Production Assistant Tim Farley’s Flashbacks on Filming.
“I met director Carroll Ballard when he and my dad were looking for an Arabian stallion to play The Black,” says Tim Farley, who was still in college, finishing a photography degree at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California when his father Walter Farley’s beloved novel, The Black Stallion, began its transformation to the big screen.
“I went to talk to Carroll and to Fred Roos, the producer, to see if I could get a job. Of course, they said I could have a job. They didn’t say they would pay me, at first. I was a 21-year-old kid who knew nothing about making movies,” says Farley laughing.
He would end up skipping graduation ceremonies to start on the film, which began production in Toronto in 1977.
“My first job was working in the office,” Farley recalls. “The film was in preproduction at that point. One of my assignments was to make copies of all the script changes for the crew. However, I also ran off an extra set of copies to send to my dad. So, he would send them back with all these comments on them, of course, and they were like, ‘Where is he getting all this information?’ I was his mole! They weren’t real happy about that, to tell you the absolute truth.”
Still, it brought benefits. “Actually, my dad came up with the sequence in the jockey’s room before The Black races. It became a humorous scene in the movie, because they kept adding weight to this little kid. The way the script was originally written had Alec sneaking weight into his pockets, or putting on a weight belt, or something. My dad said, ‘Nobody would do that. The officials add all the handicap weight jockeys must carry. They would never sneak weight.’ He came up with some helpful ideas.”
Farley smiles when he thinks back on it. “It was fascinating driving to the set daily with Mickey Rooney in Toronto, the location for our 1940s New York scenes. Mickey had been in a long career slump, but The Black Stallion brought him an Oscar nomination and he returned to the stage.”
When the production went overseas, Farley went too.
“From set of the Black Stallion when I was 22. Don’t know the photographer, it was sent to my Dad [Walter Farley] and on his office wall,” says Farley.
“The most memorable days for me were on the island. It took us months to get some of those shots,” he says. “My screen credit was ‘production assistant,’ but with only about 30 of us on crew [there], I did a little bit of everything. It was shot almost like a documentary, with a small crew on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia.
A small crew and not many — make that no — creature comforts: “It was exciting, even though we had to take cold showers!” Farley says. “Working on those beach sequences, there were no hotels. We stayed in an empty school with cold-water showers. Every once in a while you’d see a tourist come through for an hour or two, but we were pretty far out.”
The remote location brought unique challenges. “We had to do a lot of tracking shots, like The Black running down the sand bar, especially when Alec’s learning to ride and keeps falling off. We had to kind of wing it. We couldn’t say, ‘Oh, we need some dolly track here for 500 yards and we have to go 30 miles an hour. So, how are you going to do that?”
The answer was improvise: “They came up with a Citroën 2CV. It’s like a French version of a Volkswagen Beetle. We took the doors off and the seats out. We used that as our [camera] dolly to race down the beach. The horse was going pretty fast.”
Rarely without his own camera, Farley often photographed the star horse, Cass-Olé. “He and Kelly had a good relationship because they spent so much time together before the movie started. But Cass-Olé was kind of like the character of The Black. He was very independent, knew he was gorgeous, and that everybody loved him. He’d take control if you’d let him. On the other hand, Cass was gentle with Kelly. Corky Randall trained Cass for months to be able to work him at liberty and have him listen to voice commands.
” Dad [Walter Farley] editing my pix after getting back. [from filming],” says Farley
“I was one of the lucky people there watching a young Kelly Reno portray Alec Ramsay together with Cass-Olé as The Black. Those scenes on the beach with the magic of the boy and the horse getting to be friends on the island really did happen,” Farley says. “Also, at the end of the movie, where you see that big double rainbow and the horse rolls on the ground and Kelly rolls on the ground — it was totally impromptu. It’s during the credit roll at the very end of the film.”
When filming finished, coming home took some adjustment. “It was almost like in the movie — when Alec arrives back in America — that first sequence when he’s in a real bathroom with running water. That’s kind of what happened to us too,” Farley remembers.
Forty years later, the memories from those months working on the film are still vivid and exciting. “Learning something new every day … you never knew who might show up — Harrison Ford, Matt Dillon, Francis [Ford Coppola], even Scorsese. I met Fellini at Cinecittà [Studios, where the shipwreck scene was filmed in Rome].”
But the best part, Farley says, was “just being part of this small family that included the wonderful horses and horsemen, from cowboys to Hollywood.”
(Lead image) Tim Farley trying his hand at liberty work rearing the Black Stallion that starred in the long-running (now closed) Arabian Nights Dinner Attraction in Orlando. Walter Farley was close friends with the family and gave permission for the black stallion namesake to only be used there. Curious tidbit. Glenn Randall Sr. (Corky’s father) did the original horse training at Arabian Nights.
