My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink
Producing and directing THE TALL WOMEN was the most joyous and most difficult job I tackled. Things were made even worse by the meddling of the so-called liaison and production coordinator Howard Barnes. Never forthcoming with his criticisms, he just kept smiling, giving the appearance of being very happy with all that was going on about him. In actuallity, he was abysmally ignorant about production, and rather than learning by asking questions and seeking information, he formed opinions based upon his own likes and dislikes.
Howard and I were never other than coldly polite to each other. Most aggravating was his lack of interest in attending production meetings where he would have learned firsthand the whys and wherefores of many of the "contract violations" he reported to Dick Pack.
I was too swamped with production and directing problems to pay much attention to Howard, but by the second week of shooting in the heat of Almeria, I began getting strange messages from the Madrid office reporting calls from Westinghouse demanding information not included in the contract. Particularly disturbing was Howard's insistence on viewing rushes in Madrid before they were sent to us in Almeria. I actually received a call in Almeria from Dick Pack demanding he be given that right, and he hung up in a huff when I rather sharply told him where he could go. I tried to explain that directing a picture was a twenty-two-house-per-day job that left no time for long-distance calls about anything so foolish. I advised him to read the contract and try to find any language that gave him the right to see rushes before us or outside our presence.
I hoped that would end it, but it was merely the beginning. Howard was feeding Dick reports that we were taking all kinds of production short cuts and reducing our budgets to make the pictures more cheaply. He claimed we were altering scripts by cutting needed sequences, thus making films inferior in quality to that promised. Howard demanded the right to see all checks and paid bills to be certain we had sufficient funds to finish the pictures. He had no right of access to our books, but he raised so much hell that, in my absence, our comptroller was afraid to refuse him, so he allowed him that privilege. Howard didn't understand what he saw and reported we were mixing funds and costs among the six pictures we were working on, implying this could have an affect on our contract. He was into everything, but I am certain he stayed away from Almeria because he knew it wasn't safe for him there.
He kept feeding Pack so many distortions and lies about the poor progress we were making that Dick sent Jack Feldman to Spain to see if things were really as dreadful as Howard's reports indicated. Jack flew to Madrid but came immediately to Almeria where he witnessed the actual production in process. He was unbiased and had no pretentions of being an expert, so he asked questions and got answers. Jack talked to the crew members (those that spoke English) and the actors and found we were working together as a real team. There were no rivalries on the set, and we were united in our effort to produce the best picture we knew how to make.
Jack pleaded with me to allow Howard to see rushes or perhaps some cut film so they could report they had seen something. He agreed they had no legal right to demand this, but he felt this would calm Barnes and Pack. I liked Jack and knew he was sincere, so I allowed my cutter to show them about twenty-five minutes of scenes put together from raw edited rushes...
Out of respect to Jack but against my better judgement, I authorized the showings. All the clapper boards were included, since I wanted to make the first cut of THE TALL WOMEN personally. I assumed that Howard, ignorant as he was, knew about clappers and slates. With permission to see rushes granted, Jack returned to Madrid, and I hoped the harassment would stop. It did for about ten days, and then I received a call from Marianne Donoghue, my secretary, with the news that Dick Pack and Howard Barnes were enroute to Almeria.
Dick arrived in Spain like a whirlwind, and after a quick stop at the Madrid office for directions, he hired a car and chauffeur to drive them to Almeria. My secretary reported that he was carrying a full head of steam being fueled by Howard. She really didn't know what had brought it on, but she was sure there was "trouble headin' down the pass."
This message came to me while I was working on one of the most difficult sequences in the film. It was the dramatic climax following the Indian attack when the women emerge from the safety of the cave to find a completely wanton scene of death and destruction. It was a complete massacre leaving nothing but dead men and smoking wagons. The women had to walk into the midst of this horror to determine whether anyone was left alive. The gruesomeness of these civilized women confronting the reality of death and scalping had to be an intense and moving scene that set the tenor for the rest of the picture. This scene portrayed the hatred of the Indians who could indulge in such wholesale slaughter and accented the threat hanging over the women throughout their entire trek.
This was also the scene where Anne forcefully takes the dead baby away from a hysterical Maria Perschy to make her realize her child is dead. It marks Anne's emergence as the leader of the group, and the decision is made to attempt the seemingly impossible trek over a hundred miles of desert to the next fort. The women are called upon to bury the bodies and gather up all the food, water, guns, ammunition, and tools left. This scene presented the most emotional and trying moment in the lives of these characters, and the actresses had to get psyched up to a point where they could make it believable. This was the day that Dick Pack and his brainless emissary chose to harass me.