Well, if you are truly interested in the majority of my story, I’ll put this into four chapters. If you’re interested in my life in general, well that would be chapter one. If you’re interested in my life in the television and film industry, that’s chapter two. Chapter three is teaching college. And Chapter four is all about the aftermath.
Chapter One: My Personal Stuff
I was born in San Antonio Texas by mistake. Oh, I was planned, but Mom happened to be there when it went down. We actually lived in Denver. Childhood was typical for the fifties and the most vivid memories I have of that time were the times watching my father and grandfather build a log cabin in the Rocky Mountains. The very one my brother and Sister-in-law are updating beautifully today. All our lives, this has been a special place and everyone who knows me closely, knows how special it is. Just a log cabin, but so beautifully made by my father’s hand. Coleman lanterns, pump for water, a grove of Colorado Aspen Trees and a National Forest that stopped allowing building in 1957. Sweet, right? Growing up, high school in Florida and Kansas, college at Kansas University, University of Colorado and Florida State University (the Seminoles, not the reptiles), I made trips to the cabin as often as I could find time and took a lot of special people there.
Mom was a lady in every sense of the word. She was kind and graceful and always impeccably dressed for each and every occasion, but always ready to dress down and go eat Apalachicola oysters or lay in the sand with friends on St. George Island. As it was at that time, she was the perfect host, a great cook and a great mother. And when she forged a friendship, it lasted a lifetime. She was a grand lady.
Dad was a psychologist and a teacher, mainly. He rose through the college ranks at Florida State University (The Seminoles, not the reptiles) in Tallahassee, Florida and became an administrator and was really good at it. Assistant Dean of Faculty, Dean of Arts and Sciences and finally what they now call Provost of the University. Then a rather nasty person took the reins at the university and the writing was on the wall. He cleaned out all those hippy loving administrators and professors but not before Dad quit. So at the age of 15, having spent 9 years in Tallahassee Florida while Dad went up through the ranks, he accepted a job as Chancellor at the University of Kansas and my life was over. I had a steady girlfriend and I was being dragged to Dorothyland??? NUUU !! Leave me here !! I’ll be fine !! (Not a chance !!) We left a lot of friends behind and at 15, it was difficult. But leave, we did.
Kismet? I don’t know, but I met a lifelong friend almost immediately. In Lawrence, Kansas, when you enter the 11th grade as the Chancellor’s kid, everyone knows who you are. You’re the guy who sits with Mom and Dad in the perfect seats at Allen Field House and watches the Jayhawks go for another Final Four. It’s a legendary school for basketball. But I was 16. I had other things in mind. In Florida, I had started a band with my best friend. I think our biggest gig was The American Legion Hall and they pulled the plug because of neighbor complaints. But we LOVED playing. I started on piano at age 8, played saxophone in the high school marching band, pep band and orchestra, and eventually ended up falling in love with the guitar. But I was on keyboards in Kansas when my newfound best friend was playing drums in another garage band. Things moved around and eventually, after about six months, we became known as Joint Offering. (Subtle, yeah) (Hey, this is 1969) Florida was behind me and I had entered a whole new world. Lawrence, Kansas is a bastion of liberalism in a state of conservatism. Dad was a liberal, pro-student, free thinking Chancellor and it didn’t sit well with folks like Bob Dole for some reason. So just after the Kent State killings, we had a shooting in Lawrence that turned things upside down there. These were tense times. A fire was set at the Student Union after the killing by a National Guardsman of a KU student. It was a chaotic time for black and white relations as well. A policeman shot an unarmed black teenager and it all exploded. Riot police in the hallways of the high school. Drills to lock doors and get to the back of the classroom, etc. I won’t go through all of it, but Dad called a meeting of the entire student body in the stadium, knowing there were members of the Weathermen in town stirring the violence and asked the students what they wanted to do. Keep their university open and morph classes into whatever they and their professors thought best to tackle the issues and basically be on watch to protect the university from further violence, or burn KU to the ground. It was their choice. Kansas hated the fact that Dad gave them a choice. They wanted him to stomp those dissident students into the ground without compromise. They chose to protect KU and stop any further attacks. To this day, no Chancellor or Faculty Senate has had the cojones to commemorate even a brick in the sidewalk in Dad’s name. Every other Chancellor has been so recognized before and since. Do the political math.
