Wednesday, January 25, 2012

When JB Met JR - Part 3 - We Must (Not) Shoot Today

"If you want good news, hire family."
- JB Bruno

Yes, that JB Bruno.  Me.

I'm not exactly sure what the rules of blogs are; after all. this is the internet, which is all about expressing individuality, and, lets face it, the arguable premise that what each of us has to say is important.  In that light, I think quoting yourself is just fine.

I connect certain quotes with certain production heroes of mine.  In each case, the quote expresses that person's unique style while being universal.  I will get to these in good time.  For this post, however, I have to stick to a quote that I know I originated.

Anyone who has ever worked with me has heard me use this line, and any former student of mine heard it in my introductory class.

I don't know if I started using it when I was an AD, or when I started line producing, but it was in my head for a long time.  Film is all about collaboration, but film runs like an army.  It's not a democracy, and after taking all opinions into account, one level head has to make a decision.

For different reasons, the AD and the line producer find themselves telling people facts they have to hear, but often do not want to hear.  If you want someone to tell you how great everything is going, your family is a good bet.  They are there to prop you up, to boost your spirits, to make you feel good.

The easiest analogy for  me is a doctor.  Imagine going to a doctor who didn't have the heart to tell you that you needed a new heart? Too literal?  Eh, maybe, but you get the point.

Making a decision means that if it's wrong, responsibility falls on you.  If you can't handle that, then you can't handle responsible positions.

Sometimes, you have nothing to do with the horrible problem, but are merely the messenger.  History tells you what happens to messengers of bad news.

A former Second AD of mine, who is now an incredibly successful First A.D., told me this question from the DGA Trainee test.  I think its a great example of the latter dilemma.

You are a DGA intern and are sent to the trailer of the director to get three questions answered.  When you get to the trailer, the producer and director are in a heated argument.  Because the questions are important, you knock on the door.  Although still angry, you get the director to answer two of the questions before you forget to ask the third.  You walk outside the trailer and, as the door closes, you remember that you had to get an answer to the third question.

What do you do?

The answer is easy and obvious when it's a theoretical question; not so easy when you're standing outside that door.

If you cannot immediately and unequivocally say that you would turn around and go right back in, maybe the AD department isn't for you.

My situation on Walls and Bridges was a combination bearer-of-bad-news and Murphy's Law.

A majority of the scenes on the film had limited characters, and we did a good deal of the filming in Nassau County, which is the closer Long Island county to Manhattan.  On this particular day, we were filming about as far out in Suffolk County as we had on any day, and we had a large number of extras.  Organization for the day had been in the works from early in prep, and all of those plans were working perfectly.  This would be one of the top two or three most expensive scenes in the film, but it was all coming together nicely.

Most of the extras were still signing in when things turned bad.  JR rolled on a smaller portion of the scene that did not require extras when we heard a funny sound coming from the camera, a crunching sound.

For those not technically proficient in 35mm cameras, crunching sounds are definitely not a good sign.

JR was a tech whiz.  He said he hoped he could fix the problem, and to let him work alone and uninterrupted somewhere.  I found a room and put a PA outside it with instructions that no one was to enter.

Meanwhile, I worked with my 2nd AD to make sure that once camera was back up, everything would be ready to roll.

Minutes passed, and minutes turned into more than an hour.  All the while, Uzo, who was not only directing this drama that was close to his heart but who also made a healthy financial investment in it, keep coming up to me.  We would be able to shoot today, right?

To be honest, I hedged a little.  I said that if the camera was workable, we would be prepared to make up the time lost.

The if went away in a heartbeat.

I went into the room that JR was sequestered in, and it was a sight I had not seen before, not seen since, and don't expect to see again.  There, on a series of  tables, were many, many pieces of the camera.  The lens had shattered, and the broken glass had worked its way all through the camera body.  Humpty Dumpty was in fewer pieces after that unfortunate fall off the wall.

It is amazing that JR could take a camera apart like that, and more amazing that he could put it back together.

I feared the worst, but without having to ask, I got my answer.  I think I only got as far as "So, JR...." when my good friend looked up from the patient and shook his head.  How long?  The answer was a few days.

I just nodded my head and did the first of many "dead man walking" trips.

"Uzo.  The camera is down.  I'm going to have to wrap us for today."

Denial is the first stage of grief.

"We are shooting today, right?" Uzo asked.

I was more specific.  We were not shooting today.  We were wrapped.  I had not called it yet out of deference to him, and as we were not close to a full day yet, no one was going into overtime.

