Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Rook - Part 2 - Coffee and the Rules

Tony: I have to break one of your rules, boss. Number six: never say you're sorry. I let things get out of control in the hotel room. 
Gibbs: Ah, it's covered. Rule eighteen. 
Tony: Oh, yeah. It's better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. Am I forgiven? 


The rules of Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS are so much fun because we all develop our own rules in whatever our profession, though we don't always go about numbering them.  In Season 3, Gibbs tells Ziva there are about 50 rules, but as of Season 8, not all of them have been revealed and numbered.*

For most of us, these rules just develop over time, and it's hard to tell when they came to be, but every once in a while, we can identify exactly when they went into the Book, when they were codified, when we finally felt the need to put them into words.

After that first meeting on set with Van and his team, I came to understand that a few things needed to be addressed, and one was the schedule,  I certainly didn't make the rule that time is money, but it's true nonetheless, and there was one set that Van and I both agreed should happen earlier rather than later.  I will address the plot of the film later - it deserves its own post - but the scene involved a good deal of art direction, as did most of the film.

Sebastian and Andrea, his girlfriend, were basically a two-person art department.  As we moved forward, I would offer people to help them, but Sebastian, a German-born sculptor and painter by trade, was great at what he did, but wasn't accustomed to working with a staff or training people to do what he did, and further, he was, in many ways, making it up as he went along.  The script involved a vision of the future as seen from people in the past, so many of the images that had to be brought to life were born in the heads of Sebastian, Andrea and Eran, not standard furniture that could be rented or purchased.

This set was a lot of work, but Sebastian assured me that it could be ready in a day or so.  I later realized that Sebastian was just hesitant to ever say no, I was new to the job, and he wanted to do his part, so it turned out that he and Andrea pretty much worked two days and night without sleeping to get it ready.  Had I realized that, I might not have pushed so hard, but I took him at his word that he could get it done, and, indeed, he did.

Eran was another matter.  Eran was Israeli-born, a nice and caring person who was fascinated with images and the arts in general, and very knowledgeable in most of the visual mediums.  He could be engaging and  charming.  All of these were traits that you would have to get to know Eran well to understand, because he often did his best to come off as boorish, rough, and difficult.  I always thought this was a shame, because if you got to know him, he was one of the nicest and most interesting people I've met in my lifetime.  I would see this often when he went to film festivals or was promoting the film; he could charm the Hell out of one person, and piss off the next, and, in both cases, that was exactly the way he wanted it.

I later came to realize that Eran didn't want to shoot this scene earlier because he hadn't really wrapped his head around it, but instead of admitting that, he leaned on the fact that Sebastian could never have it ready in time.  It would take forever to explain the logistics of why it was important to shoot early, but all I remember is that it was, that Van and I agreed it was, and that Eran had fought us.  Still, when we both presented him with it, he grudgingly agreed to shoot it the when we suggested.

My second day on the job would be in the office, trying to set up my space, see how the office was running, and start to get a handle on the budget.  I did some prep at home, but was still in the office about a half hour before call time, which was a little later than I would normally arrive there.

I walked in, my coffee and bagel in hand.  Like Gibbs, I like me my coffee, not just as a pick-me-up, but I love the taste of really good coffee, so buying a cup on the way to set or the office is essential for me, because I never trust the PA in charge to make a legitimately good cup of coffee.**

KATE:  (after spilling his coffee) What do you put in your coffee?
GIBBS:  Coffee
KATE:  OK.  I'll just go down the hall and get you another cup.
GIBBS:  (Disdainfully) That's...not coffee.

My feeling exactly.  Good coffee - black, no sugar, the way God intended it.

I walked into the production office and to my desk, a desk I had yet to really make mine, a desk that had I hoped would be my home for the rest of the shoot.  On my way to the desk, the production office coordinator and her assistant looked at me with that "dead man walking" look, that "poor guy doesn't know what he's in for" look.

"Eran called for you - a few times."  Yes. it was before call time, and yes, I could have been there earlier, but I had tried to catch up on some of the things I needed at home, and thought coming in a half hour before call time was alright.  Clearly, I was wrong.

The night before, I had been there late, with Eran and Sebastian, looking over the set, which was close to finished, we all agreed.  I just assumed that in the time between then and now, we would all be happy with the set.

I called the set cell phone, and got Annie.  I asked her to put Eran on, but the next voice I heard was a whisper.  It was Van.

"Man, Eran is really mad.  He hates the set.  He thinks it was a bad idea to shoot this today, and I already had to hear it from him. but, he is really mad at you" (The term wasn't mad - it was more colorful).

Van suggested that I talk to him later, but I would have none of it.  I was never a big fan of slow death - if I'm going to go, make it quick, and let me know it now.  Getting yelled at?  Not a problem, I'd been there before.

Eran got on the phone, and the expletive-laced conversation had to do with me pushing him to shoot a scene he told me was not ready, my bad judgement, how I had screwed everything up.  I reminded him that the night before, we all agreed the set was close.  Then, it happened.

He started with how he had just fired another production manager, and suggested it might have been a mistake, that maybe, he should have kept her and now he should fire me.  Without missing a beat, I remember my response.

"Eran, I haven't taken my breakfast out of the bag yet.  If you're going to fire me, let me know, so I don't get comfortable.  I'll go out and enjoy my breakfast in peace.  If not, I'll make you a deal."

"I will never threaten to quit, and you never threaten to fire me."

There it was.  A rule was born.  The justation had probably started years earlier, when I was a supervisor at the political research company, sitting in front of my boss, Barbara, with my fellow supervisor, Maria, who started crying when Barbara lit into us for a mistake for which we were both responsible.  Barbara's reaction?

"I can cry too, Maria."

Barbara was a good friend, but a tough boss.  You could make a mistake - just don't blow smoke.  Admit what you did wrong. and we deal with it.  Try to cover it up, and there was Hell to pay.  Threaten to quit?  You'd be out the door in a few minutes.

A few crew people on this shoot, as I understood it, had threatened to quit if things didn't change.  This was the atmosphere.  None of us liked this.

Over the years, the rule worked both ways.  I never would threaten to fire anyone; no one deserved to have that hanging over their head.  At the point I didn't think you were the right person for the position, I would let you go; nothing personal.  Don't threaten to quit; if you really don't feel the situation is one you want to be in, I respect that and leave.

The rest of the conversation wasn't pleasant, but we moved past it.  Later, when Eran and I became as close as brothers, we would joke about the encounter.  Eran respected that I stood up to him.  I wasn't sure that I wasn't going to be fired, but I wasn't going to spend every day worried about it, either.

Which Gibbs' rule to invoke here?  Not sure, but the closest might be Rule # 6 - Never apologize, it's a  sign of weakness.  Of course, as many websites point out, it is a rule Gibbs breaks at least six times over seven seasons, and one I certainly broke on more than one occasion - but not this one.

So, what was plot of The Rook? Part 3.

*When referring to Gibbs' rules, I knew I would be able to find a fan site where they were all notated.  In fact, I found more than a Google page worth of sites devoted specifically to the "Rules", people annotating Season and Episode, and sometimes specific context.  Research is served by the fact that some people have too much free time.

**The logo for Gibbs coffee is a take-off on Starbucks, but the producers did not seek product placement from the Evil Empire,  The cup says "Hot Brewed Coffee".

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