Sunday, July 24, 2011
‘SHADOW HILLS’ PILOT ROLLS AT MELODY RANCH
Melody Ranch, the Newhall western movie town that’s been a home to filmmaking for about a century, is home base for the pilot for a new Western series, SHADOW HILLS. Created, written, co-produced by, and starring Lamont Clayton, it’s the story of Hessie Tatum, a former Union Army veteran and Buffalo Soldier. On Tuesday, July 12th I had the pleasure of visiting the set, watching the filming, and chatting with some of the principals.
Lamont Clayton (above right)and Scott Steel (above left) are co-producing SHADOW HILLS. Lamont plays the lead character, and Scott plays Syd the saloon-keeper. Friends for a decade, they’ve been involved in projects together before, but this is the first time on a TV series. Not that Scott is a stranger to the tube. A TV and radio host, he’s frequently seen and heard on Rick Dees In The Morning, and on VH1 and the E! Entertainment network.
This is not Lamont’s first western. He’s acted in GANG OF ROSES, BROTHERS IN ARMS, and produced and acted in RIDE OR DIE. I suspect Westerns hold a special place in his heart.
LAMONT: That’s true. I like westerns: I watch them every night before I go to bed – I watch the Encore Western Channel – I ride horses, and I always wanted to be in a western. I wanted to do a western series. So what we’re doing here, we’re shooting a pilot, and we’re going to shop it and see where it goes. I’ve surrounded myself with a bunch of stars, and their experience is going to make up for what I don’t know. This is my first major production.
SCOTT: We have John Amos, Bobby Brown, Jackee Harry -- and Tommy Davidson makes a cameo appearance. Lamont and I have been friends for a lot of time, and this is a passion project of his. It’s such a great story, and a message that Lamont’s wanted to get out for such a long time, regarding the Buffalo Soldiers and their history.
LAMONT: (People) don’t speak about the Buffalo Soldiers a lot. And I’m trying to give my community some heritage; who they are and where they came from. Because I don’t see a lot of it. I wanted to educate the youth, and help them see where we came from. And maybe it could change the direction that they’re going. (In the pilot, Hessie explains to his young brother that the Indians called the African American cavalrymen Buffalo Soldiers because they thought their curly hair looked the wooly coat of the buffalo.)
SCOTT: Not only has this TV show got action, it’s fun, it’s educational, there’s comic relief – it’s got everything. It’s one for the families. It’s a great cast, and a lot of fun just being on the set – there’s such energy. And we’re shooting here at Melody Ranch, which is amazing. You feel the history here, with Gene Autry, and they shot GUNSMOKE and they shot DEADWOOD here, and BONANZA – you really feel the energy. It’s a great vibe.
HENRY: Can you give me an outline of the show?
LAMONT: It’s about Hessie Tatum, a Civil War veteran who took his earnings and started a ranch, ten years after he was emancipated. He’s going through the trials and tribulations of being a black man in 1875, owning his own ranch in the Oklahoma Territory and breeding horses. And he’s raising his little brother that’s 14, Jonas, and he lives with his aunt Dessa. And his nemesis is Melvin Butler – played by Bobby Brown -- and his gang.
HENRY: I understand the pilot story turns on who will win a horserace.
LAMONT: That’s right. I’ve bet my prize stallion on a horserace against Bobby Brown, and the last thing he says before the bet is ‘A no-show is a forfeit.’
HENRY: I’m not going to give away too much plot, but some of the story involves Comanche Indians.
LAMONT: We were shooting at the Chumash Museum. It was a reservation years ago, but now it’s a museum, and we used a lot of their artwork and things.
HENRY: Who’s your target audience?
LAMONT: I want anyone from twelve years old to eighty. I’m going to be putting in pop stars – Amber Rose was here yesterday, riding around on a one-eyed horse. She’s not going to be in this episode but Bone Thugs n Harmony are going to be in the pilot, leading up to the next episode. They’re just scoping out the town in this one.
(Bone Thugs n Harmony up to no good)
HENRY: When you were a kid did you watch a lot of westerns?
LAMONT: Every chance I’d get. My favorite one – the first one I can remember, when I was four or five years old – my baby sitter used to watch MR. ED. And when she wouldn’t let me watch MR. ED, when she was watching PEYTON PLACE, there was a problem when my mother came home. Okay, it’s not really a western, but there were horses. Of course of course.
HENRY: Now in SHADOW HILLS, the horses aren’t talking, are they?
LAMONT: (Laughs) No, but I give the horse character. When a guy shoots me, and tries to get my horse, the horse runs off. Then the horse comes back to my side. Like Trigger would have done. He goes and gets my best friend, and brings him back to me, and… you’ll see how it unfolds.
