September 7, 1994
TV CREW TURNS LAKE INTO FOREIGN PLACE
By Pat Flood
Just two days after Fortune Hunter premiered on the Fox network, cast and crews of the TV spy drama taped parts of the seventh episode Tuesday in south Lake County.
Actors and actresses – including former Miami Vice star Philip Michael Thomas – spent time chatting with local residents as well as acting out scenes.
Fields surrounding Gary and Dot Johnson’s house south of Groveland were transformed into the countryside of Mayaguaya, a fictional nation in South America.
Ray and Carol Jones’ barn was used to hide secret agent Carlton Dial and his comrades as they prepared to rescue kidnapped professional athletes from terrorists.
Finding a Central Florida spot suitable for filming the scene was not easy, according to assistant location supervisor Rick Callan. In fact, he said, the site wasn’t chosen until Friday night, but Callan said he believes the same spot will be used for other episodes as well.
“It’s the look,” Callan said. “You have the look of a different country.”
Indeed, stands of bamboo, vine-covered trees and thick palms gave little hint of the true location. Knee-high pasture grass added to the appeal.
Scouts happened upon the barn Thursday and left business cards in the two families’ mailboxes, asking them to call.
“Dot and Gary thought it was a joke and threw theirs in the garbage,” Carol Jones said, but she called, finally reaching a studio representative about 10 p.m. Thursday. “They said they were under the gun for the barn,” she said.
Although the barn was large enough to hide a bus, it took some work to ready it for shooting, said Jim “Stitch” Crisp, the lead man for the art department. “When we came here, it had 20 years of accumulated junk,” Crisp said. “We had to take their junk out and put our junk in.”
“We had to carefully place our junk… art, I mean art,” he joked. “That’s a lot of our job – making art out of junk.” All day Friday, a work crew cleared the barn of Ray Jones’ construction equipment and household furniture.
The Johnsons’ house, which was not to appear in the footage shot Tuesday, was camouflaged by a leaf-covered net and several newly planted palms.
The first scene shot Tuesday was of a parachute drop into an open field by Dial, played by British actor Mark Frankel, and four fellow agents.
Like the site selection, cast selection also was a last-minute affair – guest female lead Elizabeth Gracen was cast as Kat Burrell on Saturday.
In the parachuting scene, one of Kat’s lines snaps and she rides to earth in Dial’s arms. Actually, the scene began with the actors pretending to land – Kat and Dial jumped up and tumbled to the ground.
They gathered their chutes and ran into a stand of trees. To add underbrush to the scene, a production assistant stuck some branches into a striped wooden box and steadied them with duct tape.
During a second scene – shot from atop a crane – some of the bamboo canes were bent over to give the illusion that the group was running through a thick jungle.
Between the scene’s rehearsal and final take, director Lee Katzin noticed a foreign object on the ground.
“Whose Lipton iced tea is that?” he shouted. “That makes the perfect sabotage.”
The rest of the action took place at the barn. Crews draped part of the inside with black fabric and added smoke for effect.
Despite the heat, cast members said they were enjoying the work. Thomas said he didn’t notice the heat while working, even though he was wearing a black turtleneck and full camouflage outfit with combat boots.
His guest spot on Fortune Hunter is the first television work he has done since appearing on Superboy and Swamp Thing several years ago. He just finished River of Stone, a feature film, with George Kennedy and G. Gordon Liddy.
Working on television “feels like home,” he said, adding he recognized many of his fellow workers from his Miami Vice days.
“That’s the beauty of the business. No matter where you go in the world it’s like it’s family,” Thomas said.
“We’ve only been filming for a couple of hours, and it feels good,” she said. “The cameraderie is like magic.”
Frankel, who stars in the series along with John Robert Hoffman as Harry, is coming off a stint as Simon Bolt in Sisters.
Although only 12 episodes have been ordered so far, he hopes the show lasts far longer, “as long as it’s a hit.”
Regardless of the response to the show, Frankel has a five-year contract with Fox network and Columbia pictures.
The Johnsons and Joneses hope that Fortune Hunter will spend a lot of time on their property.
“It was a blast,” Dot Johnson said. “I got my pictures taken with them and their autographs.”
The Joneses agreed. “We’ve got to see something we’d never seen before,” Carol Jones said.