Tag Archives: Australia

GREAT Back Stories about the Movie ‘Big Wednesday’

All week, I’ve been blogging about the importance of knowing and sharing back stories to help readers or audiences see the full context of the work – or present a different, deeper perspective.big wed-poster

On Friday night, got to witness the great benefit of this first-hand. My long-time friend, 1976 world surfing champion Peter Townend, gave about 100 people at Bird’s Surf Shed in San Diego a wonderful trip down memory lane, telling some fantastic behind-the-scenes story about the classic Hollywood surf movie, “Big Wednesday,” on the 35th anniversary year of its theatrical showing.


Besides being forever emblazoned in surf history as the sport’s first professional world champion, PT is also one of the sport’s greatest and most important ambassadors. He reminds me directly of another friend, Bill Rodgers, who dominated the world marathon scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s (winning the Boston and New York marathons four times each), but continues to do everything possible to educate the masses and advance running globally. In my opinion, based on 35 years of watching these two and having worked with both of them, PT and Billy are the two greatest ambassadors of their sports/lifestyles. And they both religiously continue to hit the water and roads, respectively.

So, everyone from old-timers to young kids turned out at Bird’s, and watched the movie. What a back story treat we received! While I won’t share all of PT’s stories, since he has other plans for them, I will share a couple of great tales from the “Big Wednesday” set that made most of us shake our heads.

The movie starred Jan Michael Vincent, Gary Busey and William Katt. All went on to enjoy strong careers in film, TV, or both. Since they were friends, Vincent wanted PT to be his surfing double for the wave-riding scenes. PT, then the reigning world champion from Coolongatta, Australia, was stoked to take a leave from the then-fledgling pro tour – “I made $1,000 a week on the movie, for a year; while I got free surf trunks for being on tour,” he quipped – and take the money and exposure Hollywood had to offer. It changed his life; he’s called California home since.

However, when director John Milius walked in the room and saw PT sitting next to Katt, he decided otherwise. For good reason. “We looked like brothers back then,” PT said of he and Katt. Billy Hamilton, the father of mega-big wave superstar Laird Hamilton, and Malibu great Jay Riddle shared duties as Vincent’s double, while great Australian surfer Ian Cairns handled Busey’s water scenes. Katt and Vincent “were actually pretty competent surfers,” PT recalled, “but Busey didn’t surf at all.”

big wed-sunsetNow for the fun stuff – and the reason why we love back stories. During the epic final act, the “Great Swell,” they shot at Sunset Beach, Hawaii for two months, holding out for … well, a great swell. They got it – thunderous 10-12 foot waves with some faces topping 18 feet. If you’ve been to Sunset Beach, you know that on 10-12 foot surf, the waves break as much as a half-mile from shore, and enough water moves to flood a small town … on each set. It’s a heavy scene, and no one wants to deal with a wipeout, especially when you take off deep, at the center of the wave.

But, Hollywood and movie fans love wipeouts. For starters, PT recalled, Australian pro Bruce Raymond was paid $200 per day – a month’s rent on the North Shore in 1977 – to “eat shit,” he said to loud laughter. He paddled out on boards partially sawed through. Every time he dropped in and set up his bottom turn, Raymond felt the board snap in half beneath him. So, while Raymond was tumbling in the world’s gnarliest washing machine, dealing with hold-downs that could last up to a minute, the board was washing to shore. An interesting way to earn money …

PT had his turns, too. His surfing scenes are among the greatest in the movie, with his beautiful soul arches and sharp, smooth maneuvers a generation of wave-riders can picture just by closing their eyes. However, during the heavy Sunset days, Milius instructed him to speed down the line of the set waves – and pitch himself over the nose of the board. Eight times. I can feel every reader who’s surfed Sunset right now, cringing when they read this. Great water photographers Dan Merkel and George Greenough captured the resulting thrashing sustained by PT and another well-known surfer of the time, Jackie Dunn.

big wed-bear“Big Wednesday” depicted a story of three Malibu locals, one a local surf legend, and their wiser, older surfboard shaper friend, Bear (played by Sam Melville). Here comes some more back story, and Hollywood magic: “Malibu” was actually reconstructed at The Ranch, a famous and well-protected stretch of beach between Santa Barbara and Point Conception, while surf scenes were filmed in El Salvador (then basically unsurfed), The Ranch and Sunset Beach. Milius also reversed the footage of Banzai Pipeline.

