Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Speedboat - Part 1 - They Really Did Want to Direct

"Lots of people want to have written; they don't like to write. In other words, they want to see their name on the front cover of a book and their grinning picture on the back. But this is what comes at the end of the job, not at the beginning."
-Elizabeth George

Hello again.

Yes, it's been too many months, and another break from my obligation to this blog, which is, of course, an obligation to not only my followers (however many -  or few - they are) but also to myself, to my stated purpose at the beginning of this blog to not only offer some cool war stories and maybe some good advice, but also to make sense of a crazy career and answer the question, "Why do we do this?"

What does it say that this difficulty came in telling this story of Speedboat, which represented a new beginning for me with wonderful new people, as noted in Rebooting Again - Always Beginner's Mind?

One of the things that had soured me on the business before this project were the number of directors I had met who remind me of the quote above, itself a variation of a quote that has been attributed to many from Dorothy Parker to George R.R. Martin and others. (An interesting discussion of its origin can be found in this Quote Investigator article).

Like the picture above, many want to have directed, but don't want to truly do the hard work required to direct. How many directors have I met who could not take the time to do some sort of shot list or storyboard, to show up on set with ideas but no plan. How many wrote scripts with elements that went beyond the means of the project, and never bothered to figure out how that compromise was going to be accomplished?

Making a movie, especially an independent movie, requires a director to put in a lot of hard work, and to take with it their share of humility. Yes, humility.

Nothing gets handed to the independent director. First, they have to ask for money. Then, they need favors from friends - everything from locations to equipment.

Then, the humility to ask professionals to bring their own creativity and skill to the project, often for a fraction of the rate their services would bring elsewhere.

This element of what Paul and Dan did has served as an example for me to offer other filmmakers looking to do their own projects.

The writing ended about a year before we started shooting, and the script had challenges. Some of it took place in a run-down motel, which became harder to find than we thought, but a good deal took place on a boat that would run along the Gowanus Canal, and a driver to drive that boat, since it was unlikely that our lead actor would be able to do so. There were also scenes in a divey bar.

Just as they finished the script, Paul and Dan spent time in a seaman's bar at the end of Atlantic Avenue called Monteros, and with it's generous owner, Pepe (Montero). Pepe and his family are part of the history of the Brooklyn waterfront, and he shares some of those experiences in an article here.

Some of you will remember the reference because Pepe opened his place as a holding area to us on our Indonesian film, which is where our journey on that film ended.

It was a beginning for Paul and Dan, not only talking to Pepe, the owner, and his lovely wife Linda, but to the week day bartender with many stories, and the regulars, many of whom have their own (unofficial stools). Like any perfect divey bar, many of those regulars were daytime customers, and though there were a lot fewer boat drivers coming in, there were a few, and Paul and Dan worked out an excellent deal with a guy who regularly ran his boat on the Gowanus.

Along the way many of the stories they heard made there way ever so slightly in the script, and one or two of the regulars made it into the movie. Paul and Dan found themselves taking time not and day to spend time with these people.

The reason people opened up to them was that they were about more than just what they could "get" out of the place. Many of the stories of hard times they shared did nothing for the movie, but they listened because they cared.

Let me repeat. They listened because they cared.

People can tell the difference between listening just long enough to see what you can get out of them, and actually caring. The harder the times are for people, the more sensitive their BS barometer tend to be.

The same would hold true for another location they found, a diner that had recently been shut down due to code violations in the kitchen. The older couple lived upstairs, and without the place open, had little income. Paul and Dan talked to them and while they got a good deal, they did not use them, paying them a fair price (but less than we would have paid elsewhere).

In a side note, the couple enjoyed the experience and as thank you I got the word out to some scouts, and soon, they had bigger companies paying more money to shoot there.

The directors did the hard work, and they did it while respecting the people they dealt with along the way, and it brought them better places than they would have found elsewhere, and for a better price and with more genuine cooperation.

