Sunday, August 19, 2012

JB-San to the Rescue - Part 4 - Never Can Say Goodbye

Even though the pain and heartache
Seem to follow me wherever I go....
Never can say goodbye
No no no no

-Never Can Say Goodbye
           The Jackson Five (via Clifton Davis)

Haebing was one of those shows where you always felt you were being chased by a train, and staying one step ahead took all the energy you could muster.  Not only did the show require a lot of New York locations, they were often difficult locations to find. As the plot seemed to basically follow some Koreans dealing with a Crime Family in New York*, there were also scenes that required firearms and stun tts, and hence NYPD assistance.

If the Korean staff never fully comprehended the vehicle requirements, the specifics of working with other city agencies seemed truly difficult for them to grasp.  We had gotten through the meeting with the Mayors' Film Office (MOFTB) and the various agencies, and it seemed a nuisance to them that we had to stick to strict dates, locations, and times as well.

Hakim was assigned as the US AD, though he had almost no authority on set. Much like the military advisors sent to Vietnam at the beginning of that conflict, Hakim often experienced the frustration of seeing his advise ignored, and only being able to stand by as disaster ensued.**

Some of these incidents were humorous.  Life in the office keep me busy, so I didn't have a lot of time on set, but there were times when my presence was imminently requested.  On one day when we were filming a scene in a Greenwich Village bar meant to represent a jazz club, Hakim's request came in the form of, "JB, you have to see this." What I found when I arrived was like nothing I have seen before or since.

The scene required about sixty extras to fill the club for a scene we were shooting starting at 9AM, and one where we had to be out by 5PM, as that is when the bar opened.  Finding a place the Korean director liked on a reasonable budget was not easy, but I had called in a favor and got this place for a very reasonable rate.  Though the Koreans evidently had a good-sized budget for the NY segment (again, I never got a finite number), it did reach a point where they started to feel  the financial pinch of the late start.  Getting this location for a very small fee was a minor coup.

I don't know exactly how it started, but one of the American extras told the director and the Korean First AD that in order for the scene to "feel" right, they should serve real alcohol. Hakim had made it clear it was not a good idea, and definitely not protocol, but the director said it was important the scene feel real, and the drinks began to pour.

The bartender for the bar started serving early, and started keeping a tab.  By the time I was called there about 1PM, not only had the tab gotten quite big, but the effects of the alcohol and the early hour had definitely taken a toll on the extras.  It was realistic, alright, if realistic was a room full of people who were in all stages of inebriation, from dancing wildly to practically passing out at their seats.

Hakim's first words were, "I told them not to let them drink." If that didn't upset me enough, I learned that the  Korean AD had specifically instructed Hakim not to call me, as he did not want interference.

This was not the first time, and would not be the last, that I was intentionally kept out of the loop. When the crew would wander from where the Schedule A said they were to be shooting, I would initially get a call from Hakim, and then I would either try to talk them into going back where they were scheduled or try to smooth things out with the MOFTB.  This was difficult, as planning required holding parking for our vehicles as well as all the other logistics, and we could not get permission for our trucks and vans on this short notice, so they were inevitably parked illegally, with more calls from NYPD to MOFTB, and from them to me.

It quickly became a game of "Where in New York is my crew," with Peter and I putting together clues as we got them, sometimes from Hakim, who one time went on a very short bathroom run about a block from set, only to find the crew completely gone when he returned.

The Korean's response to my complaints?  Just don't tell me; that is, until the NYPD was trying to stop them, when I would get a frantic call.

One of the most frustrating things for a line producer or assistant director is to be out of he loop of information. Usually when it happens, it's an oversight or a newbie mistake; a director going directly to the costume designer to tell her that he wanted a different scene ready next, and it then coming as a surprise to the AD.

Having information intentionally and willfully kept from me was not frustrating; it infuriated me.  On this occasion, my diplomatic skills eluded me.  I asked the bartender to hand me the tab, and I waved it at the director and AD, and said, "This is on you. I hope they take it out of your pocket!"  When one of the drunk extras started to laugh, I marched up to him and said, "You think this is funny?  How funny will it be when I don't pay your drunk ass when the extras casting agent submits your invoice, and when he asks me why, I point out that you were drinking on set.  Think they are going to book you again?"

I assured the very apologetic Hakim that I didn't hold him responsible.  My anger extended to the director and AD putting him in the impossible position of lying to the person he had to report to - me.

