Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Rook - Part 1 - Meet the New Guy



“After a half hour, remove your jacket; after the second half hour, loosen your tie; after the third, roll up your sleeves; after the fourth, muss your hair a little.  At the end of the day, you should look utterly exhausted, and everyone will say you are a hell of a stage manager.”

Bert Gruver, The Stage Manager's Handbook

I read the book quoted above over 25 years ago, and it still sticks in my mind.  It comes at the end of a book that goes into all the nuts and bolts of the job of stage managing; then, on page 213, Mr. Gruver turns humorist, offering a survival guide for the real world the stage manager will face.

His point was that since people didn't really know what you did, if you look like what they expect, you must be doing your job.  Look the part.

The same can be said of a UPM or Line Producer, and, to some extent, the First Assistant Director.  People know that the UPM and Line Producer worry about the money, the First AD the schedule, but beyond that, often not much else.

What they expect in all of those positions is command of the situation at hand.  Change at this level usually means things are going poorly.  Much like managers in baseball, the degree of responsibility of the person involved as opposed to the players (crew, director, etc) is a matter for debate, but the fact remains that they are being replaced because there were answers they didn't have, and you, as the new person, better bring those answers, and the sooner the better.

I came to the producer and director, Eran, on the recommendation of one of the associate producers and original editor, Alan.  He noticed on my resume that I had helped another project (that I will discuss after this one - it was shot first but released later), he knew the people involved, and they had assured him that I would be a big help.

Eran lived in a very large loft, that also served as the production office, and it was more than big enough;  indeed, he had chosen it precisely because he could use it for both purposes, as he had other films planned.  The production designer was a sculptor named Sebastian, who worked with his girlfriend.  This was Sebastian's first film, though the results would suggest otherwise.  Sebastian lived in a loft across the hall, which also served as the de facto art department office.  Together, we had the entire floor of the building.

I met Eran and Alan on a day off after week one, and they definitely felt the production manager was in over her head; they had hired someone without a lot of experience at that level who was moving up.  It always amazes me that people will put a novice in charge of controlling their money in order to save money.  Can anyone imagine a start-up corporation bringing on an accounting student as CFO in order to save money?  No.  Production manager on a film?  Sure.

The rationale is that since the budget is smaller, there will be less that could go wrong; though nothing could be further from the truth.  When a major film goes over budget, numbers get printed in red as opposed to black, losses are written-off against profits on other films, and life goes on.  On small indies, going over budget means checks bounce and everything stops, so in many ways, experience is even more important because of the consequences involved.

As is often the case on these small projects, the budget that was prepared was more of what I call a Wish Budget - the amount the producers wish to spend on each line item rather than a reflection of the reality of what each line item would cost.  Of course, it failed to include other line items, including those items that would be obtained for free - and we all know the high cost of free.

On the day I got there, Eran and Greg were looking over dailies on a  Steenbeck  in a closet-sized room that was the editing suite.  Welcome to the good ole days of post production.  The footage didn't make much sense to me - there were people in what looked like period costumes and odd set pieces, but I hadn't yet read the script, and assumed that it would all make sense once I did.

That assumption would be challenged soon enough.

The outgoing production manager and Eran agreed that she would stay on in a minor capacity for a bit (she would decide against that after a day or two, which was for the best).  After getting Alan and Eran's perspective on what was going wrong, I got Cindy's (I don't remember her name - Cindy will do), which obviously did not put her at fault.  From her I got that Eran was an inexperienced director who had made the poor choice of following the advice of a stubborn First AD, Van.

I got the entire low-down on Van (from her perspective) on our trip out to set as she drove.  She had tried to change schedule with him, but he would hear none of it, and all he did was complain to her about things that were not being done from the production office side; he was, she pointed out, part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I had a copy of the schedule, and some things made immediate sense, others are different than how I might have done it, but my background as an AD told me there were certainly elements of scheduling that Van knew that I did not.

ADs are as possessive of their schedules as Linus is of his blanket, and for good reason.  As I pointed out in previous posts, as AD, you have to take all variables into consideration, where the person who takes a quick look at it is either just seeing one perspective, or just seeing it from their department's point of view.  ADs hate having their schedules questioned.

There was also the second obvious problem, which was the rift between "production" and the AD department, which included a very good second AD named Annie.  This is something that occurs more often than it should.  Many ADs do not see themselves as part of production, and so see themselves as separate from the production and the production office, leading to tension and a blame game.  Food arrives late for lunch?  AD says, "hey, I told production, it's their fault."  Same with other problems that can arise with transportation, equipment and other issues.

Technically, the AD in this situation is correct; these sorts of things should be handled by the production office.  My issue is not with the delegation of duties as much as the attitude; it's not good for crew to see a rift between the production office and PM and the AD.  Their jobs overlap so often that it's important that they be seen as a team, and that they work together.  Tension and division does neither side any good.

My first encounter with the AD department was when Annie, the 2nd AD, met us when we arrived on set.  She was professional, but I sensed a bit of a chill, no doubt a result of me showing up with Cindy.  They were shooting when we got there, so I took the time to talk with Annie privately for a bit about how things had been going from her perspective.  First ADs are stuck by camera most of the day, so if you want to know what is going on behind the scenes, talk to the 2nd AD; they know where all the bodies are buried ( or are about to be buried, as the case may be).  Also, I knew if I ingratiated myself with the 2nd AD, good word would get back to the 1st AD.  Human dynamics aren't that hard to figure out.

Again, I got the word about transportation and food arriving on time.  I realized that part of this was an inexperienced UPM not challenging a budget that was penny-wise and dollar foolish.  We added a vehicle and made some common sense upgrades regarding food.  Eran was skeptical, but he had asked for a new perspective, so I got some more rope than my predecessor may have.

One of the most important things when taking over a project like this is change; people need to see a tangible difference.  Little things like the craft table looking better and lunch being on time can make a difference with the crew, and the added transpo helped both the director and AD department see that things could actually run more smoothly.  Little things matter; Mussolini won the hearts of a nation by simply getting the trains to run on time, though I try my best to avoid most other comparisons between my management style and Mussolini's, as my upside-down  hanging skills are not up to par.

When we broke for lunch, I introduced myself to Van.  I knew the look on his face; "oh, great, someone new who is going to try and tell me how to do my job."  Without a doubt, schedule would be something we would have to address, and he took out the stripboard, and we started going over some things.  As expected, there was resistance to even considering any changes and exasperation.

I took him aside, and said, look, I knew things weren't going well, but as an AD, I knew what he was going through, and I promised to have his back and do my best to support the AD department on set.  I don't think I impressed him very much that day, but over the course of principal photography, and even after this film, he and I would become good working partners and friends.  He is easily one of the best ADs I've worked with, and I'm happy we worked all of that out over time.

So, the work began.  Being the new guy buys you a little time, but not forever, and next post, my initial head-butting with Eran, the director, and my introduction to the office production staff and the interesting accounting process to date.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Film, Sans Director

My next project was a rather short one, not a short film, but a short project.

