The Opening Shot

The Opening Shot - Jack Lord and the Ilikai

I received the following interesting correspondence by e-mail relating to the famous opening shot where Jack Lord is standing at the corner of the balcony on the Ilikai Hotel:

My name is Les Malzman, brother of Captain Irwin Malzman, the helicopter pilot/traffic reporter for CBS affiliate KGMB radio and TV. Some really obscure but factual information about the show's opening:

My brother Irwin learned to fly helicopters with a fellow named Chuck Whiteman at Central Pacific Helicopters. (As Irwin's younger brother I was always hanging around hoping to get a free ride.) Chuck flew a fair amount of aerial photography, and was hired to shoot aerials for the opening of the show. (Bobby-something was the DP) Chuck described to me their concept of "dollying" the helicopter towards the balcony of the Ilikai Hotel where Jack Lord was standing. They tried for many days to shoot but it was way too windy to get anything. (I was also interested in photography and talked to Chuck after each day's shooting to see how it went; I even went down to the area and watched from below.) This was before the days of gyro stabilized camera mounts, most of which would not have fit in Chuck's Bell G-5 helicopter. The weather never did improve, and Chuck said they would have to use what they had because the show was about to air. Chuck did not feel good about what they got; he said that they did not feel good about it either.

When I watched the opening of the show when it first aired, I realized that they used the shaky footage they got, and "stutter-cut" it to hide the shake; it was supposed to be a continuous scene, but the wind and resulting camera shake forced them to come up with something else. I knew little of editing back then, but realized and was impressed that they took what they had and "saved it in the edit." The characteristic quick-cuts-to-music that so stylizes the opening was the result of some really windy weather and some really clever editing.

Les continued in another e-mail:

Shaking the spider web of my memory dredged up the fact that Captain Irwin also "appeared" in an episode of Five-O. It takes place at City Hall, "Hale-O-Something," (then Mayor Fasi's office) where a police helicopter (a Bell J-2) piloted by police uniform clad Captain Irwin (who was by then an accomplished chopper pilot hired to fly the chopper, and so had to wear the uniform) while Jack Lord fired an automatic weapon out of the open cockpit at someone below.

Naturally, as the younger brother hanger-on that I have always been, I was there watching the filming; I even got to meet DP Bobby-something. Later that evening, my brother told me that although he knew McGarrett would be firing a weapon, he had no idea how loud it would be. When they shot the first take and McGarrett started shooting, Captain Irwin tensed, thinking there was a problem with the chopper. By the time they shot the close ups of McGarrett with the chopper hovering a few inches off the ground, the Captain said he had gotten used to the noise of the automatic rifle.

Irwin himself joined the conversation::

I wish I had more info. It was a long time ago. I only remember working with Jack Lord in the helicopter. I worked on other 5-0shoots, but this is the only one I made referance too in my log book. The Aircraft number was either N5858F or N8536F.

Les continues:

I saw the episode, so I know it aired. And the Captain is correct; it was shot near Honolulu Hale, in an and over an area that is now completely changed. I'm surprised it was as early as 1971. I remember there is a wide shot of the chopper, a red/orange and white enclosed body and tail boom helicopter, and there is a close up of McGarrett leaning out and firing an automatic rifle. How many episodes could there be where he does that? On the phone my brother just reminded me that Jack Lord was only in the close-up, and that they shot the close-up with the helicopter on the ground; Jack would not fly in the chopper, even a few inches off the ground!

Many years later I worked on an episode of The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in Hawaii where Jack Lord was a guest. We wanted him to take a helicopter from one location to another to expedite his and our busy schedule. Once again he refused to fly in a helicopter.

I also remember that Jack loved his fans; we were shooting the Aloha Week Parade in Waikiki, and Jack was in the parade on a white horse. A woman stepped out of the crowd with a Brownie camera to snap Jack's picture, and he stopped his horse, turned his horse towards the woman, and asked us if we would shine our lights on him for the picture! We did, and were impressed that Jack would go to such lengths for his fans. ---

I asked Les about what kind of photographic equipment they used for the opening shot:

I know the show was shot on 35MM film. The Tyler nose mount was not invented yet, and would not have fit on the front of the helicopter used; a Bell G-5 or J-2. I don't think they used any type of helicopter/camera mount, but rather hand-held the camera. So, with a high degree of probability I would speculate that they used a 35MM Arriflex IIC with a 400' magazine, (about four minutes of film per mag), and an off-set (upright) motor for hand holding. Since sound recording was not necessary (I'm sure that if they had recorded sound, it would only have been the high winds, buffeting and swearing going on). This set up would have provided them with a relatively small, maneuverable rig to shoot out of the helicopter with the door removed and the camera man hanging slightly out of the chopper.

Bobby Morrison was the DP on the show, and I'm sure he would have done the filming; he was both a great DP and an accomplished operator.

I'm also guessing they would have used a 25-250 zoom lens, and a few fixed focal length lenses. Although the Arri IIC has a turret for 3 different lenses, I think they would have tried only one lens at a time, to save weight. The intended shot was to see the exterior of the Ilikai Penthouse, and gradually get closer to the balcony, revealing Jack Lord standing there. They would have used the zoom lens, together with the movement of the helicopter towards the balcony to achieve this. With all the wind and buffeting they encountered, they might have switched to a smaller and lighter fixed focal length lens, thus giving up the zoom in ability and letting the chopper do all the movement towards the Lord.

As mentioned in a previous email, I know they didn't get what they had intended because of the windy conditions, and so ended up "letting the editor save it." In my opinion he did a great job.