That did not help them with one location - a seedy motel. That one involved some script flexibility and a little luck.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Little Crazy Greek TV Show

"My cousins have two volumes. Loud and louder."
-Toula, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 

"You obviously never worked with Greeks before"

Those words of advice came from our sound recordist, who was named Boom (I never did learn his real name - it's all anyone called him). Here were the circumstances.

I was hired to come on as production manager for a Greek television show that aired on a Greek-language network in New York City. The office was in Astoria, off 31st Street in Queens, which is probably the heart of the Greek-American community in New York.

Everyone in the neighborhood watched the show, from the hair salons to the bakeries to the diners, which I know is a stereotype but it's true. Years of doing independent projects on modest budgets has taught me that if you have limited financial resources, one way to get in-kind contributions such as locations, etc. is to reach out to communities that will relate to your material.  This show did that very well.

The show was something of a young soap opera of sorts following Greek-Americans in New York. The businesses in the Astoria neighborhood were our regular locations, and they not only provided backdrops but help in areas like catering and crafty.

The crew was small and nimble. There was Boom (who did sound) and a director, and two assistant directors (who sometimes directed, especially if one of them was in the scene), and a few tech people who did multiple jobs. When I came on, there was maybe one PA.

Much like the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, this was a family affair. Two of the actors and crew were brothers. Dad was the executive producer, and technically, he was the boss. When I say 'technically', I remember this quote from My Big Fat Greek Wedding after Toula complains that Dad is so stubborn and quotes him saying "Ah, the man is the head of the house!" Mom replies :
"Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants."
Argy was Mom, not just to her two sons in the cast, but to all of us. I loved her, and still do. Mom was not to be messed with, but underneath, she looked out for everything. She took a personal interest not only in how work was going, but how you were doing.

She also kept a close eye on budget, and she would ask me some questions on costs that were smarter than producers with degrees.

I was hired by producer/director Leon.  The show had been shooting for a while. As they had gotten along without a production manager, I wondered why they needed one. Leon explained that there needed to be more discipline, more order. We talked about various things that could be improved, one of which was call times.

It was during this meeting that I met Deena, who was one of the ADs. Deena was happy to have someone else be part of organizing.

There was a van that would take folks to the locations from the office every day. Leon and Deena informed me that people would often show up late, and that would get the entire day off on the wrong foot. The van would leave from the office, and often people would arrive at call time, when the van should be leaving, and then stop to get their coffee, chat, use the restroom, etc.

I had an easy solution. Institute a policy that coffee and breakfast would be available 30 minutes prior to call time. If people wanted to get breakfast, get there early. Of course, this is standard on any film set.

Furthermore, the van would leave EXACTLY at call time, and anyone who missed the van would be sent home and not paid (or responsible for getting to location on their own dime, if they were essential). Those who did the latter would be docked part of the day.

Leon liked the plan. Deena loved the plan. I assured Leon I would have no problem enforcing this plan. We left his office and announced this to the crew. No one protested. A good start!

The next morning, I got to the office about an hour early. It was locked. I waited until about 30 minutes before call time, when breakfast was meant to start, when someone with keys showed up. I was mildly upset that breakfast would be a little late. What would happen if people showed up on time for breakfast and it was not ready?

That wasn't a problem. The only crew person there was Deena, who helped me set up breakfast.

We waited. And we waited. And we waited.

About five to ten minutes before call time, a few people trickled in. Those people seemed to take their time getting their breakfast, chatting and using the rest room.

But, at least they were there. I was keeping close tabs on who was not there as of yet. I was going to make examples of them. They would be left behind.

Call time came and went. More crew trickled in. They casually got their breakfast. I kept reminding them that as soon as the van arrived, we better be ready to leave. I got a lot of knowing looks from the crew. Clearly, there was a problem with my plan. The van wasn't there yet.

Who was driving the van, I asked? There would be hell to pay!

Um, it was Leon.  The producer who had hired me to bring order to the crew. Turns out he overslept. He and the van didn't arrive until almost a half hour late. While other crew people had arrived late, they were still there before the van. What could I say?

Boom could see my frustration. That was when he said to me, "You never worked with Greeks before. Relax. This is what it's like."

He offered a smile and a pat on the back and then he got into the van.