The wonderful Carroll Ballard film of “The Black Stallion” (1979) turns forty in October!!
Here’s a nice article by Elizabeth Kaye McCall that just came out in Arabian Horse Life.
You can reach her; firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a bunch of my photos that haven’t been seen before -so take a LOOK! Black Stallion movie article
Celebrating the 39th anniversary of the production start of “The Black Stallion”.
This is a fairly accurate description of the days, and weeks, and years that went into the making of the film. There are a few liberties he has taken and some things omitted to keep the story flowing, but all and all it takes me back to my younger days!
Thanks TMC and Roger Fristoe for this nice article on the making of the movie!
Behind the Camera On THE BLACK STALLION
Filming of The Black Stallion began in Toronto on July 4, 1977. The summer of 1977 in Canada was one of the wettest and hottest on record, and delays were caused by the torrents of rain that flooded the Woodbine Racetrack, creating a two-foot-deep layer of mud. At the end of August the film crew headed for the sunny Mediterranean, where they faced a new set of problems.
The first location in Sardinia was near the town of Marina di Arbus, where the horses were transported by a van containing portable stalls that were set up near the filming site, and the crew had to hand-carry the cameras and other equipment over the sand dunes. That situation was repeated at various other locations all over Sardinia, with exposure to sun, sand, sea and dysentery causing considerable discomfort for the crew. Other locations there included Capo Caccia, Capo Camino, Costa Paradiso, Cala Ganone and San Teodoro, which sported a mile-long stretch of fine white sand that was perfect for the boy’s first ride on the stallion. Temperatures in Sardinia could become quite cold, and Reno shivered through scenes where he wore little clothing and was often in the water.
A sequence that made everyone especially apprehensive in its filming was the one where the Black stomps and kills a cobra that is threatening Alec. A group of snakes was flown in from Milan with a handler, Carlo Guidi, who assured the filmmakers that his cobras had been milked of their deadly venom. Just in case, a special serum was kept on hand but, thankfully, did not have to be administered.
The last major segment to be filmed was the sinking of the ship at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, which features a huge outdoor water tank. Two portions of the ship, an actual-size deck and stern, were designed by art director Aurelio Crugnola and assembled in the tank, a process that took three months. These were the largest sets ever built in the tank. The stern was set on a platform in the tank, with cables attached to pull it into the water as it sinks. Filming of the shipwreck sequence lasted three weeks.
The movie, at a cost of $4.5 million, took two years to complete, with shooting also done at various locations in the U.S. Kelly Reno, whose only trips outside Colorado had been to North Dakota and California, was chaperoned by his parents while visiting the widespread locations. Despite their presence, he became homesick and later noted that, “In Rome, I’d have paid $10,000 for a McDonald’s hamburger. You never know how much you want that if after a week all you get is spaghetti. And I had me a little wine, but after a week, I started drinking cokes again.”
Early in the shooting, the untrained Reno spoiled some takes by looking at the camera. He recalled Ballard telling him, “‘This is the way it is…do it.’ If I didn’t get it done, we’d just have to do it all over again. Lines weren’t a problem. I had a lot of them, but they weren’t in whole, long scenes. And I could put it in other words if the meaning was the same – that was all right with Carroll.” Reno did most of his own stunts, riding bareback and with a racing saddle, falling from a galloping horse and swimming with it. A stunt double stepped in only for racing scenes, when his character was to ride a thoroughbred running at top speed: “I was too small to hold him back.”
Reno recalled that his most difficult scene was the shipwreck, which happens during a raging storm and was shot at night. “They had wind and rain and fire and smoke,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in the tank, not being able to touch bottom, while they made these waves that came very far over my head.” As the boy and horse thrashed in the foreground, the realistic model ship was burnt and sunk headfirst in the tank. For such scenes, great demands were made of the horse playing the Black. The owners of Cass Ole had stipulated that he was not to be used in swimming, fighting or racing sequences, so other horses doubled for him in these and other challenging situations.
The main double was Fae Jur, the spirited horse from California that Ballard had once considered for the role of the Black. He is the horse in the memorable scene where Alec tempts the stallion with seaweed on the beach. Fae Jur’s naturally independent nature made his approaches and retreats very believable. He loved fake-fighting and also was used in the sequences where the Black stamps on a cobra and where the high-strung stallion strikes out at another horse just before the big race.
Junior and Star, two stunt horses owned by the Randall family, stepped in for Cass Ole when scenes required strenuous fighting, running, jumping and swimming. Star enacted the scene where the Black gets tangled in rope and caught between two rocks. He was so unconcerned about being tied up and forced to sit that Corky Randall had to toss pebbles at him to get him to simulate any kind of agitation.
