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Q and A with Mark Haleston

Mark Haleston was born and raised in Southwest Portland, and he lives in Lake Oswego, but there's quite a bit of Hollywood in the guy everybody calls Sparky.

Maybe that comes from hanging around so many actors and directors. Haleston, 52, has been working on Oregon movie sets for 26 years, from the forgettable 'Body of Evidence' to the, well, forgettable 'Untraceable.'

Haleston is a freelance electrician and videographer always on call to the Oregon Film and Video Office when Hollywood decides to come to Portland. And yes, there's a reason he's known as Sparky.

Portland Tribune: So how'd you get the nickname?

Mark Haleston: We were wiring buildings downtown - it was a commercial for a grocery store - and I was told to tie into a breaker panel. During lunch I thought the power lines running down the aisle were unsafe so I decided to disconnect (them).

We shorted out, and it blew out a 200-amp panel. It was like a huge flashbulb. It browned out the supermarket, and it wiped out the memory on seven cash registers for the day.

The director of the shot came blazing back to see what happened. I was just picking myself off the floor. I wasn't sure if I had my hands or if I had vaporized. I had an awareness that I was still something, but I wasn't sure what.

He found me there and said, 'From now on, your camp name is Sparky.'

Tribune: How did you get started in movies?

Haleston: I got called to manage Portland Cine. It supplied equipment to film and video companies from out of town. Crews would come in and rent gear from us. They would always ask for help, looking for people to work on crews.

But I was the only employee. So what I would do is give them my home phone number and say, 'Call this guy after 6.' And I would go home and answer the phone. I'd sell myself over the phone and show up on the set the next day.

Tribune: What was your favorite film to work on?

Haleston: 'Men of Honor' (about Navy divers) with Robert De Niro, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Charlize Theron. I was working in almost every department.

We had a pier where the divers were going off. I got hold of the 'greens man' and had him put a 6-by-6-foot pad of grass at the end of the pier. The gaffer was an avid golfer, so a friend of mine who had a golf course gave me some range balls, and at lunch we set up a driving range.

They drove balls probably an hour and a half into the Columbia and then the balls would float downstream and our safety divers would return the balls to the driving green.

Tribune: You set this up?

Haleston: Much to the dismay of production. This stopped filming. Our director of photography, the key grip and Cuba Gooding Jr. wouldn't go back to work. They wanted to continue golfing.

Tribune: You know I've got to ask what a greens man, a gaffer and a key grip are.

Haleston: The greens man provides trees, flowers, shrubs and any foliage seen on camera. The gaffer is the chief lighting director. The key grip is the department head for grips.

Tribune: Well, I could have figured out that last one. But for those of us who don't know what a grip is and can't seem to get one, please explain?

Haleston: They manage rigging camera movement. They control where the light goes.

Tribune: Any off-the-set high jinks?

Haleston: A crewmember and I went to Mary's Club, that little strip club downtown, with Alan Shepard, the astronaut. It was a CBS documentary (on) the return of Haley's Comet, and I was videographer.

After putting several $20 bills on the bar - and of course, everyone else was putting up quarters, that's the kind of place it was - Shepherd asked one of the strippers if she'd like to go on a trip. And her response was, 'Well, Grandpa, where? Like Hawaii?' And he said, 'No. I thought maybe you and me could go to the moon.' She had no idea who he was. I turned to my buddy and said, 'He has (actually) been there.'

Tribune: Sounds like you have a lot of fun in your job.

Haleston: Not a day goes by that we don't have a full-faced laugh. We always have caterers (on the set). We measure caterers by how much gas we have later in the afternoon.

Tribune: So would the guy who does the measuring be the gasser? Sorry. What's the biggest accident or mistake you've seen on set?

Haleston: That's a pretty easy one. The entire filming of 'The Haunting of Sarah Hardy.' Things were damaged, people were hurt, weather was inclement - we were in snow and freezing rain - cars were wrecked. There was a 20-foot scaffolding that tipped over with three people on it, and we sent two of them to the hospital. It was a daily disaster.

Tribune: Was this a horror movie?

Haleston: No, but it should have been.

- Peter Korn