Chris's Photo Journal
The Making of The First of May
on the set of The First of May
Sirmons (Producer and Director)
Haviland (Co-Producer and
founded SHO Entertainment together in 1990
and held offices at Universal Studios Florida
for a number of years before moving it to
the Pyramax Studios in Lake Helen Florida.
The First of May was SHO Entertainment's first
feature film. As I lived in New York in 1997
when the film was suddenly funded and went into
preproduction, I negotiated a month off from
work at the dot-com job I had at the time -
The Mining Company - to participate in the shoot,
giving them a back-porch credit on the picture.
Unfortunately The Mining Company later changed
its name to About.com,
so now the credit is "wrong," but oh well.
I was an investor in the film through SHO Entertainment
and Gary Rogers, who joined SHO Entertainment
in 1993, gave me the role of Location Manager.
Not having done this before, I only had my experience
in other productions to draw from and knew superficially
what I needed to do. That hardly prepared me
for the grueling job ahead. Since I would be
working with very experienced Teamsters, this
would be both a salvation and a source of hardship.
They knew what to do, but they relied on me
(as they should) to tell them where to park
and how to get to location, and it wasn't a
walk in the park.
But I got through it, even though I had to leave
the production a couple weeks ahead of wrap
to return to my "real job" and leave my team
to run things in my absence.
So this is my photo-journal of our production.
I hope you enjoy it! --Chris
doing some last minute office work on the night before
our first day of shooting.
/ Writer Gary Rogers touches up the script on the
night before the first day of shooting.
With Paul, Gary was the major driving force behind
the movie. His exceptional creative talent and hard
work were not the least of his contributions - but
his strong connections with the politics and people
of the DeLand area was one of the primary reasons
the movie was shot on its very strict budget.
very first shot on the first day of shooting! (I called
it the First of Mayhem.) This was a person's yard
that Gary and I secured not far from the studio. We
arrived so early in the morning that it was still
dark out, and the Location Manager always has to be
the first on the set to show the Teamsters where to
park. I arrived and parked, but I didn't realize these
people had set loose a couple of enormous black dogs
(Great Danes I think) to run about their fenced in
yard, and when the Teamsters arrived and we all got
out of our vehicles we froze to this curious galloping
sound and black furry bodies coming out of the darkness
straight at us. A little terrifying. But the dogs
were very friendly. "I thought it was a horse!" said
one of the shocked Teamsters.
They day dawned and the rest of the crew arrived.
It was very exciting for Paul to call "Action" on
his first feature film! But the windmill refused to
rotate when we did the crane shot. It was spinning
in later shots that morning because the wind picked
up. So when Paul edited the scene, he added sound
effects of the windmill starting to turn - and it
added to the meaning of the scene as a happy coincidence.
Producer Reza Badiyi looks over the script. Reza is
one of the most prolific directors in the Television
world, having directed episodes of Star Trek Deep
Space Nine, S.W.A.T., Baretta, The Rockford Files,
The Incredible Hulk, Falcon Crest, Mission Impossible,
Buffy the Vampire Slayer and many others. Remember
the famous wave surfer in the opening shots of Hawaii
5-0? that's Reza's. He began his directing career
on Get Smart in 1965 - the year I was born!
Reza is one of our Executive Producers on the movie,
and Paul's mentor.
That's our Set Medic Dr. R. "Doc" Klonel in the background.
dolly shot. We filmed in some beautiful locations
around the scenic residential area of Lake Helen.
stars of The First of May! Julie Harris ("Carlotta")
and Dan Byrd ("Cory") together carry almost the entire
film. They were both very good natured and professional,
and quickly loved by everyone.
Dan can later be spotted in a scene in the movie 28
Days, starring Sandra Bullock.
were filming a scene near a small lake where Dan ("Cory")
falls from his bike and discovers a turtle. But a
city worker had driven down to the opposite shore
and began pumping water from the lake and using a
very loud machine that was disrupting our shoot. While
a couple of our P.A.'s took a car ride around to the
pasture to attempt to make contact, Gary walked out
to the end of the dock and tried to get the man's
Gary got the attention of a resident of the lake instead:
a Florida 'Gater!