None of the equine doubles liked being in the water, so horses were brought in from the lagoons of Camargue in France for the underwater shots of the Black swimming in the sea. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel recalled in an interview that the swimming horses “had pot bellies and incredibly ugly faces.” But when they “came into the water and started swimming, they looked unbelievably graceful. They were the ugliest animals you’ve ever seen, but underwater…they were like Nijinsky.” The crew nicknamed these horses Pete and Repete because of the numerous takes required to get the appropriate underwater footage.
There is a scene in the water where the Black is swimming towards Alec and suddenly tips over in the waves, with his head underwater and his hooves pawing in the air. This was actually an accident captured on film, as too much force was applied to the guide bars attached to control the stunt horse’s movements. There was much alarm on the set as he sank below the surface, and great relief when he managed to right himself again and raise his head above the water. The crew of The Black Stallion was especially proud of the fact that, despite all the difficult stunts throughout filming, no horse was injured in any way.
Despite all the doubling, Cass Ole remained the star of the film and appears in about 80 per cent of the horse footage. He learned to express anger by putting his ears back, rearing on his hind legs and stomping the ground – and could also turn soft and loving on cue, nodding his head and giving pretend kisses to Reno. Even his facial expressions changed. “It was amazing,” said Corky Randall. “I never met a horse before who wanted to be an actor.” Only once did the stallion lose patience – during the bareback ride on the beach when Alec holds up his hands in triumph. Cass Ole suddenly bolted, giving Reno a much wilder ride than he expected. The crew was terrified for the boy, but he was a capable rider who lowered his hands to grab the horse’s mane and hang on for dear life.
Cass Ole was naturally black, although he had white markings on his pasterns and a white star on his forehead that had to be dyed before filming. During some scenes in the water the dye fades and one can glimpse suggestions of the white markings. Some of the horse doubles – including the swimming horses, which were white – had their entire bodies dyed black. Like many American horses Cass Ole had his mane trimmed into a “bridle path” that allows a bridle or halter to lie flat against the neck and head. Although he had the long mane typical of his breed, extensions were stitched into the hair of Cass Ole’s mane to hide the bridle path and create the luxurious, flowing mane that is seen on the screen.
Ballard credited Deschanel for many of the movie’s signature touches, especially during the first half of the film, when dialogue is minimal and the images are everything. “Caleb has a tremendous eye, and he can invent things right on the spot,” Ballard said. “Really, some of the neatest shots in the movie are things I didn’t even know he was shooting.” Neither director nor cinematographer had ever done any underwater work, and Deschanel improvised his equipment for those scenes. Ballard came to depend upon his associate to see him through tough times during filming. He recalled a particularly trying day when he was convinced the project “was a catastrophe. Caleb and I were walking together, trying to get back to the car, and we came across this river that just seemed to appear out of nowhere. We had to get across the river to get where we were going and Caleb said, ‘Come on, get on my back and I’ll carry you across.’ I’ll never forget it. He was kind of like that through the whole film.”
Concert composer William Russo was initially given the assignment of scoring The Black Stallion, but when he and Ballard couldn’t agree on what the music should be like, producer Francis Ford Coppola stepped in and hired his father, Carmine Coppola, who had scored his son’s Godfather movies. Carmine created an unobtrusive yet evocative score that was supplemented with music by Shirley Walker.
Author Farley had reservations about his signature story being filmed and feared that the novel might not translate successfully to a new medium. Happily, the movie exceeded his expectations in remaining true to the original and finding its own artistic identity. “They did a beautiful job,” he conceded. (A sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, filmed in Italy in 1983, failed to live up to the author’s standards. A new musical score by Georges Delerue is considered by some to be that film’s most impressive element.)
Once completed, The Black Stallion was shelved for two years by United Artists. Ballard recalled the studio “suits” complaining, “What is this, some kind of an art film for kids?” It took the full clout of Francis Ford Coppola to see that the film finally reached theaters. Many critics were ecstatic; Roger Ebert named the film the best of the year, and Pauline Kael described it as “proof that even children who have grown up with television and may never have been exposed to a good movie can respond to the real thing when they see it.” The movie quickly became a box-office hit and won two Oscar® nominations including one for Mickey Rooney, whose career resurgence at the time also included a Broadway triumph in Sugar Babies. New York magazine described him as “a figure out of a semi-mystical past,” and Rooney himself declared that “My cup runneth over.”
