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.

1 comment:

oz kid said...

Don't fall in love just yet. I can see plenty of potential here.Just stay away from Norman.