Some have commented that I tried to be positive about people in this blog, and I have, in part because when I come onto a project and people tell me how horrible others are, I always wonder how they talk about you,  I have seen this many times.  That, and the fact that film is a collaboration, so it's rarely just one person that was crazy when things go wrong.

So it was that I was hired to production manage a feature that had ceased operation after about a week, and the director was trying to revive it.  In our meeting, he went on and on about what a jerk the original DP was, and the original production manager, and the original AD.

I took his evaluation at face value; I had no other point of reference.  What was disturbing was the fact that both of those people had not been paid for the time they did put in on the project.  Firing people and choosing not to work with them any further is one thing, not living up to your financial obligations for the time they were on the project is something else.

The director did not dispute the days owed, but constantly put off paying them for one excuse or another.  Even though they had not been hired on my watch, I felt a responsibility to see them paid.

I used the hiatus time to hire a new director of photography, and a new assistant director.  As we were planning, I found a non-stop string of problems the director had with even the new people I hired, and there were missed meetings when the director found himself unavailable at the last minute.  This was annoying, but I chalked it up to him still being frazzled by the experience to date, and I've always cut directors who were also producing their own film some slack.  If the artistic pressure was not enough, the  financial pressure caught up with them.  In some, this manifests as a form of paranoia where everyone is out to get them, to cost them money, to the point where it is personal.

Over the years, I have really tried to see interactions that go badly in film as simply part of the business, and not take it personally.  It's not easy, and long hours and pressure lead us to take things very personally, but there are many times over the years where, once outside of the immediate situation, my impressions of people changed.  That will be the case on the next feature I will talk about, The Rook, a film that holds a special place for me.  A relationship that started out very tumultuously ended up being a very special one in my life, both in the business and outside of it.

On this particular film, though, that was not the case.  I will simply refer to the movie as The High.  The story line involved African-American students who hold a racist teacher hostage.  The film was written and directed by a White filmmaker, and that shouldn't have meant he could not have handled this material well, but he didn't.  It's a rather bad film.

The director of photography I went with happened to be the brother of a more well-known DP, and a very helpful person in terms of bringing assets to the project that we would never have been able to afford.  His generosity was lost on the director, who still felt he was being ripped off.

After about two weeks of planning, we were finally ready to shoot.  The first scene was one in the school room, and setting up the room with key cast and about 30 extras involved a good deal of planning, but it almost went perfectly.  Everything and everyone was there on time, with one exception - the director.  He was nowhere to be found, and repeated cell calls to him went unanswered.

Given that he was already under budget constraints, the AD, the DP and myself tried to rough in the set-up for the master scene.  Mind you, I'm not talking about a few minutes late - I'm talking its an hour past crew call, and the director is not there, and not answering his cell.  We all figured it we at least got the master for the scene up and lit, he could always make adjustments when he got there.

On low-budget projects, actors often come expecting disorganization, and if they sense that they are right, things go badly.  The DP and I did our best to act as if the director not being there was due to a last minute emergency, and did everything in our power to calm unhappy cast and extras.  We also did everything we could to shield the director from any criticism.

All of this good will went to waste once the director finally arrived, almost two hours past call time.  He gave no excuse other than "I was busy," but more upsetting was his reaction to us having tried to get some work started, work that would help save him time and money.  He walked onto the set, and began loudly cursing out me and the director of photography, telling him how bad the lighting scene and asking me who I thought I was to set up the scene.  Mind you, all we "set up" was set dressing that had been discussed with the production designer, and shooting in a direction we had discussed when we had scouted.

"No one does anything until I say so, is that clear?" was his response.  When he was finished with his rant, he suggested to the DP that he, the director, would now explain how he wanted the scene lit.

I waited for him to finish.  The DP was somewhat in shock, not knowing how to react.  Mind you, this is a DP who had pulled a lot of favors to get him extras he could not otherwise afford.

There are a lot of things I can look past, and I gave him a few chances to calm down, which was just met with more profanity.  Finally, in front of full cast and crew, I announced, "Mike (that was not his name), I want to thank you for finally joining us, on behalf of those of us who were here on time and ready to work  two hours ago."  I then turned and apologized for his behavior to the cast and crew, and stepped outside with him.

I explained that this was my last day, but before I left, he was going to go to pay me for prep - he could keep the money for that day, and that he would pay the DP and the AD and those who had worked in prep before I left.  He was also going to hand me checks for the previous AD and DP, which I would get to them.  I also explained failure to do so meant I would inform the crew of his past history with not paying crew, and there was a good chance they would walk on him.  After much gnashing of teeth, he agreed.  I did stay and make sure we got through the day - that was my responsibility to the people I had brought on the job.

Again, bad situation, but not a completely bad outcome.  The DP and I went on to work on other projects and remained friends for some time, as was the case with the sound recordist and a few other members of the crew.

Next, I take over another movie in trouble, but this time, with much better results.  Enter, The Rook.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Pause

Many thanks to those who are following this blog.

The real world interferes, and I will be AD on a short this weekend in upstate NY (nowhere near New Paltz).  Info from the owner of the property states no internet access, so the soonest I can update is Tuesday.  I am bringing a carrier pigeon with me, but his typing skills leave much to be desired, and he keeps forgetting my password, so I wouldn't bet on a new post until I return.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love) - Part 6 - Love The One You're With

Well, there's a rose in the fisted glove
And eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love honey
Love the one you're with
-Steven Stills

Goodbye to our Idyllic Fall of Love

In light of the previous posts on the carnal adventures on The Bet, the title and lyrics I chose to start this post might seem redundant, yet another indulgence of amorous excesses of a crew on location in a picturesque location.

Actually, it's not that at all, but rather an ironic confluence of past and present.  Last night was the festival premiere of a film I adapted from a stage play for a former student of mine, who directed it.

The circumstances of the film were less than ideal.  The director had decided to shoot it pretty much like a play, without considering the consequences of trying to do all those set changes and making it look real.  Representational sets work in theater, but the camera creates a situation too real to make this work.  Additionally, stage plays are, by nature, dialogue-driven, and the long stretches of dialogue that may have been hilarious in the play drag in a film.

To say he was working with a micro-budget would be kind; his plan was to shoot the film for less than I make most shorts.  Additionally, he was close to shooting when he contacted me about it.

All of this led to me rewriting the script on the fly, sometimes the night before scenes were shot, sometimes the morning of.   Less than ideal.  We should have done a page-one rewrite, and maybe even thought of a way to make it surreal ("Tell them it's a dream sequence").  Maybe we should have picked original material altogether.

The fact is, we did none of those things, and the movie we made is the movie - that's it.  We tinkered in post as much as possible with the material we had, adding some fun found footage.

In the end, we would up with a zany comedy that is still funny, though the director and I find it hard to see the humor, having poured over the footage endless times since it was first shot.  Also, too much dialogue remained even after my cutting and the volume of new lines I gave the cast at the last minute led to us having days where it took forever for the actors to get the lines right as we shot on a schedule that required us to knock of chunks of pages per day because of the budget.