Among the innovations of sound editor Alan Splet, who won a special Oscar® for his work, was attaching microphones to the underside of the horse during the racing scenes to catch his actual hoof-beats and breathing. There was outrage in some quarters when Caleb Deschanel’s ravishing cinematography failed to even be nominated for an Academy Award. Deschanel, then 34, commented, “I’m disappointed. The fact that so many people told me I was sure to get the nomination has made it harder to take. On the other hand, who am I? I’m just a young punk making his name in this business…”
11 Things You Never Knew About the Making of “The Black Stallion”
Nina Fedrizzi | July 23, 2015
It’s been more than 35 years since The Black Stallion film first captivated audiences around the world by bringing to life Walter Farley’s timeless story of Alec, the young boy shipwrecked on a deserted island alongside a wild Arabian stallion. This month, The Criterion Collection has released a new, Blu-ray edition of the movie, complete with interviews with director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, bringing the tale to life once again for a new generation of horse lovers.
But no matter how many times you’ve seen this beloved flick, we’ve tracked down some fun facts that may surprise you. Here are 11 things you never knew about the making of The Black Stallion.
1. The film’s 12-year-old star, Kelly Reno, originally accepted the role of Alec in part because he wanted to learn how to swim.
(via youtube/The Criterion Collection)
Reno took lessons so he could film the movie’s underwater scenes.
2. The riding scenes, however, were a piece of cake.
Reno grew up on a ranch in southern Colorado. After injuries sustained from a serious car accident cut his acting career short, he returned to work as a cattle rancher for 20 years.
3. The Black Stallion was filmed at several locations around the world, including Toronto, Sardinia, and Rome’s Cinecittà Studios.
The movie’s shipwreck sequence took place in Cinecittà Studios’ huge outdoor water tank. Filming it took three weeks.
4. Four main horses were used to portray the Black throughout the film. The two most prominent were the Texas-bred Arabian stallion, Cass Ole, and his double, Fae Jur.
Cass Ole (via allbreedpedigree.com)
Cass Ole appears in 80 percent of the film’s shots, though he had white legs and a star that had to be painted black for filming.
5. Ironically, though, it’s Fae Jur that stars in two of the film’s most memorable scenes.
His independent streak and love of fake-fighting made him the first choice for the scenes where Alec befriends the Black on the beach, and also when the stallion protects him from a cobra.
6. Producers originally wanted the Egyptian racehorse El Mokhtar for the title role, but his owners wouldn’t negotiate.
They eventually relented, and El Mokhtar stars alongside Cass Ole in 1983’s The Black Stallion Returns.
7. For the swimming scenes, none of the actor horses were comfortable in the water, so the crew brought over horses from France’s Camargue region, which contains Western Europe’s largest river delta.
Camargue Horses (flickr.com/Philip Haslett)
Reportedly, the white horses were not much to look at and had to be painted entirely black before filming, but in the water, they were incredibly graceful.
8. The Black Stallion proved to be a cash cow for production company American Zoetrope.
Produced for about $4 million, it grossed roughly $38 million at the box office.
9. The film was produced by none other than Francis Ford Coppola, who used his Godfather clout to get The Black Stallion made.
Coppola may have needed the film to succeed more than he let on, however, after a typhoon wrecked his Apocalypse Now set the same year, leaving him severely behind schedule and over budget.
10. Francis’s father, Carmine Coppola, is responsible for the film’s beautiful score.
Carmine was nominated for two Golden Globes for Best Original Score in 1980, both for The Black Stallion and Apocalypse Now. Alas, the Vietnam War flick won the day.
11. Mickey Rooney was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Henry Dailey, a retired jockey who helps Alec train the Black for the movie’s final race.
Rooney also played the washed-up jockey, “Mi”, alongside Elizabeth Taylor in 1944’s National Velvet.
You can watch The Criterion Collection’s interview with The Black Stallion’s cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, here:
Had an little adventure recently. We went to Las Vegas and you know what can happen in Vegas! But it wasn’t THAT Las Vegas, and it wasn’t what you think.
We were in Las Vegas New Mexico, a small city that was once a thriving entrance to the west and the biggest stop on the Santa Fe Trail.
There were always plenty of real cowboys in New Mexico. Did you know the word Rodeo is Spanish and the first rodeos were in Mexico?
This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Cowboy Reunion in Las Vegas! It’s quite a legacy that shows a small part of this multicultural historical city. The first Cowboy reunion and rodeo was in 1915 and horses were THE big deal.
This is the same city where Teddy Roosevelt gathered up some of his “Rough Riders” and changed the course of the nation and liberated Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. This was before he started the Panama Canal and gave Hawaii statehood, now that’s Presidential!
Here’s a few classic photos that show it’s about the ride, not whether it’s a cowboy or cowgirl. Ruth Bibb was one of the family founders and longtime rodeo rider. She’s in the race and not the only cowgirl competing. They say there were four groups in Vegas; Spanish, Anglo, Native American and real “Outlaws”. This made for a fast and dangerous race!