Over the next few weeks, I got to understand some realities of working with this crew, the ups and the downs.

The ups.

They were very efficient for a small crew.  In part, this was because there was a film school mentality in many ways, and everyone did everything. The director for the day wasn't afraid to carry gear and everyone chipped in. They also were very good technicians. I would wind up bringing more than a few of them onto other shoots. In addition to being good, they were very hard workers. A very good combination.

They also had shooting on subways down pat.

In order to get a permit to film on the subway in NYC you need $2M per occurrence. Most indie insurance packages are $1M per occurrence, and the added cost is significant. As a result, many indie films will "steal" subway shots, shooting without a permit. Doing so requires organization and smarts, and if this crew was not traditionally organized at other times, on the subway, they were like a Navy SEAL team.

The downs.

Disputes, which would happen multiple times a day, seemed to be resolved by volume, as the quote above suggests. The loudest voice would often prevail, and, thankfully, that would often be Deena. As stated elsewhere, I usually disliked having my ADs be yellers, but, well, this was an exception.

I loved Deena, because I actually got to be good cop most of the time. Plus, I didn't have the appropriate Greek slang to win an argument.

I've worked on a lot of mob movies, and growing up Italian-American, I knew Italian slang. I'm not talking about Italian-American slang ('fuhgetaboutit', 'he's a mook', etc). Every culture has their slang that does not translate literally, but are better at expressing the full spectrum of an insult.

On this shoot, a phrase I quickly picked up on was "malaka." Many cultures, especially Mediterranean ones, reserve their most expressive slang insults for "crazy" or "idiot." Malaka  seemed to align more specifically with the British expression 'wanker,' as both refer to someone 'soft in the head' from self-pleasuring.

Deena also had an expression that was pure - Deena. She had little patience for, well, bullshit, and she would often express her displeasure by starting a sentence with, "I'm not going to lie to you." I came to love that expression because I knew straight up truth was coming.

I wasn't the only one who got along great with Deena. I brought that PA from the bad shoot, G, onto the job. I wanted someone to work as 2nd AD and give Deena some back-up. The two of them became fast friends, and they were a team that would work together on a lot of my other projects. G was much more proper than Deena, and while that made them something of an odd couple, G being Felix to Deena's Oscar, they were a really good team.

My little Greek TV show. It was wild, It was crazy. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Rebooting Again - Always Beginner's Mind

"What we call 'I' is a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale." *
-Shunryo Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

My Dad, who was not a Zen master but a pretty astute observer of human nature, used to say, "When one door closes, another one opens." I think he and Suzuki Roshi would have gotten along just fine.

There was a post named "Beginner's Mind, Beginning Again - Or the Great Reboot" from January 2012. In that post, I discussed how I started again after recovering from my operation. It was really when I focused my work on film more than theater, though I never really abandoned theater.

If you stick with this business long enough, you will find yourself "rebooting" a number of times. I think of this time as significant because I met a number of people who became part of my team for a while, and we did a lot of good work together.

As those who follow this blog are aware, there have been a number of times where I questioned whether this was really what I should be doing.

By 2008, I was not sure if I was done with this business, or if it was done with me. More and more, I was seeing people with less experience get positions for which I knew I was qualified.

Despair set in, not only because of what I was going through, but what the people who were important to me were going through. My good friend JR was dead some time at this point. Most of that crew had either moved up in the business or moved on to other businesses.

The filmmakers I had the closest association with had made their movies, and like the movie JR, Jack and I had made, they had received little attention and the barest of distribution.

The few projects I was working were, well, less than inspiring. One was a student thesis project that was very ill conceived (let's just leave it at that). A second was a Greek TV show which was, well, if you imagine the characters from My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a production team, you get the picture.

While neither of these projects seemed of any note, they brought me two of the people who would become a regular part of my team. It's why I always tell people that, however bad or crazy the project, do the best job that you can, and keep your eyes peeled for the good ones to bring on another project.

