THE ELVIS PRESLEY SHOOT:
THE WAY IT IS”
One of the greatest thrills of my
career occurred on August 11th, 1970 at the International Hotel (now the Las
Vegas Hotel & Casino) in Vegas. I
received a phone call from a friend – filmmaker Denis Sanders, asking if I were
available to replace one of the cameramen on his MGM documentary shoot of “Elvis: That’s the way it is.” Naturally, I caught the next available flight
out of Burbank.
The cameraman I replaced shot the
opening performance on the 10th, but was running a high fever and could not
continue. All together, Sanders shot six
of Elvis’s performance-es, including both the dinner and midnight shows on the
11th and 12th. He then finished by
filming the dinner show on the 13th. The
original cameraman recovered in time to shoot that show.
The shoot was filmed with 12
Panavision cameras from 6 separate locations; with 2.35-1 anamorphic lenses and
1,000 foot 35mm magazine loads. It was a
logistic nightmare since the camera magazines had to be changed out every 9 to
10 minutes. But Sanders knew what he was
doing. Most of the 12 cameras, al-though
hidden in the audience and behind the stage, were positioned side by
side-by-side, in pairs. One camera would
roll and five minutes later the second camera would roll. Thus continued footage from that angle was
assured. When both cameras were rolling
simultaneously, one would be tighter on Presley than the other.
Each camera had its own film loader
(and extra magazines) which he or she was able to switch out in from 55 to 75
seconds. Soon as I got the okay from my loader, I hit the start button and
To me it would have been simpler to
shoot the entire project on the new, experi-mental 1-inch video format, with
the high tech video cameras already used in recording the Sunday football
games; the video footage then transferred to film. But Denis Sanders didn’t want to risk such an
important documentary on experimental technology. “Elvis: That the Way it Is,” was released to
theatres in November 1970.
I first met Denis Sanders in 1969
when, as a guest lecturer, he paid a visit to the USC film school Graduate
Production Workshop, where I was a student.
We hit it off and I invited both he and his wife Sherry to dinner the
following evening. We dined at the
Michaels (Brown Derby #4) Restaurant at 4500 Los Feliz Boulevard. Denis and Sherry seemed captivated by stories
of my San Francisco and New York days. Ten
years my senior, Denis was born in New York and graduated from Columbia. He studied film at UCLA; my USC rival.