-Paul Newman's priceless review to Robert Altman on seeing Altman's The Player
Best tagline ever.
To those of us who have made a career in film, the old poker adage above applies; it’s a hard way to make an easy living.
OK, it’s not digging ditches, or any of those jobs you are likely to see on “Dirty Jobs,” like castrating sheep with your teeth. However, the dichotomy of the film professional is that we are willing to work 16 hour nights on 10 degree days, in part to avoid doing a “real” job.
The hard work isn’t what attracts us, of course. It’s either the lofty artistic muse who whispers in our ear, or the need to create, or the joy of seeing something come to life.
Then, there are those who are drawn to film for the perks, as they see it, for the adulation and sense of control and the “look at me,” whether it be as actor or director or producer.
The director and producer on this film were the latter. The director, Jean-Baptiste, fell into a very special sub-set of the latter, and those are the guys in see it as a cool way to pick up pretty women.
Now, unlike David Crosby, who famously said he picked up a guitar because it was the only way an unattractive guy like him could pick-up girls, Jean-Baptiste was a "player" and not the kind described in the movie of the same name.
The first manifestation of his inclination to use his position to pick-up women. He would regale Joey and I with stories of women he had gotten somewhere with the night before at some club by telling them that he was directing a movie, and asking when we could bring them in for auditions. Were the actresses? Hey, this is New York, and it’s not a stretch that some hot woman you meet at a bar or club either is an actress or model, or has those aspirations. I explained that it would be a waste of time to bring all of his potential conquests in, but this didn’t deter him. Although I am usually involved in casting, I often ducked out for the sillier moments.
One moment I would not duck out for were the auditions for a sultry Latina Madame. As he and Joey drooled over the submissions, most of which accented what was highlighted in the ad - namely, cleavage - I explained there were SAG rules (not to mention professional standards) in auditioning for a role that would, in fact, involve both nudity (topless and some rear) and sexual situations (the character basically spends most of her scenes in an apartment screwing an another character in various parts of the room - up against the wall, against a kitchen counter- you've seen Showtime at night, you get the idea.)
There would be no full frontal nudity in the scene; this much we covered pretty quickly. Still, Joey and Jean-Baptiste were obsessed with knowing what these women’s breasts look like.
The SAG rules have recently changed to allowing performers to audition with pasties and a G-string if they like, but one constant remains from the old days - the producer cannot require a performer to be nude (in total or partially).
There are a number of complications here. One, too many aspiring actresses just see this as a necessary evil, and are more than willing to show whatever is asked to get the role. When saying this, I think of baseball Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson, who, when asked if he would have used steroids, said that he would hope not, but if he knew the hitters were using it and it gave them an advantage, he would have considered it. A fierce competitor, Gibson insisted he would never give his opponents an advantage.
The sexism that pervades the movie industry has convinced female performers that “everyone else is doing it,” so they should as well, union or other regulations be damned.
Even as we expand ideas of gender, any count of nude scenes for women in movies and nude scenes for men will fall heavily on the former.
Joey and Jean-Baptise tried to make the case that since we would be seeing them topless in roles, wasn’t it prudent to see what would be showing. There are all sorts of ways to check that out without seeing everything. At one point, Joey asked if it would make it OK if his girlfriend was in the room so that it wouldn’t be all men.
Yeah, that makes it all better. Right. Sure. Sigh.
I like seeing attractive naked women as much as the next guy, in the appropriate situations, but auditions aren’t it, and having never been a frat boy even when I was in college, the American Pie version of sex is, frankly, not very sexy to me.
We got through the auditions with minimal problems, aside from the constant pouting of not being able to get a free show on the part of the producers. We chose a lady who clearly had what the role required, and, it would turn out, a good deal more. We will discuss that when we get to the shooting of the movie.
