Thursday, July 12, 2012

Paper Blood - Part 3 - Just Say Yes

Some posts have easy, magical inspiration for their theme, something that lifts them beyond merely being the bucket into which another week of venting blood is spilled.

Some posts need a little help. 

As I was putting together this post, which concludes my time with Paper Blood, I was facing one of those awful times when no theme actually came to me, and I was staring down the barrel of a gun loaded with the prospect of putting up a post that simply said, “..and then I did this, and then I did that”

You, my reader, and I were spared this fate when I did my weekly reading of one of my absolutely favorite blogs on anything, but especially production, Michael Taylor’s Blood Sweat and Tedium: Confessions of a Hollywood Juicer.

Writers sometimes say that a work is “inspired” by another work to give credit to the other work; other times they say that to prevent a lawsuit when the original source would be obvious even to most casual reader.  Others avoid the obvious altogether; I dare anyone with knowledge of Leonard Melfi’s  play “Birdbath” to not cite it as the source of the play, “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” later adapted to a Al Pacino/Michele Pheifer vehicle.

Chalk this up as the first of the above options, to the extent that I have chosen as my sub-title the Juicer’s own title for the article.  As they say, in for a penny, in for a pound.

The below-the-line perspective the original article offers is that there are many instances when it is not only easier to accommodate a request from another department than to rather than find a reason why you shouldn’t be doing it, but that it also reflects better on your boss, which in turn, makes everyone look better.  The bigger perspective was that on a well-oiled crew, things like that just happen naturally, and the result is a better experience for everyone involved.

My perspective as line producer and assistant director is a little different.  I may inform prospective employers that “if they want good news, they should hire family,” but the truth is, they are still writing the check, and while it remains my responsibility to let them know when something is either beyond the pale of what is possible or wise, I owe it to them to at least try.

In order to be able to say “no”, you have to have delivered “yes” at least a few times when it would have seemed impossible.

Donna and Phil had not heard “yes” a lot before I came on to Paper Blood, and often they saw “no” after being told “yes”.

I was at an interesting point in my career, way past the invincibility I felt early on, where I saw my talents as capable of overcoming every obstacle because I had beaten back so many, and not yet at the stage where I had tasted defeat so often that I saw nothing but the pitfalls of every course of action, and certainly at my current stage, where I have more than a little perspective to navigate the highs and lows.

Paper Blood came right on the heels of a Korean mini-series that I will address in subsequent posts.  For now, suffice to say that “winning” was defined as moving forward every day with everyone in one piece, and a big factor in that was Peter, a young production manager who still believed anything was possible.  I wisely brought Peter with me on Paper Blood, and it made for a good mix.

One of the usual bug-a-boos was locations; with promises made to Phil or Donna that didn’t come through, or came through with strings that made “good deals” not such good deals. 

Sometimes line producing is about knowing when to delegate, because it is impossible to do everything at once, and if you try to do everything, important things will get missed.  The flip side of that equation is that there is nothing that is not your responsibility, so when a location falls through, it is unacceptable to look to the location manager.  It needs to get done, and with Peter’s help and my contacts, we did.

Like many actors who spent much of their time as character actors, Frank Vincent could be difficult as a lead.  This was a pattern I’ve seen over-and-over again across the years, the constant supporting actor feeling a need to throw his weight around now that he was the lead, the way he had seen other leads do.  For Frank, this covered everything from big-picture items like plot points, to day-to-day concerns like craft service.  One of my favorite Frank-isms was “The water budget on Goodfellas was more than the entire budget for this film.” There is nothing better on a low-budget film than to be reminded that you are not only low-budget, but really low budget, especially when you are providing more than the minimum in creature comforts.

Thinking back on Frank in that film now, I have to laugh.  Things that seemed very difficult to me at the time seem minor now; the funny moments remain.  One was Frank explaining the trunk scene in Goodfellas – you know, the one where Pesci stabs him in the trunk after he realizes he isn’t dead yet.  Frank told one of the very-impressive PAs, “That looks easier than it really is – getting stabbed, shot and beat-up like that.”  If my old partner had described Steven Hill as a great chair actor, maybe someone should credit Frank as a great trunk actor.

Vinny Pastore also offered a funny moment.  I had the pleasure of working with Vinny on another movie, albeit one that was never completed, named Two.  It’s a shame that movie never got done; Vinny had a chance to show off his “non-mob” side as a blue-collar husband. 

One day I was headed to set, and Peter shared a message the office had for someone on set.  “Tell Vinny that his wife called,” is what I heard.  The message was actually for Victor Collechio.

I met up with Vinny on the set that day, which was a golf driving range.  Vinny was playing a mob boss who was angry with Frank’s character, and he was supposed to show his anger in his golf swings.  The appropriate anger was there, but not necessarily at Frank’s character as much as Vinny’s style was pretty much Charles Barkley on a bad day.  Any contact between club and ball was purely coincidental.  In the movie, the scene works really well, even if not as intended.

After I passed the message to call his wife along to Vinny, he almost dropped the club, and responded, “My wife?  I haven’t heard from her in years.  Did someone tell her I was working?”  Vinny was referring to his ex-wife, who, I understand from Google, he is working with again these days.  The reaction was still priceless.

Paper Blood was distributed under another name, and, for a well-made genre film, took quite some time to sell, though it did get distribution. The completion of Paper Blood led immediately to Phil, Donna and I trying to get funding for one of the other scripts Phil and his writing partner Steve had ready to go, but that would not materialize for many years. 

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