Just behind my old house in vieux Munich was a large field. Nobody seemed to own it and everything just grew as it pleased. We kids loved to play hide-and-go-seek in the bushes and trees, we flew kites on it and dogs and their owners related to it (dogs having a unique way to ‘relate’ to nature). It was by all accounts a true wilderness right in the middle of a large city, just a few minutes by bus, subway or car from the famous Oktoberfest (at night, standing in the middle of the field, I could hear the rollercoaster clatter in the distance and the lights gleam into the sky).
Fittingly enough we called it ‘The Wilderness’ — as in: “mom, can I go to the wilderness to play?”
One day an unusual sight came to pass. My passion for cinematography had already begun to rear its ugly head at the time, what with The Wilderness standing in for dozens of locations I could think of: alien planets, war zones, etc. To this date my pals and I were the only ‘film crew’ using it as a location, but this had changed when we got there to rehearse an action sequence (I shall elaborate on my experience as a stuntman-in-training some other day). A dozen cars and trucks had driven up, strange equipment only I could identify had been hauled off and powerful lights and refractors set up.
Suffice it to say my young heart jumped to my throat and threatened to replace my brain. Before I knew it I was wandering the set (no security) with my brother and a friend and waltzed up to a guy I identified as the assistant director. The actors were a group of soccer kids with their proud moms, he explained, hired for an afternoon of shooting soccer scenes on MY backlot. “A McDonald’s commercial,” he said. “Soccer season is coming up and Mickey D will be ready for it.”
Somehow they let us peek around and I watched with my heart pounding in my throat how the American director (lofty, arrogant, a DeMille-type, just as I always imagined them) tried to clear to the German crew through the assistant director as interpreter how he wanted the scenes set up. I was positively stumped as to how he was able to make everyone jump and snap-to just from his director’s chair by channeling through the assistant director. I don’t remember him ever getting up. I know this because I had sneaked up to DeMille and literally looked over his shoulder until he turned and gave me an odd look. But I think the odd look came not because I was standing there, but because I gave an opinion on how he could better a certain scene and someone actually translated it.
You don’t forget an American director looking through you.
Mind you, I was maybe eight years old.
Suddenly the assistant director walked up to me and delivered the line every wanna-be wants to hear in a situation like this: “Wanna be in the commerical?”
Pound, pound, pound, hammer, hammer, hammer, oh dear I think I’m going dizzy…
“Sure. I guess.”
“Have your mom sign this and we’ll set up the scene.” He handed me some release form and before I knew it I managed to escape The Wilderness and get home in under five seconds. Mom, the fantastic woman she is and not a bit surprised, signed it at once, and I was back before they could finish setting up the equipment.
Meanwhile the assistant director came over to channel DeMille some more. I was to stand against a wall on one side of the field where they had set up a make-shift goal and my friend and my brother would shoot the soccer ball at me and I was to jump and catch it.
Now, I was never very fond of soccer, but it seemed DeMille had liked my look (imagine an eight year old green-eyed kid with blond hair and a smile to swoon eight-year-old girls, tihihihi…) and I got to be a goalie in a McDonald’s commercial and do a ‘stunt’: all my standards went right out the window.
Finally the crew was set up. I was in place, the sun just right, the camera rolling.
Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.
Defying all clichés he yelled ‘action’.
The shot was fired. I leaped, I missed.
“Jump higher,” DeMille said.
Second shot. Jump. Catch it.
“Jump higher!” DeMille urged.
I had jumped higher. What more do you want? Never mind, I can do this. I picked myself out of the grass.
Shoot. Jump, catch, tumble, tumble.
“Jump HIGHER!” DeMille yelled.
I was smart enough to realize that this scene wasn’t about me or how well I played. All they wanted was a kid flying thought the air after a stupid soccer ball.
Fine. I would give them a kid flying through the air.
Again a shot. I gave it all. In my head I saw myself glide through the air in slow motion, the Golden Arches logo fading in below me.
Then the ground arrived.
One hand went slightly snap as I came down. And then squish.
I picked myself up. That’s a wrap. DeMille was content. The assistant director came over. “Not bad. Congratulations. You did great. Everything okay?”
My hand hurt slightly, but it wasn’t broken or anything. Instead there was an odd smell coming from it. I lifted it towards the assistant director.
“I landed in dog poo,” I said proudly.
I don’t remember how much I was paid. It must have been enough for a day’s supply of licorice and gummy bears. But I know the smell stayed on my hand longer than the money in my pocket.
My first day in the movie biz and I end up hands deep in ca-ca.
This may be symbolic.