So it was that I was contacted by two brothers who were doing a short I'll call Speedboat**. It was a clever story of a rather inept small time hood who gets has stolen bribe money and is being chased by two killers when he thinks he finds the perfect out - a boat driver along the Gowanus river who looks like him can take the rap.

The two brothers, Paul and Dan, admitted after they hired me that when they saw my extensive resume, they thought about not contacting me because, given my extensive resume, they thought I wouldn't take it. Ha! I had actually heard that before.

When we started looking for a First AD, I saw a resume from a woman who clearly had been around as long as I had. The brothers admitted they had thought about her for my job, but that, again, thought she would say 'no'.

Her work went back a long way in LA, and she has done a lot of television back to 1980s shows I remembered. Wow.

I knew firsthand that if she sent a resume, she was looking for work. I brought her in - we'll call her "W" - and she and I immediately knew we had something in common. She was a short, stout chain-smoker, who seemed straight out of central casting as a gun moll. When she was trying to encourage the director to move along after a particular take, she would use expressions like "Moving on. You don't want to put your foot through a Rembrant!"

I loved her. I knew she would be perfect.

It was in interviewing for PAs on the shoot that I found a few amazing future crew people, as well as one I brought along from two previous oddball films.

One, named G (She used this as short for her actual name) I had found on the otherwise forgettable student short where I was hired to AD. When I got to the van, and we had all introduced each other, and I found that there was only ONE PA, G, and she didn't drive. Once on set, however, I realized she was bright and hard-working.

From the Greek TV show, I met Deena, who was that show's AD. While I usually do not like ADs who are yellers, on this shoot, everyone yelled, so there was definitely an advantage to yell the loudest, which she did. In fact, she would scare the director more than I could, and there was something to be said for that. Lovely and talented enough to be an actress, I knew Deena had a future in production.

Then there would be the other PA positions.

Em was bright and hard-working, with a "can-do" approach to everything. As good as she was with me across many projects, I appreciated her skills the most when I threw her in the deep end of the pool PMing for the first time on a feature that was quite difficult. She shined.

I always had one personal assistant. One resume got my attention because of her background as a stage manager. Everything about her resume screamed organization. We met at a Starbucks, and she was every bit as smart as I assumed she was. Her name was Maura - I use it because I mentioned her already in the Don't Shoot post - and she was an organizing whiz, with just the right amount of irreverence to speak up if she didn't agree.

As she was leaving, she said, "By the way, I can be a bit A.D.D., so you better keep me busy or I get really bored." I came to learn she wasn't kidding. She would finish any task in no more than half the time you thought it would take her and be back asking for more to do. She also turned out to be a math whiz with a love for Sudoku and Excel.

One of the other PAs was Dion. Sorry, D, there was really not another short version of your name that wasn't "D" and I know there would be other folks with names starting with "D."

D was a born organizer, and over shoots to come, he would quickly move from PA to Key PA to 2nd AD. First AD? More on that, later.

These folks would all be involved in the next chapter of my career. I will have more on Speedboat, but before that, I should tell you just a little about that Greek TV show.

Next post. Then, I'll get back to Speedboat.

* The painting is from the rather iconic Zen Ten Ox-Herding Pictures. They are meant to represent the stages of awareness through a man who "loses" an Ox, chases him, finds him, only to realize he is back where he began, but with more awareness. This is a terribly shortened version of the meaning of the story as it reflects Zen practice. These good folks explain it better.

** As these stories are closer to my current place, and most friends know these folks, I do my best to not always use their names or names of the projects. It's not because I have anything negative to say of them, but the process of production is bumpy, and I figure these folks don't deserve to have those bumps shared. With Maura and Dion, well, most of the bumps are humorous, and using pseudonyms wouldn't do much to protect their identities for those who know them anyway.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Back from "Vacation" Soon....

First, sorry for having resorted to a meme, and one with a cat no less. Is there anything easier than a meme or using a cat to portray an attitude?

Please forgive. Baby steps here.

I realize it's been almost two months since I have posted, and I haven't gone that long since I started the blog.

Shorter hiatuses in the past have usually been due to work, and, although I've had work over this period (some of which I will share), I really can't blame it on that this time.