Not a good combination.

As the producing team, we remember those long days, the endless takes, the botched lines, hour eleven on set where it seemed that nothing funny had happened all day.

For a long time, I had a hard time just saying "I wrote the screenplay."  It wasn't, in a perfect world, a "JB" screenplay, not the script I would have written if I were to chose to write a script.  Last night, as we were discussing the screening coming up, the director said, "Don't worry, we'll be at another screening  for another movie we do that's good."

Right then, what we both had known all along crystallized.  This was not the perfect movie, our ideal movie, that movie that is in our mind at one point that we are sure we can make.

Well, kids, grow up, and I direct this as much at myself as the director or anyone out there.  That movie you had in your head rarely gets made, at least frame-by-frame the way you saw it.  You have let others in on that dream - actors, crew, etc, and they have added their dream, and circumstances, especially on a low-budget indie of any level, mean you couldn't just keep shooting until you got it exactly the way you saw it.

The one thing, you can do, though, is stick to your vision, keep fighting for your vision, even if in the end, it doesn't come out exactly they way you imagined.

"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?"  Bruce Springsteen's line from The River may be true for a life unfulfilled, but how many of us really live the dream?  We start out with a dream, and we make it the best we can.

The same is true for our movies.  The irony is that you need to fight hard every day for your vision of the film as a director, or it won't even come close, grab and claw and fight to put that vision out there, and in the end, you have to love what you make, even if it isn't quite that.

I started the saga of The Bet with JR and I joking at the screening, commenting on how melodramatic the movie seemed, and to this day, I still think it is.*  We stifled laughs for all the wrong reason.  We had drinks and joked about it afterwards, dismissing Adam's vision, but, you know what?  There was Adam, sitting at that screening, and I'm sure many screenings afterward, enjoying the hell out of it.

JR , Christine and I, as well as the entire crew, had done good.  We helped Adam make the movie he wanted to make, melodrama and all.  As I think back, the same could be said of Lucky Stiffs, a movie I'm sure Matt still holds dearly, and Uzo before him on Walls and Bridges, who made a movie that seemed too real and too tough.  They all made the movie they wanted to make.

A director needs to surround himself with people he can trust, and needs to listen to them when they offer good advice, and take that advice in, and consider it carefully.  That's his responsibility to the project.  Those who advise him or her have a responsibility as well, to keep the director's vision in mind when offering advice; you're making their film, not yours.  Sometimes it can be a fine line between overstepping your bounds on the advice side, and stubbornness on the director's side when they wont listen to those with good advice.  It's a balance you probably never get exactly right, but you need to try.

The movie is your child.  You brought it into the world, now it's your responsibility to see it grow up right, even if it's not as pretty or as smart as you hoped it would be.  You have a responsibility to see it through and give it a good life.

Adam, I know, did that with The Bet.  He got small distribution, enough to make it worth it for him, set up sales for it online before many others were doing that, and came out with something to add to his other accomplishments in life, his jackal of an assistant director or DP be damned.

So, this is a little reminder  to all of you as are in the middle of what seems like it can't be the film you set out to make, on the worst day on set, when you are sure that this is never going to be what you thought it would be - slog on.

Oh, and that screening last night?  To quote my director, "They laughed.   There were genuine laughs." Sure they did.  They didn't know the road it took to get there, they didn't slave over the footage.  They just came to enjoy a movie, to maybe laugh a little.   Isn't that what a comedy is about?  Gotta love that kid!

*While the nature of the film was melodramatic, none of that falls on the actors.  The dialogue tended to lead in that direction, and they were quite talented and grounded the movie as best they could.  The result is miles ahead of what it would have been with a less talented cast.

And now, a little treat from the 70s for those of you who only know them as old men, when their voices and their chops really were that good.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Producers Can Bake

When I rebooted this blog, I said I would not be a slave to a timeline, and there is a current news article on CNN that relates to my somewhat more recent past, as well as the state of the industry.

From late 2000 until it's end in 2001, I had an all-too-brief time as Operations Director at Gun For Hire, the production arm of Shooting Gallery.  Shooting Gallery was the a success story that should have been - a group of indie-minded film people who produced films like You Can Count on Me and Sling Blade.  Like many stars that burnt brightly, it burnt out in 2001.

When we get there in the timeline, I will talk more about my time there.  For now, there is a Village Voice article from the time that talks a little about how Shooting Gallery finally closed its doors.The Shooting Gallery 1991-2001.  This should provide a little background.

Shooting Gallery represented both the promise and the grim reality of the indie film world, in many ways it was the like a story of a rebel who shoots to fame, but who the powers-that-be that promote him finally shoot down.  In other ways, its about over-reach and, pardon the pun, shooting yourself in the foot.

None of that was because of Dave Tuttle, who ran the very successful - and profitable - production arm of Shooting Gallery, Gun For Hire.  We had everything from production offices for major films to one of the best post facilities, and the most talented post people in New York.  Dave Tuttle was a former producer and line producer who conceived and led  Gun For Hire, and there wasn't a person who worked for him who didn't rave about the experience.  He disproved the idea that good guys finish last, or that you could either be good and efficient or a nice guy.  Dave was both, and in late 2000, he hired a guy who had been through the indie line producing wars and was ready for a "real" job - me.

I was almost 43 then, and probably older that what the position suggested.  Dave didn't care; he saw what I would bring to the job.  Ageism - and every other ism - is alive and well in the film business, but Dave looked past it.

As I said, my time there deserves further study in a later post, but I'm writing this now because Dave was recently in the news, in that  CNN report.

No, it wasn't in the entertainment section - it was the "eatocracy" section.  Dave now makes a living baking pies.  Laid Off Producer Becomes Proud Pie-Maker.  I encourage you to check out the article.

The story chronicles how in 2008, the economy and the state of the film business hit one of the more talented people I know, and Dave was laid off, and after about a year, still didn't have a job in the business.  He brought a home-baked pie to a dinner party, people started requesting pies, and a new chapter in his life was born .

Dave's Homemade, which is his business now, is doing quite well, as the article chronicles.  He has also gotten some really nice write-ups, including one in the NY Times.  And Now For The Pie

Don't feel bad for Dave that he isn't in the film business right now - and may not go back.  Every picture I see of him, every post on Facebook, he looks incredibly happy.  I know we used to talk about the burn-out factor of line producing, and I can tell you that you don't see smiles like that every day going over production reports.

For me, the sad thing is that we now have an industry that couldn't find a place for a guy like Dave for about a year, regardless of what the economy.  Dave is certainly still the winner he always was, but I feel the industry is losing a lot of people like Dave, people with talent that isn't being infused into the industry.

For all of that, let them eat cake - or pie, as the case may be.  Dave is still local, but those in the Hudson Valley of New York can find his wares at the Peekskill Farmers Market Saturday from 8AM-2PM, or can order them from Garrison Market, 1135 Route 9D, Garrison, NY; 845-424-6300 or  Open daily, 7AM to 6PM.  His pies can also be found at a place called Grouchy Gabes as well.  For those not in the area, I don't know if they ship.