When I returned to the office, I made it clear to Mr. K that this was yet another costly mistake by the Korean crew, and I took no responsibility for the schedule or the budget if this continued.  By now, a fission had developed between Mr. K and his older brother, the bigger US investor, Mr. Big K, and the Korean producers.  The financial arrangement for Mr. K and his brother clearly hinged on the US section coming within certain monetary parameters, and they were quickly falling outside of those parameters.

Mr. K was also in an impossible position.  Although he was of Korean descent, the Korean producers treated him with no respect, and his older brother held him responsible for any overages.  I felt for him, I really did, but at moments like this, I was unhappy with just about everyone.

This was the mood when, a few days later, I learned that the South Korean crew had committed an even more egregious violation of our permit requirements.

Like just about every producer in New York, there are times I have skirted the rules, maybe sent a crew with a camera in a bag to shoot a short scene on the subway without going through the expense of getting it cleared  (the fees are high, even with a discount, and then there is the cost of increased insurance).  We are talking simple walk and talk (or often sit and talk or MOS*** scenes), and never anything that involved risk or personal safety.

Early on, I established that the American shadow crew would not work without at least a ten hour turnaround, and the Koreans complied. The Korean crew, however, kept to no such schedule, and would often be back at work after a twenty-hour day after a four or five hour nap.  It was this grueling schedule that led to me dealing with the second Korean line producer on this shoot; the first was fallen by a stroke. No surprise there.

I was starting to feel like he was the lucky one.

One night, when neither I nor the American crew was on, the Koreans shot a scene that involved a boat-to-boat transfer.  We had spoken about this shot from Day One. The scene was meant to be a small boat of (drug) smugglers bringing their cache onto a bigger boat, up a rope ladder.  To be done properly, it required either the NYPD Harbor Unit, or, depending on how difficult and where it took place, the Coast Guard.

Obviously, this required a good deal of planning and paperwork, neither of which the Korean crew especially appreciated.  Knowing I would never give my go-ahead, and worried the American crew would balk or get back to me, they shot it without any of us.

Not just a permit violation, this was flat out illegal, not to mention potentially dangerous.  To make matters worse, there were American actors on set; they had gone along because, well, actors hate saying "no" and being labeled trouble-makers.

The potential for real disaster in one form or another, not to mention repercussion for me, were endless.

I learned about it the next day.  Livid doesn't remotely describe my feelings.  I had had it, with the insanity, and especially, the outright deceit.  Mr. K tried to calm me, and out of deference to him, I agreed to have a sit-down and  production meeting that night.

The Korean staff was fine with production meetings, as long as they were at the end of the shooting day.  I made it clear to Mr. K that if were going to do this, I needed the Korean director, line producer, and AD at the end of a reasonable day. He agreed.

It should have come to no surprise to me that the Korean staff completely ignored both of us, and as the hour got later and later, I fumed more and more.

The production meeting began about 1AM.  Early on, it took on the feel of many of the production meetings, with everything taking twice as long because of translation.  My translator was also working as my assistant, and she and I had become friendly, with me taking the time to mentor and teach her things she could use on upcoming US shoots, as she lived in NY.

It was at this meeting that she and one of the director's assistants, who was translating for him, got into an argument.  When I asked for an explanation, my assistant made it clear that, once again, I was not being told everything, and she was being told not to translate certain things.

That was it.  I have been upset with productions before, and I have quit one or two other times when I felt I was not in a position to help, but never with the type of anger I had here.  While I am not a pussycat now, years of Zen and meditation have gotten me to a point where I control my anger, and it does not control me.

I wasn't there yet.

I slammed my production book shut and threw it against the wall. "If I'm not going to be involved in these decisions, then I don't need to be here." Peter and Mr. K quickly got up and tried to calm me, but I would have none of it.  I wanted to make sure I left in such a definite manner that there was no turning back.  My portion of the meeting ended with me waving my finger at the director and Korean AD, and making clear, in a tirade that would have made a Joe Pesci character proud, that I wanted nothing to do with them.

That was it.  I was out!

Or so I thought. (To be continued)

* As noted in earlier posts, I never did get an English translation of even the NY portion of the script, no less one of the entire story, though my translater did her best to fill-in the blanks on whatever I really needed to know about a scene.

**There are a number of good books on the subject; one of the better ones is ironically entitled Lost in Translation Vietnam A Combat Advisor's Story by Martin J. Dockery.  The more popular is Neil Sheehan's wonderful book, and less wonderful movie, A Bright Shining Lie.

***For those not in the business, MOS here refers to scenes shot without sound. In a different context, it can also refer to Man on the Street interviews.

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