Saturday, July 14, 2012
Go "Pope of Greenwich Village" on Them - Unwritten Rules, Etiquette, and Put Down the Phone
This blog deals mostly with a life sentence served in low-budget production hell, and I try hard not to deviate. On rare occasions, I feel we both deserve a weekend pass, and while this post deals only tangentially with working in film production, I think the opportunity to talk about a now-overlooked film and film-watching etiquette is worth the exception.
Much like baseball, where there is the rule book and the "unwritten rules" that have little to do with actually playing the game (don't talk about a no-hitter in progress, don't steal a base when way ahead, etc) there are rules about how to act on - and sometimes off - set.
The wonderful blog "Totally Unauthorized" covers many of the more common ones.
The list is probably a lot longer, and I'm sure I would miss many. As a matter of fact, I would encourage readers to add to the list here.
One of the things for me as line producer or AD on sets that are often non-union in terms of crew is to keep the rules of courtesy from the union world that should be honored regardless of if there is a union rule to mandate it.
They include such things as making sure meals are no later than six hours from each call, that meals provided are legitimate hot meals (no, pizza and Chinese take-out do not count) and a vegetarian alternative does not mean salad.
Whether there are meal penalties negotiated (and smart non-union crews get this out of the way up front on most shows), you never have a crew wait for a meal, even if you are in a shot, without asking the designated shop steward (a term I use even on non-union sets) for a "courtesy".
Production eats last when meals are served. I've spoken before about how I rarely eat lunch when working - my preference - but on the rare occasions when I do, I eat after the AD department and PAs have eaten. There are a lot of people in first team who cannot get away from camera, and they shouldn't have to compete to get a meal, and I feel as line producer, its on me to set a good example for the PAs.
The blog mentions that "Quiet" does not mean you continue to talk in a whisper. It should be added that many ADs, myself included, will often add "Settle Please", a sure indication that the noise you make walking or moving things is just as bad for production sound as your talking.
It amazes me that I would even post such obvious things, but the digital world has brought out a ton of first-time producer/directors that actually need to hear even these basics.
Here, I would like to address one of the more obscure ones, so obscure that it actually takes place not on set, but in a movie theater. That is the rule that you sit through credits, all the way through credits.
Like most unwritten rules, it certainly has a basis in courtesy and common sense. The people whose names are up on the screen worked hard to get there, in positions behind the camera just like the one you hold, and they deserve to have you sit there while their credits role. As I write this, it sounds both natural and ludicrous.
I mean, it might be cool that my Aunt Marion sees my name up on the big screen, but does anyone really care, and do I really care if someone in Iowa sits there and sees my name on screen while others are filing out of the theater? Does a small hair on the back of my neck go up every time someone "disrespects" me and heads for the exit after the final frame of a movie I worked on? Not really.
Still, it's now a part of my DNA, and I cannot walk out before the last "thank you" has come and gone, and, for reasons that are entirely irrational, I look upon those who file out during credits as boorish miscreants.
My adherence to this code has annoyed my share of dates and even an ex-wife.
If this unwritten rule seems somewhat whimsical, others are not. Movie theaters have even taken to reminding people to shut their cell phones and refrain from texting during the movie (the latter being redundant if the former is followed, but clearly some people need very explicit instructions).
So it was the other day that I was in a theater, watching a movie, when the woman across the aisle from me and the woman next to me felt a need to text from almost the opening credits.
As far as I could tell, neither one of them was a heart surgeon on call for emergency transplants, and neither was carrying "the football" referred to in all those Cold War movies that needed only the President's finger to even the score in the event of a nuclear attack, the only excuses that I could think of that would excuse this rude behavior.
It made me wonder in a world where we are accustomed to all of our entertainment being "on demand" in one form or other how much longer people will appreciate the shared experience of sitting in a theater and watching a piece of entertainment from start to finish together. Yes, it's great that we can watch the latest Adam Sandler movie on our iPhone or Andoid device on the bus on the way to work (or at work, for that matter - there is nary an Adam Sandler movie that requires that much attention). Still, there is something special about sitting in a theater with other people and sharing the laughs, the gasps, and sometimes the tears.
That experience should be respected. Text, play Angry Birds or do your nails for all I care if you are watching a movie on your own. When in a theater, respect that others would like to suspend their disbelief and their contact with the world outside for a brief period of time.
However, as that shared experience still exists, people choosing to participate in this communal event should at least have the basic courtesy to suspend their incessant texting or Facebooking or whatever they are doing until the movie is over.
As I fumed, one of the best examples of pulp entertainment of my generation came to mind - The Pope of Greenwich Village.
Some movies transcend time, others are milestones for their era but fade soon afterward. The Pope of Greenwich Village shares a place with movies like Ragtime as big hits during their time that are often forgotten today.
Pope was a screenplay by a hilarious writer named Vincent Patrick based on his novel of the same name. It takes place in NYC, and deals with a heist by bartender Charlie (Mickey Rourke) at the encouragement of his cousin, Paulie (played in the movie by Eric Roberts).
This was before both Rourke and Roberts needed to see their careers "revived" after a string of bad movies and bad off-screen choices; indeed, anyone judging from the reaction to the film at the time would have thought both would go on to stellar careers.
The book caught my attention because I could relate to these characters, and, specifically, the character of Paulie. Paulie was the type of guy my dad used to describe as someone who "could screw-up a wet dream." We all had a relative like that, for me, it was my cousin Bobby, who I loved dearly.
Bobby served a short time in Vietnam before my uncle pulled strings to get him out and got him a job with the NYPD. After crashing more than one police car, and somehow failing at even desk duty, Bobby moved on to other less-successful ventures.
Paulie was that sort of screw-up. Shortly after the heist, Barney, a safecracker, is appalled to find that Paulie may not be smart enough to not spend all the money right away and keep his mouth shut. Charlie tells Barney an entertaining story in the book about how Paulie would hand toll-booth collectors a hundred dollar bill and tell them to "keep the change" in order to impress dates.
It should be noted that Barney was played in the movie by the late Kenneth McMillan, a favorite character actor of mine who contributed in a big way to movies like Ragtime (where he plays the guy who starts all the trouble) and True Confessions, (where he plays Robert Duval's chatty partner). Both of those are also movies long forgotten by most
The movie also boasts one of the best performances as an Irish "broad" in a movie. A cigarette dangling from her mouth as she she sips her morning drink and examines the Racing Form, Oscar-winner Geraldine Page has two scenes in the movie that, on their own, are worth the price of admission, as she gives a spot-on portrayal of some of type of older Irish women I knew in Hell's Kitchen. In one, she tells a pair of crooked detectives that her son, Walter, was "tough as nails, and he didn't get it from his fatha"
If Rourke was trying to be a Paul Newman in the movie, Roberts was doing his best James Dean. After the heist goes horribly wrong, a local mob boss decides to punish Paulie by deforming him in a most original way, a modern version of cutting off a thief's hand.
This led to a scene that became noteworthy not only for its importance to the plot, but for Robert's serious over-acting.
"Charlie, they took my thumb" became almost a parody of Method acting where it is least called for, and a moment that had the exact opposite effect on Robert's career than he might have imagined.
In another pulp movie, a character refers to "get(ting) Medieval on " someone's ass, and I couldn't help but think, while watching these two ladies texting, that the appropriate punishment might be for someone to "go Pope of Greenwich Village" on them.
BTW, they both walked out during the credits.