Here’s a nice article on the Black Stallion in the movies written by our friend Elizabeth McCall.
This were great days in Italy with so much to see, do and learn. Very talented people working on a “small” film like Black Stallion was very, VERY exciting. Let’s Do it Again!!
Life on the Set of the Black Stallion
Walter Farley’s son, Tim, talks about the filming of the movie just in time for its 35th anniversary.
Tim Farley was wrapping up his photography degree at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., when his father Walter’s 1941 novel, The Black Stallion, began its transformation to the big screen. Francis Ford Coppola’s Academy Award-winning feature film was released 35 years ago this fall, and it remains a cinematic classic.
It’s the story of a young boy named Alec Ramsay, who is shipwrecked on a desert island with a wild Arabian stallion that he befriends and names The Black. After being rescued and later discovered by a veteran racehorse trainer, they enter a match race between two champions of the track. Inspiring millions when it debuted in 1979, the film’s exquisite portrayal of the horse-human bond is more appreciated than ever today.
Kelly Reno, who plays Alec, grew up riding and was a natural when it came to the bareback scenes.
When the movie first headed into production in 1977, Tim skipped his graduation ceremonies to work on it.
Were you there from the start?
I had the honor of working on the movie from the very first days. I met director Carroll Ballard when he and my dad were looking for an Arabian stallion to play The Black. I was still in college. 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.
What did you do?
My screen credit was production assistant, but with only about 30 of us on crew, I did a little bit of everything. My first job was working in the office. The film was in preproduction at that point, and 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! They weren’t real happy with that. Everyone was wondering, “Where is he getting all this information?” I was his mole!
But actually my dad is the one who came up with the fun 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 ever do that because the officials add all the handicap weight jockeys must carry before a race. They would never sneak weight.” He came up with some helpful ideas.
What was it like being on the set?
They probably wouldn’t make a film like that these days. It was shot almost like a documentary, with a small crew on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. That’s why the footage is so different. Those scenes with the magic of the boy and the horse getting to be friends on the island really did happen. I was one of the lucky people there watching a young Kelly Reno portray Alec Ramsay, together with Cass Ole as The Black.
It was exciting. Even though we had to take cold showers! Working on those beach sequences, there were no hotels out there. 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. Almost all the locations were like that.
How were those galloping-on-the-beach scenes filmed?
We had do to a lot of tracking shots, like sequences of The Black running down the sand bar, especially when Alec’s learning to ride and keeps falling off. But, we couldn’t say, “Oh we need some dolly track here for 500 yards and we have to go 30 mph.” So, how are you going to do that? Well, they came up with a Citroën 2CV; it’s like a French version of a Volkswagen Beetle. With one wrench you can take apart the whole thing. We took the doors off and took the seats out. We used that as our [camera] dolly to race down the beach because the horse was going pretty fast. We had to kind of wing it.
What stands out?
Probably the “tag” sequence, when Alec first rides The Black. The scenes where he gives the horse a little bit of the seaweed, then they start following each other back and forth, and pretty soon, he gets on the back of the horse to ride—and keeps falling off. Those scenes on the beach were magical. Also, at the end of the movie where you see that big double rainbow and the horse rolls on the ground and Kelly [Reno] rolls on the ground. It was totally impromptu. It’s during the credit roll at the very end of the film.
The budget on The Black Stallion wouldn’t even pay for most TV commercials these days. I think that the actual budget, including advertising, was under $15 million.
You took lots of photos on set. How was shooting Cass Ole?
He and Kelly had a good relationship because they spent so much time together before the movie started, but Cass Ole 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. He didn’t run off, and he could have several times. That’s saying something about Corky Randall too. Corky trained Cass for months to be able to work him at liberty and have him listen to voice commands to come back. When Corky would call and crack his whip, Cass would come to him no matter where he was.
What else was memorable?
The most memorable days for me were on the island. It took us months to get some of those shots. 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 contrasted with being on the island for months. That’s kind of what happened to us too.