Consider this a shout-out to- and a shameless plug for - one of the best bosses I ever had.

UPDATE: September 16th, 2012

MISFIRE:The Rise and Fall of Shooting Gallery, is a documentary that will open soon, showing both that company's promise and how mismanagement (not Dave's) lead to it's demise. Dave Tuttle is one of the people interviewed for the documentary. I will do my post on my time at Shooting Gallery before it opens.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love) - Part 5 - Back(Ground) and Forth

Pool parties (in the movie, that is)

The Bet was the easiest and most enjoyable of shoots for me as an Assistant Director, one on which I gained a good deal of confidence and experience on a movie that stayed on schedule and on which I had a good deal of input.

Making The Bet even more fulfilling for me was that while it had a number of intimate scenes with just a few characters, it also had it's share of party scenes.

I know ADs who love the challenge of stunts or action sequences, and I absolutely understand that take, but for me, I've always prided myself on having the background that looks real, adds dimension to the frame, but never takes away from the action in the foreground.

Those are elements that always catch my eye during a movie, the result of years as an assistant director and probably one of the reasons I don't get a lot of movie dates.  I tend to talk later over dinner about how great background looked, or rather, how it looked dull and boring, the crosses were straight across and not at angles that broke up the frame, or about how one background actor or another did something to stand out and take away from the main action.

I was watching footage from a movie shot in Cambodia on which I was post production supervisor recently, and one scene always bothered me, but I assumed it would be trimmed at some point.  The original editor (we replaced him for other reasons, but missing things like this were among them) kept two characters in front of the lead in the shot after they were done at the counter, and one of the characters kept looking back at the lead for no good reason.  It was distracting and screamed "look at me" and we eventually trimmed the scene to remove it.  Drives me crazy.

I have to credit Adam with dealing with me as a collaborator in these areas; we would spend time discussing these scenes over cognac the day before shooting.  Of course, how we shot those was largely JR's influence, and there were places where everything worked just great.

One was a decadent pool party that took place partly in the main character's head while he was hallucinating.  JR had the idea of shooting it from overhead, looking down at the party.  I proposed staging the action around the pool in something of a Marx Brothers-inspired sequence, where one action would lead to another and that one would set off the next.

I spent way too much time planning and laying it out the night before (I think I recall JR mockingly asking me "How is it going, Herr Director?").  In Europe, AD is considered a stepping stone to directing, but in the US, it is much more a path to producing, and ADs who show interest in direction are often seen as overstepping their bounds.

I have had directors who have gladly had me show them background, and then made mild adjustments, and directors who insisted on choreographing even the most minute part of the background.  It's all within their right, though on a DGA film, a director giving an actor direct instructions can lead to a costly upgrade.  There is a story around about Coppolla insisting on individually directing over 100 bg extras during a scene, and the SAG rep on set being able to get them all an upgrade.  How much of that is lore and how much is true I don't know.

Most ADs I talk to take pride in their background, and while anything that falls on frame part of of the directors vision, we love when we are shown enough trust to make it happen.

Part of this art, on low budget films, is making a handful of people look like a large number of people.  I remember once getting a rather small showing for what was planned as a big night club scene in a film, and I'm still proud that we made about 40 people look like a packed crowd in a rather large nightclub space.

We are also, still, responsible for staying on schedule, so while it may be okay for the director to tinker endlessly with his blocking for principles, the AD doesn't - and shouldn't - have the same free reign.  If the First AD appreciates being given some room by the director, he should also give some of that same room to the 2nd AD, who is often responsible for actually manipulating many of those background players.

I was lucky, as Stacey's background was also as a stage manager, and she and I thought alike and were on the same page in terms of blocking and terminology.

It worked well on most days, but the pool scene was just a step or two off, enough to make it seem forced.  I knew it, and I wasn't going to be the reason it we feel behind.  As I stood on a third floor porch, frantically on the walkie to Stacey to make changes as we did rehearsals and finally runs, Stan came up to me.  he watched a take that seemed worse than the last, and asked what I was doing.

I explained what I was trying to do.  He thought for a moment, then made a suggestion of a change I could try in the sequence.  It worked perfectly.  Wow, how did I miss that.  I started thanking him, and all he said was "you would have seen it eventually," and walked away.

That moment stuck with me over the years, in a business that is so often about celebrating "me," Stan was always willing to give the credit elsewhere.  This is something I have tried to emulate as I got to his position, the ability to support without taking credit, the ability to step aside and give the credit to someone else.

While things were going great for me, they weren't going as well for Stan and Dianne.  We stayed on schedule and were, for the most part, on budget, but there were things Adam and Isabella had not anticipated in their original budget for the film.  This is natural, and today, I always insist on any film I work on as line producer that the budget we work from be one I prepared.  I understand that the bottom line number needs to stay at a certain place, but all too often, directors who are first-time producers have prepared budgets that simply leave out things out of wishful thinking (I will go into budgeting in more detail in posts about line producing).

This was the case with Stan on this film, and he and Dianne, who were also living in the Big House with Adam and Isabella, and Stan soon became persona non grata with them, and by default, because she would support Stan, Dianne was as well.  I discussed this with Stan after the film, and we talked about how someone needs to be at fault for things the producers overlooked, and it would usually be the line producer or production manager.

One day, Isabella "accidentally" locked Stan and Dianne out of their make-shift office for hours of the day in an instance of spite that did nothing but make work go slower.  Producers can do things that, in the long run, go against their best interests if it makes them feel good at the moment, yet another instance of one of the hardest parts of the job being when the people you are working for become one of the main obstacles.

So things went, until we came toward the end of a shoot we all enjoyed just a little too much.  In the next post, I will talk a little about dailies and the putting together of The Bet, and the final screening.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love) - Part 4 - Love (or Something Like It)

In the first part of the tale of  The Bet,  I spoke of the almost idyllic surroundings of our location, a large estate on the outskirts of New Paltz in Upstate New York.  

The shooting days were relatively easy by independent film terms, with the days normally running ten hours, sometimes less if Adam, the director, was happy, and no more than twelve.  The script had no night exteriors to speak of, and a lot of day exteriors, which meant we started early, but not brutally so, usually around 7AM, and were wrapped by 6PM or 7PM.  The First Triumvirate had everything under control, equipment was stored on site and didn't need to go anywhere at the end of the day, so by the time we were picture wrapped, the crew was close to being wrapped as well.

By indie standards, this was like half days, so the crew would end the day with a good deal more energy than would normally be the case after a brutal shooting day.

Take a bunch of city kids, bring them to the country, give them easy days and long nights off, lodging at a motel  just outside of a college town in a pleasant Fall season away from their own environs, and the results are  predictable. 

