After the FBI raid, LRH took off and if was radio silence from July until January 1978. However, plans were already in place to begin shooting technical training films. Sometime in 1977, LRH had mentioned to one of the key crew at WHQ, Stuart Moreau, that he had always wanted to make training films to show students how to do TRs and metering correctly. Stu said he would build him a film studio and, as far as I know, that was the genus of today's tech films.
There was an old date packing plant on the property and Stuie and the Estates guys got onto renovating it into something that would serve as a film studio. It wasn't large, maybe only 50 or 60 feet on a side with maybe 10 or 12 foot high ceilings and a couple of smaller rooms off against one of the walls, but it would do. Work on this continued throughout the rest of 1977 until LRH's return.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew (there were only around 60 or 70 total on the base including Commodore's Messengers, GO staff and LRH External Comm people) began doing an Actor's Course under the direction of Fred Hare, the legendary St. Hill and GO personality of "conning Jack Campbell" fame. Fred had been active in the theater before his St. Hill days and he set up an Actor's Course checksheet using a basic text entitled "An Actor Prepares."
The crew put in some time on the course over and above their usual study time throughout the fall so at least there would be some rudimentary understanding of acting amongst the crew, who were to be the performers in the films.
Right around New Years 1978 there was a tremendous flurry of activity at the base. Those of us not in the know had no idea what was going on but things got real active for many days. There were lots of fires going in the big fireplace outside near one of the swimming pools. Tons, probably, of sensitive documents were being disposed of. All hands clean up of the entire base went on to make the place presentable. In Qual, we undertook was seemed to me to be the dumbest activity I had ever seen: we went through pc folders and with razor blades cut out from worksheets any mentions of LRH.
Soon after New Year's the reason for all the activity became obvious: LRH returned. Some messengers had been up for days without sleep and collapsed. But the mood on the base was very high: the Boss had come back home.
LRH wasted no time getting back on the lines. He started calling for session tapes from Qual and when these didn't show any improvement from the ones he had seen the past July he came down hard on Qual Sec Rick Merwin, who none of us particularly liked and were glad to see leave the base along with the rest of the GO staff and his wife Nikki who was Mary Sue's right hand assistant. LRH did an analysis of what had gone in Qual since he'd left and concluded that Merwin basically sabotaged his efforts to train the auditors in correct auditor beingness. If Merwin ever returned to the base he was not to be on an executive post but be posted as a carpenter. He considered the lack of progress of the auditors quite serious.
LRH was not one for mincing words or actions. In mid January when he found out that one of the auditors had mishandled the CO of WHQ, Wayne Marple and that Wayne was laid up with a bad back, he assigned the entirety of Qual 75 hours of amends for allowing this to happen to the CO, stating in the WHQ ED assigning the amends, "There is such a thing as auditor conscience." We weren't quite sure that this all meant, but we for sure knew that he meant business. We began getting up early to put in time white gloving a dusty warehouse full of LRH's gear before post time. Before too long, though, that amends project got buried beneath more pressing matters. In fact, a few months later, we were spending our libs day putting in time on our amends and LRH was next door shooting. He came out during a break and when he found out what we were doing, he said to get out of here and take our libs. He could see that the point had been made and that basically ended cycle for him on his original point. We were happy to comply and headed off the nearby Palm Springs for a movie and dinner. But I digress.
One day in mid-January word came down that were were going to begin working on the tech films. Scheduled first was a sort of shake down cruise called "Get Your Feet Wet." This was a day of shooting in the newly renovated DPP (Date Packing Plant) where the crew could get used to the mechanics of film shooting and allow us to "get our feet wet."
Someone had written up a couple of scripts, short scenes really, that were meant to familiarize the crew with how film shooting was done. Believe me, not one of us had a goddam clue. These were auditors, estates carpenters, galley hands, messengers and the like. Not one professional cameraman, sound man, set dresser, makeup artist or actor among the bunch of us. It was strictly, in the best LRH tradition, do it yourself all the way. I don't mean that sarcastically. LRH didn't achieve what he did in his lifetime by waiting for others to show him how. He decided what he wanted to do and he started right in.