Pictured here, the alligator pokes his eyes up out
of the water and glares at Gary and Prop Master Joe
Stone with some distaste. (See bump in the water to
wants to be in movies!
of my jobs as a Location Manager was to arrange for
a full-blown circus to be shown to an audience of
hundreds (actual public was invited, not extras) at
a location near the studio, which was a large cow
This is a picture by Stephanie Wince of Dan surrounded
by our genuine clowns, hired for the Circus scenes.
was a genuine circus performance arranged so that
we could film, complete with acrobats, tigers, the
works. The unusual nature of this event made news
all over Central Florida, and in fact Governor Chiles
himself was expected to attend. (He cancelled at literally
the last minute.)
The circus, which we shot in 1 day flat, was a very
long and difficult day, and preparation for it was
challenging, as I had very little budget to work with.
We chose a fenced in pasture owned by a lady who leased
it to a guy who kept his horses on it. So I had two
parties to deal with - the owner and the renter. The
owner had to agree to let us use it for a circus,
which included insurance security. The renter had
to agree to remove his horses for a day.
The circus people said the entire pasture had to be
mowed down so that the grass was very short. Otherwise,
in the hot Florida sun, it would be a fire hazard.
However the renter said if we mow all the grass down
then his horses would have no food. So I arranged
to have some of the field bailed. A truck went in
and rolled up the hay and stacked it aside for the
horse owner... But I ran out of money and could not
afford to mow the whole property that way, nor did
the renter get all the hay he wanted to last him the
winter (as this was in November). So I wound up having
to pay the renter money to buy the rest of the hay
he would need, and hire someone with a large mower
to take down the rest of the field - which cost less
than the bailer.
The mower turned out to be a local - Mr. Butler, who
kindly took care of the job. But it was a heck of
a lot bigger than he and I anticipated and it took
him a lot of time. There were other problems, such
as dew on the grass making it too wet to mow, and
other things. In the end, I barely got the field mowed
in time for the circus - within a day before the trucks
Then there was the matter of the police. They did
not like us having a circus there, because the roads
leading out to the pasture were just small, thin,
country roads. Not built for heavy traffic. And where
would they park? Was the pasture big enough to handle
the public plus the film crew plus the circus and
its village of trucks? I had not nearly enough experience
to guess that, so I relied on my contact with the
circus, the head Teamster on our own crew, the Volusia
County Film Commissioner, and a fire marshall to help
me figure it out.
And who would direct the public to park in the right
places? These are just open pastures, there are no
signs or ropes or tape. I had to create make-shift
parking lots and signs for the public and the crew
of both the movie and the circus so that everyone
knew where they were going. There are other rules
that make things tricky - for instance the electric
generator that powers the lights has to be close enough
to string cables but far enough that the sound doesn't
interfere with the sound crew. There has to be a restroom
facility for the crew. There has to be a place for
them to break for lunch. And then there's garbage
control. The Location Manager is responsible for the
property the crew is using - which in this case also
included a circus! I had to make sure every scrap
of garbage was removed from that field after the circus
was over - and I had NO money left.
circus crew arrived the day before and parked their
trailers, then on the big morning they prepared to
raise the tent before the film crew was even on site.
I had to run around and stop the action until we were
ready, because we intended to get shots of them raising
the tent. This was the last time, we were told, that
they would be raising a tent with elephants (the old
fashioned way). Hydraulics are used in modern circus
My friend Don was a high school teacher and he helped
me wrangle together some of his students to help me
direct cars on the big day. These students were my
biggest God-send of them all, as they stood out there
all day directing traffic for no pay. They also helped
me spot fires and stomp them out - caused by people
throwing their cigarette butts into the dry recently
The days before the circus I had Location Manager
nightmares of a headline reading, "Florida Governor
Chiles dies as Circus tent goes up in flames - hundreds
of people dead - - Elephants and Tigers continue stampeding
through the town of Lake Helen, killing children -
Location Manager facing charges..." Well, I always
wanted to be famous, but that isn't quite what I had
in mind. ;-) Anyway, I really felt that this could
turn into a major disaster for me, the film, the circus,
and the town if I didn't watch out. The Volunteer
Fire Department was also around that day, and the
cops helped me with the traffic out on the road.