HENRY: I understand these are some of your own horses in the show. Horses must be very important to you.
LAMONT: Originally I’m from Chicago. People say, how does a guy from Chicago ride a horse like that?
SCOTT: I’ll take it farther – how does an African American from Chicago…?
LAMONT: My father was from Mississippi, and I’ve had a horse ever since I was eleven years old. When I was in Chicago, like nineteen or twenty, I used to bring my horse and ride around the neighborhood. And the cops were like, “Can you do that?” And I was like, “Yeah.” “Where you going?” “To the store.” “You can do that? You can ride a horse in the city? I’m calling headquarters.” I heard the lady from headquarters tell him, “What law is he breaking? The only thing we can find is, if a horse and a car come to a stop sign at the same time, the horse has the right-of-way.”
SCOTT: There’s lot’s of horse action – any horse enthusiast is going to love it. There’s a great race, the scenery’s beautiful.
HENRY: What side of the camera do you prefer to work on?
LAMONT: I like both. I’ll get in wherever I can fit in. If it’s a part in front of the camera, I’ll get in. If not, I’ll stand behind. I love being in Hollywood and doing the work; the motion picture business, I love it.
Prolific actor John Amos is recognizable from sitcoms like GOOD TIMES and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to dramas like ROOTS, but to me he’ll always be Major Grant in DIE HARD 2. In SHADOW HILLS he’s working hammer and tongs.
JOHN AMOS: Correct. Mr. Sam is the blacksmith for the town, and according to him, business is terrible. I guess they had economic downturns even in those years.
HENRY: A man of your imposing physical stature seems like a natural for a western, but as far as I know, you haven’t done too many.
JOHN: I did BONANZA: THE NEXT GENERATION. That went very well; it was a lot of fun. Before that, K.C. and I did a sort of a docu-drama called SONGHAI SAM. In West Africa there was a tribe called the Songhai, who were excellent horsemen. They had a unique way of training and establishing a rapport with the horse. They would literally sleep in the stall with the horse for days, sometimes weeks at a time, rubbing the horse down until the odor of the human being and the odor of the stall became almost like one. And by smoothing the horse and massaging the horse and by lifting the horse’s feet, and breathing in the horse’s nose until you got in synch with the horse, it gave them a special insight into the horse’s personality, and their ability to tame and train the animal. That was the premise of our film. As the blacksmith of SHADOW HILLS, I still have a wonderful rapport with horses; don’t do as much riding as I used to, but can literally fix most horse’s problems as relates to their shoes, their harnesses.
HENRY: What appealed to you, particularly, about this part?
JOHN: Well, number one, my son is directing. K.C. is an accomplished filmmaker. He’s provided me with a chance to participate in this film, which is being shot at the Melody Ranch. So many western series have been shot here, and I’m honored to be working here, or anywhere. And especially with my son directing, there’s a slim chance I may be able to get some of the tuition back.
HENRY: Is it the first time you’ve been directed by you son?
JOHN: No, we’ve worked together in the past. When he was a student at Cal Arts in Valencia initially, even his grandfather was involved. In one project, SONGHAI SAM again, his mom was one of the head wranglers, she being a horsewoman out of Iowa. His grandfather helped him transport the cattle and the horses, and of course I was there to fill in as talent, and a writing source when he needed additional dialogue. It was a wonderful family effort.
HENRY: Does it feel strange taking direction from your son?
JOHN: I’ve gotten used to it. And we have an understanding. He’s a great director from the standpoint of setting up his shots, continuity. We have a spoken agreement. I said I’ll work with the actors in any projects in which we collaborate. But I’ll merely be an extension of you. I will not change your vision as to how you want the final shot to look, but I’ll try to enhance it by giving the actors whatever individual specific direction I can as they go into a scene, to make the scene better.
HENRY: When you were growing up, were Westerns a big deal to you?
JOHN: Oh my God yes! We’d grab our broomsticks, those would be our horses, after every western we’d see. We’d ride around the block on our broomsticks. We played cowboys and Indians or we played army. We called it playing army or playing war. Of course, we know now that war is no game, and we don’t make light of it. In fact now, I devote the better part of my life now to doing fundraisers for Veterans. I’m a strong supporter of veterans, having been with the New Jersey State National Guard, and the son of a veteran, United States Army Sergeant John Amos. Our objective is to raise funds for the Malone Homes, working in conjunction with Walter Reed Hospital. They’re residences for families visiting their wounded warriors. Very often they don’t have the money to stay in a decent accommodation. I think it’s a great opportunity to help these families that have already made an incredible sacrifice, giving their sons and daughters in the cause of freedom.