It came to pass that my amazing mother and the Chancellor divorced and that was Kansas’ way out. “If you can’t handle your family, we don’t want you handling our university.” is what I was told they had said. Nasty times that saw my mother and younger brother move back to Tallahassee, my father move to Chicago and me? Well, I went to college at The University of Colorado in Boulder. Major, psychology. Minor, skiing and pot. And of course I inhaled. What’s the point otherwise, Bill? I had been doing a play here and there ever since I was 10 years old. I say that because when, after two and a half years the curriculum turned to molecular-cellular-developmental-biophysics, I wanted out. I transferred to Florida State University (The Seminoles, not the reptiles) and went into Performing Arts.
This was it !! This is what I really wanted !! To become an actor. A better one, anyway. I graduated in the first BFA Acting class in 1976 with a dozen plays under my belt and headed straight to Los Angeles. (I hate New York – sorry) As far as my personal life since then, I was unsuccessfully married twice, I was happily single mostly, I made a lot of friends and three or four great friends, I kept up with the music scene and Fender guitars and the Custom Shop mostly (Somewhere in here I’ll find room for a photo of my signature Stratocaster), I learned about baseball at Chavez Ravine, I create mash-ups (Yes, seriously), I came to love Los Angeles as no other place I’ve ever lived and after one long diversion in teaching, I’m home in Los Angeles to stay. And I’m as happy as is possible.
Chapter 2: Show Biz. Wow.
How did this happen? I moved to Los Angeles (if you missed chapter one) to become and actor or a magician. The magic thing happened in the first year here in LA out of a love for the art and craft of magic and unemployment. I studied and worked the cards and had zero idea of how I was doing. More on that later.
I moved here knowing not a soul (except my longest and most amazing friend who took the trip with me) and not related to anyone. So headshots and trips to agent’s offices and learning by mistakes (never sign with an agent who asks you for a fee) and generally spinning my wheels while I carried sheet rock for Music Plus stores being built, bartended at the Riviera Country Club (Dean Martin always had me make his martinis. Honest. Tipped me a hundred dollar bill once.), Drove Grayline Tour busses all over LA and was the early DJ at the Night Light Disco in Cucamonga, CA. (That last one sounds totally like BS, but I swear it’s true. And yes, we’re talking DISCO.)
Then one day I met someone who worked on the 20th Century Fox Lot. I was asked if I’d like to have lunch at the commissary one day and accepted and met someone else. Condensing this a bit, six months later, a job came open and I was hired. By that time they kinda knew me. I was too stupid to know you don’t just walk onto the lot and you don’t just walk into executive offices, so I did. And no one asked why because it looked like I knew what I was doing. The job was a relatively simple one with a very, very fancy title. Production Coordinator for 20th Century Fox Television. See? I had a little corner office behind the New Writer’s Building with the Head of Television and everything. My own parking spot outside. I know, right? What was the job? Ride a bike around the lot picking up original call sheets from all the shows and having them copied and took them back to the 1st Ads on set. If you’re waiting for more, that’s it. Don’t get me wrong. I worked on a lot of shows each day. “M*A*S*H”, “Trapper John, M.D.”, “The Paper Chase”, and I was on hallowed ground. The movies that were shot there since the studio was built….I was dreaming. Now, I grew the job as fast as I could by doing the same with Production Reports from each day (while studying them intensely), picking up time cards and checking them for accuracy (not cheating, accuracy), creating a form for all the executives on the lot that had a breakdown of what shows were shooting, where, what time they started, when they were anticipating wrap, behind or ahead, Director, episode number, etc. A one sheet, at a glance report for lunch and one of the same for the afternoon. These became not only popular, but mandatory. As I sit here, I can honestly say I never missed a day of work at 20th. In fact, I only missed work on one show later in my career because an ambulance took me away with a massive heart attack. Four bypasses and recovery later, I got right back on the horse.
