AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Big Wednesday
Director: John Milius (Dir)
Release Date:   26 May 1978
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 26 May 1978
Production Date:   11 Jul 1977--mid Sep 1977
Duration (in mins):   118
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Cast: Starring: Jan-Michael Vincent (Matt [Johnson])  
    William Katt (Jack [Barlow])  
  [and] Gary Busey (Leroy ["The Masochist" Smith])  
  Co-starring: Patti D'Arbanville (Sally)  
    Lee Purcell (Peggy Gordon)  
  And Sam Melville (Bear) as "Bear"
  Co-starring: Darrell Fetty ([Jim] Waxer [King]) as Waxer
    Robert Englund (Fly) as Fly
    Barbara Hale (Mrs. Barlow) as Mrs. Barlow
    Fran Ryan (Lucy) as Lucy
  [and] Reb Brown (Enforcer) as Enforcer
  Featuring: Pat Beckwith (Flea)  
    Jack Bernardi (Tailor)  
    Lorie Busk (Melissa [Johnson], 1973)  
    Gray Frederickson (Doctor)  
    Steve Kanaly (Sally's husband)  
    Frank McRae (Sergeant)  
    Mike Raden (Denny)  
    Clete Roberts    
  [and] Herb Voland    
    Gerry Lopez (Himself)  
    Hank Warden (Shopping Cart)  
    Joe Spinell (Psychologist)  
    Dennis Aaberg (Slick)  
    Keith Davis (Ostrich)  
    Johnny Fain (Breathman)  
    Rick Dano (Panhead)  
    Michael Talbott (Hog)  
    Geoff Parks (Crusher)  
    Ivar Arai (Boogie)  
    Titus Napoleon (Chubby)  
    Perry Lang (Tall kid)  
  Party girls: Kathy McCullen    
    Charlene Tilton    
    Terry Bolo    
  [and] Kevan Dignam    
    Arthur Rosenberg (Official)  
    Stephen Mendillo (Orderly)  
    Aesop Aquarian (Hippie)  
  Surfers: Guy Larry Finley    
    Richard O'Bryan    
    Todd Lookingland    
    Gary Boyle    
  [and] Sasha Jensen    
    Christopher Woods (Lifeguard)  
    Jimmy Bracken (Kid surfer)  
    Kevin Schultz (Surfer)  
    Stacey Keach Sr. (Old man)  
    Iris Korn (Old woman)  
    Ollie O'Toole (Minister)  
    Celia Kaye (Bride of the bear)  
    Brain Damage Vincent (Matt's dog)  

Summary: In the summer of 1962, best friends Matt Johnson, Jack Barlow and Leroy “The Masochist” Smith arrive at a California beach at dawn. Matt is so hungover he can barely stand up straight, but Jack and Leroy think a round of surfing will be the best cure for him. After convincing a local boy to loan Matt his surfboard, Jack and Leroy drag their friend into the ocean. Matt complains until a wave comes; he climbs onto the board and surfs with great ease. Local surfing aficionado, Bear, runs a surf shop on the pier. As he works on a surfboard, he talks to a couple of young boys about a rare ocean swell that happens ever twenty years called the “Great Swell.” The last event was during the 1950s, and he swears the waves swelled as high as twenty feet. Meanwhile, Matt, Jack and Leroy go to a local diner, where they meet Sally, a waitress who has just moved to the area from Chicago, Illinois. As Jack flirts, Matt and Leroy start a food fight, and the owner throws the boys out. After the diner closes, Sally accepts Jack’s invitation to attend a party at his house. Later, at the house party, Jack’s mother, Mrs. Barlow, patiently tolerates the noise, but she stays upstairs as uninvited guests start a fight and destroy the house. Some days later, Matt; his girlfriend, Peggy Gordon; Jack; Leroy and Sally drive to Tijuana, Mexico. Once they arrive, Peggy announces that she is pregnant with Matt’s baby and intends to keep the child. Later that evening, the friends go to a strip club. When a man insults Peggy, Matt punches him and a fight ensues; but the friends escape before the police arrive. When they return to California, they find out that the beach pier has been condemned. Bear is devastated as he is forced to close his surf shop. Three years later, Jack is a lifeguard at the same beach and has recently received his military draft notice for service in the Vietnam War. The friends aren’t as close as they used to be. Jack throws Matt off the beach when Matt causes a car accident, stumbling drunk into the road. Meanwhile, Bear has opened another thriving surf shop business nearby and prepares for his upcoming wedding. Depressed, Matt enters Bear’s shop, which has sponsored Matt in local surfing contests. Now, however, Matt wants to quit the sport. He does not like being famous, and believes he is nothing more than a worthless drunk. Bear refuses to accept the young man’s resignation and convinces him to continue. At the wedding, Bear invites Jack to drink with the old group of friends, hoping to mend Jack and Matt’s strained relationship. Reluctant at first, Jack eventually joins and the friends enjoy the wedding. Weeks later, Matt, Jack, Leroy and their friend, Jim “Waxer” King, go to their military induction physicals. In an attempt to avoid military service, Matt fakes being crippled, Leroy pretends to be insane, and Waxer feigns homosexuality. Jack, however, does not resist induction. Matt and Leroy successfully avoid the draft and only Jack and Waxer become soldiers. Jack enjoys one last day of surfing and time with his friends before a tearful send off. Now in 1968, Matt attends Waxer’s funeral and is disappointed that no one else from the surfing community is there. Still with Peggy, Matt now owns a pool cleaning service. He takes Peggy and their daughter, Melissa, to the premiere of a surfing documentary that features old footage of him and he is embarrassed when no one in the audience recognizes him. The family later greets Jack as he returns home from Vietnam. As Matt and Jack surf together, Jack learns that Leroy has become a professional surfer in Hawaii and that Bear has fallen on hard times. Jack also finds out that his old girlfriend, Sally, has married another man. Later, Leroy returns home to join Jack and Matt at the local cemetery. Honoring Waxer, they reminisce about old times, then go their separate ways. In 1974, the Great Swell that Bear predicted finally arrives. Matt attempts to contact his friends to invite them to surf the Great Swell and finds that Bear is now a homeless drunk living underneath the pier. Nevertheless, Bear is full of excitement about the event and gives Matt the old surfboard he used to surf the last Great Swell. The next morning, a large crowd gathers at the beach, even though local authorities discourage surfing in the dangerous waters. Famous surfers, such as Gerry Lopez, are in the water, trying their luck at the huge waves. Matt arrives with Bear’s surfboard and is pleasantly surprised to see Jack and Leroy. The three friends decide to surf together one last time. As the crowd looks on with respect and admiration, Matt suddenly falls off his board and Jack and Leroy rush to save him. When they pull Matt to safety, a younger surfer returns Matt’s board, and compliments him on his talent. The trio then admires Lopez, the new king of surfing. 

Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures (A Time Warner Entertainment Company)
  A-Team Productions  
Production Text: An A-Team Production
Distribution Company: Warner Bros., Inc. (Warner Communications, Inc.)
Director: John Milius (Dir)
  Terry Leonard (2d unit dir, Land)
  John G. Wilson (Unit prod mgr)
  Richard Hashimoto (Asst dir)
  Bill Scott (2d asst dir)
  Victor Hsu (2d asst dir)
  Don-Martin Nielsen (2nd asst dir trainee)
Producer: Buzz Feitshans (Prod)
  Alex Rose (Exec prod)
  Tamara Asseyev (Exec prod)
  Greg MacGillivray (Surfing seq prod)
Writer: John Milius (Wrt)
  Dennis Aaberg (Wrt)
Photography: Bruce Surtees (Dir of photog)
  George Greenough (Photog team, Spec water unit)
  Dan Merkel (Photog team, Spec water unit)
  Spyder Wills (Surfing photog consultant, Spec water unit)
  Roger Brown (Surfing photog consultant, Spec water unit)
  Bud Browne (Surfing photog consultant, Spec water unit)
  Garrett Graham (Cam op)
  Tom Del Ruth (Cam op)
  Brad May (Cam asst)
  Bob Stuard (Cam asst)
  Fred Feitshans (Cam asst)
  Ken Adams (Key grip)
  Chuck Holmes (Gaffer)
  Gemma LaMana (Still photog)
  Ed Morey, III (1st asst cam)
  David MacDonald (Best boy grip)
  Henry Polito (Dolly grip)
  Anthony Leger (Grip)
  Jack Kennedy (Best boy elec)
Art Direction: Charles Rosen (Prod des)
  Dean Mitzner (Art dir)
Film Editor: Robert L. Wolfe (Film ed)
  Tim O'Meara (Also ed)
  Carol Ann Jackson (Asst film ed)
  Arthur W. Forney (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: Ira Bates (Set dec)
  Eddie Aiona (Prop master)
  Harold Broner (Const coord)
  George L. Eckert (Set des)
  Paul DeSantis (Asst prop man)
  Herb Panzer (Leadman)
  Bob Lawless (Painter)
Costumes: Ann Lambert (Women's ward supv)
  Bill Milton, Jr. (Men's ward supv)
  Lynn Bernay (Cost supv)
  Mary Lou Reinbold (Cost)
  Joe Watts (Cost)
Music: Basil Poledouris (Orig mus)
  Gene Marks (Mus ed)
  Danny Wallin (Mus score mixer)
  Greig McRitchie (Orch)
  Keola Beamer (Slack key guitarist)
  Kapono Beamer (Slack key guitarist)
Sound: Joe Von Stroheim (Sd eff ed)
  Marvin I. Kosberg (Sd eff ed)
  Ross Taylor (Addl sd ed)
  Harlan Riggs (Sd mixer)
  Donald Wolfe (Dial ed)
  Jack Nigh (Mikeman)
  Tony Romero (Cableman)
Special Effects: Joe Unsinn (Spec eff)
  P. S. Ellenshaw (Matte artist)
  Rocklen/Metter Productions (Main title des by)
  Pacific Title (Opt by)
Make Up: Jack Young (Makeup artist)
  Bette Iverson (Hairstylist)
  Marlene Williams (Hairstylist)
Production Misc: Fred Hemmings (Water unit liason, Spec water unit)
  John Severson (Spec thanks and appreciation to, Spec water unit)
  Karen Rea Grossmann (Casting)
  Paul Pav (Loc by)
  Marsha Ross (Loc by)
  Tim Hill (Transportation coord)
  Judy Redlin (Scr supv)
  Elly Mitchell (Prod secy)
  Mary Ellen Trainor (Asst to prod)
  Carolyne McCoy Fetty (Secy to dir)
  Greg Hyman (Office asst)
  Lynn Aber (Scr supv)
  Tom Battoe (Transportation capt)
  Frank Olmstead (Driver)
  Dean Quisenberry (Driver)
  Jim Barbarino (Driver)
  Jeff Renfrow (Driver)
  Paul Pav (Loc mgr)
  Don Mink (Auditor)
  Katherine Orloff (Pub coord)
Stand In: Ian Cairns (Surfing master, Spec water unit)
  Peter Townend (Surfing master, Spec water unit)
  Bill Hamilton (Surfing master, Spec water unit)
  Gerry Lopez (Surfing master, Spec water unit)
  J. Riddle (Surfing master, Spec water unit)
  Jackie Dunn (Surfing master, Spec water unit)
  Bruce Raymond (Wipeouts, Spec water unit)
  Terry Leonard (Stunt coord)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Three Friends Theme," music by Basil Poledouris, lyrics and vocals by Keola & Kapono Beamer.
Composer: Kapono Beamer
  Keola Beamer
  Basil Poledouris
Source Text:

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Warner Brothers, Inc. 22/2/1979 dd/mm/yyyy PA29560

PCA NO: 25256
Physical Properties: Sd: Dolby® Stereo
  Lenses/Prints: Filmed in Panavision®; Prints by Metrocolor®

Genre: Drama
Subjects (Major): Alcoholism
  Military service, Compulsory
  Surfers and surfing
  Tidal waves
Subjects (Minor): 4-F
  Automobile accidents
  Death and dying
  Diners (Restaurants)
  Draft dodgers
  Fathers and daughters
  Food fights
  Generation gap
  Hysteria (Social psychology)
  Mental illness
  Motion pictures, Documentary
  Pacific Ocean
  Strip clubs
  Striptease dancers and dancing
  Tijuana (Mexico)
  Vietnam War veterans

Note: The written statement, “The South Swell, summer 1962”, appears before the film’s title in the opening credits.
       The film’s end credits include the following statements: “Pipeline Surfing Courtesy of Five Summer Stories by MacGillivray-Freeman Films” and “Production Services and Equipment Provided by The Burbank Studios, Burbank, California.”
       Big Wednesday was the first project of A Team Productions, a company formed by John Milius and Buzz Feitshans according to a 7 Aug 1977 LAT article. The budget was set at $6 million with a shooting schedule of sixty-five days.
       The screenplay, co-written by Milius, was based loosely on his personal experiences growing up as a surfer in California. Milius originally planned to play the role of “Bear” in the film but the part ultimately went to Sam Melville. Milius opted instead to play Melville’s body double in Bear's surfing sequences.
       The film began principal photography on 11 Jul 1977 in El Paso, TX according to a 22 Aug 1977 Box news item. The majority of the film was shot on location in Southern California and at The Burbank Studios, as stated in a 27 May 1977 DV article.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   22 Aug 1977.   
Daily Variety   31 Mar 1977.   
Daily Variety   4 Apr 1977.   
Daily Variety   27 May 1977.   
Daily Variety   15 Jun 1977.   
Daily Variety   3 Aug 1977.   
Daily Variety   5 Aug 1977.   
Daily Variety   23 May 1978.   
Daily Variety   18 Jun 1996.   
Hollywood Reporter   11 Apr 1977.   
Hollywood Reporter   7 Jul 1977.   
Hollywood Reporter   12 Jul 1977.   
Hollywood Reporter   13 Sep 1977.   
Hollywood Reporter   24 May 1978   p. 3.
Los Angeles Times   7 Aug 1977.   
Los Angeles Times   26 May 1978   Pt. IV. p. 20.
New York Times   28 Jul 1978   p. 14.
Variety   12 Aug 1977.   
Variety   24 May 1978   p. 40.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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