HENRY: Do you have any favorite western movies?
JOHN: Absolutely. Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH. I later got to meet and work with Ernest Borgnine, who was one of my heroes. There’s so many. THE CULPEPPER CATTLE COMPANY was one of my favorites. Of course THE MAGNIFICENT 7, with that incredible musical score, and with Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, and the other wonderful actors in it. I’ve always been a lover of western movies. I raised horses for a while, just pleasure-riding horses. And I find the better rapport I establish with horses, the less I like human beings. Horses don’t lie to you: if they don’t like you, they’ll kick the stuffing out you. And they don’t borrow money, and they don’t spread malicious lies about you.
HENRY: Tell me about your upcoming ZOMBIE HAMLET.
JOHN: Oh, that was a case of the mortgage being due. I did that flick down in Louisiana several months ago. It hasn’t been released yet. The premise is almost self-described by the title. Two young filmmakers want to make a movie. One is Hell-bent on doing something of a Shakespearean nature, because he’s an elitist. His friend tells him zombie movies are ‘in’ -- it’s like having a negotiable bond. So finally they compromise, and you can only imagine the outcome. I love to do comedy, so I jumped all over that one. Shelly Long is in there as a super-uptight schoolmarm. June Lockhart from LOST IN SPACE. Working in Louisiana was hot and muggy, but they had the right setting because of the swamps out there. When they shot the scene where the disciples of Voodoo king gathered, it looked so realistic that it gave you chills at night.
I suppose you could make a western without Peter Sherayko, but I’ve never been on a Western set where I didn’t run into him. In addition to being an in-demand character actor, he’s an expert in Western history details, and his CARAVAN WEST company, formed when he was working on TOMBSTONE, supplies anything western that you could ask for. “We’re doing the same thing we do on all the westerns you come out and meet us on: the set dressings, the props, the costumes, the guns, the saddles. We’re not doing the horses on the pilot because it’s too short a time to get my head wrangler down (from Wyoming). Lamont is bringing his own horses. But if it goes to series we’ll do the horses as well. I worked with Lamont twice before on other films.”
HENRY: What’s your on-screen role in this one?
PETER: I’m playing a corrupt, racist sheriff. Part of my character is I don’t care what they do as long as I get a piece of the action. Anything is allowed as long as you pay me for it. So I’m just like today’s typical politician. I think now, the public knows who the Buffalo Soldiers were. Probably sixty years ago, except for John Ford’s film, SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, they wouldn’t. They did a lot to help settle the west. Most of them were former slaves. It’s a part of American history, of Western history, that should be told. We’ll be learning more of the backstory as the series goes on.
HENRY: How’s the shoot been going?
PETER: Very well. We’re shooting here for two days. We shot two days last week at the Chumash Museum in Thousand Oaks. It’s pretty nice. They have a village there, we brought in tepees because they’re supposed to be Comanche. They had all the Indians there from the various shows. We brought in all the instruments and accoutrements, the set dressing, had a very nice couple of days, and shot part of the horse race. We’ll do a little bit of the race here, and then the next three days we’re at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, and we’ll do the rest of the horse race. It’s 7,500 acres; it’s where they shot LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.
HENRY: Do they still have those buildings?
PETER: No, that was part of Michael Landon’s deal; at the end of the show they burned it down or blew it up. But there is a barn, and there are a couple of ranch houses. There was a small town there, but I don’t know if it still exists. We did a show there back in the early 1990s, and we used that town. It was called GREY KNIGHT or THE GHOST BRIGADE (1993). It’s a Civil War movie with zombies. Billy Bob Thornton and I were in it. I played a captain, he played a Confederate soldier. It was great to work with him – I’ve worked with him three times since then. He kept telling me, “I’m tired of this business over here, they don’t hire you, so I’m gonna write my own stuff.” I told him, “Billy, you’re a hick from Arkansas: forget about it.” Boy did I make another mistake.
Another familiar face on the set was professional polo player Ardashir Radpour. A ubiquitous sight at UCLA football games – he’s the Trojan Knight on the horse – he’s also an actor and a wrangler. And on SHADOWS HILLS he is both, costumed in a dashing outfit that calls to mind the Argentinean gaucho. He looks good, but he’s not playing a good-guy. “I’m one of the gang, and we are trying to rig the race. I’m the guy who cuts the cinch, so the good guy will fall off his horse. I’m one of the bad guys.”
HENRY: It must be cool doing a western at Melody Ranch.