I spent two years at Fox as Production Coordinator and met my first ex there. Then I landed an interview on a feature film for the same type of position. In this business, not many will fault you for moving up, only moving sideways to another company. This was up because it was a big feature. No, really big. “Return of the Jedi”. I would have to move to Marin County and work at the Skywalker Ranch, but I wanted to take the job. Two things stopped me. First was the realization that once the job was over, it was over. There was nothing to even suggest I could start back somewhere I left off. And I would be living in Northern California. Okay, maybe. But secondly, I went to the Vice President in charge of Production at Fox TV and talked with him about it. I thanked him for taking me on and for everything I had learned over the two years about contracts and folly and dubbing and editing and scoring and production that only two years on a major lot could teach me. (Yeah, I snuck onto the recording state and watched Luciano Pavarotti and a full orchestra score parts of “Yes, Giorgio”. How else do you learn?) So the reaction…. “Did you accept the job yet?” “Not yet. I wanted to talk with you.” “Can you give me a week?” “Yes, I asked about it and I don’t have to commit for 10 days.” “Great, I’ll get back to you.” No real idea. Tossed and turned for almost week wondering what I should have done. Then I was summoned. “If we were to put you into the Director’s Guild of America and put you on as Second Assistant Director on a series here on the lot, would you stay?” I didn’t ask for a week. I said yes and called the producer on “Jedi” for a meeting to decline with massive gratitude. Two weeks later, I was standing on the set of “Trapper John M.D.” as a Second Assistant Director.
FOUR weeks later, the Director’s Guild called Fox and asked who I was. Uh, oh. They said I was the Second AD on Trapper John. The Guild said no I wasn’t. Fox said yes, I was and they’ll send over their attorneys. The Guild said I could stay, just don’t pull that again. Those were the days and that’s how I got in the Director’s Guild. That was the beginning of my days as the “bad boy” of the DGA. You’ll see later.
“Trapper John, M.D.” was a real eye opener for me. (Side note here: two years ago I had the privilege of directing Charles Siebert in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof onstage. He had played the part of Gooper on Broadway when Tennessee Williams was still very much alive and present for it. I asked him if he had ever wanted to play Big Daddy and that was all it took. It was an extraordinary experience. Charlie had played Dr. Stanley Riverside II on “Trapper” and is such an amazing human being.) It was an eye opener because I realized that there was a lot more psychology involved in Assistant Directing than I had previously thought. Sure there was paperwork and coordination, but when an actor won’t come to the set until another actor is already on set, and vice versa, what does one do? Many of these questions had to be answered over the years. You’re ready to begin rehearsal on the next scene and somehow, someway YOU forgot to call the actor the previous night to give them a call time. What do you do? You reluctantly let an actor go away for a few hours between scenes and when it’s time for make-up, they are only on the 8th hole. I could go on for pages, but I’ll save that and the answers for the book I’ll never write.
So. Second Assistant Director. You can IMDB the vitals on me, so I won’t waste your time here, but I had a blast. Show to show to show. Every one of them a new and VERY different experience. It never got old for me. And I met a ton of Directors and 1st Assistant Directors and crew folk who I loved being around. This is when I first met Earl Bellamy. He was a director and did quite a few episodes of “Trapper” (Plus a ton of other credits). I loved Earl. I watched him direct and I talked to him early in the mornings He was always there at least an hour early. “Why so early, Earl?” “You never know when someone will have a question, Chip. And it’s quiet. I can walk through the day’s work.” I never forgot that. I never forgot how he treated EVERYONE with respect and a smile. Charlie Siebert directed as well and was very much the same. So that went into my mind’s notebook. Money doesn’t buy this kind of experience.
The one thing about being good at your job is that no one wants to let you move up to another job. I was a good 2nd AD (One or two would argue that, but I have no reason to be modest here) but I wanted to move up. Another truism in this business is that no one will fault you for moving up, only for moving sideways. I wanted to be a 1st Assistant Director so badly. But it take many hundreds of logged days to be eligible. About two and a half years is about average. Then you qualify, but you need to be hired. I moved up to 1st AD on a show called “Dynasty”. Specifically when they spun the show off to the new series “The Colbys”. That was two years. Seems like a long time, two years. It was like a flash in the whole scheme of things. But I was firmly ensconced in the 1st AD thing by now.