I’ll leave the rest to PT to bring out later. What fun it was, though, to watch the movie, and then have PT pop in with behind-the-scenes stories over the soundtrack. “Big Wednesday” is a true classic, and the fact younger surfers love it just as much as those of us reliving our younger years through it speaks to what PT described as “the real message: that surfers are community, and that just about every surf spot has groups of friends, as well as a ‘Bear’ who shows them some of the ropes.”

What a way to spend a Friday night – and to close a week of blogging on back story.

Now, for those of you in California, paddle out … surf is up big-time this weekend! Have yourselves a Big Weekend.


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Unraveling Memory: Conversation with ‘Pretty Flamingo’ Author Perry Martin

Like his protagonist, David Perry, Pretty Flamingo author Perry Martin has a background as a recording and touring musician within and beyond his native Australia. That included a 15-month tour of his own in Vietnam, entertaining the troops. Like David Perry, he also re-settled in Orange County, CA.  Beyond that, his life and the fictional experiences in Pretty Flamingo take much different paths.

I spoke with Perry about his background and inspiration for this intriguing, gripping novel about the power, devastating impact, and ultimate liberation of resurrected memories. What began as a simple discussion about the book turned into a conversation that offers plenty of insight for writers of fiction, memoir and essay — not to mention a behind-the-scenes look at his fantastic opening novel, now available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Scribd.com (download), bookstores nationwide, and all online book and e-book sellers. You can also view a wonderfully produced preview trailer of the book on YouTube.

1) First of all, Perry, music plays an important part in David Perry’s growing-up years in Pretty Flamingo, obviously with some autobiographical moments in there. Could you talk about your long background in music?

I started at a very young age and was lucky enough to have some “brushes with greatness” during the course of my musical career.  I’ve worked with such people as Sheb Wooley of Rawhide fame, (the TV show that helped launch Clint Eastwood’s career), country legend Lefty Frizzell, pop/rock bands The Bee Gees, Ambrosia and Little River Band and, more recently, country greats Hal Ketchum and Lonestar.

Between 1968 and 1969, I had a 15-month stint in Vietnam with country showband The Donnie James Show ­– which is where I came into contact with Sheb Wooley, Left Frizzell and his daughter, Leta.  We went places no other band had ever gone in Vietnam and, because of that, we became so popular AFRTS gave us our own weekly TV show, Nashville Vietnam.

From 1970 to 1971, I toured Southeast Asia with my father as part of a three-piece music and comedy cabaret act.  We traveled to Japan, Okinawa, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines.  My father and I eventually settled in Hong Kong where I embarked on my own music career, which spawned three albums of original material.

I left Hong Kong in 1983 for the U.S.A. and have lived here ever since.  Between 1990 and 1997 I was with the band Two-Way Street.  We were the opening act for B.J. Thomas, Ambrosia and Little River Band, among others.  More recently, I have been part of the country band Marshalltown and have had the pleasure of being the opening act for Hal Ketchum and Lonestar.

2) And your writing background?
I remember wanting to be a writer when I was kid, long before I developed an interest in music.  I wrote stories that I would pass around to friends and family and I seem to recall starting a novel when I was about 12 years old.  Lord knows what happened to it.  I think what happened was that I started noticing the attention musicians got from people – particularly girls – and that swayed me in the direction of music!

I think writing has been lying dormant in me, all these years, waiting for the right time to surface. I still had the urge to create artistically.  I believe that’s when I resurrected my dream of becoming a writer.