Part of the equation was drinking. * I was mid-thirties by this time, and drinking was no longer a contact sport or an endurance test, but this wasn't true for a good deal of the crew, many of whom still had the amazing recovery powers of youth.  For the most part, I enjoyed spending time with Stan and Dianne, who did not drink, and JR and Stacey.  JR's drink of choice was Zinfandel, not the robust reds that have emerged today, but those God-awful (my take) blushes, and I don't think I ever saw him have more than two.  A few Jack Daniels, known as sipping whiskey for a reason, with considerable water back, were more my style at the time.

For the crew, drinking was neither the only contact sport nor endurance test.  Film sets are notorious for lust and romance, the natural outcome of high-strung people spending long hours side-by-side.  The Bet had a particularly intoxicating air to it, not only in terms of drink but crew members not just engaging in casual flings but red-hot romances.  It was an amorous game of musical chairs, a twentieth-century Midsummer Night's Dream, with each of the crew members rushing to pair up before the music stopped.**

Jeff, our gaffer, was the romantic of the bunch.  He didn't just fall in lust, he fell in love, the problem being that his passion burned so brightly that the flames soon died and spread to other dry and fertile ground, so he would fall in love at least once a shoot, if not more.  On this particular shoot, his passion found Sonya, our wardrobe assistant, a "relationship" that lasted midway into another shoot,  before Jeff couldn't help himself but fall in love again,

That break-up, on a subsequent shoot, was one I remember, because I was marginally involved.  Jeff was on a shoot with me that Sonya was not on, and it was a day off, and I get a call from Sonya.  We were all one big family, and used to talk to each other all the time.  Sonya asked me to give Jeff a message, and I said I wouldn't be seeing him, because it was a day off.  The silence on the other end of the phone revealed that this was news to Sonya.  I was Jeff''s excuse on this particular day, but Jeff had forgotten to tell me.  I didn't have to guess where Jeff was, and neither did Sonya.

For the duration of The Bet, however, Jeff and Sonya were the perfect couple.

Vera, our sparkly make-up artist, took to our boom operator, Chris, who, while about ten years her junior, had nothing on Vera in terms of passion.  They eventually moved in together and stayed a couple for at least a year, if not a little longer.

Our two lead art department people were already a couple.

A few other long-term and short term relationships came out of The Bet, including at least one or two swaps right out of Fleetwood Mac territory.  (How is it that Fleetwood Mac got the reputation as the Sodom and Gomorrah of Rock and Roll, while the Mamas and the Papas, who did just as much partner swapping over the years, are remembered as sugary sweet?)  The curious thing about The Bet was that not only did it have it's share of flings, but also flowers and dinners and all the trappings of true romance.

I was married at the time, but about to go through the first of what would be two separations.  The film business is not built for relationships, and I admire those who have successfully had long-term marriages in the business, I really do.***  Anyone who has watched any Lifetime shows know that marriages require communication, and spending long hours apart, and being exhausted when you are together, does not foster communication.  Additionally, the freelance life-style means too little time together when you need it, followed by too much time together when you don't.

Love, or the love of love, was not wasted on the young on The Bet.  On one of the last days before heading off for the shoot, Stan and I were going over schedule and planning.  Suddenly, he looked at his watch.  "Gotta go," he said. When I asked if he wanted to get through a little more prep, his answer was, politely, that the prospect of good sex was on the horizon.  "Priorities," was the last thing he said before leaving.

Stan was, as I have suggested before, old school, which included ways that would seem chauvinistic by today's standards.  This was not to suggest that he ever acted as anything but a gentleman with the younger ladies who worked for us; he was, in fact, quite charming.  I do remember, though, one funny incident on Lucky Stiffs.

Stan was a stickler for budget, as is a line producer's want, so I was surprised when, after filling our quota of production assistants, he told me that we had one more.  As AD, I was hardly going to complain, and understood when I saw our newest addition, a fit and attractive young Asian girl with a big smile.  When I looked at Stan for an explanation, he said "You know.  Someone for the grips to play with."  He meant it mostly in jest, but later told me that male crews worked better with pretty women around, as it made them want to show off and work harder, and generally kept them happier.   I can't say that he was wrong.

Adam, our director, was happily married at age seventy, and he and Isabella were clearly an amorous couple, but he had not lost his eye for the young ladies.  Indeed, while he was pleasant on most days, he was in especially fine spirits on days that Debra, our lead actress who was quite attractive, was working.  Additionally, when he told me that they had a large pool of potential production assistants, he originally failed to mention that so many of them were co-eds from one of the local college.  My crew had no shortage of play companions, as Stan would have suggested, and they were quite the happy lot.

In this atmosphere, I thought I could bring happiness on more than a few fronts.  Natasha, who had acted in my staged reading, was a model who was quite pretty and all legs without the insane heels she wore on even casual occasions. I suggested that if she came to set, there might be the possibility of getting some background work, as we were shooting a party scene that required attractive extras.

Natasha jumped at the opportunity, and told me that she could do me a favor, and drive me up to set. I was happy to hear she had transport, as I never much liked crew rides.  I was even more pleasantly surprised to see her pull up in a late-model sports car that seemed out of her price range on her earnings as a aspiring model, and I was correct.  The car belonged to one of her sugar daddies.

It may have been while we were discussing one of them that she slowed as we approached our exit, and by slowed, I mean took us from warp speed to Mario Andretti on a practice run.  We couldn't have hit the exit at anything under 65 mph, when I heard a siren.  She smiled at me and surmised, correctly, that we should pull over.

New York City police can,on occasion, be forgiving; state troopers, not so much, and so it was that I was worried when the lone male trooper asked for the obligatory license and registration.  Natasha handed him her license, and then suggested I look in the glove compartment for the registration.  A quick search of the glove compartment, passenger sun visor, driver sun visor, and, then, with considerably heightened concern, other areas of the car, failed to produce registration.  When the trooper asked her if it was her car, she explained that it was not, it was her friend's.  The trooper looked at me sternly.  Not this friend, she explained, another friend.

While the trooper was considering exactly how many "friends" Natasha had, he asked us to step out of the car, which is usually not a good thing.  In this case, though, it proved to be to our advantage.  Natasha took off a sweater she had on, and, when she got out of the car, heels, legs, short tight dress and all, the combination had a surprisingly numbing effect on the trooper.  She was talking, but I don't think he actually was comprehending any of the words until she got to "if I can give you my number" (followed by the now irrelevant "I'm sure we can clear this all up").

As Natasha got back in the car, she smiled at me in that knowing way that suggested she had no doubt of the positive outcome, one I am sure she had encountered before.

I wasn't wrong about Adam's reaction.  Natasha not only got background work, but he added lines and a scene for her.  At one point, JR turned to me and said, "Like he wasn't distracted enough.  Did you have to bring her?"

Having Natasha as a companion for a few days also made me a little more popular with the Adam, as well as the crew.

Haight-Ashbury may have been the center of the Summer of Love in 1967, but in 1992, the quiet town of New Paltz became home to the Fall of Love.

