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I Adventure and intrigue b
ON LOCATION WITH "RACE
David Hemmings discusses our film industry at his mountain retreat.
RIGHT: The Yankee Zephyr - an old
DC-3 - lies wrecked in the alpine mud.
In a New Zealand town a film with all the
ingredients of success was in the making ...
Agritty wind blows across the hike
and towering mountains are streaked with snow. A helicopter sweeps over us, clipping, rolling and land- ing in a cloud of dust that smacks into our faces and tastes peculiarly of both
salt and snow.
A tattered old man stumbles over boulders, to be caught like a floundering whale in a large red net. But the chopper rises without its catch and British actor Donald Pleasence. ever calm, polite and well-adjusted to discomfort, wipes his grimy chin with a grimy wrist, waves cheerfully and plods back again across the boulders to wait for the cameras to roll again.
We are on the South Island of New Zealand with east and crew of "Race to the Yankee Zephyr," the most costly movie ever made in either New Zealand
Donald Pleasence plays a scruffy, hard-drinking mountain con-man. Three stars from the United States have been imported: Ken Wahl (a 26-year-old al- ready being compared to the Brando of many years ago): Lesley Ann Warren, star of the American TV series "79 Park Avenue" and - special cherry in a rich, rich cake - George Peppard.
"Zephyr" is a multi-million-dollar en- terprise privately financed by UK-US Hemdale Films, Pact Productions of Syd- ney and a New Zealand merchant bank
ing group. It's an American picture being made in New Zealand with an Australian base and an Australian production team.
Its three producers. Australia's Antony I. Ginnane (lawyer, expert in dis- tribution and exhibition and producer of "Harlequin," one of Australia's most profitable films). Britain's David Hem- mings (who is doubling as director) and New Zealander John Barnett are confi- dent '"Zephyr"' will make big money on
the international market.
"No film industry can survive on artis- tic films alone." says Tony Ginnane.
The Yankee Zephyr is a US Navy DC 3, lost in 1944 while carrying war medals, Christmas mail and $50 million, the pay- roll for the American South Pacific Fleet.
Pleasence finds the plane's remains by accident, in an alpine lake. He and a reckless young helicopter pilot (Ken Wahl) intend to salvage the Zephyr's goodies but a sinister American with an upper-crust British accent (George Pep pard) goes all out to beat them. Lesley Ann Warren plays the old man's daugh- ter, a respectable and religious girl who
runs a seamen's mission in a local port.
And there - with a fantastic lake and mountain background - arc1 the ingredi- ents of a movie which should hit the in- ternational market by about the middle
of the year.
We are based at Queenstown where helicopters and jetboats abound and are used for chase sequences in the film. An old DC-3 has been tenderly transported to play the Zephyr and lies convincingly
wrecked in mud.
The lovely old steamer. Earnslaw, des- erts her tourists to take Donald Pleasence and Ken Wahl on the Wakatipu, New Zealand's deep, icy lake.
The temperature of the lake rises no more than two degrees, even in high sum- mer. If you fall in. your lifespan is reduced to eight minutes or. if very hearty, maybe 10. Nobody suggests that
Queenstown, a tiny tourist centre, is enjoying a boom, to the astonishment of holidaymakers who have gone there seeking peace. More than 50 houses have been rented by the movie team. Pubs, res
A lonely mountain lâkt
TO THE YANKEE ZEPHYR"
taurants and the little nightclub over- flow. Local helicopter and jetboat pilots are involved with the film and residents have landed unexpected jobs as extras, drivers, caterers, handymen.
Producer/director David Hemmings, star of Antonioni's "Blow Up" has leased two houses - a spacious family home for his wife Prue and their two small sons
j and a mountain retreat where he can't be
"got at." There is no telephone.
He agrees to see The Weekly in the retreat. Halfway up the mountain he sits smoking among the remains of a salad lunch and discarded sheets of paper.
We chat about Australian films,
of Jack Thompson's success with "Breaker Morant" and
Judy Davis' sensitivity in "My Brilliant Career." He loves Australian films but explains frankly why few make a profit. He compares the film industry to manu J fecturing cars. To make money you must
give the public what it wants and not 1 what you might choose to buy.
'It's an honour, a privilege, to make a
ABOVE LEFT: Lesley Ann Warren, an actress who can command top money. ABOVE RIGHT: Ken Wahl and Donald Pleasence head the "Zephyr" cast.
beautiful, beautiful movie," he says, "but sometimes it's like saying we want to make very, very good tyres and it doesn't matter if they hold the road so long as they look pretty. But cars need tyres that do the job and not necessarily those that
have an attractive tread."
"Zephyr," he says, "will hold the road. Of course, if we could predict what the current market is going to be for any en- tertainment product we'd be multi-mil- lionaires. There is always an element of a gamble, an element of risk."
His partnership with Australia's Tony Ginnane is productive. "We have very similar ideas. I'd like to make less com- mercially orientated pictures with Tony but I'm well aware that the commercial orientation is the only way - but the only way - the film industry can survive in any country."
He has made movies in Australia with Government funding but he does not be- lieve the system works. "Government funding makes very, very good films and that's exactly what it's designed to do. It's designed to allow people who would otherwise have no chance in the open in-
dustrial field to make movies."
Full of praise for "Breaker Morant," he points out: "if that script had been presented on the international market for funding by a major studio it would never have stood a chance with that cast, although it might have if Paul Newman and Robert Redford were playing the leading roles.
"But I think Jack Thompson will
make the international market now. I'm prettj sure he will," he says.
Why must one assume a star from the US is a better bet on the international market than a talented Australian? Why. for instance, is our Helen Morse virtually kept on ice?