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.
Corky Randall trained Cass Ole to come with the crack of a whip.
Here’s to the 35th anniversary. What’s ahead?
We’re still working on getting that next feature, The Black Stallion Revolts, into production. I’d also love to see them re-issue an enhanced version of the film. There’s a lot of footage no one’s ever seen. If you put that together with the extra footage from The Black Stallion Returns, all the outtakes and deleted scenes and so forth, they could make a three-day Movie of the Week for TV or come up with a great boxed set on Blu-Ray.
Speaking of Blu-Ray …
On March 18th, the HD version of The Black Stallion feature film came out on Blu-Ray disk. That’s big news for the fans. It’s an MGM/UA film, but a www.foxconnect.com release. You can find it on www.theblackstallion.com.
ELIZABETH KAYE McCALL is an author, journalist, and media consultant based in Los Angeles, Calif., specializing in the horse industry, travel and entertainment. Her new children’s book about a talking horse, Rajalika Speak, was inspired by her own Egyptian Arabian stallion that “speaks on request.”
President and creator of TheBlackStallion.com, the official Black Stallion fan site, TIM FARLEY is based in Florida, where he furthers the spirit of The Black Stallion legacy along with his work as co-founder of the HorseTales.org literacy program.
Sunday November, 30 2014 at 08:00 PM Saturday December, 27 2014 at 08:00 PM
by Emily L. Rice
One of the most critically acclaimed films from 1979, The Black Stallion, was based on the classic children’s tale written by Walter Farley in 1941. Despite the book’s popularity and that of its sixteen sequels, it was never adapted for the screen until Francis Ford Coppola purchased the rights. He planned to release the film as the first film in a series of classical children’s films. The second film in the series, The Secret Garden, was released in 1993. Coppola called on his former UCLA classmate, Carroll Ballard to direct the first installment, making The Black Stallion Ballard’s feature film debut. His first movie was a documentary entitled Harvest (1967) which was nominated for an Academy Award ®.
The Black Stallion is an exotic and often magical tale of a young boy and his horse. When the film opens, the boy and his father are traveling by ship when a disaster occurs. A fire breaks out and the boy finds himself adrift in the rough seas with an Arabian horse he saw on board. Both the boy and the stallion are washed ashore a deserted island where they overcome an initial mistrust to form a strong bond. Soon the two are rescued and return to the U.S. But the horse runs away and the boy eventually traces the animal to a farm owned by an ex-jockey. In time, the boy learns from the former pro how to be a first rate rider and trains the stallion for a championship race.
In his film debut, Kelly Reno plays the young, aspiring jockey; he had never acted before in any medium, and he was not even a fan of film or television. “Oh, if there’s a good movie, the family’ll take a bag of popcorn and go.” When asked what he considered a “good movie,” he responded, “I guess Star Wars (1977) — I’ve seen it twice. As for TV, I don’t watch it much, except for Soap,” he explained in the September 30, 1979 issue of The New York Times. But when Reno heard from a friend that a movie company was coming to Colorado to look for boys who could ride horses, he persuaded his parents to drive him to Denver for an audition. According to producer Tom Sternberg, “We’d considered all sorts of professional child actors. Then we began to search for boys who may not have acted, but who might be right for the role. We eventually interviewed several hundred from around the country and tested 100.” And the saddle-trained Reno was one of the lucky ones who earned a screen test in L.A..
The $4.5 million film took two years to make and involved five months of shooting in Canada, Rome, and Sardinia. For Reno, whose only trips outside Colorado were to North Dakota and L.A. for the screen test, the film became quite an adventure. His parents chaperoned him while on location, but he still admitted he got homesick. “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.”