Aside from casting, there was the issue of the Director’s assistant. Now, I always bring on an assistant for the director on features. A director has so much to think about that I want someone to take care of all things great and small that I don’t want him to be thinking about, from organizing files to keeping track of schedule to picking up his dry cleaning when I need him in a meeting. Note that the position is “assistant to” and not Assistant Director, the latter being a distinct position of running the set and has nothing to do with getting the director coffee.
It’s an easy position to fill, since it involves being around the director almost all the time, access to a director that a newbie is unlikely to get on a feature in any other position, with great potential for insight when their turn comes.
Not surprisingly. Jean-Baptiste loved the idea, and, even less surprising, she was a cute, hot blond. She turned out to be one of those he found in the clubs, and I never detected a concern for preparing for a directorial career of her own. Even better for Jean-Baptiste, she was attracted to him and very receptive to offering attention not usually required of the position.
Insert your own sexual pun here. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Are you back? Good.
All of this would been a level of annoyance, but not disastrous, on it’s own. None of us are perfect human beings, and I’ve dealt with directors and producers with all sorts of annoying traits and quirks, and usually, you just let them roll off your back.
Here is where we return to the basic problem: Jean-Baptiste loved all the glory, but was not much for the guts. I would set up meetings with the production designer, and he would bellow and wail, but it was clear that he was making it up on the spot. Charles, my professional DP, said shot meetings went the same way. He loved discussing the cool shots, but the mundane issue of coverage bored him, and he would drift off and be useless once he had discussed the hero shots (some of which were either outside of our budget or just ridiculous).
Most meetings went like this, when he wasn't late for them, which he considered his prerogative.
Jean-Baptiste is not alone in this category; indeed, they are a category because there are too many folks who like the title and power of being a director, but are unwilling to put in the tireless energy that it takes to get it right. I had encountered these folks before, and would again, and I must say, my tolerance has not grown over the years.
If a grip put as little work into the job as guys like Jean-Baptiste and his ilk put into directing, they would be fired within a week, the offense being ever so more grievous because he had a position so many others would love, and would give so much energy and effort if given half the chance.
Time the director wastes is the time of everyone involved, even when those folk are usually giving their all (hey, there are slouches everywhere). Usually, the money is tied up in the director, and the ax must fall somewhere else. Often, that is the assistant director, and ironically, that would happen here, though in this case, it wasn’t Jean-Baptiste’s doing.
On one particular day, both Jean-Baptise and Joey were both late for appointments, and for a "good reason." Once again, they had been out late in the clubs, this time not searching for hotties (although I'm sure that happened as well) but trying to secure the services of a known actor.
See. this is one of those places where the anonymous thing is important. This actor has had some degree of success both before and since. He was a neighbor of mine for years who I saw all the time outside of work, and when he had it together, he could be brilliant, I mean. really special.
There were two problems: one, he wanted $10,000 for two days, which was outside of our budget, and would also mess with Most Favored Nations* agreements I had with other agents. Two, he was going through a period in his life when drugs were a serious issue, and not a good bet on a film.
I made both points really clear to the producers, that this would be a problem on a few levels. They agreed.
They then went out, found him in a club he frequented, and got him to sign a deal memo for $10K. Even better, they wrote him a check for part up front.
I love when they listen, you know.
In the next post, I will look at some of the consequences of Jean-Baptiste’s attitude during prep, as well as one of the more difficult firings I have ever faced.
Unlike on screen, behind the scenes in movies, the good guy doesn't always win, and, like some corporate situations, bad behavior is often rewarded. For them, movies are an easy way to make an easy living, even if it doesn't last for long.
*The term, Most Favored Nations, derives from trade agreements between countries, where, if one country is given an advantage, it must be given to all of them. In film, it refers to actor agreements (although I've used them in setting crew salaries as well) where an actor is guaranteed that no actor at the level of his character (and that can be spelled out in various ways) will get anything that any other level gets. Pretty simple, but can get complicated, such as "Actor X has Most Favored Nations status with all actors with the exception of...." Agents use them to protect their clients; producers use them to try to form an "ensemble" that all agrees to take less than usual with the proviso that everyone else is doing the same.