David Hemmings comes up with a swift answer. "The fundamental differ- ence between Helen Morse and 'Zephyr's' star, Lesley Ann Warren, is that Lesley Ann can command $2 million for a TV sale immediately - yes, immedi- ately - and Helen Morse, talented as she is, commands nothing."
Is that fair? And isn't it rather sad?
"Well, yes. perhaps," he says. "But beautiful films will still emerge and the audiences will emerge to praise them. There will always be beautiful films like 'Caddie' and 'Picnic' but those films don't make the film industry.
"Do you realize the British film indus- try made its biggest profits from horror movies? It's an unbelievably, extraordi- narily expensive business. 'Zephyr' is running at something like $5000 an hour. That's a very stern responsibility."
He stares across the lake and the mountains and says fervently, "I'd like to make a love story, a beautiful, really beautiful love story that's idealistic, un- commercial - and beautiful. The chances of my doing that depend on whether I make a success of an action adventure picture.
"The producers hope - and believe
CONTINUED PAGE 27
Adventure and intrigue by a lonely
FROM PAGE 25
profoundly - 'Zephyr' will be a product acceptable to a very large proportion of the movie-going public with artistic merit, style, quality, effectiveness and a story well told."
Outside the retreat, cap at a jaunty angle and squinting into chilly evening sunlight, script writer p]verett DeRoche awaits instructions. "Re-writing," he ex- plains briefly.
Originally. "Zephyr" was Everett's brainchild and intended for Australian TV. "I got the idea from a neighbour in
He set the script in Queensland but trouble with Actors' Equity over import- ing stars shifted the location across the
sea to New Zealand.
"Lonely business, writing scripts," Everett says. "I do them all the time - me, the script, the typewriter. You know7, for every 3000 words I write, about 300 get used? And then those have to be re- written. I've written eight versions ol 'Zephyr'. That's the truth."
Further along the mountain range, ir a house with a view that leaves us gaping, Lesley Ann Warren, little knowr to Australians, chats quietly about hei life-style, a healthy one involving yoga gymnastics, karate and a strict vegetari
Television mini-series have sen' Lesley Ann shooting up the popularity poll in the United States. A stunning looking girl, reed-slim as Twiggy used tc be and immaculately groomed, she lives in California with her young sor Christopher. Ex-husband is millionaire j hairdresser Jon Peters, now Barbrf
Streisand's boy friend.
Her co-star. Ken Wahl, is rarely founc when off-set which has earned him th< nickname. Brick Wall, from the Austra
In contrast Donald Pleasence, eleanee UP and wearing bright red trousers ' shakes hands all round, orders drink:
and chats to everybody.
3 George Peppard has caught two trou I - brown ones. He drinks soda water an< 1 chain smokes with the lighted end of th
cigarette turned inward, as if to warm u] 5( his palm.
"I don't find G eorge Peppard that in [( Cresting," he says. "I don't think I r
that wise but I don't mind talking abou wv mistakes if they're any help to some
1 George Peppard - oddly lacking th
The regal steamer, Earnslaw, deserts the tourists to show the cast around.
expected charisma - has been leading a very healthy life, running every day, seven days a week. "'I wanted to be healthier, to feel better. And now I feel
Maybe he does, but he looks vulner-
able and sad.
He hasn't had a drink for 18 months. "Once you say you're not going to have another drink for the rest of your life it doesn't matter what the date is."
He orders more soda water, lights an- other cigarette. "1 was drinking a bottle of bourbon every day after five o'clock. There are a lot of people who drink too much and should quit but don't know it. For me, it's as if a burden has been lifted, a wonderful sense of relief."
He's excited about "Zephyr" and
working with David Hemmings. "A fine director, many cuts above most - or all - directors I've worked with in TV in the States and certainly on a par with feature film directors I've worked with. He has the right attitude. He cares. He has talent. He knows what he's doing and he's a good actor himself. This film has a good feel about it."
There's snow like icing sugar on the mountains in the morning. Then the rain pours down in sheets.
We set off for a place called Paradise where we hope to watch Ken Wahl on set. Summer has arrived in the South Island of New Zealand - brilliant yellow broom, sodden lupins, tiny lambs, freez- ing, drenching rain. The road to Paradise is a tortuous, muddy track.
At Paradise, the crew stands around in oilskins and filming is cancelled for the day. Ken Wahl has been lifted away by helicopter to have a rest.
On our last night (all shooting still cancelled) David and Prue Hemmings
give a party in the family house; super views, log fire, mulled wine and an enor- mous cauldron of what our American col- leagues call "English stoo."
Prue Hemmings is an unaffected dark haired girl with a curly fringe falling across starry eyes. A huge Newfoundland dog and two fair-haired boys (much smaller than the dog) sit around her feet.
The Hemmings are based in London and have a house in Spain but for David, who spends at least eight months of even- year on a film set. his current set is his home. "Zephyr" is very close to him. "This picture is like my living-room," he
For Prue, home is London and she had hoped to take a university course there this year. "But that will have to wait," she says.
Queenstown has taken her to its heart. The local farming community drops in and everybody gave a hand pre- paring for the party. The living-room, un- like the "Zephyr" set, is warm, comfort-
able and full of flowers.
"We have terrific neighbours," Prue says. "Someone offered to lend me her porcelain. Oh, no, no, no! I said, not with the whole film crew coming - and the
She has her hands full, with two small children, the huge dog to exercise and David's son, Nolan (by his previous mar- riage to Gayle Hunnicutt) expected for the school holidays.
Next day we depart in driving rain. Donald Pleasence walks round the shop- ping centre rugged up in a sheepskin coat. Lesley Ann Warren has retired to bed. Ken Wahl is still invisible. George Peppard watches the rain and decides to catch a trout. "It's all the luck of the draw." he remarks patiently.
- EILEEN ALDERTON