3) How do you feel your skills as a musician and songwriter lend to your storytelling capabilities as a novelist?

As a musician, if you want to be good, there’s a certain discipline.  You have to be willing to practice, practice, practice and you have to honestly compare yourself to those musicians you respect and admire.  That helped me develop my skill as a writer.  I basically used the same approach.  I read books by top authors and studied how they wrote, much the same way as I used to study how my guitar heroes played guitar, and then I would compare what I wrote to the authors whose work I admired and also most closely matched the kind of storytelling I wanted to achieve.  I also studied books on writing, character development, etc which kind of parallels the music books I used to study.

As a songwriter I always tried to write songs that would affect the audience emotionally.  It was also important to engage and interest them quickly.  You have a lot less time to do that in a song than you do in a book, but it’s a similar thing.  Grab the reader within the first paragraph, if possible.  And, most important, affect the reader emotionally just as I’d tried to do with my songs.

'Pretty Flamingo' author Perry Martin

4) Could you tell us about some of your other experiences that either made their way into Pretty Flamingo or informed them?
Well, the first thing I should confess to is that, although I consider myself an Aussie at heart ­– and certainly have that persona – I was originally born in England and then moved to Australia at a very young age.    As far as experiences go, there were a slew of incidents during my time with the country band in Vietnam that could be the subject of a whole book!   For instance, the motorcycle accident that the central character of Pretty Flamingo, David Perry, has when he’s in Vietnam.  That was based on actual personal experience.  I was in Saigon and I’d had a few too many beers and had no business riding home on that bike.  Many of the streets had large, wooden-framed, barbed-wire barricades that were positioned at presumably strategic points.  I managed to run my bike into one of them, flew over the handlebars and hit the road ­– hard.  I gashed my head pretty badly and it required several stitches above my left eyebrow.

There were also numerous occasions where the country band went to places no other band had been to.  We played for a Green Beret unit based very close to the Cambodian border.  Halfway through the show, we were rushed into a bunker because the base was being mortared.  The pedal steel player and I became the heroes of the evening as we grabbed a couple of cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon on our way to the bunker.  We sat out the attack, which was successfully fended off, of course ­ after all, we’re talking Green Berets! ­ and then went back to the club to finish off the show.

It was experiences like that, I think, made me grow up pretty fast, By the time I arrived back in Australia, I was a pretty mature sixteen-year old.  I portrayed David Perry that way in the book because, later on, he has to make some very adult decisions.

5) What are the elements of the Manfred Mann song “Pretty Flamingo” that worked for you as the theme to this book?
Well, for one thing, just the song in general evokes so many memories for me ­– both good and bad ­– that it seemed a natural choice.  It made it easy to write around because it was a part of my life at a time where events occurred that had a profound impact on me.  It reminded me of some very good friends and a family I cared very much about; they weren’t my family but they treated me that way.  That’s why I wrote them into the book.  For me, it’s also a very visual song.  Every time I hear the line, “crimson dress that clings to tight” I can see this gorgeous girl walking up the street that everyone on the block called “Flamingo”.

6) Without giving away the entire plot, you have written a story about an Australian now living in California who has a recall experience about something so shattering that he’s blocked it out for 35 years. What is it about sudden recall experiences that you find so intriguing and captivating that you’d wrap an entire story around it?

Wow, that’s a great question. First, like many people I know, I love a good mystery.  So, the idea that there is something buried in someone’s past that has been subconsciously affecting his decisions throughout his life was intriguing to me.  You could call it a “hidden influence”.  A movie that comes to mind is Conspiracy Theory, where the central character keeps buying the same book over and over again and has no idea why he’s doing it.  We eventually find out why when he finally remembers what happened.  It started me thinking along those lines.  How much of our lives might be influenced by forgotten events?  How many things are we doing or not doing because of something like that?

