Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On The Cutting Edge

posted by brad at 10:48 AM

“We need swords. A lot of them.”
That was a statement made during one of our very first production meetings for The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I & II. How true that statement has turned out to be. We cast 13 actors in the show to play 30 different characters, most of which wield a blade at some point in the story. As Production Manager for this show I claimed the task of finding the swords we needed to make this production sing with the sound of steel against steel.
The first question: To buy or rent? In general, the company would rather buy materials rather than rent, whenever possible. It gives you much more control in terms of making changes or adjustments to the props/costumes/set materials you select and many times (with the help of a little storage space) you’ll find another use down the road for pieces that you purchase now. So, when will we be using the custom-built, pirate-like cutlass swords that we bought for this show? Probably never. We’ll most likely sell them after the show, so let us know if you want one. Maybe we’ll have a silent auction in the lobby. We’ll keep you posted.
The next question: Where to buy? We checked a lot of sites online and had a few recommendations given to us, but we weren’t really finding what we wanted. We also liked the idea of being able to see the swords and hold them before we purchased and buying online doesn’t allow for that. We knew we wanted all the swords in a cutlass style, heavy on the pirate look. We also knew needed several swords to have the same look. A few would be designed with unique qualities for the heroes of the play, but we wanted all the swords to have a look and feel of coming straight out of Blackbeard’s scabbard. Jack Sparrow was a close second. Turns out, that’s exactly what we got.
Brian Danner, one of our fight choreographers suggested we check out a place in Burbank called Sword and Stone. The owner and master blacksmith is Tony Swatton. Unbeknownst to us, he is “the guy” all Hollywood productions call for medieval weaponry, swords of all shapes and sizes and any type of body armor you need.
When we walked into the small storefront on Victory Blvd in Burbank we’re told Tony is with a customer. Brian and I strolled through the shop to a glass case at the far end where there are 10 or so various swords laid out for us to look at. They were gorgeous. My first thought was – expensive. Upon further inspection, my second thought was – really expensive. We had a pretty tight budget for the swords and I started feeling unsure about how far I could stretch it to make this happen. When Tony came in we talked over the different types of swords, the styles he could re-create and adjustments he could make for each character. After chososing all of the swords that we wanted he told us a couple we had chosen were replicas of the swords used in Pirates of the Caribbean. Tony created all of the swords for that movie and is currently working on all the swords for Pirates of the Caribbean 2 – Dead Man’s Chest. He gave us an insightful tour of his metalshop and offered a few demonstrations of how he would be creating/adjusting all of our swords. The more he talked it became apparent that the guy really loves what he does – and from seeing his work there is no denying, he’s really good at it. We reached an agreement on cost for all of the swords we wanted, we shook hands and Tony went to work.
A week later, I walked into fight rehearsal (every Thursday night for the past 10 weeks) with shiny new swords for everyone. All of the heroes swords were designed and chosen specifically for their character and all of the “soldier/sailor/ruffian” swords (you’ll see these characters in the play) all have something unique about them even though they look very similar. It was like Christmas morning. Everyone sitting around looking at them with wide eyes waiting for the “ok” to pull them out of their scabbards and try them out. After a few comments on the proper care and handling of the new swords, we put away the old swords (kindly provided by the guys on the fight team) and laid out the new swords for the cast to pick out. As everyone picked up their swords and slashed at the air with a new confidence, I pulled out a pen and made a bold slash of my own, right through the middle of my task list and the words “get swords, a lot of them.”


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