* For a very good examination of crew drinking on location, I refer you to Hollywood Juicer blog post, Have Gloves Will Travel - Working on Location
**I have stayed true to my code for this blog of not revealing people's personal lives.  The Bet was twenty years ago, and the flings mentioned are long past.  Discussing them here is like adults at their 20th wedding anniversary talking about someone they dated in high school - irrelevant and ancient history.  Even if someone were to realize it was their spouse mentioned here, and I still use only first names, it hardly speaks to their relationship today.
***For the absolutely best exploration of the toxic mix of relationships and the film industry, again, from the Juicer, Industry Romance

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Priorities - Coverage

There are points in the chronicles of the films I've worked on that I think it's appropriate to address a production issue at greater length, or expand on a point made in one of the production posts.This will be one of those posts.  I refer to these posts as "Priorities," the things we need to focus on in production.  As I brought up our script supervisor's participation on The Bet, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the work of script supervisors.   

The digital age has brought many wonderful advantages to aspiring movie-makers, but the reduced budgets have also led to breaking some things that were not broken, and they need to be fixed, among them an understanding of coverage and respect for the position of script supervisor.

They used to say that low-budget films are often set apart from their bigger brother counterparts by poor sound, but that is less and less of a problem even on no-budget sets.   As budgets have shrunk, budget priorities have become skewed, with money spent amply, and sometimes foolishly, in certain areas, to the  neglect of others.

Let's get one myth out of the way here and now - if you screw it up in production, it's highly unlikely you will be able to fix it effectively in post, and it will cost you more and not be as good as  if you had gotten it right the first time.

In the last post on The Bet, I mentioned that our brilliant script supervisor, Christine, was an integral part of the discussion on how we would shoot scenes.  We worked on some small budgets, but we would never think to save money with a less-than-experienced script supervisor.

Mind you, we were shooting film, so we had to worry about the cost of raw stock, and printing and developing, so making sure we had the right amount of coverage but not so high a ratio that we were wasting film was all part of the mix.  The script supervisor is essential in this process.

The completed project on The Bet is a testament, in no small part, to Christine's great work, and the work Matt, the director of Lucky Stiffs, did as editor.

Today, I see countless ads for "First AD/script supervisor" - two positions that are completely separate and cannot be done properly together.  On other sets, the script supervisor is whatever unpaid intern agrees to do it, often the person with the least idea of what coverage is needed.

I spoke with an actress making the transition to production recently.  She was hired on a film as a PA, moved up to production coordinator and asked to take script notes on a feature.  She had no idea what coverage was, but just wrote down what someone else told her, someone with as little understanding of coverage as she had.

Coverage has always been tricky.  When I made the transition from theater to film, coverage was the biggest mystery to me.  I could understand how to stage a scene, and how the master played, and could understand a few close-ups, but the range of coverage was something it took me years to fully comprehend.  It saddens me,then, that people who bring significantly less experience to the table think they understand it, and that they don't need any help.

I advised on a short about a year ago where the director talked endlessly about shooting like Scorcese and movement.  When the producer showed me the rough cut, I asked about shots that seemed to be missing.  The producer's answer over and over again was  that we didn't have that angle, or that the one take of that angle was bad.

This was not for lack of money.  Indeed, the director of photography could not have spent more on the equipment rented, insisting on anamorphic lenses and, when we discussed shooting on the 7D, which was more in line with the original budget, he said the crew wouldn't feel the movie was as "important" if it weren't shot on the RED.  The RED is a good system; the reason for renting it shouldn't be to impress the crew.  I hear this sort of nonsense endlessly.

So, he had his lenses, and a huge lighting package, and his RED, and then went out and got way too little coverage.  This for a director and DP who could not make one day as scheduled, despite a very talented and more experienced AD who tried her best to move them along.   The script supervisor?  It was a friend of the director's from when he was in school - when he showed up.

I mentioned that there is a balance between over-shooting and not getting enough coverage.  Even on movies where I've seen not enough coverage, I've seen tons of footage shot.  They were often in long takes, or endless takes to get the shot right, or angles that seemed like coverage but didn't cut so they left the editor in an either/or situation , not really more choices.

Let me repeat: the fact that you exposed a lot of footage does not necessarily mean you have enough coverage.

I find it ironic that in an age where the cost of raw stock, printing and developing is no longer  a concern for the very low-budget filmmaker, micro-budget films seem to suffer from a lack of coverage.

To move efficiently, I try to explain to directors that you are either looking at multiple takes or multiple angles, and on low budget films, you don't get both.  That means if you have carefully thought out your coverage, and your DP and your script supervisor both see it as sufficient, you are doing as many takes as you need to get few angles right, or you do enough angles that you will have choices when one angle isn't perfect.

Don't only try to cut in your head - the beauty of movies is that it is not necessary.  Your shot list or storyboard should not represent the only possible way to cut the movie, it should be your guide to choices you can make later.

If there is one mistake I can keep low-budget movie-makers from making as they read this post, I would suggest that they take the role of script supervisor seriously.  If you really feel you cannot afford this position, then hire your editor before the shoot and have them do the position.  This isn't optimal, but it's better than the alternative.

I have had the honor and privilege of working with so many amazing script supervisors.  They contribute so much to a completed project, and as producer, line producer or AD, I always consult with them and listen to their opinions.  In an earlier post, I mentioned a movie where the producers could have known on Day 3 that they needed to make cuts to the script; instead, they ignored the script supervisor's advice (and mine) and wound up cutting more than half the film after shooting it, at a great cost.  The Black Box.

All of this is not to mention the obvious advantages of having a script supervisor; avoiding continuity errors and saving time when editing because you know exactly what you have available in any given scene.

Now that monitors are pretty much WYSIWYG, scriptys can usually be found in video village, that wonderful cove set aside for monitor and key crew to view it.  Back in the day, even though we had monitors, script would always try to position themselves somewhere immediately behind camera, so that they could see the action from the same angle as camera.  This often meant script supes doubled as contortionists, cramming themselves into whatever small, hidden space they could find that was not in shot and did not throw a shadow, all while timing the shot and writing away.  Today, we don't spend as we used to on Polaroid film from that angle for continuity, but, of course, use digital, but those images are still quicker for script to have than constantly going back over footage to check which hand the cigarette was in.

They provide both lined script, showing that each and every line of the script is actually covered and from what angles (below right), and script notes, (below left) showing director's preference on takes and any issues or problems with those takes that were done.

Of course, when shooting 35mm film, this helps in terms of knowing what takes to print and which ones not to print, which saves money.

When wrap is called, the script supervisor's job isn't done.  Many will type up their notes - I know Christine always did - to make them easier to read.

Everyone brings a special craft to the set, but because people see this one person seemingly just sitting and writing, I often feel they aren't given their due in terms of their importance to the final picture.

Long-time pros, of course, know the value of a good script supervisor, and for them, most of this post seems obvious.  The point of these "priorities" posts is to highlight some areas I see over-looked today, and to pass along some helpful advice to emerging filmmakers.  For those not in film who follow this blog, and want to know more about script supervisors, I direct you to the  Script Supervisor's Elevator Speech, a wonderful blog for those in any area of the business as well.