LRH had a couple 16 mm film cameras and some sound recording equipment from his lecturing days. A unit was set up in LA, MEAM (an acronym for something about equipment acquisition) and they started buying up lights, sets and props materials and everything needed to make a film.
At any rate, I got cast as an actor in one of these beginning skits. I was the clueless husband who comes home from work and finds his wife a little missed withholdy and also finds a man's cap on his favorite chair. The mystery stemming from my inability to spot out-points soon gives way to a sense of good fortune when I find out that the cap fits. Now that I think of it, these practice scripts could only have been written by LRH.
He, of course, had the post of Director. He was the only one who had the vaguest idea of what was going on. As a crew, we were willing but utterly unhatted, so he exercised great patience on these first shoots. Terri Gamboa had worked with LRH during the Photoshoot Org days in the Caribbean and Don Bateman apparently knew something about cameras, so they became the Camera personnel. DM and Marc Yager became the video team. LRH realized that a great film saving and time saving action was to shoot the scene rehearsals on video and view them back, making any needed corrections and when satisfied everything was okay only then shoot it on film. David Wilson, who was LRH's sound recordist at the time, along with Marc Ferriera, an electrician, were the sound guys. Different people who had some sort of experience in other areas were assigned to other departments. If you could sew, you went into costumes. If you had used makeup, you went into makeup. Hammer and saws guys went into sets. A tall guy like Robbie Robinson, who was about 6' 6'' became a gaffer (a lighting guy).
I think we did a couple of indoor shoots and then a couple days later an outdoor shoot was scheduled. Outdoor shoots require different lighting techniques and sound recording techniques and different camera settings, all of which is very complex and which I never had much interest in. The night before the outdoor shoot it rained and was stormy the next morning and so the CO, Wayne Marple, cancelled the shoot. Big mistake of his part.
LRH hit the roof when he found out. We were down in Qual going about our usual post actions when word came down that the shoot was going to go ahead as planned and we had better get out onto the location on the double. I'll never forget the sight as I hustled outside. It was a blustery morning and the sun was peeking in and out of the clouds. Needles from the tamarisk trees and palm fronds were blowing this way and that and up the path in an equally blustery mood came LRH. He wore a black stetson and had on an opera cape that billowed out behind him in the wind and he was pissed. He had intended to begin shooting at 9:00 a.m. and nothing like a little old cross order from the org CO was going to stop him. I watched in amazement, but only for a moment, as the weather matched his mood perfectly. The guy could really thunder when circumstances called for it.
The shoot began, albeit late, and the skit that day had something to do with a girl in a bikini out by a swimming pool. I forget the specifics. I think my job that day was holding sunny boards, the square silver reflective boards that were used to direct the sunlight around the scene. Once shooting began LRH's mood lightened up considerably as he got down to the actions of shooting outdoor scenes. In my experience LRH was never one to hang onto things. Once something was handled, that was it and all was forgiven. He truly had an ability to observe when a condition had changed and he was the most fluid person in life of any I've ever been around. Everybody knows someone who blows up at the drop of a hat or makes a mountain out of a mole hill. LRH could probably do both (I never saw him mess with any mole hills so that's why I say probably) but he always reacted in present time to the circumstances that existed at the moment. I'm not trying to paint a Pollyanna picture here but my personal experiences with him were that he truly lived in the moment and dealt with what was in front of him always with an eye to getting a product. LRH lived for production and I've been told this by messengers who worked very closely with him for years.
That day the clouds gave us problems the whole time as the light levels changed almost continually, but LRH took it all in stride; his only admonishments were for everybody to be in their places when the sun came back out, because we didn't know how much time we'd have to get the shot in the can.
Early in the afternoon there was a cloudburst and he told us all to take a break and grab some lunch so we secured the gear and went over to Palms where sandwiches were waiting. I went outside after eating and saw another sight I'd never seen before or since. Off to the east as the sky cleared, I saw a perfectly formed double rainbow, large and crystal clear. The entire day had been a metaphor for me personally and I wonder what the rest of the crew took from the experience.
These Get Your Feet Wet shoots seemed to be going well and I felt that in a month or two of drilling and practice we'd be ready to get down to business.
In LRH's world, however, I soon learned that was added time in the extreme and an outpoint of magnitude.
Written by Joe Howard