"Higher on the slate"
Updated: Aug 25, 2018
NBC's Players was one of my favorite jobs. It starred Ice-T, Costas Mandylor and Frank John Hughes.
We were shooting one big action sequence up by the oil pumps off La Cienaga. Our Special Effects team had rigged a bunch of squibs to go off underground, so that when our good guys ran away from the bad guys it would look like gun fire was hitting right at their heels. These spots were marked by flags that we all had to be careful to avoid.
Finally the moment came. We got another round of safety warnings.The flags were pulled, all the actors and extras were in place for us to do the shot, and Junior, the clapper, (AKA lowest guy on the camera department totem pole) went in to hold the slate. Then, just before the director called action, Victor Hammer, our D.P, looked into the monitor and saw that the slate was out of frame. So he called out, "higher on the slate."
Only problem was that the special effects experts, who'd been waiting two whole days for this particular moment, heard "fire" not "higher." And they flipped the switch.
I'll never forget the look on Junior's face as the squibs started going off. He ran as fast as he could, but they keep exploding right at his heels. As if that wasn't bad enough, all the background artists playing FBI agents who'd been hiding inside a shed waiting for their cue, came out pointing their guns at him.
Safe to say that was Junior's least glamorous moment in Hollywood.
(Side note: It seems incredibly difficult for actors firing fake guns for the first time not to say the words, "bang bang" out loud. Old habits are hard to break.)
Bonus Players Story: In a later episode, the three guys were supposed to be stealing something. We had them all dressed head to toe in black with watch caps and ski masks. But not all the departments had thought through every detail. SO, the three guys tiptoe along silently, stealthily carrying a bright orange ladder. As Ice would say, "Hit show, baby."