So this call came through from Universal Studios. It was someone I knew from one of the previous shows asking if I would like to be the 1st Assistant Director on “Miami Vice”. It would be at the start of the third season. More specifically, right after the start of the third season because there was “a sudden opening”. At the time, “Miami Vice” was a ground-breaking show and was shot entirely in Miami. I was single and it sounded like it would be great fun, so I said “Sure”. What I didn’t know was that I was Assistant Director number 24 on the show. It was a tough show. No, seriously. It was TOUGH. They went through Assistant Directors like a hot knife through butter. 23 in two years. The camera crew wouldn’t talk to me for weeks. They didn’t want to become friends just to see me be fired or quit. They kept a list on the inside of the camera truck door. And I got to meet the wonderful and amazing Director, Richard Compton. Somewhere between Richard Compton and Earl Bellamy. That’s who I wanted to be. I was his 1st Ad a few times and he amazed me with his confidence and leadership. Oh, he knew what he was doing every second of the day. And when he didn’t, he asked the grip crew to take out a wall and that gave him 10 minutes to think about it and that’s all he needed. (I remembered that little trick a couple of times)
I lasted the last two years of the series. I quit once and was talked out of leaving. I started directing Pick-Up Days. Most of the time, directors couldn’t quite finish the show in seven days, so we always schedule our regular actors for the last day. If a scene spilled over, we let them pile up until we had a day of scenes to shoot and put into the shows that weren’t complete. I fell into that role almost before I realized what it meant. It was a family, this crew. And they wouldn’t have let me fail if I had tried. So I started to watch the cut together shows and tried to fit the scene I directed into that particular show. You know, transitions from scene to scene, reminding the actors where it was happening in the script, etc. The actors were so good, they rarely needed reminding of anything. They knew what scenes they were doing and where they fit, but I made sure I knew just as well. Then, in the last season of the show, I got a whole episode to direct. I was now a DIRECTOR !! (No, I wasn’t, but I’ll get to that, too) “Vice” ended, as all shows must, and I headed back to LA after two years of living on the 16th floor of the Alexandria Hotel on Miami Beach and many long days and many more long nights in and around Miami. (Quick story: One director was one of those people who threw the rules of safety out the window. I’m a fanatic for safety because no one should ever be hurt doing a TV show or a movie. I’m unbendable on that topic and I believe it’s ultimately the 1st AD who should be responsible to make sure of it. The Stunt Coordinator being equally responsible on those type of shows. This director (yes, I’m not capitalizing director on purpose here) tried to do so many things that were dangerous, it was silly and stupid. I thwarted this director’s plans at every turn and he hated me for it. So did the crew, because this director tried to put them in harm’s way as well. On the last day, the crew knew this director was flying out and going back to their hometown. This director (maybe a man, maybe a woman, I’m not saying) was all packed and going straight from the set. Somehow an ounce of fake cocaine made its way into the carry-on luggage. I have no idea how, but it was just sugar, so what’s the harm? I’ve not heard anything about this director since then.)
So back to LA with an episode under my belt and enough dailies to make a reel (all of the same show….not the best idea) and the notion that I was on a bullet train bound for Director-dom. One episode does not a Director make. (Read that twice, didn’t you?) But I got an agent and everything. And waited. And waited. And then got a call from a wonderful lady who asked if I would step in as 1st Assistant Director on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” because of a terrible tragedy. I jumped on it. And I had a great time. I cannot stress how different the two shows were, “Vice” and “Trek”. Many obvious reasons. There were very rare location scouts on “TNG”. “Vice was one looooooong location scout because we shot nearly all of it on location” Space had far fewer locations and most of them were on a sound stage at Paramount. Okay, that was an easy one, but there were a lot of reasons that “TNG” was so much more comfortable. Too many to enumerate. But, in the end, the Executive Producer watched my “Vice” episode and gave me an episode of “TNG” to direct. And then another and another and another and in the meantime one of “DS9” and another one of those and things were starting to roll and then I directed an episode of a brand new series right at the outset called “Melrose Place” and that started the bullet train. “Melrose” was a joy. And I directed a whole mess of them over seven years in between “Beverly Hills, 90210” and basically whatever Aaron Spelling had going during a 10 year span. I was a busy guy. And I was loving it all. I’d fly off to Vancouver to direct a show and then fly off to Orlando to do a show and fly home to LA to do more shows……
Then it kinda stopped. One of the many things I LOVE about Aaron Spelling and his Producers was that they were loyal. I returned that loyalty by never backing out of an episode to go do whatever might have been considered “hot” at the moment. They were so good to me. They were family. But I had put all my eggs into one basket. There really wasn’t another group of Producers who knew me. Things slumped. Career stalled. Well, almost. A show here and there, but nothing like the 10 years with Spelling. So…..that’s about the story of my television career. I directed a number of plays here in Los Angeles. A world premier play, a North American premier play and many others. Showcases as well. Helped out a little with a friend building a new theater in town, kept kind of busy, but nothing much else. There was a moment when Richard Compton and I were both onboard as Directors for a new show called “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, but they totally cleaned house and started over with all new folk and that was that.