Make no mistake.  We were wrapped.


"We MUST shoot today!"

I started explaining to Uzo that we could not shoot without a camera (he knew that - but grief is a bitch).

"I DO NOT care about the camera.  We MUST shoot today!"

This may be one of my favorite all-time lines from behind-the-scenes of a film.  It is ludicrous on its face, yet completely understandable given the situation.


Yeah, this is where it gets ugly.  An erstwhile PA, who had recently graduated from NYU, suggested that he could get us a camera.  Uzo loved this solution.


First, we were almost three hours from Manhattan, so if  he got his school to agree (highly unlikely) it would be six hours round trip.  It was also a 16mm camera and we had been shooting on 35mm.  Conforming them would be ridiculous, but, then again, the discussion was ridiculous because we weren't doing it.

Uzo started talking enthusiastically to the PA.  At my suggestion, the 2nd AD removed him from the room.

I'd like to believe me opposition to capital punishment was without exception, but then I remember this incident.

"Do you realize what this will cost us?" Uzo asks me.

Depression, and, yes, I do.

I guess we got to acceptance, but I don't remember it right now.

Squashing dreams is not my business, but squashing unrealistic solutions that sound good at the time is part of my job.  There were other contributions from the peanut gallery, but my job now was to see that the day cost us as little as possible and to wrap us in an orderly fashion.

I've sometimes thought if this film thing didn't work out, I could hire myself out to hospitals to be the guy to tell the family that their loved one was gone.  Nah, there is no upside to that one.  At least movies have given me many happy moments.


Ok, this isn't really an epilogue per se, but I always loved when "epilogue" would come up at the end of the 60s series, "The F.B.I" with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.  All the Quinn-Martin shows used it at one point.  Never heard of the show?  Here's a peek:

Probably the most famous Quinn-Martin epilogue"

Today, I am working as post producton supervisor on a wonderful film shot mostly in Cambodia on a 5D that tells a great story and looks great.  The producer and director are anxious to get the post process finished, as am I.  Today, for the umpteenth time, I've had to tell them it will take a day or two longer.  After firing the worst editor imaginable, who was hired before I came on board, we have actually made good time, but not as good time as they would have liked.  It's costing them money.  I feel for them, but, again, today, I had to remind them that getting it right was the priority.  All these years later, doesn't make me feel any better."


Emilio Mejia said...

I only recently found your blog, so forgive me for commenting on an old post as I try to catch up on your archive. You mentioned a PA offered to try and find a camera, to which you had the 2nd AD take him away. Was the PA out of line? I'm just starting my career, and I want to make sure I don't overstep if I'm ever in a similar situation.

It sort of happened once already. I was PA on a feature and while peeking over the crowd at video village, I noticed the actor was playing a video game like he had never touched a controller in his life. I made a comment under my breath, but the script supervisor heard me. She asked me to clarify and I did. So she took my arm and led me to the director and asked me to repeat myself. I did, and then the director grabbed my other arm and led me to the actor. I gave him a quick tutorial on how people look when playing video games (my experience in the field finally paid off) and we did the scene with that new adjustment. It looked more genuine, but I felt kind of awful for overstepping my role.

Any advice? I love your blog, and am now a faithful subscriber.

JB Bruno said...

Emilio, thanks for the input. It wasn't that the PA was wrong for wanting to help; it was taking it right to the director in a situation where he only complicated matters. The better choice would have been to come to me as 1st AD, or, if he could not find me immediately, get the 2nd AD.

In your case, the script supervisor is a person who does have responsibility for the accuracy of a scene, and if you had even gone to her directly, that would have been fine.

Don't be afraid to offer advice - just know how to do it. It sounds like you are off to a good start!

Hope you enjoy other posts as well, and thanks for the kind words.

Steven Gladstone said...

JB, - That PA needed to be disappeared immediately. That is the first thing that you learn - or OUGHT to be learning. If you have a good idea, you probably have no clue of what is going on. If you can't keep it to yourself, then tell the person immediately above you. IF it is a good idea, then it will get filtered up, and you will get credit for the save, no one is really interested in taking credit for your idea. Recognizing when someone else has a good idea and when to act on it, is far more valuable. But suggesting you can get a camera, that just distracts everyone when it ain't ever going to work. He needs to learn to shut his mouth. I don't mean to sound mean, I'm a nice person, and very giving, I just hate when someone makes problems for others - I've done it, and taken my lumps for it. Learned and moved forward.