We were still shooting well into the night, and the
circus starting breaking down their tent right around
us. In fact, unexpectedly, they packed up and took
the toilets with them. Did I mention the Location
Manager is also responsible for bathroom facilities
for the crew? With everything else on my mind, I wasn't
paying much attention to that fact, especially since
the circus had its own toilet facilities, but after
night fall I was swarmed with people asking me where
to find the toilets, and I looked and pointed at the
toilet trailer pulling away down the street and suddenly
realized my error. So I scheduled a shuttle van to
take people back to the studio which was only a few
minutes drive away.
It was a very successful day of shooting, when the
dust settled. The public had fun, the crew did a great
job, and the circus workers cleaned up most of the
circus trash (although they took my Locations dept.
trash barrels in the process). Still, there were lots
of small pieces of garbage in the field the next day,
and I invested some time out there by myself with
a pair of gloves and a bunch of trash bags. In one
spot I even had to clean up a pile of used toilet
paper someone left.
From that day forth I have profound respect for professional
Butler's train car for carrying our circus audience
between the parking area and our bigtop on the day
we shot the circus scenes. Unfortunately, some last
minute parking decisions and other complications elliminated
the need for a train, so he parked outside the front
where people could take pictures.
the elephant under the Big Top at the Circus set with
Gary, Julie and Dan. This was when we shot a scene
where Julie ("Carlotta") dances with the elephant
(whose real name is Conti), having been reunited with
her old friend from many years past.
contemplates his next shot.
Paul's extensive background as an Assistant Director
for many years, with credits on shows ranging from
The Waltons to Quantum Leap to Falcon Crest, was a
basis for bringing a group of professionals together
to make a high quality film on a low budget. He inspired
people to work for the movie, not for him, because
the movie is personal to all of us.
A director's job is not just creative with the camera
but creative with how to market the production. In
the spirit of the movie which supports Foster Child
Adoption, Paul invited actual Foster Kids and families
looking for Foster Kids to join in the fun, and hopefully
Wince was one of my intrepid Location Assistants,
seen here after a lot of hard work in the rain. One
of the many jobs of a Location Assistant is to "lock
up traffic" - which in some cases is quite literal.
She would have to stand out in the road with red cones
and stop cars from passing by when she heard on the
walkie-talkie that cameras were rolling nearby, and
politely redirect the cars another way so that their
noise did not interrupt an important dialog scene.
And if it's raining, it's raining. (It rained the
day we shot the Joe DiMaggio scene - who unbeknownst
to the passing motorists was sitting right there in
the bleachers of an empty DeLand ball park.)
Stephanie, as a student photographer, also took some
production photos for me.
April on the left, one of the Location Assistants
working for me, hanging out with one of our Production
During the production I was staying at my friend Don
Brunning's house... Since we wrapped the picture,
Don and April married and now have twin boys.
and Dan look at the baby we used in the film, who
played the newborn to Cory's foster parents (Robin
O'Dell holding baby and Tom Nowicki on right). That's
Charles Nelson Reilly on the left and Hannah-Belle
are the epitome of "hurry up and wait." You are either
running around under high stress or waiting around
This is a rare shot of our 2nd A.D. Kurt actually
sitting down (right), with one of our extras (left).
Paul and Gary go over their options while Doc (far
right) keeps an eye on things. Doc was our set medic.
You may have seen his cameo in the retirement home
scene if you have viewed the movie!
and Gary Rogers at Amtrack. That's Reza in the front
right. I was out of shape and exhausted during the
entire production, walking around mostly on my empty
(but still pouching!) stomach with a bottle of Mountain
Dew to keep me from passing out in one hand and a
walkie talkie in the other.
Amtrack was a very tough location to get, and Gary
had to pull strings with the Mayer of DeLand to get
permission to shoot here. Amtrack was not cooperative,
but they agreed at the last minute to let us use their
spent a week at the Winter Quarters of the Clyde Beatty
Cole Brothers circus, where we erected half of the
big top to match with the circus set I had prepared
out at the Lake Helen cow pasture. By now we had already
shot the circus, the hospital scenes, the foster home
scenes, and the retirement home scenes.
It was a rainy, muddy week, so cast and crew used
the tent as a dry place to sit and talk at break time.
Pictured here is Mickey Rooney ("Boss Ed"), me and
Derek Bedini (Asst. to Gary Rogers).
Byrd ("Cory") and me at the Circus Winter Quarters.
A.D. Kurt Kulhanek and me watching a shot.
Supervisor Jillian Amburgey (right) was among my very
first contacts in the movie business. She poses here
with her assistant Liana Sutton (left).
