Pimpin’ Pee Wee and the Case of the Missing Member – NSFW

Here’s a story about one of my very non-PC guilty pleasure movies. (Not safe for work!)

PROPS CREW don’t get enough respect, I’ve always thought. The right prop enhances the credibility of an actor’s performance. In emergencies property masters have to improvise. On the reboot of the PORKY’S franchise, subsequently titled “Pimpin’ Pee Wee”, I experienced what a director dreads on a tight schedule: the theft of a vital prop just before the scene is to be shot.

You see, the character known as Meat was having trouble getting laid because the sheer size of his member frightened prospective candidates. A porn star comes to the rescue in his pay-off scene, which I thought would be a bit blah without a sight gag. I had set up an Austin Powers-style hide-the-penis gag in a dimly lit room. Meat’s enormous erection would be seen rising from his reclining body as a backlit silhouette, accompanied by Zarathustra-like chords evoking Kubrick’s 2001. Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom etc.

Film crew places artificial penis on pedestal for shadow effect.

The aroused member was a beautifully sculpted stone phallus, acquired from a Hollywood sex toy shop, mounted on a rod secured to a C-stand. From the camera’s point of view, the shadow of Biggus Dickus was positioned to align perfectly with the silhouetted outline of Meat’s loins. On cue, the rod would be slowly elevated from horizontal to vertical. We had it all set up, ready to go after lunch. That’s when Murphy’s Law kicked in.

During the lunch break, someone, perhaps an extra, walked off with our distinguished phallus. It being mid-December, perhaps he saw it as an ideal Christmas gift for that special someone, but for us, it was the centerpiece of a key scene. The nearest sex shop was an hour away in traffic. We were cock-blocked in Canyon Country.

Luckily, we had Mike, a resourceful props man in the hot seat. With the clock ticking, Mike rapidly sculpted a replacement for the missing member, matching the necessary dimensions with gaffer tape! He got us shooting within twenty minutes and the shadow of Meat’s mighty member rose in perfect alignment.

The set of Pimpin' Pee Wee with penis shadow effect

Props departments rarely get enough recognition for what they contribute to the texture of a film. Hail Prop Master Mike! Appropriately, I added the following reassurance to the end titles:

No dildos were harmed in the making of this motion picture…

There’s more about all the fun you can have behind the camera in ADVENTURES IN THE B MOVIE TRADE.

Cinema Miniatures: A Matter of Perspective

The visual effects shot – an optical illusion sufficiently persuasive for the audience to suspend disbelief – has always fascinated me. Nowadays VFX are the domain of the computer. But it was not always so. Effects used to be done in camera. Here’s a simple illusion, snapped while walking past my neighbor’s field.

Photograph of fence and field illustrating forced perspective where tree appears to be sprouting from fence..

Momentarily it looks like the tree is sprouting from the fence. But then you realize it’s the effect of forced perspective. As a kid I was drawn to films with lots of magical eye candy so George Pal and Ray Harryhausen movies became early favorites.

The War of the Worlds (1953) Poster
Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island posters

“How did they do that giant castle/volcano/tornado/earthquake/parting of the Red Sea shot?” I wondered, as the credits rolled on each new VFX-enhanced movie. Miniatures played a big part. My first introduction to a miniature was in 1963, when the school Film Circle visited the set of Becket starring Richard Burton, as the 12th Century King Henry the Second, and Peter O’Toole as Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury whose murder the king unintentionally ordered with the words ” Will nobody rid me of this meddlesome Priest!”

Poster for Becket film

Elizabeth Taylor, recently married to Burton, arrived on the set during the lunch break with a small entourage. We spotty-faced teenagers gazed at the icon with awe. She smiled acknowledgment, but her face really lit up at the sight of her husband returning from lunch with his co-star Peter O’Toole. Burton clearly saw her but walked right past her without acknowledgment. The Cut Direct. What was that about? I saw her smile change to a jab of hurt. Hmm, stars have human foibles too.

