers.

There is a crew of four men to each camera: the cameraman, his assistant, a “grip” and a “cable man.” Unlike TV, where one man generally handles the camera movements and views the results immediately, this technique requires absolute coordination between members of the crew.

Every movement of each dolly is marked on the floor for every scene. And since all the movements of the camera are cued from the monitor box, the entire crew works from an intercom system.

As for myself, I utilize a two-circuit intercom. This allows me to talk separately to the monitor booth and the camera crew on one; the electricians handling the dimmers and the switchboard on the other.

Retakes, a standard procedure on the Hollywood scene, are not desirable in making TV films with audience participation. Dubbed-in laughs are artificial and, consequently, used only in emergencies. Close-ups, another routine step in standard film-making, were discarded since such glamour treatment stood out like a sore thumb.

The public acceptance of “I Love Lucy” and “Our Miss Brooks” has been a source of great inspiration for me. The challenge has been a real one — one I have found both stimulating and exciting.

We still have some way to go before TV viewers will have the opportunity of seeing films with the quality which can be favorably compared with those to which we have been accustomed in our theatres.

As I watch television films on my own set I am continually aware that I do not have a complete control of the end results. For there is an engineer in every television station control booth who can change the screen image according to his instructions and depending upon the condition of his equipment. And there are the TV viewers who are their own “engineers.”

I believe that the time is not too distant when the only engineers will be the technicians who actually create the film that is transmitted. Only when that day arrives will we really have film quality comparable to motion picture standards as we know them today.

 

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ILL Trivia

16 Mar

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  • When the Network first reached out, they initially wanted a show more closely parallel to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s real life where the characters were both Hollywood stars. Lucy and Desi knew this plot line wouldn’t be relatable and the show became what it was, about a moderately successful orchestra leader and his housewife.
  • Originally, they were going to be named Lucy and Larry Lopez but no one liked the alliteration. Plus Lucy thought the letters A and R were good luck and they came up with the name Ricardo.
  • When first debating whether or not to take on this TV show, Lucy maintains that she had a dream in which her dear departed friend Carole Lombard came to her and said, “ Take a chance, honey. Give it a whirl.”
  • The Ricardo’s address was 623 E 68th St in Manhattan. However that maps them in the East River.
  • When the first episode aired, The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub, all of the cast and crew met at Lucy and Desi’s ranch to watch it together. They were nervous for it would go over with their audience until Vance’s husband, Phil Ober (the only one who hadn’t heard the jokes while rehearsing and filming) started laughing.
  • The show was a hit and never got lower in the ratings then the #3 spot. It was even the first show in history to end its run at the at #1. (Later The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld would share this same accomplishment.)
  • The cast had a tradition throughout filming the show that whenever someone would get a spontaneous laugh from the audience, they would be given a silver dollar. They even kept a chart on who was given a coin and how many.

The Lost Pilot Episode

23 Feb

The pilot of ILL was filmed on March 2nd, 1951 but wasn’t aired until April 30th, 1990. It wasn’t meant to be in the regular broadcast rotation and it got “lost.” Pepito the clown’s wife notified CBS that she had a copy that was given to the now late performer by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The copy’s original titles and first few seconds were either damaged or missing but were reconstructed and the original announcer, Bob LeMond re-recorded his narration after 50 years.

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The pilot is really just the rough draft of episode 6- The Audion. There’s a lot of overlap so I wont go over the plot much but I will look at the major differences. This pilot episode opens, like mentioned, with narration unlike any other episode. It introduces who Ricky and Lucy are and pans over their apartment building. Then we see this giant hand open the window so it was really like a dollhouse but people live inside. Kinda funny, kinda strange.

Their bedroom set (which is common for pilots) is totally different from the rest of the show. And Lucy is wearing a size 5XL in pajamas it looks like. In reality, Lucille Ball was pregnant with Lucie while shooting the pilot.

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The conversation about Lucy asking for a part in his TV audition is almost word for word as in episode 6. Lucy even puts on another lampshade, although this one is huge and upside down.

Jerry comes over to talk to Ricky about the show. The pilot originally had side characters as Jerry and  Pepito who later were replaced by Fred and Ethel. I’m SO glad they brought in a friend for Lucy. She needs someone to bounce her crazy schemes and play off of. Other than Ricky, she only interacts with Pepito and it’s not enough!

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Also I’m so glad they nixed Pepito. His act is… not good. That baby cry thing? Ooof it’s awful! He is the weirdest clown ever. And when he crashes his bike, it looks like he jumps off the back and the bike just splits suddenly into two pieces and then he slowly lays down.

I would never go see Pepito’s act but I’m starting to get the appeal of Desi Arnaz. He plays the congo so passionately, it’s like when someone is so passionate about something they get you to like it. Does that make sense? Watch when they first show Ricky in the club. He doesn’t like playing with his wedding ring on and he forgot to take it off before they started filming. He quickly slips the ring off and puts it in his pocket without missing a beat.

Skipping around, I have always liked the Cuban Cabby song. Does he sing that again later in the series?

Back at the Ricardo’s apartment, Pepito is resting and somehow the bike is back together. He sees if he can ride it around the apartment and Lucy moves a piece of furniture right in his path which is enough to completely lose his balance and go flying through wall. So Lucy takes his spot in the audition.

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Pay attention to Ricky when he asks Lucy if she can play that “thin.”  He tries so hard not to laugh at her response of “What thin?” and even breaks a little and stumbles over his next line.

And the episode finishes with the same great pie line!

 

 

Little Ricky Is Born and so is the Re-Run

19 Jan

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Happy birthday to both Desi Arnaz Jr and Little Ricky, who were born January 19th 1953.

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NOT Desi Jr.

Some people still think Little Ricky IS Desi Jr. but the child we know as LR is played by Richard Keith.  Someday I may talk further about both of these two men, but I wanted to focus  more on Lucy’s pregnancy. Or rather, what her pregnancy meant for the show and with that, the future of television.

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The writers of ILL were forbidden by Standards and Practices for using the very offensive term “pregnant.” The closest they came was titling one episode “Lucy is Enceinte” and another “Pregnant Women are Unpredictable” both of which would not be seen by the audience at home. In order to maintain it’s wholesomeness over such a delicate topic, each episode involving Lucy’s “condition” was reviewed by a priest, minister and rabbi. They covered all their bases! And while Lucy wasn’t the first expectant woman on TV, people certainly were interested in her story. 44 million viewers tuned in to watch the grand entrance of the newest Ricardo. More people watched that than the swearing in of President Eisenhower the following day.

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But here’s where her pregnancy changed television. Arnaz was already adamant that they shoot the show on 35mm instead of the standard kinescope because he didn’t like the look that kinescope produced. Film was permanent and ultimately, re-playable. So when Lucille Ball had to take time off for maternity leave, instead of losing their place in the Monday night line up, the crew took a handful of previously shown episodes, shot a new little opener to explain what was up and played the filmed episode. And thus the re-run was born!

The episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” was scheduled for Jan 19th 1953 as was Ball’s Cesarean section. At first Jess Oppenheimer wanted to match the Ricardo baby’s gender to the Arnaz baby but ultimately decided that either way, the Ricardo’s would have a baby boy. Desi told Jess that this might be his only chance of having a son, since of course in 1953 they’re weren’t gender reveal parties. But when Desi Jr. came into the world, Desi called Jess and told him, “Lucy followed your script. Ain’t she something?” Oppenheimer, in his biography states he replied, “Terrific! That makes me the greatest writer in the world!”