Highway To Glidden

Have Roller Will Travel

Have you ever been watching an old car chase movie and thought to yourself “Gee, there sure are a lot of skid marks right there…” just as the good guy’s car fishtails its way onto the asphalt exactly where you spotted the skid marks? Until the advent of computer graphics technology, long black trails of rubber were a thorn in the side of action film editors; these days you can hire a skilled computer artist to erase all those pesky skid marks over a long lunch. I personally never gave car chase skid mark continuity a thought until working Second Unit with my Propmaster friend Joe Connolly on a wreck of a movie named “Black Dog“, back in 1997.

Our job on that film was simple: personal props and vehicle props. The personal props were easy, just catch a stuntman on his way to the stunt vehicle and give him a watch, a ring, maybe some glasses or a gun… you know, little stuff. The vehicles were more difficult. There were seven different Trans-Ams on 2nd Unit, all of them painted to look like the hero vehicle, but made especially to accomplish different stunts. I believe there were three different rigs for the giant hero Peterbilt tractor (four rigs, if you count the special rig used by 1st Unit) and several multiples for other cars and trucks seen throughout the movie. Our Transportation Department was a regular parking lot due to all the stunt vehicles they had to shuttle from set to set.

Annoyingly, the stunt guys all seemed to know the different rigs by sight (since they drove and developed them) but it wasn’t quite as easy for me and Joe and it seemed like we were always running back and forth between Trans-Ams trying to figure out which one was “number 3” so we could jam the one and only CB radio unit that we’d been given onto the hump in the floorboard in the front seat, then run around to the back and bolt on a license plate. For reasons that continue to baffle me, Raffaella De Laurentiis spent incalculable sums of money on that cursed project trying to buy her way back into Hollywood, but the art department wouldn’t buy us six more freaking CB radios to put into the other cars.

It’s as if they wanted to ensure that there might be continuity errors in the picture.

Which brings me back to those skid marks.

Imagine, if you will, a long straight stretch of county road thirty miles east of Atlanta. A blue Trans-Am hauls ass, leaving distinct black curlicues on the pavement. The 2nd Unit Director calls “Cut!” and the 1st AD calls the on-set painter over the walkie. A minute later an old white Suburban rolls up to the trail of rubber, a slight man in his 50s climbs out, opens up the back doors of the truck and pulls out a can of latex house paint. He pries open the can and begins pouring a puddle of paint directly onto the road like it was something that he does all the time. After a few seconds he stops pouring and begins diligently spreading the puddle out along the 30 foot long skid mark with his paint roller. It was absolutely unbelievable.


Beside me, Joe muttered something under his breath and looked away in frustration.

Time seemed to stop.

Jaws hung agape.

The only noise in the world was the high pitched squeal of a paint roller echoing across the asphalt as sixty people stood watching one sad little man slowly pushing a stick down the highway.

The expression on every crewmember’s face framed the same question: “This was a big budget stunts movie? This was the height of our technological sophistication? A little man with a stick???”

Every person watching this scene unfold had already started drawing up mental plans for a spray rig hooked up to a truck bumper and was wondering why the paint department hadn’t provided exactly that sort of modern convenience for the little old painter, who was slowly rolling his little grey heart out along the asphalt while swarms of hundred dollar bills with little flappy wings battered the air around the producer’s head.

Unable to watch any more of this, Joe sighed and said “I know I’ll be sorry for saying this but come on, let’s go help him.”

And so, for the next 2 or three months, in between the requirements of our own job, we ended up helping the painter paint out skid marks. I ruined 6 pairs of jeans, a dozen shirts and at least one good jacket to those cursed black trails of rubber. The funniest part was that the light grey color of the paint was just as obvious as the skid marks… we were just swapping black rubber for the really light grey of the latex house paint.

Have Roller Will Travel

By the end of the mountain sequence we were into true winter temperatures and half the production crew had been employed as skidmark painters, but it didn’t matter because the paint was freezing on the road instead of drying, creating greater hazards for the stunt guys on the twisty mountain roads north of Helen, Georgia. I developed a really nasty cold and can’t remember the last time we helped paint the highway, which suits me just fine.

To this day I still look for skidmarks in movies but I find them less and less because they can now pay a perky computer artist to paint them out with her stylus while she drinks a latte and thinks about what color she’s going to paint her bedroom.

You know, with a roller.

5 Comments on “Highway To Glidden”

  1. Drew:

    Before I go any further let me just say’ “Great website!”. Why are you still messing around in the movie business? Those paint fumes must have gotten to you. If you designed this site you should put down the paint roller and design websites for a living.

    This post on “Black Dog” brings back some great memories. It was actually one of my favorite films to work on. How much fun can one have wrecking cars and trucks? Tons.

