Now the crew is assembled at the sand bar the missionaries jokingly called, “Palm Beach.” No more cramped
spots for me, but I still have to be very careful since there will be lots of action, spears being thrown, and
intense death scenes acted out for high speed movie cameras. I’ve been accepted more lately to be part of
the camera crew, or the “glob” as I call them because each camera is quite a large unit, often on a dolly cart,
and always surrounded by three or four people, equipment, and a clutter of shading screens and rain fly's;
these provide needed protection for the camera people, but they are constantly an obstacle for me.
Everyone is quiet as we are ready to roll as Chad does a close up reaction shot to being speared in the gut.
“Rolling”, says a production assistant. “QUIET!” yells the first assistant director, who is really the foreman of
the whole set. Then, “Action”, and we hear a loud “hunhhhh” and labored breathing, gasping. I think: this guy
is one good actor. Then, after another gasp, a sudden, guttural scream like I’ve never heard,
“Ahhhhhrrrrrrggggg” and then choking. I could barely take the picture. It seemed every crew had their heart
stop in synch. We had the sudden shock of what it must feel like to have an eight foot ironwood spear thrust
into your midsection. Pure agony.
A crew member touches my shoulder and motions. Fifty yards away I see our pilot Steve Saint having just
emerged from the bushes and peering at the bloodied actor now down on his knees. The man is portraying
Steve’s real father, groaning and dying by the hands of the very men he was hoping to help.
DIrector Jim Hanon speaks quietly with
Chad Allen after a very intense
close-up, a bone-chilling reaction to
On a lighter note, my finest moment on the job is when I am called upon to re-create a famous Cornell Capa
photo that ran in Life Magazine in 1956. Our little Stevie Saint character will be gazing at the issue in an
upcoming scene, and the modern day Life Magazine has told us the prop must look exactly like the original –
except for the fact that we will use our actors of course. I assemble the five widows in the kitchen of the Saint
House and show them the photo we are re-creating. Wardrobe and props departments have already been
involved, and I've already done some tests to get similar lighting. The photo seems to turn out well, and the
Art department sends it off to a company in LA which will make our version of LIFE. It's a fun day for me
when we film Stevie looking over the magazine, and my handiwork looks just right. I always had a dream to
be published in Life Magazine; in a way, I guess I finally did!
The props/fx team screws a long
section of spear into a special harness
that is under the actor's shirts for the
attack scene. Red stain is applied, but
not too much. The blood can’t run or
drip or that will lead to an unwanted
“R” rating. Similarly, the spears
cannot be shown entering a body.
The throw can be shown, and then cut
to the result. You can see in the film
that this is certainly realistic enough.
Don Pennington and
Patrick Denver work
on Sean McGowan,
who plays Jim Elliott.
The mood seems to
somber and joking as
we all get nervous
before filming such a
horrific, true event.
As Chad slumped further down after the screams, I hear a soft, “cut” and no one moves or says one word.
The director, Jim Hanon, steps forward and kneels down next to his talented actor, speaking softly to him;
tenderness needed after the awful sadness and intensity in portraying such a good man sacrificing his life for
the very people who killed him.
Steve Saint would later tell us, “I’ve grown up with this story my whole life, knowing my Dad had been killed this
way, but I had never really thought of the sheer pain of it until I was approaching the set. As soon as I heard it
I knew, and my eyes teared up. I was watching - and hearing - just how my Dad died.”
Stevie looks over the LIFE magazine photo
staged with our "End of the Spear" actors.
The original LIFE photo by Cornell Capa.