I've been in this business for more than twenty years, and if I were directing a project tomorrow, I wouldn't think of doing it without a good script supervisor.  No matter how smart you think you are as a director, or how good your DP is or thinks he or she is, a good script supervisor is a vital asset.

Respect them, and respect the work they do.

Okay, preaching over.  Next post, the reason why the subtitle to the tale of The Bet is "The Fall of Love."

Andrea, one of many talented script supes I know

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love) - Part 3 - Tell Them It's a Dream Sequence

I had some problems shooting that film.  I was having trouble with the crew.  I'd select a certain camera set up, and the crew would argue with me, saying that if we shot the film this way or that it wouldn't cut.  So I told Orson (Welles) this and he simply told me, 'Tell them it's a dream sequence.'  So I did that, and the crew starts to fall over themselves to help me.

- Henry Jaglom  on advice he got from Orson Welles

We used to joke that the two jobs that newbies can do on set without much experience are PA and director.  That is not entirely true, as production assistants must know walkie procedure, lock-up procedure, and more, but I've seen those skills picked up pretty quickly.

The director part is another matter altogether.

In Hollywood, writers are sometimes allowed to direct their own films, actors are given their shot, and that turns out just fine in some cases.  People with no film directing background like Nora Ephron often hit home runs right out of the box.  The rule of thumb is that the keys to a first-time director succeeding are a good First AD and a good Director of Photography.

In all of the arts, we shroud certain positions in mystery so as to deter the faint of heart from attempting to conquer them.  Directing successfully involves many challenges, high among them the suspension of disbelief, not only of the audience, but of the cast and crew.  Beyond actually being able to direct, you must look like you are able to direct.  Remember, on low budget indie sets, much of your crew is made up of aspiring directors, and each of them is silently (we hope) measuring you up to see if you are up to the challenge, or if they could do it better.

Over the years, one of my priorities as a First AD or line producer for a first-time feature director is to make sure they look good on set.  A crew will work harder and give more when they feel they are part of something special, and that the director knows what he or she is doing.

Why should it matter to the crew?  They are getting paid, and, after all, aren't they working for the director?   The answer, of course, is that in a perfect world, it shouldn't matter, and they should automatically be there to support the director, but since cast and crew are made up of human beings, they need to be motivated to do their best.

Nothing is worse than that moment when the cast and crew start to question the director.  You see it in little things, like an actor questioning playing a scene a certain way, or a DP making a face when the director asks him to set up a shot a certain way.  It's an attitude that spreads like a virus on set, and it does nobody any good.

It's why I can often be seen whispering in the ear of the director, literally.  I was working with a first-time director on a short once where the director was having a really hard time getting what he wanted out of an actor.  I made an excuse to get the director off set for a moment, and made a suggestion.  The director, a really good-hearted guy, shouts out, "That's a great idea!  Why don't you tell him.  You can explain it better."  He was being genuine, but I wish I could have put my hand over his mouth.  I didn't need the pat on the back, and I didn't need everyone to know it was my idea.  I would have much preferred if they thought it was his idea.

I've said it often; someone is gonna direct, and if the director doesn't do it, someone will.  Sometimes its the lead actor, or the DP, but someone will.

So it came to be that the First Triumvirate was formed on the set of The Bet, with considerable more success and much less blood than the first First Triumvirate.  This union was formed out of necessity, and it was one that made Adam, the director, very happy, even though he was often only an adviser to the ruling parties.

Adam was about 70 at the time, and his experience directing included a few stage plays and radio plays.  At the outset, he would stage the scenes much as you would a stage play, with the actors playing to a non-existent Fourth Wall.  This led to the problem of how JR could actually shoot this and have it work in a cinema.  It would mean playing many of the scenes in long, talky masters, with odd angles for coverage.

Adam's joy came from working with the actors, from discussing motivation and giving extensive background on the plot and the characters.  This is great for table reads and rehearsals during prep, but really time-consuming on set.  Still, it was Adam's money, and it was what made him happy.  What Adam did not enjoy was discussions of coverage.  This is how the First Triumvirate was formed, first unofficially, and, eventually, pretty overtly.

JR, Christine (the script supervisor) and I would discuss the scene.  I would block it so that JR could shoot it, JR would come up with the best angles, with Christine laying out the coverage.  While we were doing this, Adam could talk to the actors to his heart's content.  He actually seemed relieved that everything just seemed to be working so smoothly around him.

Everyone got used to the arrangement, although I insisted there were certain boundaries we would not cross.  We were shooting on 35mm film, and exposing more film than needed is costly.  Adam had a habit of getting so caught up in watching the scene that he would forget to call cut.  He asked me if I would do it, and I thought that was going a bit too far, so I would tap him on the shoulder for action and cut.  That worked out pretty well.

I have to point out this was a strange and unique situation, and it's not something I've ever done since nor is it something I would recommend or condone.  The pure AD in me still cringes as I write this, because it strays into territory dangerously close to disrespecting the director.  In this case, the director was also the producer, and he was funding the film with his own money, and allowing him to go through all of his money and not make the movie or have a movie that wouldn't cut was not a very good option, either.

Plus, we had the advantage Orson Welles mentioned earlier, in that we had a number of dream sequences.  The lead character agrees to be imprisoned for ten years in order to collect on a bet, and he begins to hallucinate.  He dreams of many things, often of his girlfriend Violet in, among other things, angel wings.

No, she isn't naked there - it's a good costume -  but many of his dreams about her are carnal in nature, including wondering what she is doing with other men.  All of this is pretty much in a PG sort of way, as the sensuality is more suggested than shown.

Lest you think the director was a feeble, silly old man, he wasn't.  He was very sharp on other matters, a successfully published author and authority on literature.  This process served him well, and given that JR and our crew had worked so long together, it kept the ship running pretty smoothly.

This blog is far from the only one to share movie set war stories, and the key to war stories are the brushes with near disaster, and not like that fabled army report of "all quiet on the Western front."  What many of us don't remember is that the disastrous days are the exceptions, that if we are doing our jobs, most days the work gets done, and gets done properly.  There is little fun in regaling others in tales of work days when you shoot the call sheet with little problems. (OK, ADs love these stories, because it shows how sharp we are. "We shot 7 2/8 pages today and picked up some inserts!"  These are the little things that make us happy geeks)

A  majority of our days on The Bet went very well, which was good for The Bet if not as entertaining in the telling.  It was as if all of the bad luck we had on Lucky Stiffs was our debt paid, and we were collecting with relatively smooth sailing on The Bet.  If we were not exactly making great art, we were, to quote Shelly Winters from her complaint to Stan years earlier, making the schedule.(First, You Have To Make The Movie - Stan's Guest Blog))

Things were running pretty smoothly on set, while most of the drama was unfolding off-set.  More on that in the next post.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love)- Part 2 - A Room With A Few (Amenities)

Marian Crane: Do you have any vacancies?
Norman Bates: Oh, we have 12 vacancies.  12 Cabins.  12 Vacancies

I stood in what could potentially be my room for a few weeks of the upcoming shoot at a little roadside establishment called Mick's Motel, and I was, to put it mildly, underwhelmed.