During the first week of shooting, Reno enjoyed the work, but he kept glancing at the camera in the middle of scenes. He recalled that the director, Carroll Ballard, “would tell me, ‘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 the whole, long scenes. And I could put in other words if the meaning was the same – that was all right with Carroll.” Reno also did all his own stunt work. He had to ride bareback and on a racing saddle, take falls from a galloping horse, and swim. The only time a stunt double was used was for racetrack sequences, which required his character to race a thoroughbred at top speed. “I was too small to hold him back,” says Reno.
The most demanding scene Reno recalled was the shipwreck sequence during a turbulent storm. For this scene, Ballard used the huge water tank at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. “It was all done at night,” says Reno. “And they had wind and rain and fire and smoke. I spent a lot of time in the tank, not being able to touch the bottom, while they made these waves that came far over my head.” Ballard also used a completely realistic model ship to burn and sink headfirst while the boy and the horse struggled in the foreground.
With scenes such as the shipwreck, the horse in this film, Cass-Ole, had to perform as few other horses ever have. Cass-Ole’s trainer was one of Hollywood’s greatest animal trainers, Corky Randall. He trained “Trigger” for Roy Rogers, “Silver” for the Lone Ranger, and all the horses in the chariot-race scene in Ben-Hur (1959).
Mickey Rooney plays the horse trainer in the film, a nostalgic reminder to audiences of his role as a former jockey in National Velvet (1944). Rooney also played a jockey in both Down the Stretch (1936) and Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937). He went on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the film. Rooney recalls how he first heard about the film, “Francis Ford Coppola got on the horn to tell me he’d purchased the rights to a children’s classic called The Black Stallion. He had a part in it for me, a former jockey called out of retirement by a little boy with a beautiful black Arabian horse and a dream about winning a race. Did I think I could play a former jockey? ‘Gee,’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I never played a jockey before.’
The Black Stallion became a hit at the box-office and received great critical praise. In addition to Rooney’s nomination, the film also received an Academy nomination for Best Editing and the Oscar for Best Film Editing. A sequel, The Black Stallion Returns, was later released in 1983.
Producer: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos, Tom Sternberg
Director: Carroll Ballard
Screenplay: Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, William D. Wittliff, Walter Farley (novel)
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel
Film Editing: Robert Dalva
Art Direction: Aurelio Crugnola, Earl G. Preston
Music: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Kelly Reno (Alec Ramsey), Mickey Rooney (Henry Dailey), Teri Garr (Alec’s Mother), Clarence Muse (Snoe), Hoyt Axton (Alec’s Father), Michael Higgins (Neville).
C-118m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
Finally after waiting years the HD of “the Black Stallion” feature film is coming out on Blu-Ray! Yeah!
Coppola’s American Zoetrope / MGM 1979 Academy Award winning movie will be released on March 18, 2014 on Blu-ray disk. Carroll Ballard directed Kelly Reno, Mickey Rooney and a cast of classic stars in one of the most popular movies of all time. The critic Pauline Kael of the New Yorker wrote, “this may be the greatest children’s film of all time”.
As I had the honor of being able to work on the movie from the very first days, even before filming began, going around with Carroll and Dad to look for THE STALLION. What a long wonderful road it’s been.
So many of us have been asking for a HD version and it should look great on that huge flatscreen TV you are watching the Superbowl on tomorrow.
Once this comes out they may be inspired to put it together as a trilogy with “Black Stallion Returns” and “Young Black Stallion” as a set … or even better a TV mini series! We’re still working on getting that next feature, “Black Stallion Revolts“, in production. Why does it take so long in Hollywood? Maybe they have too many cars and not enough horses!
You can pre-order the disk now through Amazon (you have to click on the blu-ray choice) BUT, if I were you, I’d wait a bit ’cause I’m getting a DISCOUNT code which will save us all a little money. The disks are still in production but they promised to send me the code soon – you won’t get the Blu-ray till March 18 anywhere so get it HERE for less!
Happy Days and I’ll post the code ASAP!
Enjoy the Ride!
your friends in the saddle – Tim & Pam Farley