Saturday, January 28, 2012

(Un)Lucky Stiffs - Part 1 - Bringing Up Baby

I got back to New York in mid- August, the hottest and most humid time in New York.  The good news was that we weren’t going to start on Lucky Stiffs  until early September, and by then, the weather would be better.  The better news was that my original estimate, before breakdown, would be that we would wrap by the first week in October, before the weather got too cold.


The first people I met were Matt, the director, and Rody, the production manager.

Matt's background was as an editor, though he had co-written and directed one documentary.  For a director, Matt was a good editor.  He had clear ideas on what he needed for coverage, and he had written a simple, comedic story that he could get a handle on.   He was a veteran, one who knew the traditional way to make films, and for the most part, that was how I liked to make them.  Sure, we were low-budget, and the execution was different, but the organizational structure remained the same.

Matt was a pleasant, nice and decent human being.  Those are not always qualities associated with directors, and not adjectives I would use for a few I've known and a few I've worked along side.  Matt was in his late 30/early 40s, and past the ego  that sometimes drives young directors.  He wasn't worried about his next movie, or making a fortune on this one.  He knew the latter was unlikely, given the nature of the business.

He did not have an ego that needed to be stroked, and he didn't need to be king.  He was a successful editor, and would have a career in the business regardless of the outcome of the film.  He was comfortable.

Comfort is not always a good thing for a director or a movie.  A movie often takes on the personality of the director, and comfort for a film crew can lead to overconfidence.  A movie in production develops a psyche, it really does.  Bits and pieces of the personalities involved go into that psyche the way parents,  relatives, teachers and environment go into the psyche of a child.

It took a number of years in the business for me to come to my take on a production's psyche.  Over the years, I have kept a close eye on how this forms, making sure things never got too heavy or, for lack of a better term, too light.  Mostly, I have tried to 'biologically engineer' this psyche through the crew I hired.

Was this film a good fit for them, and how would they work with the other keys?

So, Matt added quiet and pleasant to work with to the mix.  I was never a screamer as an AD, but I'm a Capricorn, and we tend to suck up air in the room.  I'm much more laid-back now; I was much more front-and-center at that time.

You know JR and his main crew by now.  If you missed it, check out When JB Met JR - Part 1 - The Birth of JB.

I had a Second AD I had worked with before named Julie, and I brought on Chris Kelley from my class as 2nd 2nd AD.  This was a working relationship that would continue for some time, and CK (as we called him) and his personality would definitely be a part of the mix.

We had an earnest young PA who tried very hard but who always managed to wreak havoc who CK dubbed Satan's Child.  You will see why.

We had a young PA who became location manager and later became an integral part of our team.  She later went on to become a successful DGA First AD.

I met my mentor.

We had a hero named Shane.  Really.  He even had a little kid calling to him.

The cast included an actress in her mid-thirties named Antonina trying to play mid-twenties, a featured actor playing the "experienced" hood named Bobby who was more of a character off camera than on, and two cool young guys in the slacker roles.

Rody, the production manager, had a background in documentaries and covering her back, the latter of which included working closely and secretively with the production designer who she had brought  on board.

The production manager and the AD must work well together.  There are many films over the years on which I was AD that not only was the PM a partner, but a Godsend.  You make each other look good,  When I moved to more work as PM and line producer, I was the biggest fan of the AD, because I had been there, and did everything I could to have their back.

Rody was figuring her job out as she was going along, which would have been fine, if she had asked for help.  Instead, she covered mistakes and kept things a mystery until small problems became big problems.

This was not the perfect AD and PM marriage.

There was a natural, but not healthy, tension that developed.  Me, JR and his crew were one team; Rody and her production designer was another.  To be fair, all sides tried to make it work, but it got tense at times.

The first challenge we faced was the schedule and locations, which, in a perfect world, is a symbiotic relationship.  They are intertwined, and in the next post, I will talk about the scheduling and location securing process, and the rest of pre-production.

We were in prep, the child was born, and the psyche was being developed.  Stick around for the formative (weeks) years.

*As a treat for having entered the world of Lucky Stiffs, the classic screwball comedy - and maybe Grant's best - Bringing Up Baby

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