Some hiatuses have come due to dry spells. I've said before during these gaps that I'm more committed to keeping the quality of the posts than just churning one out every week (or so). As with most writers, I'm my worst critic. For every post you see there are tons of (figurative) pages crumbled up and sitting near the waste basket, and even those that make it go through a lot of red-lining.

Oddly, when this gap started, it was almost because there was too much.  I had a pet peeve post, which was meant to be the first in a series. Then, there was a post on a short film I was producer on recently with an long-time DP friend and lots of students.

Then, there was the desire to start posts on my 2nd "reboot" in 2009 when I taught for a while at NYFA, and where I met a young crew that would go from PAs I helped train to the best crop of young production people I had met in a long time. I have referred to them here before as "my kids" (a reference they universally despise - but hey). I met them, as well as a handful of great NYFA students who went on to move me from that guy in the posts up to that time to the guy I am now.

These came after another sort of hiatus - one that was a combination of a series of disappointments with the jobs I was doing and trying to get my aging mother past the early stages of dementia before finally realizing it was too much for me to do alone.

In the time since I started this gap in my posts until now, working on a short with a lot of students seems to be a perfect place to start talking about this stage of my career, which continues today.

I was brought back, again, to the first book on Zen that influenced me (I can't say it was the first book on the subject) called Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. In fact, we are always beginners in some way and always students, and always learning. I like the confluence of the two.

The posts should come more quickly now, as I have drafts of the first few and know where I want to go with them.

As with my other "I'm coming back" posts, I'l refrain from editing this one, lest I get tempted to over-think it.

It's just a bookmark post, after all.

New posts soon!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Don't Shoot! - What If they Prepped a Web Series...

"Whenever a thing is done for the first time, it releases a little demon"
Emily Dickinson

They say that every time you go to a baseball game, you might see something you've never seen before. I thought it was just a saying, but just recently, Bartolo Colon became the first baseball pitcher to hit his first home run at the age of forty-two.

Forty-two is old for baseball, and working in a young person's business, I sometimes feel old for production. However, I, too, had something happen to me for the first time recently.

I never understand how people in this industry, especially on the production side, get pigeon-holed. You work in television a lot, you are not a film person. You do a lot of indie films, you are not a television guy. You do scripted, you aren't a reality person.

When I was doing a ton of indie films in the late 90s through mid 2000s, I rarely got called for commercials or music videos, Others, who did them all the time, rarely got called for film.

One of the best production managers I ever hired on an indie feature had just come off winning an Oscar - yes, that Oscar - for her documentary, yet still felt she had to prove herself in the indie film world.

So it was that I was pleasantly surprised when I got hired a bit ago to production manage/production supervise,/produce (each title was used for those of us in this position at one time or another) a five minute web-series episode for a commercial company. It was one of a number of episodes being shot as part of a series.

Now, I am going to be especially vague here about some of the specifics, not only because of the legality of having signed a very detailed NDA but also out of respect for a lot of talented and smart people that were part of the process.

The original plan was for me to prep ten days, shoot two days, and wrap three days. Without getting into the subject matter, the client saw the lead as a snarky spokesperson, such as a William Shatner or Alec Baldwin.

The problem was that their budget for the role did not hold out much hope for getting such a person, and they did not want to go SAG originally, which made it even less likely.

Here is where it gets weird.

I never met the client, but I can tell you that everyone at the production company were smart, experienced people, from the show runner to the overall line producer for all the episodes to the director they hired.

I have a number of years under my belt, and every person in my position for the other scripted episodes did as well.

The director was disappointed with the first round of casting, so we went out and hired another casting director to try again, this time after working with SAG.

Along the way, we worked to secure a location. An AD was hired, as was a DP and a gaffer (Adam, from my previous projects). A production designer and a stylist were already on-board. A location scout and a tech scout happened.

The location manager helped secure a location initially, but we lost it when we pushed back the first time (does this sound familiar?). We simultaneously worked to get a new location while we held new auditions, which yielded good choices for the spokesperson and the supporting young person role. As a matter of fact, one of the folks who was an option for the spokesperson was none other that one of he leads on Keep My Brother.

