With our best and many thanks to Rick Siggelkow,
who wishes to send this tribute written for the late George Carlin to all fans of Shining Time Station
and its beloved Mr. Conductor.
Memories of George Carlin on “Shining Time
By Rick Siggelkow
Co-Producer, “Shining Time Station”
Allcroft’s June 26 piece for The Los Angeles Times offered a sensitive portrait of George Carlin that few people outside of his family and inner circle had ever seen.
Working with him in the intimate confines of a recording booth, Britt was able to draw out George’s childhood memories
and put them to brilliant use in his narration of “Thomas the Tank Engine.”
By contrast, my time with George was spent on the studio
floor shooting his Mr. Conductor scenes. This was where we would “shrink” his character down to 18 inches
tall through the magic of ultra-matte. It was painstaking work, but with George it was never dull.
First he would have to stand in front of a wall of green
and be inserted (or “matted”) into previously shot scenes called “backplates.” Then he would
have to find his eye-line, a point in space where he was supposed to be looking, like “That stain on the wall over the
Next, he would have to react to lines being read to him
from off camera, not by another actor but by a production assistant or floor manager. Sometimes he would have to walk,
run, jump or hide behind some oversized green-painted prop. If the lighting was off and he didn’t cast the right
shadow, if the prop had moved by an inch, or if the matte wasn’t absolutely perfect, he’d have to do it all over
again. This went on for fourteen hours a day, day after day, for several weeks.
You can tell a lot about star talent by how they treat
the crew. Some stars barely notice the crew, but George was different. He learned everyone’s names and their interests.
One day he might recommend a book to a grip, another day he’d be discussing scenes from an obscure movie with the lightning
director. He even made a point of inviting the crew to his comedy shows. When some of them went to see him in
Vegas, George made sure they got the best seats and invited them all backstage. The crew loved him.
Although George was a consummate professional, either before
or after a take he’d usually offer some funny insight or unexpected comment. Once he teased me about diversity
at “Shining Time Station,” noting that a woman, Stacy Jones, ran the train station and a Native American, Billy
Twofeathers, was the engineer, but a middle aged white guy named “King” owned the railroad.
George was also a perfectionist, a true craftsman.
His sense of timing and his ability to match his shots (to be in the exact same position from one take to the next so that
we could easily edit the scene together) was flawless. More times than not, George would want another take
so that he could make some improvement. It might be a change in his inflection or an expression on his face, but
it usually made the scene better, and it always made it funnier. We would all hold our breath until it was over and
then the studio would explode in laughter.
Sometimes his brilliant jokes and patter would happen so
fast it would fly past you. Then, of course, when you tried to tell one of his jokes at home it was never as funny.
That’s when I realized the difference between a true comedian like George Carlin and the rest of us. He saw the
world differently and he took notes. Somehow he saw that everything had the potential to make people laugh,
and his humor flowed so naturally that he made it look easy.
George never forgot
the tender age of our audience, but he also never talked down to them. He was a man who showed kindness to everyone at “Shining
Time Station,” and he never took a moment of life for granted. Working with George was a joy and privilege.
He was one of the great ones.
August 18, 2008