"I know what you mean," Stan said, standing next to me.  "I figured I'd show you this room because it was the best one."  The best one?  The best room?

"Oh, not just the best room. The best motel I found in the area."

"What about hotels?"

"That's where I started.  The closest one is about a 45 minute drive from set, and the road to it has traffic in the morning."

The point of getting lodging on location is to be close to the location.  There is no good reason to be paying for lodging if you are also going to lose a good deal of time traveling as well.  Still, this place was disappointing.

Lodging crew, even on a low budget shoot, should have certain basics, among them safety and cleanliness.  I didn't see anyone dressed like their mother, and the sheets certainly seemed to have been changed in the recent past, but the cigarette butt just slightly under the bed suggested that the cleaning crew was manned by people who had failed the test at the Hilton.

I looked at Stan again.  "You should have seen the others," he says.

Stan and Dianne would be staying in spare rooms on the estate of the director, but I didn't envy them. Over the years, I have chosen to avoid that sort of situation at all cost, and Stan and Dianne's experience proved this to be good thinking.

When you are either the line producer or the assistant director, the place you want to be when the day wraps is as far away from the director as possible.  Yes, there should be ample time to talk with the director before, during and after the shooting day, but if you want to have a clear head, you must have at least a little distance, time spent not talking about the movie. If you are living right next to the director, you will spend all of your free time talking about the movie.  I firmly believe the mind needs a re-set, down-time.

On a recent film we shot in New Jersey, the director suggested taking a room with the Director of Photography so they could go over shots at the end of the day.  I still remember looking into the sunken eyes of the DP on set as he explained, "He never stops talking about the shots.  I mean, we have a shot list, and I know the shot list, and I spend all day looking at the monitor and through the lens, and then we wrap, and we talk about shots and look at more shots"

You see my point.  This is not healthy.

I see young "guerilla" crews  give this matter too little attention, with 4 to 6 people in a room, or having the crew camp out, or giving people a couch to sleep on.   I find this unacceptable.  If crew chooses to all hang out in a few rooms, doing God-knows what, that is their choice, but crews vary in age and preference, and the person who wants a quiet night of reading or watching television or whatever they want to do deserves that courtesy.

As line producer, I handle a lot of proprietary information - money spent on the budget, crew salaries, etc.  As such, I either chose a bunk mate carefully or take a room by myself,  I usually try to afford the same courtesy, if I can, to some of the keys, especially production designer and DP.  Our days don't end at wrap, and they need room to work.  At worst, I will put two people to a room.  I realize in the low budget world, this is considered a luxury, but I care about how I treat my crew.  Those reading this on bigger sets will recognize this as just basic givens for crew.  Nothing is a given on low budget shoots.

So, Mick's it would be.  We had a shuttle set up to take crew to set and back, though some people chose to bring their own cars, which gave them some freedom.  Mick's would be able to accommodate most of the crew, but not all of the cast we were bringing up.  Stan and I desperately wanted to put cast in better lodging, but again, they would have to be far from set.  In the case of cast, we did give them an option, though all of them chose a closer motel option, which I will get to shortly.

First, the living arrangements at Mick's, at least for the beginning.  JR and Stacey were living together now in the West Village, so them staying together was no bother.  They had the room directly next to mine, and since we all socialized regularly, that worked out just fine.  JR was even a worse sleeper than I was, and his knock on the door would often be my cue to leave.  As DP, he didn't need to get there as early as I did, but he preferred it, and since Stacey was going to get to set first - the 2nd AD is first on and last off - JR usually chose to just go in when she did.

The rest of the crew pretty much paired up by department.

Remember when you were in those early elementary school grades, and teachers would have you choose a partner for field trips?  Remember how cool it was to choose the person who would share the experience?

Crew lodging on location is a little like that, and, depending on the crew, a little like a key party.  If the latter reference eludes you, I suggest a good viewing of  The Ice Storm , a movie worth watching for many other reasons besides it's historical reference to a tacky 70's experience in certain suburban communities.

Our experience would be no different, and it is the inspiration for the sub-title of the series on The Bet, the Fall of Love.

At the time, both Mick's Motel and the other motel, which I will refer to as Trucker's Motel because it was used mostly by truckers on short stays, and because I don't for the life of me remember the name,  which may have changed, because a quick Google search failed to jog my memory.

I won't cast aspersions on either Mick's or Trucker's and suggest I know who served as their main clientele, but both motels had at least a few rooms with magic fingers, and Trucker's had some young ladies out late at night who were not dressed for office work.

The latter presented our first problem, which was that our very attractive and young lead actress was going to be staying at Trucker's,  and we made a point of telling her that she was to wait in her room when being picked up and our PA would call when he was there.  Thankfully, she was no shrinking Violet - well, actually, her character's name was Violet - but Debra could handle herself.

"You better pick me up on time," she once said,"or I may get a better paying offer."

Before any of that could happen, we needed to get her settled in.  She started a day or two into the shoot, and it was after a shoot day that I sat in the office with Stan and Dianne, doing my usual post-shoot recap for Stan and discussing the next day.  Stan and I were relaxing and chatting, but Dianne was in a heated conversation on the phone.  Dianne never yelled, but she could be a stern librarian when needed, and she was having some trouble with the clerk and owner (they were the same person) at the Trucker's Motel.

Debra was originally scheduled to come up mid-afternoon on the day before her first day of filming, but she ran late, and called to tell us she would get there about 7PM.  The problem was that the owner planned to leave at 6PM.  Dianne was trying to stress how important it was that she stay.

"I don't understand.  Don't you have people check in late at night?......So, people just come in before 6PM?  That makes no sense......Look, she is our lead actress, and we need to get her settled in...Yes, we're doing a movie...Yes, we're the movie that is renting other rooms.   How many movies do you have there? .... Look, we are booking a lot of your rooms, the least you could do is stay a little late and make sure that my actress gets her key."

Stan and I couldn't help but follow the conversation, and, to be honest, take a little good humor from watching Dianne get worked up.  Just then, Stan looks at me and says, "What are they going to do?  Leave the key under a rock?"

As if precisely cut and edited in a major Hollywood motion picture, just as the words left Stan's lips, we hear the following from Dianne, who was not listening to us at all:

"What?  What rock?  How is she supposed to know what rock the key is under?  What if someone takes it?"

Stan and I burst out laughing.  We could not have timed it any more precisely if we had been one of those Vaudeville teams that used to comb this area.

In the moment, and not knowing what Stan and I were laughing at, Dianne scolded us as she put her hand over the mouthpiece.

"Would you two be quiet!  This woman wants to leave the key under a rock!"

Of course, her repeating it only made us laugh harder.

It took some time later for Dianne to calm down once she got off the phone, but she eventually shared the laugh with us, a laugh we shared for years.  The solution, of course, was to send a PA to pick up the key, and have the PA meet the actress.

Still, I'm happy she didn't think of that first, as it would have ruined one of my favorite location moments.