Paul and I worked with Jillian on The New Leave it
To Beaver TV series in Orlando, which was my first
gig - I had worked as a Production Assistant there
at the studio lot at Universal Studios Florida in
1989 before the theme park was even built around it.
directs Mickey, Dan and Julie in a scene at the Circus
Winter Quarters. We parked camera trucks in angles
to serve as a backdrop to an otherwise uninteresting
clearing in the woods.
Script Supervisor Jillian listens closely on the right...
And I mean VERY closely, because Mickey liked to try
changing details in the scenes. "The script is just
a guide," he said once, "you should improvise." Unfortunately
if you do this willy-nilly you can really mess up
the continuity of the story. Ah well, I'm not an actor,
what do I know? :-)
goofs around with Supervising Producer and Production
Manager Sandy Watterson.
Jan Rhees also has a cameo as a nurse near the end
of the picture, which you can see on the right.
Rogers and Paul Sirmons laugh at Charles Nelson Reilly's
antics on the set.
Producer Reza Badiyi shares some time with Julie and
Dan at the "Kepperman House" set.
beautiful scene with Julie in the Orange Groves in
with Julie on the day we filmed Joe DiMaggio.
Years later, in 2000, Julie and I spoke at the Film
Fest New Haven festival where The First of May won
the Audience Choice Award, and she signed my rare
movie poster The Haunting (directed by Robert Wise,
shot in the early 60's) in which she carried the lead
role of Eleanor. Anyone who has seen the lousy remake
of The Haunting that came out in 1999 should make
an effort at seeing the original adaptation of Shirley
Jackson's novel with Julie Harris, it is one of the
most creepy films ever made.
Julie also starred in East of Eden with James Dean,
Gorillas in the Mist with Sigourney Weaver, and in
Stephen King's The Dark Half, but she is most well
known for her work in Broadway. Below are a couple
of her head shots, one from her Haunting days.
up at the baseball diamond for the Joe DiMaggio scene
with Dan. Dan and Robin wait at the Video Assist with
Jillian (in the middle) and Stephanie (on left).
It was pouring rain that day, unexpectedly, so we
just worked it into the mood of the scene.
with Paul and Gary going over the dialog to take place
between Dan and Joe DiMaggio. Since Joe doesn't have
any training as an actor, and since Dan is a young
actor himself, this scene took a lot of thought and
preparation. As it turned out, Joe can not only play
ball, he can act! He and Dan have an excellent scene
D. with Dan right after we wrapped Joe's last shot.
Crew wasn't allowed to take pictures of Joe until
after wrap, so the second Paul yelled "cut" on our
last shot cameras appeared all over the place and
film started rolling.
Entertainment Tonight and other media were among the
his way back to the car after the last scene, Joe
D. says hello with some kids - some of whom were actual
foster kids we invited to the set.
shot of Joe. On the right is a clip from his scene
in the movie with Dan ("Cory").
on the set with his son.
we ever got along in the film business without Video
Assist I'll never know. This is the best way for essential
crew members (Director, Producers, Script Supervisor,
Director of Photography, etc.) to see how a shot is
framed up while filming.
the elephant arrives at the "Kepperman" house set
for the final scene of the film.
our Accountant, takes a ride on Hannah-Belle!
As of Jan. 1, 2001, she is Sheryl Sirmons, Paul's
(Not that this has anything to do with her ride on
course since Paul and I are "First Cousins Once Removed"
we had a lot of family in cameo shots in the movie.
My Mom (Paul's First Cousin) and my sister were in
the circus audience (seen below left) buying cotton
candy from Dan's character. Paul's parents and other
family also had shots in the audience, as did my friend
Don and his kids. Paul's brother (below middle) played
a hotdog vendor. Paul himself played "Peter John"
- Carlotta's long lost love, seen only in this "old"
black and white war photo (below right).
of the locations I prepared but was unable to participate
in was the Civil War scene, from Cory's daydream.
I had to fly back to New York on the day they shot
this scene. We used the same field used for the circus.
Our prop master and other enthusiastic crew members
wrangled together auhtentic Civil War guns, costumes,
and the like, and they assembled out in the pasture
and, well, went to war. The resulting footage looks
great, and I really wish I could have been there on
that shoot because I hear they all had great fun.
But alas, I had a "day job" to return to. Below are
some clips from the scene.
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