Posts Tagged ‘Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market’

Good Call

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Last week a guy died who most of you never heard of. His name was Steve Henke. He was my age – 62 – and he lived most of his life in Iowa City, Iowa, where he worked for many years at the University of Iowa video production center, but also freelanced in various capacities in the film business for probably forty years. Lately he lived out west, but he’s coming home to Iowa soon.

Steve was a grizzled veteran of the movie wars – he struck me as either a benign biker or a dangerous hippie…I was never quite sure which. He was introduced to me by Phil Dingeldein, my collaborator (Director of Photography/Editor) on most of my movie projects. Back in 1994, Phil recommended I hire Steve to be gaffer on MOMMY, my first indie movie. Ultimately the credit Steve took (and earned) was Lighting Design.

Steve with Patty
Steve Henke and star Patty McCormack on the set of MOMMY (1994)

On MOMMY, as writer and executive producer, when things turned disastrous and I wound up having to take over the director’s chair two weeks into production, I already knew the two indispensable people were Dingeldein and Henke. I scheduled a meeting with them, and revealed I intended to become director – knowing that without their okay, and their support, I wouldn’t have a chance. They backed me, and supported me, and taught me. Between Phil and Steve, there wasn’t much about film and video production that they didn’t know or hadn’t experienced. What I know – and frankly I know quite a bit – I learned from those two. (Them and my actor pal Mike Cornelison, who had also encouraged me to believe in my ability to direct the picture).

Phil Dingeldein is genial guy – everybody loves Phil. Steve Henke was cantankerous by nature and design – a shop foreman who ruled his blue-collar minions through fear and respect. When MOMMY’S DAY came along, I tapped Henke to be my First Assistant Director as well as Lighting Designer (we wore multiple hats on our low-budget projects). He and I did the bulk of the pre-production work and had broken down every single scene, down to every single set-up, before we stepped on set. My God, but I learned so much from this rough-edged, belligerent, generous, sweet man.

Steve with MAC
Henke and Collins on set of REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET (2000)

When Henke – again my First Assistant Director – introduced himself to the crew and cast on the first day of REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET, he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am your worst nightmare.” Also a director’s dream First A.D. His bad cop presence allowed me to become a much-beloved good cop. Mainly what Steve did was move things along faster. And faster.

On the other hand, one of the best known stories about Henke came from the time he spent seemingly hours trying to light a set to his satisfaction on MOMMY’S DAY – specifically, a bedroom decorated with ironic clown dolls and clown paintings. One clown doll seated in a window had drawn his obsessive attention. “Steve!” Dingeldein cried out. “Let’s go! You’re lighting the clown!” This was followed by much laughter, and Henke’s grumpy capitulation. From that day henceforth on my sets, taking too much time has become known as “lighting the clown.”

Steve Henke was also my producer and editor on the documentary CAVEMAN: V.T. HAMLIN & ALLEY OOP. He helped me get the project taken on by the University of Iowa video center, and it was his last project there before retiring. He is essentially the co-author (along with producer Mark Lambert) of that documentary, which may represent my best piece of filmmaking. Henke went with me to the San Diego Comic Con to shoot famous cartoonists like Will Eisner, Trina Robbins and Stan Sakai, and he loved rubbing shoulders with talent like that, and inhaled the pageantry and excess of that event.

Henke was an original. He gave me an ultimatum once that if I didn’t ban the producer from the set, he would quit – I banned the producer. On that same production, I bailed Henke out of jail when it turned out he was driving on a long-expired license. I like to think we were good friends. Still, he was merciless in his criticism of my work – he once said, “Collins will write something wonderfully nasty then spoil it with a sentimental wind-up, and there’s not a fucking thing you can do about it” – but also extravagant in his praise. When I did my edit of CAVEMAN on my home video recorder, and he told me I was always within a frame – if you know film and video editing, you know a frame is less than an eyeblink – from the perfect edit point. I treasure that remark.

I have few regrets in life. Maybe three regrets. Two are that I never saw the Beatles or Bobby Darin perform live. The other is that I didn’t get to do another film project with Steve. I haven’t captured him here – that’s almost impossible. But I’ll wind up with my favorite story about him, which I’ve shared with many people over the years.

For MOMMY’S DAY, in pre-production, Steve and I designed a shot that would have a camera on a jib sweep down the table in a prison’s visitor’s room and wind up as a close-up of our star, Patty McCormack. We both were pleased with that, but when the day came, we were up against the clock where our child actress Rachel Lemieux was concerned (she could only work a specified number of hours per day, by SAG rules). So I went to my First A.D. and said, “Scrap the jib shot. Too elaborate. We’re running behind.”