Meanwhile, I was ably assisted by Maura, someone you will learn much more about in subsequent posts. Maura was one of a small group that I lovingly call "my kids" because they worked a short film with me about nine years ago, when I was coming back to the business after a short hiatus, and who worked with me on a number of projects right after that. More on them later.

Maura was my coordinator, and I needed her, as she has been working in television, which, compared to my indie film world, has an insane amount of paperwork. Don't get me wrong. We have a good deal of paperwork on a film, but the duplication and, in my opinion, unnecessarily cumbersome minutia causes us to spend more time on paperwork than is needed.

But, I guess, having to answer to a client as well as keep their own records, maybe it is inevitable. Having Maura, who is a whiz at this stuff, as well as a great foil for me to brainstorm with, was essential.

I've always liked to have people who are not afraid to disagree with me in my corner, and Maura (and Leigh on Terjebak) certainly fit the bill; bright capable people who will challenge me and keep me on my toes.

With all these smart people, the shoot must have went great, right?

Well, in one sense, it went flawlessly; not a single mistake. That is, of course, if you don't take into account that we never shot it.

Commercial and television shoots get pushed back all the time, but as it has been weeks since the hiatus, I suspect these may not happen. Mind you, this is not just my shoot, but some of the other scripted shoots as well.

From what I can tell - and I did not get to sit in on the high-powered meetings (thankfully), the issue was finding a way to make sure the client was happy with the final product, and getting their approval.

Now, in the indie film world, we have many people involved in the process, but the producer can usually be the last word, often in concert with the director, who is also often a producer. Once the investors sign off on the project, it is in the producer and director's hands, and any decent investment contract makes it clear that investors, after having done their due diligence, now have to trust the one or two decision makers.

Not so in the world of clients, or, for that matter, in television as a whole, where there is often network approval in mind.

The difference was once highlighted in a John Sayles' story I have told here before. Sayles' first paid project was Roger Corman's Piranha, a silly movie basically that served to have voluptuous women run around in skimpy outfits being chased by flesh eaters.

Sayles later wrote the prestigious Eight Men Out for the studios, the true story of the Chicago White Sox betting scandal  that changed baseball.

Sayles tells of the rewrite process on Eight Men Out, where he would be ushered into a room of people with suits who knew little about writing who would give him textbook feedback that made little sense to him.

By comparison, Corman's notes were more simple (and I'm paraphrasing from memory).

'You have the monsters attack on page 30, and then again on page 34. Why don't you have the girl nude on page 34 and have the monsters attack again on page 38,' Corman suggested.

"That," Sayles said, "I could do."

It may not always result in great art, but having one person making final decisions is certainly more effective.

Whether it eventually happens or not, the difficulty in getting everyone to sign off on the final product will mean a whole lot of somebody's money was wasted. Coming from the indie film world, where every penny matters, it still hurts me to see money wasted like this.

I have worked on films that producers abandoned after a director proved unprepared or a producer and director were at odds, or even other reasons. Those were all odd, but never have I spent this much time prepping and wrapping a shoot that never happened.

In the end, I spent three weeks, and Maura spent two weeks, doing prep and wrap work for a two day shoot that never happened. If we come back we will need another ten days prep, and it will only be a one day shoot.

Much as other pitchers had hit home runs before Big Sexy (a nickname Mets' Pitcher Noah Syndergaard has for Bartolo that has stuck), other people had prepped and wrapped television projects that never shot.

But, at 58, it is a first time for me, and the time spent on a project seems to me even longer than Bartolo's seemingly slow-mo trek around the bases.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Indonesian Job - Day 6 of 6 - And in the end...

"The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together; our virtues would be proud, if our faults whipped them not; and our crimes would despair, if they were not cherished by our virtues."
-William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well

To paraphrase old friend and respected writer/director Ray DeFellita, things that start crazy end crazy. Our last day on Terjebak Nostalgia reflected the pattern from the day I came onto the job - turmoil throughout but ultimate success.

