Flashback 1959: When Hollywood came to Melbourne
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Flashback 1959: When Hollywood came to Melbourne

First published in The Age on January 9, 1959.

ON THE BEACH - HOW A MAJOR MOVING PICTURE IS BEING MADE IN AUSTRALIA

Gregory Peck relaxes  during the shoot in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.

Gregory Peck relaxes during the shoot in Lonsdale Street, Melbourne.Credit:The Age Archives

IN the Government Pavilion at the royal show grounds, beneath an old sign which reads "Encourage Rural Production," a curved, plywood structure lies half-hidden beneath a mass of scaffolding. From the outside it looks like an unfinished Nissen hut. But inside it is a different story.

The grey-colored walls are jammed with instruments and panels, the ceiling with tubes and pipes. In the centre of the narrow corridor is a raised platform above which is set a periscope. The hut-like structure is no less than a dummy submarine, to be used in Stanley Kramer's film production of Nevil Shute's novel "On the Beach."

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Director Stanley Kramer with a copy of Nevil Shute's novel.

Director Stanley Kramer with a copy of Nevil Shute's novel.Credit:The Age Archives

Besides being the central set for the production, it also expresses symbolically the atmosphere of both fact and fantasy in which the film (estimated to cost £1,500.000) is being made. To producer-director Stanley Kramer and his team of 80 actors, actresses, technicians and assistants, working in these make-shift studio surroundings is everyday work.

But to the casual observer, accustomed to seeing only the finished product on the screen. It is fascinating.

Just as fascinating is the story of "On the Beach" from script to studio, and then, later this year on the screen. Kramer bought the book (a best seller in the United States) 16 months ago for an undisclosed figure.

He said at the time that the book's story—that of a group of Melbourne men and women, the last doomed survivors of a devastating atomic war that had destroyed most of the world, and their reactions in the face of inevitable death—was "the biggest of our time," because it concerned "the future of all of us."

From Kramer it was passed on to screen writer John Paxton, who wrote the screen play.

ONCE this was done, the production wheels began rolling. In May, the production manager, Mr. Clem Beauchamp, and the production designer, Mr. Rudy Sternad, came to Melbourne to survey the existing facilities, and to inspect shooting locations. They settled on the show grounds as a production base, and made arrangements for some of the filming to be done in the city of Melbourne and at Williamstown.

Ava Gardner on location at Gellibrand Pier, Williamstown.

Ava Gardner on location at Gellibrand Pier, Williamstown. Credit:Staff photographer

From Mr. Paxton the script went to a second screen writer, who polished it up and then to 44-year-old Mr. Fernando Carrere, the art designer, who has helped to make 20 films with Kramer in the past 10 years.

His task, as he explained yesterday, was to interpret the entire script, scene by scene, in visual and artistic term.

To this end he has almost nearly 500 black and white drawings which, taken in sequence, tell the film’s story in precise, pictorial form.

“I suggest ideas to Kramer which he may improve on, alter, accept or reject," Mr. Carrere said. “That way I am a kind of salesman."

Another of his tasks has been to draw up plans for the building of the submarine, which will be used for interior shots.

Sailors line the starboard side of H.M.A.S. Melbourne to watch Gregory Peck at work. The aircraft carrier is docked at Gellibrand Pier, Williamstown, to act as a ‘prop’ in the film.

Sailors line the starboard side of H.M.A.S. Melbourne to watch Gregory Peck at work. The aircraft carrier is docked at Gellibrand Pier, Williamstown, to act as a ‘prop’ in the film.Credit:Staff photographer

This was done from photographs of a United States atomic-powered submarine, so that although most of the instruments are dummy or rejects from army disposals, they are authentic in every detail.

At the same time as this was going on the assistant producer, 6ft. 4 in., 42-year-old Ivan Volkman, was giving equally meticulous attention to his many tasks. They include breaking down the script into scenes, making out shooting schedules for the cast and the cameramen, planning rehearsals, arranging transport, and supervising the preparation of background scenes.

With 70 actors and actresses with speaking parts in the film (each chosen personally by Kramer with the assistance of casting agencies) and "extras" to be provided (about 5000 will be used at some time in the film), this is no small task.

Mr. Volkman's schedule provides for 60 days' shooting. Rehearsals began on Tuesday and shooting will start in earnest next Thursday.

The rehearsals are conducted in an atmosphere of silence and seriousness.

Young stars Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson rehearse under the watchful eye of director Stanley Kramer.

Young stars Anthony Perkins and Donna Anderson rehearse under the watchful eye of director Stanley Kramer.Credit:Staff photographer

First there in the conference, in which Kramer explains to the actors and actresses, and his Italian-born camera director, what he wants. Then the principals' moves and the camera angles are worked out precisely and painstakingly.

A scene that occupies a minute on the screen may require five to 10 hours of rehearsal. A simple action such as making tea may take 15 minutes.

On the set, Kramer is efficient, patient, but never dogmatic, and ever willing to consider suggestions by one of the cast or one of his assistants.

Outside the studio the business of preparing for the shooting goes on easily.

Props are counted and packed away, the costumes (valued at £25,000) are checked, lighting equipment is set up and tested. The sets are almost all ready.

A few yards from the submarine there is a spacious seaside home, which is copied from an existing home at Mt. Eliza. This skeletal, roofless structure will be used for interior scenes. The original at Mt. Eliza will be used for outdoor shots.

Locals act as extras in a crowd scene filmed at Station Street, Frankston.

Locals act as extras in a crowd scene filmed at Station Street, Frankston.Credit:Staff photographer

In another building the bar room of a Melbourne hotel, an exact replica of the Melbourne navy office, and a 32-foot staircase are being built.

During the filming, scenes involving characters will be shot at Williamstown, Phillip Island, the Shell Plant at Geelong, Ciro's nightclub, a men's club in Melbourne, Frankston and Flinders Street railway stations, the public library, Mt. Eliza, and in several of the city's streets.

Scenes involving the five principal characters — played by Gregory Peck, Ave Gardner, Fred Astaire, Tony Perkins and 19-year-old Donna Anderson — and other featured actors will be handled by Kramer himself. All background action and 'extras" will be controlled by Volkman.

NEVIL SHUTE, author of "On the Beach," has no part in the proceedings and so far has not been seen on the set.

Kramer has set himself until mid-March to complete the shooting for the film.

As always with Kramer, every move has been planned down to the last detail (a factor which has contributed considerably to his success as a director), so that nothing has been left to chance.

The result, he says, will be a "motion picture In keeping with the immensity of the book's theme."

On The Beach will have its premiere at the end of this year.

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