Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Double - Part 2 - The Tao of Exposed Film

"There is no greater misfortune
than not knowing what is enough
There is no greater flaw
than wanting more and more"
-Tao Te Ching

There are many contexts in which the ineffable question 'how much is enough' can lead to deeply philosophical answers, filled will moral implications.

To the line producer, how much 35MM film stock is exposed on a given day can answer many questions about how the shoot is going.  None of them bring spiritual or emotional closure.

If very little stock is being exposed, that tells you that not much time has been spent actually shooting, and that is not a good thing.

If too much stock has been exposed, in proportion to how much of the script has been covered, then you will likely go over budget.

On Double, we experienced both.

As explained in Part 1, the nature of the film, about twins, led to a number of difficult shots, dealing with reflections. Set-ups took a very long time.

A number of people are involved in how long it takes to set up a shot. First and foremost is the director, as they must clearly convey their idea for the shot, and have an idea of how it will fit in the final cut. The DP needs to make it clear to the grip department how to lay out track, if needed, the camera crew to get the right lens set, and the gaffer to get the scene lit as efficiently as possible.

Then, of course, we have the 1st AD. The AD can give the DP, et al, help by keeping them in the loop as the order of shots change, taking set-up times into consideration when scheduling the work, and answering questions about things such as what we see in shot ("Does that truck have to be moved?"" Can I put a grip stand here?" "Is this a good place to stage equipment?") Once all this is done; once the wheels are properly set in motion, the AD has less control over the time for set-up.

A good AD knows when it's time to get a camera rehearsal going; crew will tend to continue to tweak until someone tells then otherwise. While some DPs take set-up times very personally, rushing their crew, a vigilant AD knows when it's time to ask the DP if we can at least look at the set-up.

All of this is done with some degree of balance. Contrary to one of the many misconceptions about the role of the AD, drill sergeant is not one of them. While everyone needs to be kept on their toes, and aware of where the day is going in terms of schedule, and what is required of them, there is little positive effect to
threatening and badgering people to move faster. There are times when everyone is doing their job as quickly and as efficiently as they can - and it's just taking longer than anyone would like. Those can be the most frustrating times for an AD, and, ironically, can be the easiest time for an AD. A good AD knows when they have done everything in their power to move things along, and now they just have to wait.

AD's don't create the shots, and our AD on Double, Karen, certainly didn't choose the difficult set-ups. It was clear, right from Day 1, that the blame for the long set-ups was going to fall on her, regardless of how hard she worked.

As line producer, I was in the difficult position of trying to make sure Karen was doing her job, while also pushing Leslie, the director, on time. Every time I pushed Leslie, she would push harder on Karen. I tried, as diplomatically as I could, to explain to Leslie that in many cases, it was the set-ups, and not Karen, that were responsible for the time lost.

Admitting that would mean that Leslie was to "blame," if blame is the right word. She is the director, and she has the right to shoot the look she wants, but then she needed to be realistic about how much we could accomplish in a day.  As both director and the source of funding, Leslie was feeling that typical push-pull in two different directions, toward keeping us from spending more money and getting the shots she wanted.

As if all of this wasn't enough, the personal chemistry between Karen and Leslie was about as bad as it could be to start with, and only got worse. Sometimes we know why we have a bad response to another human; sometimes we don't. Does that person remind us of someone else we have clashed with in the past? Are there unresolved issues from childhood at play?

There is no degree in psychology on my wall.  Discovering the origin of the bad chemistry here was above my pay grade, but, with simple observation and years as an AD myself, I could find nothing Karen did, originally, that set this off.  My best guess was that this was one of those instances where two strong, assertive women could not get along. I have seen this dynamic in political work that I did in the past.

I could explore the sociological implications, the way a paternalistic society puts undue pressure on women showing the same assertiveness that is valued in men. Then, again, you don't come here for my dime-store sociological analysis, so I will just leave it at this: they never got along.

Once Leslie started to blame Karen, an entirely new dynamic took shape, in the form of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Karen, understandably, resented blame that was not due to her, and she began to show that resentment ever-more-openly to Leslie, entering into a game an AD can never win.

Once an AD goes down this road, regardless of how understandable it is, the turn-off ahead can only lead to one place - a new AD. The Chain of Pain strikes again. I brought in a new AD.

Those who have followed this blog know what happens next. Leslie loves the new AD - they always do.

This should mean that we moved faster, and because the communication had become so bad with Karen, the  new AD "(I forget his name - let's call him Tim) was bound to be better. Still, there were days where we exposed very little film.

Then, one fateful day, the opposite happened. As I left set to attend to other matters, I reminded Leslie that we needed to keep moving, to keep shooting.

When I returned, I stopped in at the camera holding area. This is where the 2nd AD would load back-up mags, and also where the exposed was taped and labeled before being sent at the end of the day to the lab.

I was met with a mountain of exposed film. If my 2nd AC had been any shorter, I would not have been able to see him behind the wall of exposed. My first thought, my deepest hope, was that this meant we had covered a lot more of the script than I had expected, but a quick moment with the script supervisor told me that was not true.

Scipty followed me back to the camera holding area, where I began to match up the amount of the script covered with the exposed. As my eyes widened,  the 2nd AC looked at me, then the exposed, then me again, and said, "Hey, it's not my fault." He had been on enough sets to know what I was thinking.

Unlike the picture at the top of this post, there was no lovely lady sitting atop the skyscraper of exposed film, only the knowledge that we were in trouble.

We had exposed almost 10,000 feet of 35MM film - that is not a typo, 10,000 feet - to cover one page of the script. One page. One.  In describing this moment later to Henry, Leslie's producer, in a moment of the dark humor to which I am prone, I said that at this rate, Kodak would have to open up a new facility to keep us in 35MM stock.

You have to understand the implications of something like this. First, it means that the shooting ratio is so high that we will go way beyond the amount of raw stock (un-exposed film) we had planned, what this very good article describes as the "budgeted stock."

The problem with "budgeted stock" is that it is only a guide. If the director has no concept of the ramifications, it is hard to undo. It's not like when we hit the final number, we can just stop shooting, stop buying raw stock. I can't walk in, like a punitive parent, and tell the director, "You have used up all of the budgeted stock. We will not buy more. You cannot play anymore. Bad, director. Bad. Go to your room - the movie is over!"

That is, as my grandmother used to say in Sicilian, like "biting your nose to spite your face."*  You need to finish the film.

This now means that beyond the obvious added expense of more raw stock, there will also be more exposed processed, more developed, inevitably, more printed, more transferred. You get the idea. It's not a good thing.

To truly appreciate the irony that is the line producer's life, when I discussed it with Leslie at the end of the day, she had a decidedly different take.

"JB, look at all the work we are getting done now, with Karen (the previous AD) gone. We didn't waste any time this morning. We were rolling all morning. I've never seen the crew this efficient, and everyone seemed really happy."

Again, I have to point out that Leslie really was (and is) a good director. This was her movie, and she liked getting all of this coverage, and that was it.

In Part 3, I will tell of another interesting day, and the eventual end of Double.

Below, what I would have preferred to see.

*The American idiom is "cutting off your nose to bite your face" - I liked the physically-impossible image Rose Polito's translation of the phrase suggested.

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