    I realized early on that from a location manager’s point of view, that 1st unit would be boooring. So I turned ist unit over to Laura Bryant and Leslie Smith and John Findley and I took over 2nd unit.

    The mountain stuff was soooo much fun!. 8-hour days, closing State Route 75 between Helen and Blairsville from 9:00AM-4:00PM Monday-Friday and re-routing the locals over 30 miles for 10 days. Oh, how they loved us! Two weeks of hanging out in Helen and basically owning the town. The bar we hung out in every night, and I mean the whole crew and every night, has probably not seen that much money and probably never will again. The couple that owned the place were acutally in tears the last night we were there.

    Talk about continuity, have you ever noticed the mountain chase sequence? As the trucks are starting up the mountain the fall foliage is ablaze with color and as they are crashing down the mountain, which in the film is only 3 minutes later, there are no leaves on the trees?

    Do you realize that 10 years ago this week, right now, we were in Helen shooting this sequence? Ironic isn’t it?

    But I must say my favorite recollection happen while we were out in Madison.

    The 2nd unit director was a piece of work. He was the stero-typical stunt coordinator. So full of testosterone and himself. If you remember he had this hot, well-endowed assistant that was always with him. I had heard from a pretty reliable source that she would give him head on the way in every morning to get his day off to a good start.

    One foggy morning the crew had finished breakfast and he had not arrived at the set. We were all hanging out, waiting. The producers were trying to reach him on the phone with no sucess, etc. I was talking with one of the officers we had working for us when I heard over his radio that the State Patrol was in pursuit of a Camero traveling in speeds in excess of 100mph on I-20 East. Of course our director drove a Camero and it was obvious he was the subject of the State Patrol’s interest.

    Another minute or so passed and the officer I had been chatting with was giving me updates on the radio traffic.

    “He just got off the exit and he is heading this way and the Patrol is right behind him”, he told me. As he was getting closer we began hearing the sirens. It was looking like we might have a short day.

    About that time he comes pulling into base camp with the State Patrol still in pursuit. I noticed when the car came to a stop his assistant’s pretty little head popped up out of his lap. Our director seemed oblivous to the fact that he had most of the law enforcement in Morgan County waiting on him to get out of the car.

    Do you know that prick actually told the troopers that he wasn’t aware they were chasing him? He said he had the stereo cranking and because of the fog he didn’t see their lights. Of course he failed to mention that he was also getting a blow job at the time and really didn’t want to pull over.

    To cut to the chase, our producers were doing a lot of hand wringing and discussion with the authorites, who needless to say had every intention to take the asshole to jail. One of the producers actually wanted me to call the Film Office and have them intervene. I declined and said they should lock the S.O.B. up. But as often happens in this business of priviledge, he was not arrested. The local police coordinator was able to calm down the Troopers, our director was heavily ticketed, and ordered to return to Georgia later in the year for a court appearence. He was also promised by one Trooper in particular, that if he stopped him again, for any reason, and he would be watching, “I will make sure you are put under the jail”.

    “Black Dog”. Now that is movie making at it’s finest.

    See you at the Tiki tomorrow night. Thanks for the invite.