The end? Nope.
Chapter Three: Teaching. Who knew? (Not me)
I was driving on the 101 Freeway here in LA when the phone rang. On the other end was Frank Patterson, the newly appointed Dean of The Film School at Florida State University (The Seminoles, not the reptiles) and he straight out asked me if I would like to come teach Directing at the Film School. Later on, after the pileup on the 101 Freeway, we talked again and I said why the heck not. Okay, it wasn’t that easy. My best friend was here and I had been here for close to 30 years. But the upside? Teaching at one of the best film schools in the nation? (That’s right, Wiki it.) My mother was still living in Tallahassee? My career wasn’t setting the world on fire? Sure, why not?
They wanted me there fairly quickly, so I made the move and started doing something about which I knew very little. It was nerve wracking. I was a Visiting Assistant in Film. So I let the whole thing flow. The students taught me and I taught the students. I learned how to make a syllabus (not my style, but it’s a university thing), how to teach a story in three semesters instead of acts, and settled in. Then became an Assistant Professor along with being named Head of Production and finally Associate Professor.
Frank’s plan was to fill in the faculty with some more “industry professionals”. He already had some and they were amazing. One of them mentored me a lot. Taught me so much about teaching. He was awarded the highest honors in the teaching field and had also directed film and helped build the program into what it is today. (I’ll always be grateful, Reb.) So it made sense to Frank to bring in some more and he did.
This was 2003. What I learned in what I refer to as my second career is difficult to explain. The first thing I realized was that I was talking a lot about what I used to do and needed to talk more about what THEY should get used to doing. Since I was an Assistant Director as well, I brought in all of the union rules so that they worked by them, worked under strict hours, worked under strict safety guidelines and paid the price for ignoring them. I would get notes and e-mails thanking me from those who came out to LA because they could walk onto any set and know what the deal was. So I felt good about that contribution. I was still unsteady in a logical progression of lecturing about what directing is all about. I never wanted them to be directors like me. I wanted them to be directors like THEM. Each one individually. And trust me, they all had their own ideas of who they wanted to be, so that was good. Fairly soon, I learned what it was they wanted to learn and we started to have a really good time. That was also important to me. After they finished making the short films they wrote and directed, I wanted to hear “Holy crap that was fun”. Most of the time it worked that way. Classes worked that way sometimes, too. We would have classes that were exercises, but they were the ones who came up with the ideas. Maybe recreating something they had seen or something they had in their creative heads or simply something they wanted to watch to see if it worked. Those were the amazing classes.
As it’s known now, The College of Motion Picture Arts is an extraordinary place to learn. I was on the admissions committee for years and we accepted 30 BFA students in Production and 24 MFA students in Production. 6 were MFA Writing students. They had all finished everything they needed to do before they came to the school, meaning that the BFAs would be accepted and finish their requirements before they started at The Film School and then spent two and a half years with us. Year ‘round. Short break between semesters. All intensive learning and shooting and posting. That is so completely unique in academia. The College has the full support of the University and the Florida Legislature. And when these students graduate and go off to LA or NYC or Pocatello or San Salvador or wherever they want to shoot films or documentaries or edit or produce or write, they tend to succeed. About the rate of 92% within the first year of leaving. Okay, so I brag about my school and University and students and faculty peers a lot.
