Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Rook - Part 5- A Mule Shall Lead Them

Life has patterns and connections, if you chose to follow them.

There was a point where I found myself in Upstate NY for all or parts of a number of films, and after our experience on The Bet, I learned that The Rook would be shooting part of the film in upstate New York, in and around the Mohonk Mountain House on Lake Mohonk and the Mohonk Preserve.

The area was perfect fit for the script for two reasons; the preserve provided the timeless quality the script called for, a large  area where the eye could go look for miles and see no hint of modern culture, and the mountain roads provided the perfect introduction of the inspector to ride down to a Valley for the fictional town of Sutheridge.

The first picture above gives a hint of the road to be traveled, and how steep it was.  In the scene, a draft horse (pictured at top) was to pull a carriage down the road.  The draft horses that would actually traverse these narrow roads were closer to mules than thoroughbreds, and they were the only choice, as the more beautiful horses we might have chosen were afraid of the height and tight turns, and a slight accident could mean disaster.

We had employed the services of a carriage owner and a mule owner separately, and the two came together in perfect harmony in the morning.  Our schedule had us finishing all the work with both before lunch, but safety required that movement was slow and steady.  I had set up at a base camp at lower down on the mountain, making sure such things as lunch and other equipment and transport were in motion.

We sent a minimal crew up the mountain, and I was more than happy to leave the specifics of morning shooting in Van's capable hands, as not only did I have enough to worry about, but the truth is I have a morbid fear of heights.

I have been fortunate in my career as AD to never have to confront this fear directly, and most directors have never noticed that when we have shot on rooftops, I tend to steer clear of the edge.  It has always been a thought when I look through scripts (I also HATE bugs, and have been fortunate to not have to deal with excessive bug handling in my career) but never kept me from taking one.

I wasn't too concerned that we hadn't finished it all before lunch, as we had made up this sort of time in the past, and we were getting good footage.  I was inside our base camp, about to take a bite out of my lunch, when Van summoned me on the walkie.  I stepped away from my meal and came outside, only to be confronted by Van, Eran, the draft horse owner and the carriage owner mid-argument.

Here is what had transpired: we broke for lunch, and the draft horse owner had asked if the animals could eat.  Seeing no reason why they shouldn't, Van had OKed it - I would have as well.  At some point during the lunch period, Van tried to get a jump on things by getting the horses hooked back up to the carriage, and this is where the trouble started.

What neither Van nor I knew was that draft horses, once they finish eating, sleep for a good six to eight hours.  Good for them - I can never get that sort of sleep, and I guess the universe rewards these animals for their hard work by keeping their life simple: work, eat, relieve yourself, sleep.  I imagine this simple life keeps them away from the therapist.

Eran was upset with everyone: Van for not knowing the animals wouldn't be able to work after lunch, me for not checking, the owner of the draft horses for breaking our deal memo, which stated we had them for the day.  As deal memos were being discussed, I looked over at the animals in question, who were heading directly to, they would offer, a well-deserved nap.  Deal memos weren't high on their list of concerns.

This crystalized for me one of the great lessons of production, and that is that there is no textbook.  I don't know how many years of film school you would need to know that draft horses sleep after they eat, but clearly, we all were out the day they taught that lesson.  There were certainly many other unforeseen events in my film career, but this one stuck out as the prototype, the perfect symbol for the unavoidable problem.  I have used it to start every class on line producing.  The cynic could say we should have asked if they sleep after eating, or how many hours would they work on the day, but that is all hindsight.

I finally worked out a reasonable deal to have both the carriage and horses come back for the next day, with both adding only their cost and not another day in fees.  Eran was still not happy, not for the money but the principal of the thing.  Somehow, he still felt cheated.  Van was swift to figure out a schedule change that showed that by the end of the next day, we would be back on schedule.  Still sullen, Eran agreed, thought Van and I heard about it for some time.

Here, another JB rule was born, and that was that I don't take a lunch break, and, except for a bagel or a bite to keep the coffee from burning a hole in my stomach in the morning, I don't eat during the shoot.

Although I am third-generation American, my Italian and Mediterranean roots kick in here, and a meal is a time to sit and relax.  There is no relaxing for anyone in production during a shoot, and lunch is seen by the rest of the crew as that time when they can finally take you aside and ask questions, or for the director and/or producers to address issues they could not while we were rolling.  Rarely do these questions or discussions turn to congratulating you for the great job you're doing, or telling you how much they enjoy being on this shoot.

So, I choose not to eat during a shoot day, and wait until we wrap, often having a meal and a nice glass of wine (or something stronger on a particularly bad day) while shutting my phone and talking about anything but the day's work with those around me; my beloved if pitiful Mets, the weather, Carl Hiaasen novels, anything but work.

This has worried and/or infuriated many a caterer, in part because I often hire them, and they worry that if I'm not eating, there is some level of dissatisfaction with the food.  Assistants that have worked with me regularly are left to explain to others that I'm not going to eat while we were working, and to let it go.  I even had a location manager who, when she chose not to eat lunch, would refer to it as "taking a JB."

I don't expect to ever be immortalized in the manner of Abby Singer, but it will do.

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