Nick Maley recalls the trials and tribulations of getting started in the movie business ..... Ergo.
Fate alla phone.
I joined the British film industry in the Summer of 69. To this day I remember the excitement when the call came to tell me that I'd got my union card and should report to Cliff Sharpe, the Make-up Supervisor of the star studded JULIUS CAESAR at MGM studios. They were paying me £24 a week! A fortune. So I quit my £9 a week job as Deputy Head of the Mortgage Dept. for the London Borough of Brent, (actually there were only two of us in the Department), said my good-byes and set off on my new career.
Little did I realize that within 3 months there would be a terrible depression in the industry. One that saw very few films made in Britain for the following 3 years. Even people who had been in the business for decades couldn't find work. Those who did, quite understandably, employed their old friends. I was rudely introduced to the joys of a freelance lifestyle.
For almost two years I struggled to scratch up a few days work here and there. I tried to ignore the concerned looks of friends and family. I couldn't afford a place of my own, so I lived at my folk's council flat, (the British equivalent of low income housing), in Kingsbury, London. I was determined that, even if I was unemployed, I was going to develop my skills so that the next time I was offered a job my performance would be more impressive. So I would sit in the hallway of the block of flats, (apartment building), because the apartment was too small for all my stuff. I'd knot and dress beards on a makeshift beard block or make Dracula teeth or occasionally apply aging make-up to my father, (he was an actor so he didn't mind). There were occasional highlights. A few days on Ken Russell's THE MUSIC LOVERS. A few more on THE NELSON AFFAIR and a wonderful week on THE GLASS MENAGERIE with Katharine Hepburn. But it's hard to live for a couple of years on a few weeks work. By now it was 1971 and as the weeks of uncertain employment turned to months and the months became years I began to question my career choice.
So many people told me to get a proper job. I started looking at the job ads, wondering if I would make a good salesman. I can remember thinking that I could drive a laundry van and still be home in the afternoon when movie jobs usually call in. Some one tried to convince me that chefs were very artistic. Maybe I could be a chef........ or a baker! The person told me that bakers can earn good money and are home by mid day too. I just had this image of me getting a call for a movie and 400 people going without their morning toast. It took a massive effort not to give in to popular opinion.
At that time Stuart Freeborn, was generally accepted as Britain's leading Make-up Effects (MFX) designer. I desperately wanted to work with him. He had done the make-up for 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY and I was bowled over by the apes which were cutting edge stuff at that time. I had met him a couple of times at union meetings but some how he never seemed to noticed me. So when his son Graham telephoned to ask me to work for two days on the crowd of YOUNG WINSTON I was totally elated. I said "....yes. I'll be there." without a moments thought to the fact that the location was 60 miles away, I had no transport and I had to be there by 6.00 am the next day. I spent most of the night checking my equipment, got my father up at 4.00 am to give me a ride and went of to strut my stuff in a wet marquis at Windsor Race Track. I couldn't believe my luck......... period beard work. Now all those hours in the hall way might pay off. The other Make-up artists thought I was crazy. This was just crowd work and I gave everyone the star treatment. They didn't think me so crazy when my two days became a week, and my week became four months, and then became a location in Morocco. Before I knew it we were doing STARWARS and SPECTRE, (with Gene Roddenberry), SUPERMAN and EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and..........what do you know? Somehow seven years had passed.
I have often wondered where I would be today if I had given in to the urge to get a proper job or even if I had just been somewhere else when the call came for YOUNG WINSTON. I certainly wouldn't be living in an old Caribbean estate house like Aiton Place. I guess I might be a baker instead!
Life can pivot on the simplest things.
whether you're home when the telephone rings.
amid fate's fickle dance,
you grab that fleeting, fragile, chance.
that should be grabbed at any cost.
Your life might change in a single blow
from a destiny
you'll never know.
My life was touched in such a way.
It made me what I am today,
and I have to wonder where I'd be
if I'd just................. stepped out
for a cup of tea.
Nick Maley "FATE" © 1997
text © CineSecrets 97/98
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