Interior of Canterbury cathedral in Becket

We were given a tour of the enormous sets. Shepperton Studios Stage H barely contained an actual size replica of the inside of Canterbury Cathedral, the largest set that had yet been built in Europe. This was the work of our host, the film’s production designer John Bryan, whom I had met the previous year at the location shoot of Tamahine at Wellington College, my school. He took pleasure in showing us an early Hollywood device still in use for making a large set even bigger at minimal expense: the perspective miniature. He had commissioned a miniature of the half of the cathedral dome over the altar that was visible from inside the front entrance. This miniature was semicircular, three feet in diameter, and painted in fine detail. The dome was then suspended from wires above the camera and lowered into a wide angle shot of the cathedral, so that it sat in perfect alignment with the top edge of the set.

Exterior of Canterbury Cathedral in Becket

A split diopter lens on the camera then balanced the focus between the foreground miniature and the deep background beyond. Bryan explained that same effect could also be achieved by a matte painting of the dome on a sheet of glass positioned in front of the camera in the same alignment with the walls beyond.
Here is a screen capture from another scene in Becket using the same technique.

Giant bell in foreground of Becket crowd scene

A reduced size replica of the swinging bell is mounted in a reduced size version of the belfry, set up in front of the camera on a high platform, viewing down at the King’s arrival. A full sized bell tower would have been cost prohibitive.

The silent era pioneered the use of hanging miniatures.

A three image diagram of how a foreground miniature works.

Here a quite substantial miniature has just been positioned to add floors and a tower to the buildings beyond.

Silent film hanging miniatures being set up

Silent film miniatures in intermediate stage of setup.

Fully set up silent film miniatures with crowd in front.

The set for the 1925 Ben Hur’s chariot race was only one side of the arena, where all the action was shot. The race around the other identical side of the arena was achieved by simply flopping the negative. Left to right speeding chariots then hurtled right to left, matching the correct screen direction once chariots had rounded the corner.

Hanging miniatures for the chariot race in Ben Hur (1925)

Careful examination will reveal that above the wall surrounding the stadium and the first rows of bleachers, there hangs a miniature with moving ‘puppet’ people that can rise and fall with the human extras. The main reason for using a miniature in this way is that, unlike a painting, the light on the built set will always be the same as that on the miniature making it possible to shoot in a variety of different ‘lights’ during the day. I have such respect for the early pioneers of the art of Visual Effects.

If I’ve whetted your appetite for more factoids about old style cinema magic, here is an extensive website to peruse: MAGICIANS OF THE MINIATURE – Matte Shot.

There are more stories of the magic of movies in my book Adventures in the B Movie Trade.

Once Again I’m a Film Festival Juror

Probably no one looks forward to being on a Jury… except if it is a Film Festival Jury. The 15th Cyprus International Film Festival invited me to join their Jury panel, and conduct my duties remotely from Oregon. The Festival takes place live at the K-Cineplex, Nicosia Prime, Cyprus, from November 15 tο November 22, showing a combination of 126 short and feature films competing in several categories from five continents.  Film fans around the world may also purchase one pass for the entire CYIFF 2020 online festival. That’s a rich bingeworthy feast for Cinephiles seeking stories from diverse cultures.

I have started viewing and am impressed with the quality of the line-up. More to say when the votes are tallied and winners announced. On November 19th at 10 am Portland Oregon time, I will be the focus of a live webinar on “Ozploitation genre and the current Australian Film Industry – the ‘other’ genres.” It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Jim Hemphill Recommends “Frog Dreaming/The Quest” and “Adventures in the B Movie Trade”

Filmmaker and film historian Jim Hemphill recently published this in-depth discussion of my award-winning family adventure, Frog Dreaming, aka The Quest, The Go Kids, The Spirit Chaser, or (in France) Le Secret Du Lac.

He also describes my new book Adventures in the B Movie Trade as “one of the best books ever written by a motion picture director.”

FilmInk Book Review

Check out this review of my latest book, Adventures in the B Movie Trade, by John Harrison of FilmInk, “Australia’s leading and most trusted source when it comes to all things movies and the screen industry.”

Excerpt:

“While Adventures in the B Movie Trade provides plenty of historical production and behind-the-scenes information, the minutiae of which fans of the filmmaker will love diving into, the book also serves as an endearing testament to Trenchard-Smith’s clear and genuine love of cinema itself, an affection that hasn’t weakened at all over the years. In this regard, it provides a treasure trove of moments that film buffs will devour.”