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‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ brings movies to the Rose Parade, wins Fantasy Trophy

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While Dillon the Villain steams down the track in a stolen locomotive towards poor Melodrama Melody, tied up and kicking for all she’s worth, dashing Duke on Cassidy and engineer Choo Choo Charlie race to her rescue. That’s the story behind the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association’s 2014 Rose Parade entry, “Lights! Camera! Action!”

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The float won the Fantasy Trophy for Most Outstanding Display of Fantasy and Imagination, which is exactly what the City of Burbank, home to studios large and small, including Disney, Warner Bros. and Turner Broadcasting, is all about.

“Burbank is about making dreams come true through movies,” Steve Edward, vice president-float told us in an interview, referring to the “Dreams Come True” parade theme.

Sitting in the director’s chair and shouting commands through a megaphone was Garry Marshall, writer, actor, director, producer, and founder of the Falcon Theatre in Burbank. His son Scott was behind the flowered camera.

“I’m always really excited when something good happens to the float…but this was one of the first times I actually screamed in the office,” said Edward, on receiving the phone call to confirm Garry Marshall would ride the float. He said the association wanted a recognizable name, but “more importantly, Garry loves parades.” He cited a rumor that when Marshall wraps a movie, he makes his crew parade around.

Being family is part of being a member or volunteer in the BTORA. Decoration chair Janet Maier told us, “It’s like a family. You spend a lot of time with them. Then once it’s over, we start again with the design contest.”

Jon Reeves, head of construction, oversees the building of the pod, including welding, hydraulics to lower the overheight elements, special effects, animation. He extended that familial bond to the coterie of six self-built float associations.

“Self-builts are like family, too. When South Pasadena had a fire a few years ago, all the others pitched in,” he said. Indeed, when the La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Roses Association suffered a theft last October, other builders—both self-builts and for-profit companies—offered assistance.

One of the outstanding qualities of self-builders is the enthusiasm and dedication of the crew to their community, the float, and the Tournament of Roses Parade. They raise funds, hold design contests, weld the steel, spray the cocooning material, look for bargains or free stuff, recycle trash and steel, and spend nearly a year working towards putting together splendid floats. Then they deconstruct the float, saving as much as possible, and run a contest for the design of the float for next year.

“Lights! Camera! Action!” was loaded with animation, including Choo Choo Charlie pumping a handcar on the off-camera side of the float. Locomotive wheels turned, steam poured from the smokestack, red soundstage lights rotated on the backdrop, and perhaps most exciting, a train whistle specially made for the float by a San Diego craftsman.

The 125th Rose Parade marked the 100th anniversary of Burbank’s participation, though there were some gaps in the early years. It was the 80th float and 82nd entry for the city. The first float, “Goddess of Plenty,” was built in 1914 and reused in 1915 as “Dragon Cornucopia,” said BTORA historian Erik C. Andersen. That float depicted a dragon’s head and a giant cornucopia spilling out local produce from residents’ gardens. A Burbank High School teacher, Stella Hansen, portrayed the deity.

Commitment to community was reflected in 1941, when construction on the float for the 1942 parade was well under way. On Dec. 5, a notice in the paper requested 200 deco volunteers; on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor was bombed and the $1,000 that had been donated by the city for the float was soon turned over to purchase a truck to serve coffee and donuts to servicemen.

The 2014 float was designed by Bill and Carol Cotter and Stacia Martin for the annual design contest. “Always from the first, we solicited people to design the float. It’s a staple of the community to have Burbank design its own float,” Andersen said.

“How do we take that black-and-white drawing and turn it into a three-dimensional vehicle?” Edward mused. “Every week we come up with tweaks, ideas. What’s the audience experience? What’s the story we’re telling? Does it make sense?”

Once the design is pretty well set, it goes to the deco committee to choose colors and textures and translate them into botanical materials.

Deco chair Maier was excited about finding a company in Oregon that freezes rose petals for use in weddings. It was a first for Burbank and a first for the company to use them on a Rose Parade float. “Before, we had to get them fresh and put them on at the last minute. Freeze-dried stays fresh-looking,” she said.

Working with a landscape architect, Maier identified the best grasses to use on the difficult sloping pod, ending up with Mondo grass from his supplier. She ended up with a mix of Blue Fescue, Mondo Grass, Liriope, Echiveria, Peter Pan. Agapanthus, Neirne Lilies, Asters, Astibe and daisies.

She’s not adverse to asking for favors, either. When her employer, the Burbank OSH, was preparing to shut down, she asked the manager if she could have the plants that weren’t doing well. He agreed, and now, “I have a plant nursery in my backyard.” She also got mismatched paints for $4 a bucket. Like the first float, as much as possible is gathered around the city. “Everyone here saves stuff for us,” Maier said.

Other botanicals included 12,000 mums, 5,600 roses, 4,800 red carnations, and various seeds, strawflower, moss, ti leaf, coconut, raw cotton, corn silk and dry grasses.

Of course, there has to be a head honcho. At BTORA, this is Ginny Barnett. “It’s like being the president of a small company,” she said. “My birthday is Dec. 31, and for the 23rd year, this is what I do on my birthday.” She tries to attend most committee meetings, but she works by the rule, “Get the best people for the job and just let them do it. Get out of their way.” How did Barnett rise to this lofty position? “They asked me,” she responded.

The city is a partner in getting the float rolling, as well. When the chassis and drive system, designed as a senior project by Cal Poly Pomona student Doug Gamble, was built 20 years ago, it was turned over to the City of Burbank. As a city vehicle, it is maintained, driven, towed, and serviced by the city. The Burbank Police Department provides an escort when the float is taken to and from the Rose Parade. Burbank Water and Power sponsors the float and provides the building, utilities and a grant.

The float barn itself is a point of pride for Edward, especially as the Tournament is trying to go green. “This building is very green. Burbank Water and Power uses it as a showcase building,” he said. It’s fully insulated, skylights provide enough light that most days electrical lighting is not needed, toilets are push button, the soda machine powers off when not used and powers back on periodically to maintain cold, motion sensors turn lights on and off in the offices, bathrooms and cargo container.

Leftover live plants are sold, green material is composted, and as much of the float as possible is recycled or reused. “The float is propane powered, which is cleaner than gasoline and much cleaner than diesel,” Edward said. “We have been green for 20 years.”

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