By MaryAnn Kromer
About two years ago, the television drama "Dallas" went into production as a continuation of the original series that ran from 1978-91. A few of the original stars, including Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman, returned to the show along with many new faces to portray the next generation of the Ewings and their rivals.
Andrew Weininger, a graduate of Mohawk High School, was hired as a production assistant for the show. Since then, he has been promoted to graphic designer for the show and plans to return this fall to work on 15 episodes for its third season on TNT.
During the summer filming break, Weininger is staying at his parents' home in McCutchenville.
"I love coming back to Tiffin because it's kind of slow-paced and relaxing. Working on the TV show of 'Dallas,' and working in the city of Dallas, it's very fast-paced," Weininger said.
He spoke about the origins of his interest in art and the paths he took to land on the "Dallas" crew. Weininger said he learned all he could from his art teachers at Mohawk, Mrs. Parker and Harry Melroy. After school, he would take his drawings to show to Melroy.
"I've always been a creative person. When I was in church, I was drawing on the bulletins, and when I was in school, I was drawing on my homework. I was always drawing. I loved art class. I always wanted to get into art, but I never knew what you could do with it," Weininger said.
He adopted a philosophy of working hard to "be better than the next guy" and started as a business major at Bluffton College. One day, a recruiter for Kaman's Art Shoppes set up a booth on campus. That company provides artists to do caricatures at Cedar Point in Sandusky.
Recalling "all those years of doodling," he decided to get more information and try out for a position with Kaman's. They hired him and offered him a job doing portraits; however, he was more interested in drawing caricatures at Cedar Point.
"It just looked more fun. The job paid well and helped me get through college. I met a handful of extremely talented artists. Some of the most fun times we had was when it would rain. The guests would flock to our booth because we had awnings overhead. We'd challenge the guests to games of Pictionary. ... We never lost," Weininger recalled.
The work also took him to parks in other locations. Weininger said he "put a lot of smiles on peoples' faces," but not all customers were pleased with their caricatures. The artist had his work torn up and tossed on the ground a few times. He also was slapped and showered with beer.
On the plus side, celebrities occasionally would turn up at the parks.
"Halle Berry had her caricature drawn at our booth. I remember her foot was in a cast, and she was as nice as could be. Jay Leno also filmed a skit for his show at our booth in San Diego. I met a handful of athletes such as Terry Bradshaw, and got to draw some of the royal family of Saudi Arabia. Their bodyguards where the most intimidating people I've ever met. All in all, it was a great job," Weininger said. "After working there a few summers I felt like I could draw just about anything in a matter of minutes or seconds. I didn't know it then, but that is one of the most valuable skill-sets I've ever learned."
After two years at Bluffton, Weininger transferred to Bowling Green State University as a fine arts major. He explored the many options of a career in art, became proficient on the computer and learned the business side of the field. His undergraduate degree was in computer animation.
Once he landed his first job, everything seemed to fall into place.
For about 10 years he was employed in industrial design with a company that created "retail environments" for companies such as J.C. Penny, Nike, Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Although Weininger enjoyed the work, he wanted to get into a more creative industry.
For awhile, he owned a photography business.
Then he decided to enroll in graduate school in film and video production at the University of Texas in Arlington. Weininger lived in Fort Worth, which is adjacent to Dallas in northern Texas. Driving down the highway, Weininger often saw people on horseback riding along the road.
The artist is not fond of the Texas heat, but he loves the barbecue and Mexican cuisine.
"Texas is an interesting place. I never know how to describe it to people," Weininger said. "It's cowboys and rodeo, barbecue and Wrangler jeans. It's its own unique place."
The graduate courses at UT plunged Weininger into film making. When representatives of "Dallas" approached the school looking for students to help out on the show, he interviewed. He didn't get the job initially, but about two weeks later, he was offered - and accepted - a production assistant position.
At first, there was some discussion about where to do the filming.
The original "Dallas" was filmed in Los Angeles, but head writer and executive producer Cynthia Cidre wanted to keep the show in Dallas and use local crew members. The art department for "Dallas" includes about 10 people, and Weininger was able to work his way up in the union-based system. Just this summer, he was accepted into the union.
"What you realize quickly is that there are many departments on a movie, and my department is the art department. We do everything from build the sets to decorating the sets. I help facilitate all of that," he said.
The production designer draws plans for the set construction department and a list of props that will be needed. Weininger said he often helps to find or make props. Every accurate detail makes the show more realistic and research is essential for determining those details.
As an example, Weininger said the set for a police station might require several wanted posters for the walls and art for the computer screens. Last summer, he worked on the set of the film, "Olympus Has Fallen." Although the story is set in Washington, D.C., it could not be filmed there.
"We had to recreate Washington, D.C., in Shreveport, La. We researched the White House thoroughly. We had blueprints of the White House ... and recreated the whole North Portico," Weininger said.
At the outset, Weininger was awed by being at Southfork Ranch with high-profile stars. Despite visions of actors who can be difficult to work with, Weininger found all of the "Dallas" cast to be friendly and down to earth, even bringing brownies for the crew on occasion.
During production, cast and crew typically work side by side for 12- to 14-hour days, five days a week.
"You eat on-set. They cater in all this food. I haven't been to a grocery store in about a year. It's not uncommon to sit down and eat and then Patrick Duffy will sit down right beside you. It just becomes the norm after awhile." Weininger said.
He said he found Linda Gray to be especially friendly.
Southfork Ranch has a gift center that attracts about 300,000 tourists every year, from all over the world. Weininger said one day he was standing in the shop with Gray in front of an over-sized portrait of her on the wall when a tourist group came in and saw her.
"They just flocked to her, and she was so nice and talked with them and signed autographs. These actors don't have to do that ... but ours seem to really enjoy that." Weininger said. "Hobnobbing with the actors is a lot of fun. When I first met Larry Hagman, I kept thinking 'Oh my God. This is Larry Hagman.'"
Weininger discovered Hagman was "very green," traveling in a solar-powered Airstream motor home. Inside, the actor had the lamp from his years on the comedy "I Dream of Jeannie." That role from earlier in his career was a stark contrast to his dramatic portrayal of oil magnate J.R. Ewing.
"I think it shows how good an actor he is because JR is such a ruthless, scheming, devious character, but I never saw a hint of that," Weininger said. "I actually got to spend a little bit of time with him before he passed away, and he was a really impressive character. He was very funny in real life and very kind, extremely personable."
Hagman died of myeloid leukemia Nov. 23, 2012, in Dallas. His character's demise had to be written into the show's script.
In an online interview, Cidre explained she was able to patch together footage and voice tracks from other episodes to orchestrate the events leading to the death of J.R.
Losing Hagman was a blow for fans and everyone connected with "Dallas," but Weininger said the cast and crew are hoping to continue the series as long as possible, in the tradition of its first run.
"I went to a memorial service they had for him in Dallas. His family members talked, and by the time they were done, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Obviously, Larry Hagman lived a full life. ... and he was obviously well-loved by his family. They told stories that were real tear-jerkers."
Early in the summer, Weininger and other crew members "rounded up a bunch" of the cast for a paintball party as a kind of "bon voyage" to the season.
"We all ... had a great time," Weininger said. "They're just normal people like everybody else. They like to go out and have fun. Their job just happens to be in front of the camera instead of behind it."