By Jim Freehan
Scheduling is the most critical part of producing a film, C.Tad Devlin tells his Wednesday evening filmmaking class at Centralia College. “If you don’t preplan, you can have disaster real quick,” Devlin says. And he should know. As a Hollywood producer and production manager, Devlin has worked on “George of the Jungle,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” and “Sleeping With the Enemy.” Now Devlin wants to use his talents to help stave off the collapse of local cable public access television in Lewis County. He’s proposing Lewis County Television – a combination of public access, education and government programing.
At the same time, he’s also a teacher. Devlin is part cheerleader, as well as instructor, to a few more dozen than a students gathered around the television studio at Centralia College. “Good now you’re becoming a producer,” he tells one member of the class who had a particularly frustrating day shooting a film for the course. Interpersed thoughout his lecture are tales from behind the scenes in Hollywood filmmaking. “On’George of the Jungle’ we had 11 lions,” he said. “We had one who growled, one who blinked and one who was a pussycat. That was the lion we let around the actors.” Don Langois drives nearly two hours every Wednesday night from his home in Greenwater in rual King County to attend Devlins course. “It’s great,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot. Besides, he’s a good storyteller about Hollywood.”
But Devlin will tell you Tinseltown is out of of step with Middle America, and that’s reflected by fewer Americans going to the movies he says. “In 1945, 75 percent on the population went to the movies on a weekly basis,” Devlin says. “In 1997, only 4 percent of the population goes to the movies each week,” Hollywood has increasingly lost touch with much of it’s audience, Devlin says. Films are geared for urban audience, with the top 10 markets 75 percent of movie revenue. The top five markets generate 50 percent, he says. “Action movies make money,” Devlin says. “Hollywood love monsters, breasts and guns.”
That sort of entertainment is a long way from Devlin’s Middle American background. Devlin grew up in Dayton, Ohio. As a child he wanted to be an astonomer. His father, Charles “Reach” Devlin, was a professional boxer who fought in 247 fights, losing only three by technical knockouts. He later went on to become a boxing promoter, as well as a machinist at Delco and at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
To make a little extra money as a student at the University of Dayon, Devlin served as “human guinea pig for the space program” at nearby Wright Patterson AFB. “For $7 a day, I slept in a room where they attached electrodes to me for a sleep deprivation experiment,” he says. “They wanted to put me in a tank for 90 days of solitary confinement, and I said, “No, thanks. I’ll just come here and sleep.” After graduating from the University of Dayton, he served in the U.S. Army as a field artillery officer, and worked as a writer, producer and director for the U.S. Fourth Army Educational Television network from 1967 to 1969. “I made Army instructional films,” Devlin says. “Some of the films incuded ‘How to Brush Your Teeth’, ‘How to Keep Your Locker Clean’ and ‘How to Bayonet Your Opponent.'” A crew of about 10 GIs accompanied Devlin as they toured Army Bases in the Midwest. “My biggest high was staging and filming a war,” he says. “We had a cast of 2,000 troops.” While he was making everything from killing-your-foe to brushing-your-teeth instructional films.
Devlin met a Hollywood director who told him to look him up after he got out of the Army. He looked up the director, and Devlin spent the next two years serving as an apprenitice film editor, splicing commercials and working shipping office at ABC Television. To make ends meet, he worked at an aircraft assembly plant in Burbank. Devlin left Los Angeles and went to New York, making industrial films and commercials, and working as a photographer. He shot weddings, bar mitzvahs and parties and worked for renowned fashion photographer Richard Avedon.
Devlin entered the motion picture industry in 1972 as one of the five selected out of 3,000 applicants to Directors Guild of America training program. Since completing the program in 1974, Devlin has worked on more than 50 major studio and network television project as an assistant director. His first film was “Dog Day Afternoon” staring Al Pacino, on which Devlin served as an assistant to the assistant director. “I remember Bert Harris telling me, ‘Mine is black and Sid’s is cream and two sugers,’ ” Devlin recalled. “I was basically a gofer.” “Sid” was film director Sidney Lumet. Devlin’s next film as a trainee was Woody Allen’s Academy Award-wining “Anne Hall.” “Woody Allen is extremly intelligent,” he says. “He is what you would see. He’s the first public geek before Bill Gates.” As a film trainee, Devlin made $100 a month. His rent for a one bedroom studio in Manhattan was $300 a month. To make ends meet, Devlin drove a cab and washed dishes. “I did what I could to get through,” he says.
After working on “Sleeping With the Enemy,” with Julia Roberts, Devlin and his wife toured the United States and Canada, looking for a place to settle down and call home. Devlin says they selected Chehalis because it reminded him of his hometown of Dayton. “We have mountains, oceans nearby and we’re not culturaly deprived because we can always drive to Seattle,” he says. “God lives here what else can I say?” Devlin adds that he’s not too far from Hollywood. “I took a meeting with Rob Reiner recently,” he says. “I drove down to Portland, hopped on a plane and flew to L.A. met Reiner and got back the same night.”
Devlin says he doesn’t want to crank out yet another “Hollywood movie”. “I want to go after the business Hollywood said it can’t do,” he says. Some such projects include stories from Northwest authors to which Devlin has bought the film rights. Meanwhile, he’s concerning himself with LCTV. Lewis County is hamstrung by residents unwilling to take a risk and by belief that if someone gains, someone else loses in a business venture, he says. “People here tend to be self-detructive when alternate ways of thinking are presented,” Devlin says. The next step for Lewis County Television is to incorporate, develop a plan, set up an office, and form a board of directors, Devlin says. Devlin’s asking Centralia, Chehalis and Lewis County to contribute $1,500 each. “It’s time for them to step up to the plate,” he says. “This is not going to break the bank.” But Devlin says he’s passed on job oprotunities in the film industry to help Lewis County Television get started. “It’s not Tad Devlin’s station. It’s the community’s,” he says. “(The city of Centralia, the city of Chehalis and Lewis County) need to pony up the money. I think it’s a huge mistake if they don’t.”