MTV Italy's Giorgia and Alessandro
July 14, 2005
The towering clouds of dust were rising by sunrise. By ten am when the three car caravan containing the MTV Italy production crew and television hosts was scheduled to pull into Lone Pine, the Inyo and Sierra Nevada Mountains were obscured by dust. The wind was pushing the small gritty particles into your eyes and mouth whenever you tried to speak. Not a great time to present the landscapes that have attracted film companies since 1920, but the show must go on.
The two video disc jockeys came only with first names: Giorgia and Alessandro. She had beautiful, delicate features under the straw cowboy hat and a figure to match. He was similar dressed in the latest youth fashions, even to the tops of his boxer shorts showing over his baggy pants.
The producer of the show took me aside to let me know they were big stars in the Italian youth market. After all they were on MTV Italy, the television channel with the largest youth audience there. Giorgia had been a successful model, then after an appearance on JTV, a talent scout had discovered her. She now was an established star on MTV, having just left TLR after four years to try a new program called "Absolutely 90's."
Alessandro posing in the Red Car
Alessandro was newer to the MTV fans, having moved from ALL MUSIC to MTV recently. Before that he had established himself as the Italian Ju Jitsu champion and a successful soccer athlete.
Today they were all business, but off camera they lacked any star pretensions. It was a small crew: producer, director, writer, cameraman, make-up; and a couple of liaison workers. Some spoke fluent English, but most didn't.
When American Locations Manager Dawn Dennis called me a few weeks before, she had explained MTV Italy was producing a travel show based on the adventures of two young stars, who happened to be traveling together through the American West in a red convertible with flame decals.
The show would contain about twenty minutes of their travels interlaced with the latest music videos. The hour long shows had been developed for at least thirty-two episodes, and they wanted to do the west, working out of Las Vegas. They wanted to branch out, and she had arranged for them to go to places like the Grand Canyon. They wanted to come to the real west, the Owens Valley.
I told her that besides Death Valley and the historic film region of the Alabamas, the timing was right for the Mule Days weekend. We developed that idea and she was enthusiastic, but it was not to be because the Italian production company was delayed in Italy.
It looked like they wouldn't make it even to Death Valley because they had trouble contacting Dave Rinehart, the ranger in charge of movie permits. Then came the call. They wanted to spend a few hours in Lone Pine the next day after visiting the Death Valley sand dunes, Bad Water and Ubehebe Crater. "Do you mind speaking on camera?" I immediately thought this would give a great boost to my budding MTV career, so I said I was ready and willing.
Giorgia and Alessandro were the epitome of professionals as they would come alive before the camera. Their enthusiasm and glibness made me want to join in, but my Italian was non-existent. Then they would turn to me speaking in English and we were off and running. The conversation would swing from English to Italian and back again, as they made my discussion of the film history that stretches for eighty-five years palatable to people who think Gladiator marks the beginning of the story.
The next day brought the worst dust storm I can remember in the last few years, and it was difficult to talk about the movie landscapes that you couldn't see, but we managed. The creative group would talk through the scene, the dialogue and the "blocking" of the action, all in Italian. Then just before filming, they would gesture me onto the set with Giorgia and Alessandro and we would film.
It was when we came to John Wayne's room in the Dow Villa, the one he occupied during his last appearance in Lone Pine, that their enthusiasm seemed greatest. It turned out to be his last appearance before a camera, for a Great Western bank ad. Owner Lynne Bunn had filled me in about the details, which I was able to retell for my new pals on camera, even adding the hint of a ghost, if I recall correctly.
Then we were filmed with me introducing the two hosts to the Totem and Indian Trading Post with its autographed walls. Alessandro was driving down Main Street and Marco the cameraman was perched on the back of the red convertible while we discussed the high points. The wind and dust were whipping around. The production's writer was dying to see a tumbleweed, but that day all we had were the sweeping clouds of dust. Still, everyone was very pleased with the atmosphere of the Old West we had blowing by. I can hardly wait for my first request for an autograph from my new Italian fans.