It started at the Carousel in Central Park (sorry, refuse to promote the man who stuck his name on it). It was the worst combination of Interior and Exterior - covered, so it needs to be lit, but not covered to the extent that it is protected from weather.

Aliki was a hero, putting together the permit for the the Carousel and Bow Bridge, made famous by numerous movies.  This was maybe our best result at delivering iconic locations that all viewers in the Indonesian market would recognize, outside of Times Square. It is a permit that would normally have taken much longer to secure; Aliki secured it within days of shooting and it finally came in the day before we filmed.

We were not able to secure parking as close as we would have liked, and we had never tech scouted it, as it was not on original list of places to shoot. As such, G&E had to scramble to do the lighting, and they did a great job.

Once done with the park, we still had a company move, our first. It was a little bumpy, but we eventually arrived at the foot of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, where we had holding at a bar I had filmed a short in, Montero's Bar and Grill. It's a fascinating place, and I've known the owner for years, but unfortunately, it was just used for holding.

This area of Brooklyn provided the closest access to the 'Dumbo' that Rako really wanted, that sense of old New York. Our tiny but brilliant art department hastily put up a flea market on the street, but we still had more to film, including Scene 108 - the Magic Hour scene to end the film.

Before we ever got to this scene, one of our actors became sick with a balance disorder similar to vertigo. He was taken to the hospital but fortunately wound up being ok.

Complicating matters was the fact that two of our actors had a flight home that night. It was a Friday night, which meant traffic would be a mess, so I asked that the actors be allowed to leave be a certain time, that still would allow us to film at sunset. Word back from Rako, the director, was that yes, he would move the Magic Hour shot a little early.

What wasn't communicated was that he then still planned on another scene, and clearly did not feel bound to finish and get those actors out when I wanted them out, albeit for their own good. I feared actors stranded on a Friday night in New York without another flight out until the next day.

Now, the day grew late and, to be honest, I grew unnecessarily testy with Leigh, who I had asked to work with Rako to make sure he understood they needed to be out, and Rini, who was of course the liaison to the team. Both, to their credit, responded well. I ordered a car service, only to have it sit around for some time. Then, when I sent the car to where I thought they were, they were, in fact, somewhere else, and still had to come back to the bar for holding.

Meanwhile, some of the drama of the scene - for the Indonesian creative team and actors- was whether the actor in the scene would or would not wind up kissing Raisa. Rako gave him the opportunity to let it happen naturally. Did he kiss her or not? You'll have to wait for the movie!

Finally, we did get the actors into the car, and they did make the plane on time.

At 6:23 PM, we were officially camera wrapped.


For maybe the first and only time in the many years I have worked with Brian, I hugged him when he got back to holding. Along with Leigh and Rini at the site, and Aliki back at the office, they had helped pull off something that, if you had described it to me beforehand, I would have said could not be done.

We were fortunate that we ended the shoot at a bar, and it was the only time we were able to sit and celebrate and drink with the Reza and Rako, as they left late the next day. We bought each other drinks, and Peppy, the owner, was happy to oblige us (And make a couple of hundred more). Crew that wanted to could order drinks on us, and so an impromptu wrap party happened, at least for a little bit.

Many of you have noticed that it took some time for me to finish this series, and also that I have offered it in a fractured time line, starting by telling you it was a success and then going into detail.

Part of the time it took me to finish this series was being interrupted by a number of projects. However, it was also the case that I kept examining the experience and trying to make sense of, as a Zen master would say, 'looking the other side of it.'

The Shakespeare quote above is one of a few in All's Well That Ends Well that deals with the basic truth of life, that good and bad are relative, and we would not know one without the other.

In the middle of this project, I was constantly stressed, constantly trying to figure out how it was all going to turn out for the best, and often I could not see it. It was, however, exactly that difficulty that made our success all the more fulfilling.

Another expression of what Shakespeare wrote above can be found in the Buddhist liturgy, Identity of Relative and Absolute *:

"Within light there is darkness, but do not try to understand that darkness. Within darkness there is light, but do not look for that light. 
Light and darkness are a pair, like the foot before and the foot behind in walking. Each thing has its own intrinsic value, and is related to everything else in function and position."
Working in film, we all have our war stories. We love our war stories, and they are fun and entertaining and help us to maybe get a little laugh at what seems like the end of the world at the time.