He looked at me with his twin evil-eye gaze and put his nose a quarter inch from mine. “Are you telling me we’re scrapping the jib shot?”

“We’re scrapping the jib shot.”

“You’re sure you want to do that? It’s the best shot in the damn picture!”

“I’m sure.”

He threw his baseball cap on the floor. “Speaking as your creative collaborator, I want to register my extreme disappointment in your judgment.” He picked his hat off the floor, snugged it in place, and said, “Speaking as your First A.D. – good call!”

And he rushed off to the light the next set-up.

Rest in peace, old friend. Wish I could bail you out of this one.

M.A.C.

Steve at Premiere
Henke on the red carpet at the world premiere of REAL TIME at the Capitol Theater in Davenport, Iowa

Second Chances

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

When I was a teenager in the thrall of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer, I spent many hours searching (mostly in used bookstores) for Spillane imitators who might satisfy my thirst. Few came anywhere near. One, however, hit the ball out of the park, and he worked for a small outfit in Chicago with the books packaged like softcore porn. Even then the books were hard to find. Now they are impossible.

Sand's Game
Ennis Willie’s novels – particularly the ones about ex-mobster Sand, on the run from his former bosses – were an enormous influence on my development as a writer. I encountered Sand before the similar mono-named Parker, and my character Nolan derives as much from the former as the latter. Willie, though a shameless Spillane imitator, did not write in the first-person and did not write about P.I.s – which gave him his own unique voice and place. He wrote a handful of books in the mid ‘60s wrapping up by the end of the decade, then disappearing. Guys like Steve Mertz, Lynn Myers and Ed Gorman and I tried to track him down, wondering if “Ennis Willie” was a penname or maybe a black writer (there was an African American poet named Willie Ennis).

Willie was one of my heroes, right in there with Spillane and Richard Stark, and the other day something happened so surrealistic, it rivaled my meeting Mickey. A collection of Sand novels and stories, signed to me by Ennis Willie, arrived in the mail. Knocked me out.

Okay, it wasn’t a surprise. I was involved in the collection, though the editors were Mertz and Myers; I did an introduction. Willie, thanks to the internet, had turned up, somehow getting wind of the many discussions (decades worth!) on the subject of who-the-hell-he-was. He wrote Gorman saying, “Well, I’m him. Ennie Willie.” And included his driver’s license photo!

Anyway, the book from Ramble House is getting some attention. You can order it here in various editions. If you like Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark and/or M.A.C., you will not be sorry.

And Bill Crider wrote about it here.

One of my characters, influenced by Willie’s Sand, is a guy called Quarry. My pal Leonard Maltin did a terrific, high-profile write-up on THE FIRST QUARRY that just blew me away. Check it out.

I’ll be appearing at the Iowa City Book Festival on Saturday July 17 with Nicholas Meyer. I was told they’ll be screening THE LAST LULLABY, but I don’t see it on the schedule yet. At any rate, I am anxious to meet Nick Meyer, who was a student at the University of Iowa Writers Workshop a few years ahead of me; he’s a writer and filmmaker I admire very much.

The fun funky site Davy Crockett’s Alamack posted a nice piece on the first of the two volumes of MIKE HAMMER comic strips I edited back in the ‘80s. I’m hoping we can get a single volume collection out there one of these days (though I am still missing one Sunday).

Second City Class of '79 Reunion
Jim Belushi, Mary Gross, Tim Kazurinksy at Second City 1978.

Barb and I spent several days in Chicago (over her birthday, which is June 18), kicking it off by seeing the Class of ‘79 Reunion benefit show at Second City on June 17. That we were able to get tickets to this big-deal event was thanks to my pal Tim Kazurinsky. Appearing with the always hilarious Tim were Nancy McCabe-Kelly, Bruce Jarchow, Danny Breen, Bernadette Birkett and (at the piano) the legendary Fred Kaz. Oh, and some guy named George Wendt.

This is the Second City company that Barb and I followed religiously in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Among other talents from that era (not in attendance) were my friend Larry Coven (who appears in MOMMY’S DAY and REAL TIME: SIEGE AT LUCAS STREET MARKET), Mary Gross, Lance Kinsey, and Jim Belushi (whose son Robert was a guest star at the reunion show, a talented, charismatic addition to that famous clan). Breen and Jarchow are particular favorites of mine (and reminded me why with their genius turns), and they were very nice chatting with us afterward. Also – and this is a big deal to Barb and me – we got to meet and talk with Bernie Sahlins, one of the founders of both Second City and SCTV.

Here’s a nice write-up about the show.

Barb said it was a pretty good birthday. Pretty, pretty good (as Larry David would say).

M.A.C.