ARDASHIR: It’s an amazing place, because you see it in DEADWOOD and a bunch of other things, but when you’re here, you realize how big this set is. Most things look bigger on film; this set actually looks bigger in person. It makes you respect, when you see them doing a huge western, the people they have to get to fill this place. It’s pretty impressive. So it’s been fun. This is our last day here, and then I’ll be riding at Big Sky Ranch.
HENRY: Will you be riding for yourself, or doubling for someone?
ARDASHIR: I’ll be riding for my own character, Manny. He’s kind of like a Boba Fett character. He’s quiet; he’s there, kind of letting people know ‘I’m a gunslinger, I’m here, and that’s all there is to it.’ And he protects the rest of the gang. It’s fun; I like it.
Nikki Pelley is doing wardrobe on SHADOW HILLS, but when she started working with Peter Sherayko twenty years ago, it was in a different role, in Wild West shows. “When I first met Peter, he told me that if I could do some fancy stuff I could be in his show. So I went out and taught myself how to trick ride. Taught myself how to fall, to jump from one horse to another, to ride backwards, so we did the show, and after that I worked in some other Wild West shows for three or four years. Peter got more active in the film industry while I kept doing Wild West shows. I did the celebrity fund-raising circuit with Irlene Mandrel, and Ben Johnson and Norman Schwarzkopf. In the Wild West Shows I did a part as a Dale Evans lookalike. And one time Dale Evans came to the show and said, “Oh, it reminds me of when Roy and I were young!” So I did that for quite a few years, and played Calamity Jane and others. Then Peter was making movies, and I was his wrangler, and now I’m his wardrobe.” How does she like wardrobe? “It’s fine. At least I’m on the set, and it’s like having a canvas; you can just paint and decorate it any way you want with the costumes. So I like it for the creative side.”
The day had started late, but it went late: when I left, around 8:00 p.m., they were still filming, and just starting to need artificial light. I watched a character named Willie search for Hessie. I watched various sinister types stroll up and down the street, pretty saloon girls hang over the balcony, and the horse race repeatedly start and finish. A woman named Sandy, and her tiny blond daughter Johanna strolled up and down, providing atmosphere, looking great in period dress.
A few days later, I got a call from Shoshone actor Cody Jones who, with Shawn Vasquez, play the Comanches who find Hessie wounded and unconscious. They shot at both the Chumash Museum and Big Sky Ranch, and had a great time, as Cody tells me their roles had been expanded. “We set up a little bit of an ambush. Shawn drops back behind a tree and takes my rifle. I jump up into the tree, and when this guy comes riding by I jump out of the tree and tackle him off of his horse. That was a lot of fun, getting to do that stunt.”
(8 p.m. at Melody Ranch)
Keep reading the Round-up, and we’ll keep you updated on SHADOW HILLS.
NATIONAL DAY OF THE COWBOY & COWGIRL CELEBRATED AT THE AUTRY AND ACROSS THE COUNTRY
From coast to coast, the 7th National Day of The Cowboy (and Cowgirl in some areas) was a rip-roaring success! The Autry, which was taking part for the second year, had a staggering turnout, and it was delightful to see how many little kids, as well as adults, showed up in spurs and chaps. Among the outdoor entertainments were gunslinger Joey Dillon, lasso artists Kansas Carradine and Landon Spencer, square dancing with Susan Michaels and the Bees Knees, and a musical performance by the legendary Riders in the Sky, ascenders to the Sons of the Pioneers throne.
In the Wells Fargo Theatre, fans got to see Gene Autry star in a sci-fi western that predates COWBOYS & ALIENS (and JONAH HEX and ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, and R.I.P.D., and all the others in the pipeline), THE PHANTOM EMPIRE!
In the museum proper, the big excitement was the re-opening of the Colt Gallery with a remarkable new collection (see last week’s Round-up for details). Curator Jeffrey Richardson was there for hours giving tours and answering questions. Probably the most attention was paid to a display of single-action Army Colts belonging to great Western movie and TV personalities like Ken Maynard, Buck Jones, Leo Carrillo, Tom Mix, Slim Pickens, Clayton Moore, Gail Davis, Tim Holt, Monte Hale, Gene Autry, and Buck Taylor. Beside that display was another, featuring Colts of lawmen and desperadoes like Pawnee Bill, Kid Curry, Albert Fall, Doc Holliday and President Theodore Roosevelt!
Also, many (like me) were visiting the newly opened ART AND THE 20TH CENTURY WEST gallery for the first time. Focusing on California and New Mexico art, it features the work of Maynard Dixon, James Doolin, Robert Henri, and artists drawn to our part of the globe from as far away as Germany, Russia, Austria and Hungary.