One thing I always remind directors is that, at the screening, when they get to see their work projected, all the war stories don't matter. There is always difficulty. There will always be slights and bumps along the way.

I hope this series, if you follow it from the beginning, can inspire you at those moments on a shoot when it seems the whole world is falling down around you, and for producers, it can feel like that often.

To (again) share one of my favorite Hitchcock quotes, "A child has not died." Remember if things are difficult for you, they're difficult for the guy or gal next to you as well. Work not just with mindfulness but compassion, and don't be afraid to say "I'm sorry" if a moment overwhelms you and you are less than compassionate.

Surround yourself with good people, who are not only talented but who want to be that fox hole with you and who care about their work. I was blessed on this shoot with the best, not just my immediate production team, who I've praised endlessly, but the entire crew, and some great vendors (some of whom I've listed below).

One thing I've learned over the years is as a producer, especially on low budget project, don't be afraid to treat your crew, especially department heads, as partners. If you have chosen your people well, they care about the final project as well. No one person has all the answers, and while, as producer, you must make the final decision, input from others is essential.

While much of this blog is recounting productions from the past, this series, if you follow from the first post, The Inspirational Email,  on September 4, 2015, is a good account of both being in the fire and observing the fire after it has been extinguished.

Now, we can move on.

* There are many translations.

Some of our wonderful vendors - Thanks

Catering By Shawnee (

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Indonesian Job - Days 4 and 5 - Parks and Recreation

"Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Bingo, Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently, and have a thing for slip-on shoes. Gotta love 'em"
-Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), Up in the Air

After the disappointment with not getting the Magic Hour shot on Day 3, we moved to other challenges wanting to make sure we came through and Day 4 was definitely a challenge - MacArthur Airport.

As mentioned in an earlier article, NSA guidelines make filming difficult at airports, although the security arrangements are understandable.

Here was the warning that went out with the call sheet:

The location is extremely sensitive, please read all of the following:
  • When we arrive at the airport we will meet at the Cell Phone Parking Lot for breakfast.  All vehicles must land by 7:30am.
  • No one will be allowed past the airport security without an escort. 
  • Once you go past security, you must have an escort at you at all times.  if you violate this TSA may result in an $11,000 fine. This means if you need to go to the bathroom/if you want to get a coffee, or even if you want to go to HOLDING - ask LEIGH first. 
  • Here is a list of things you can not bring on your person through security:
  • All equipment vehicles will be escorted to a cargo entrance with a driver.  Once vehicles are emptied they must return to the parking lot, and the driver must go through TSA security.  
  • Lastly, we will have a working lunch as our time in the airport is limited.  All crew will be compensated $25.

The working lunch was because we had a good deal to shoot and not much time to shoot it.. Because of travel time each way, our actual shooting time was going to be less than eight hours. The last item above was negotiated with crew. In effect, it was a meal penalty so we did not do a full lunch break but the crew was paid for making lunch a working meal. The fact that we had a great crew willing to work with us made all the difference in the world.

The heroes of the day were Leigh, whose preparation for a difficult location made it happen, and Rako, the Indonesian director, who made adjustments on the fly to get everything done. There were originally six scenes scheduled. Rako cut two but added one, and we got home with everyone satisfied and no overtime. Kudos to the Grip and Electric team as well, who worked under those restrictions down two crew members.


Day 5 was, by our standards, relatively uneventful. Most directors have heard my joke about the perfect scene to shoot for a line producer - two people on a park bench, day exterior. While we had more than two people, on more than one park bench and seven scenes and over seven pages, all the scenes were in a park, exterior day.

Day successfully completed, with the exception that we had to recast one of the small roles because Rako was not happy with the casting.

All that was left was Day 6 - our last day - with a company move, actors who needed to get to the airport, and still that Magic Hour shot - Scene 108. More on that in next article.