Before I knew it, 9 years had flown by and that was pretty much all I could do. There are lots of reasons why I didn’t go on, but they’re boring. I just knew I needed to come home to LA. I learned so much from my second career and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I could fill pages of this website with names and stories just from the “school days”. It was an enormous honor. I continue to be so very proud of all the students who touched my life.
Chapter Four: What about now?
If you are reading this, you need to find a hobby because it was long and boring and most likely didn’t affect you much. But let’s say you are still reading. Congrats.
Officially, I’m still a member of the Director’s Guild of America, The Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Academy of Magical Arts, The American Society of Magicians and The International Brotherhood of Magicians. Unofficially, I’m retired.
So what’s this magic stuff? Remember way back in here when I mentioned I wanted to be an actor or a magician? Some of that never left. I was doing “push button tricks” since I was young, but I picked up a book by a magician whose name is Harry Lorayne and studied it from cover to cover the same way I wore out the grooves on Abbey Road. Card magic. Whenever I could, wherever I could. He writes like few other magicians I know. Now they have DVDs and YouTube. In 1977, we had books. And Harry wrote like truly talented writers today for film and TV. You can see it. So I studied it and fell in love with it. Then coins. Then all kinds of other things that don’t have trap doors. And I did this throughout. At the end of a long shooting day, I would do a card trick in the grip truck. Friday night magic. Before each class, I would do a magic trick. There was a more definitive reason for doing magic for students. It was, after all is said and done, what they each wanted to do on film. So I’ve kept up with it. I became a member of the Academy of Magical Arts whose home is The Magic Castle in Hollywood in 1981 and I used to perform there. I’m not nearly good enough anymore. Geniuses are creating illusions in the close-up area that surpass my skill level but decades and it’s wonderful. I try to get to lunch there every Friday and see the close-up show to remind myself of how little I know and to be amazed. I love being amazed. I don’t like knowing how they did it. Many times I do, but many times I’m as baffled as someone who has never seen a deck of cards or a dollar coin before. I’m a kid again. Sure, I’ll do some things when I go at night with friends, but mostly I watch. I do still practice quite a bit and I try to read a lot of other magician’s writing. My best friend in LA is an extraordinary writer with a magically wry wit. Steve Sears and I both graduated from Florida State (The Seminoles, not th…..nevemind) (He actually went to the other University first, but he’s had his vaccinations) and have known each other since the late 70s and he’s a member of the magic Castle also and is every bit as enamored of the art and artifice of magic as I am, so we frequent the halls of the Castle. (were there too many “ands” in that last sentence, Dude?) Magic is also a family. Sometimes friends you never knew you had. All amazing in their own right.
Guitars. (I know, I took a left when you weren’t looking) I have them, I play them and I love them. Mind you, this is more therapy for me than a talent. I play for me. But I enjoy it so much. I’ve been lucky enough to have had two guitars that were built for me to my exact specifications. One is a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster (I know, I promised you a photo and I’ll keep it. The other was built by a luthier name Dave Bertoncini. It’s called The Aspen and it’s an acoustic guitar. I’ll post a photo or two on here as well. The magic photo of me and the photos of the guitars were taken by Steve who is also a (he’ll deny this) professional photographer. If they’re blurry, I took them.
Travel. (Ahh, you followed me this time). This is something I was NEVER able to do except on business. Work prevented it. “What about weekends?” Oh, I didn’t get those off. At FSU, I tried to go to all the sets that were shooting and sometimes we had four of them going at the same time. So now that I’m back in LA and settling back into a casual routine after a pretty hectic life up until now, I want to travel. There are parts of California I haven’t ever seen like the giant Redwoods. “Seriously?” Yep, seriously. There are conventions I enjoy in not too distant places. And there are plenty of places within driving distance that I’d like to see. The bucket list, so to speak. Monterey, Carmel, my nephew lives in San Diego and I haven’t really seen that with the exception of the Convention Center. Things like that. I see some of my old buddies on Facebook and they post vacation pictures and I wonder why I’m not going, too. AS much as I’ve done here in Los Angeles, there are still decades of places I haven’t seen.
As I write this, the feral parrots are returning to the area, I just spent the last weekend with 1,400 magicians (true) and I’m still learning how to upload this to my website.
“What a long, strange trip it’s been”