Outside of L.A., J.R. Sanders, who created the “Read ‘em Cowboy!” event at the Redlands Barnes & Noble, also had great success, as you can tell by the pictures at this link. To find out how you can still take part (through 7/28th) and help the Western Writers of America Homestead Foundation, go HERE. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=209532519094386&set=o.221304581236513&type=1&theater
To take part in the movement to make the Day of the Cowboy a nationally recognized day, go HERE. : http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?llr=kwysuzeab&v=001PcleU6K0CjjRfVxMuv8wmHmf5OVJy2RLcKB18d-2Aquzf74WrIkdHGF1yX2VNEmlq7pfAeCZSm0gimgo88XMqU7FChjfFVawMplqoONQX10VohdK18Svyg%3D%3D
And if you’ve got pictures or information about Day of the Cowboy celebrations in your neck of the woods, please send it to us through Comments!
TCM FANATIC - WESTERN NOW ONLINE!
That's right, the segment I was interviewed for is now viewable here:
‘ZORRO RIDES AGAIN’ ON TMC
On Saturday mornings this summer I’ve been enjoying the ACE DRUMMOND serial TCM has been running, two episodes at a time, starting at 8 a.m.. This Saturday, the 13th and final chapter ran (don’t tell me how it ends – I’m still three episodes behind!), and what came on next but chapter one of Republic’s fine western action serial ZORRO RIDES AGAIN (1937), starring John Carroll as the bold renegade who carves a ‘Z’ with his blade, Duncan Renaldo as Renaldo (type-casting I suppose), and featuring action directed by John English and William Whitney.
The problem is, I felt like a crumb telling you about it when Chapter One has already run. But the first chapter is available online! Watch it before you go to bed on Friday night, and pop some popcorn for the morning!
THE AUTRY NATIONAL CENTER
Built by cowboy actor, singer, baseball and TV entrepeneur Gene Autry, and designed by the Disney Imagineering team, the Autry is a world-class museum housing a fascinating collection of items related to the fact, fiction, film, history and art of the American West. In addition to their permenant galleries (to which new items are frequently added), they have temporary shows. The Autry has many special programs every week -- sometimes several in a day. To check their daily calendar, CLICK HERE. And they always have gold panning for kids every weekend. For directions, hours, admission prices, and all other information, CLICK HERE.
HOLLYWOOD HERITAGE MUSEUM
Across the street from the Hollywood Bowl, this building, once the headquarters of Lasky-Famous Players (later Paramount Pictures) was the original DeMille Barn, where Cecil B. DeMille made the first Hollywood western, The Squaw Man. They have a permanent display of movie props, documents and other items related to early, especially silent, film production. They also have occasional special programs. 2100 Highland Ave., L.A. CA 323-874-2276. Thursday – Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. $5 for adults, $3 for senior, $1 for children.
WELLS FARGO HISTORY MUSEUM
This small but entertaining museum gives a detailed history of Wells Fargo when the name suggested stage-coaches rather than ATMS. There’s a historically accurate reproduction of an agent’s office, an original Concord Coach, and other historical displays. Open Monday through Friday, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. Admission is free. 213-253-7166. 333 S. Grand Street, L.A. CA.
FREE WESTERNS ON YOUR COMPUTER AT HULU
A staggering number of western TV episodes and movies are available, entirely free, for viewing on your computer at HULU. You do have to sit through the commercials, but that seems like a small price to pay. The series available -- often several entire seasons to choose from -- include THE RIFLEMAN, THE CISCO KID, THE LONE RANGER, BAT MASTERSON, THE BIG VALLEY, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, and one I missed from 2003 called PEACEMAKERS starring Tom Berenger. Because they are linked up with the TV LAND website, you can also see BONANZA and GUNSMOKE episodes, but only the ones that are running on the network that week.
The features include a dozen Zane Grey adaptations, and many or most of the others are public domain features. To visit HULU on their western page, CLICK HERE.
TV LAND - BONANZA and GUNSMOKE
Every weekday, TV LAND airs a three-hour block of BONANZA episodes from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. They run a GUNSMOKE Monday through Thursday at 10:00 a.m., and on Friday they show two, from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.. They're not currently running either series on weekends, but that could change at any time.
NEED YOUR BLACK & WHITE TV FIX?
Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run DANIEL BOONE at 1:00 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.
RFD-TV has begun airing THE ROY ROGERS SHOW on Sundays at 9:00 a.m., with repeats the following Thursday and Saturday.
Also, AMC has started showing two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN on Saturday mornings.
That's all folks -- it's almost three a.m.!
All contents copyright July 2011 by Henry C. Parke -- All Rights Reserved