  2. Hi Drew,
    I’m quite sure you didn’t expect me to read this (yes, I was howling with laughter) and NOT respond in some way. After all, when I was hired onto this complete waste of $$, the big controversy was that the original top notch actor(ie., Kevin Sorbo aka/ Hercules)was backing out of his deal to star in the film…hmm (moment of Divine Clarity, perhaps?)…and the producers were frantically scrambling to replace him with an equally brilliant thespian. And oh boy – we got Patrick Swayze, (or as I like to call him, ‘Patrick Sway-zoid’). Originally, I was hired as just a regular old set dresser for the art department. I have no memory of who the higher-ups were in terms of a production designer, etc., and I have zero interest or intention of spending 30 seconds of energy to even Google it.
    One day, the set decorator (????whomever he or she may have been- it’s a blur) announced, “Okay set dressers: We need someone to volunteer to be on-set for the 2nd Unit/stunt unit. You have to live in Helen, GA. for a couple months. Whatdya say?” Stunts? Kool- sure, I’ll go! It beats the hell out of loading and unloading 5-tons with heavy crap all day long. Or so I thought. Live & learn.
    I remember being dropped off at some location out in the middle of some vast stretch of road and a field, I think. There appeared to be several identical big rig trucks, Camaros, and various other duplicated stunt cars all in varying degrees of smashed-up-edness. The boss (??- all that comes to mind is “insane female”??) looked at me gravely and said, “DO. NOT. LET. THESE. IDIOTS. FUCK. UP. CONTINUITY. Your job is on the line.” I think my reply was something like, “Ummm, could I get a script to read maybe…?”
    Thus began one of the most hellish film experiences of my life. One of approximately 5 females on this entire crew and the ONLY one who had no trailer in which to retreat- I quickly found a safe haven smashed in between several exhausted & often smelly guys in the “greens” truck with rakes and machetes lying across our laps. God Bless Tate Nichols. You saved my life, Tate. I used to bring those guys little gifts every morning, because I was so terrified that one day, they’d kick me out & then what would become of me?
    And it was life & death on that job. I soon realized that continuity was the very least of my worries. Staying alive would be much more of a priority, and a good day consisted of the stunt drivers running over yet another expensive camera rather than a human being.
    Oh, the stunt guys…yes well- I love Mike Riley’s description of that director…’full of testosterone and himself.’ I’m not that eloquent, I’m afraid- so I’ll just say, “WHAT A COMPLETE A-HOLE!!!!” I looooaaaaattttthhhhheeeedd these people from “L.A.” Chauvinistic doesn’t even come close to covering it. And, it wasn’t just the stunt guys. Oh, there were plenty of them on this film. Finally, I snapped.
    One typical freezing cold day after I had once again futiley attempted to call the production designer to say, “Hi. Uh, are you even AWARE of what your “scenic artist” is doing for these skid marks out here? Err, He seems to be determined to proceed in this manner….I really don’t think you will like the results of this…ummmmmmmm…….please, can someone call me back?? Please?” The ‘results’ of the wrong color of gray paint being slopped onto the roads of Helen by this little country fella…. were perfectly described in Drew’s HI-larious article. I never did get a call back. I simply received occaisional cryptic, threatening notes hand-delivered to me by some P.A. or another from Atlanta. The notes would say something like, “Thrang, we watched dailies last night. WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?!? Call me immediately.” The only bright side is that when I called, noone ever ever answered or called me back. I had absolutely no way of communicating with these people. Eventually, I simply abandoned any and all pretense of even trying to do ‘the job’ I was hired to do. I threw up my hands. There was simply no way. My mission became A.) Stay alive, and B.) collect my paycheck.
    One day, I heard alot of shouting over the walkie talkies. Sadly, I heard my “name” being cursed by the production manager as well. It sounded something like, “Get the mother-f-ing on-set dresser down here NOW!” A van swooped in to carry me to certain doom. When I got my courage up to approach the cluster of higher-ups (I’m pretty sure miss De’laurentis was standing there as well) who were all hovering next to a giant, very empty mobile home randomly placed across the highway, looking severely pissed,- clutching ,my polaroid camera, I approached and said as cheerfully as possible, “Hi! What’s up?” The production manager guy (again, names are long gone- the best I can do is say a somewhat chubby, Asian male), spun around in a flash and then he did something I will never forget. He took both his hands and he pushed me backwards very hard. I pinwheeled my arms to maintain an upright stance- my mouth dropped open. He spat with complete hatred, “Just get away from me.” I felt a sea of faces burning into me. I quietly walked off the road and deep into the woods where I sat on a large rock and sobbed for apprx. an hour. The next day, I had my dear friend, Drew Meyers deliver a huge bag of various subtle, gay bumper stickers. While everyone was at lunch, I snuck around the crew parking lot & stickered every single rental car belonging to that gross stunt director guy & his cronies. I put two stickers on the car of the guy who pushed me. This is not to say that being gay is ‘bad’ or an insult in some way. But, I knew it would bother these idiots and sadly….very very sadly I’m afraid….it was the only way I knew to take revenge. I was too broke at the time to simply quit, and I had to find some small bit of inner peace. It was all I could think of that didn’t involve actual harm, which just isn’t ‘me’.
    The whole reason, I think (?) for the physcial violence, was that the giant, empty trailer was supposed to be completely filled with various “scored” pieces of furniture so that when a big truck plowed through it at 80 miles an hour, the scored furniture would go flying in every direction, thereby creating an impressive shot of stunt wackiness (right before it ran over another camera). Clearly, noone in the Art Dept. in Atlanta got the memo (or did they- who the hell knows or cares), and noone put any furniture in this trailer. I guess by the time I got to the UPM, stunt director, etc., they had realized there wasn’t a whole lot I would be able to magically create out in the middle of NOwhere, in the way of large pieces of furniture in the 5 minutes before the shot was to happen.
    This is just another on the list of why I am so diligently working in grad school towards my degree in psychology & counseling. I WILL have a job where I have an office where I will be able to SIT down sometimes. My office might even have a pretty fountain in it. I won’t ever have to lift anything weighing over 50 lbs, if I don’t feel like it, or my back hurts. I will eat normal meals at a table, and pee at regular intervals in a real bathroom just whenever I feel like it!! A pipe dream? Maybe, but I’ll die trying.
    Thrang Nguyen

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