7) Once David has the shattering wake-up experience of déjà vu, you proceed to unravel the recall experience slowly … and then launch us into an incredible series of events for any two teenagers. What narrative issues did you work out before settling on this slow roll-out of the life-shattering event — as well as the decision to weave before-and-now chapters as you do?
I wanted to create conflict, mystery and suspense.  Some of the conflict comes from within as well as without and I wanted to show David wrestling with his own doubts and fears ­ which were his personal, internal antagonists – as well as the other antagonists he encounters along the way.   I found that rolling it out slowly, initially, helped create the mystery throughout the book.  Each time you discover the answer to one thing there are still other questions still not answered and, as I’ve been told by numerous people, this is what kept them turning the pages – which was what I wanted to do.

The decision to weave before-and-now chapters was also part of the whole idea of creating a mystery.  We see how, even the first few glimpses of previously forgotten memories, start to affect the main character. We watch him undergo a gradual transformation while, at the same time, we are able to go back and gradually discover how it was that he became the person he was at the start of the book.

8) In this book, you’ve got a full package on the human condition — mad teen love, more complicated mature adult love, a compelling mystery, exotic adventure, music, an unspeakable crime, and more. What do you feel are the important factors — or were the deciding factors in Pretty Flamingo — of writing such a story to maintain its believability?
Nobody in this book is perfect – because, let’s face it,  nobody is.  That’s what makes us human.  My characters have their flaws, and they don’t always make the right decisions but, except for the villains, they are basically good (as I believe most people are) and they try their best to do the right thing, at least from their point of view.  I purposely didn’t gift my characters with eloquence, excellent vocabularies or the best social graces, because that’s not the kind of people they were – especially the Aussies.  They are a down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is bunch of people and I think that makes them likeable and believable.

9) What about the characters of David Perry and Lisa Morgan made them both ideal for this “perfect storm” of a tale?
Well, without giving anything away, I think I can say that they had some things in common although they arrived at those things in different ways.  They both had experiences that forced them into a maturity beyond their years.  They also had some idea of themselves as spiritual beings, something more than just flesh and blood. That, for me, was the element that would eventually create the unbreakable bond between them.

10) David Perry and Lisa Morgan are compelling in entirely different ways. They’re also decidedly Australian, with a bit of swagger and persona that has been intriguing to American audiences for the past 25-30 years. As an Aussie who has lived in the U.S. for quite a long time, what do you feel it is about the Australian persona that draws us to seek it out in our movie and fiction characters?
I think there is a “no worries,” laid-back feel to the Aussies that is very attractive.  There’s also a refreshing honesty to them that I think we like. They are some of the friendliest, down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet..  There’s definitely a lack of political correctness, by and large, and I think it reminds Americans of how things used to be in this country.  To this day it’s still a bit “wild and wooly” in Australia and there’s that rebel streak that kind of says “take me or leave me, I don’t give a s–t!”  That’s the kind of attitude Americans used to have and it helped them kick the Brits out back in 1776 and grow to become the greatest nation on earth.  I think we’ve lost that here, to some degree, and the Aussies kind of remind us of what it was like to be that way.

11) What redeeming qualities or statements do you feel the characters and story of Pretty Flamingo make about love, forgiveness, redemption and the power of memory?
Overall, I think that the book demonstrates that the vast majority of us are good people and that the power of love can overcome anything.   It’s as important to forgive ourselves as it is to be forgiven, for we sometimes hold ourselves accountable when there is no longer any need.  Also, to know that nothing is truly forgotten – it may be buried, hidden or otherwise blocked out, but it is still there.  For you “not to remember” something implies that there must be “something there” to be forgotten.

12) What are your future writing plans?

I am actually working on another book right now, Savannah.  It’s a little different than Pretty Flamingo although there are some similarities inasmuch as there is once again a mystery aspect to it and the protagonist has had a troubled past.  It’s a story about childhood friendship, integrity and redemption.  There’s a spiritual aspect to it that’s quite interesting, too.  I’ve pulled a lot more from my experiences as a musician for this book and I’ve tried to give the reader some insight as to what it’s like to be a struggling musician.

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